Looking for a unique and memorable family day out near Manchester? Dive deep into the world of the Speedwell Cavern and discover why it’s an absolute gem (and not just because it used to be a mine)! 😄
There’s something thrilling about days out – the laughter, the memories, and the joy of the shared experience. Now, imagine all of that combined with the magic of a subterranean adventure! As part of our aim to come up with new wet weather experiences for the kids during this washout of a summer (2023) we recently made a combined trip to Blue John Cavern and Speedwell Cavern.
It turns out that Speedwell Cavern is not just any attraction; it’s an experience that promises to be unlike anything you’ve had before. In fact, in a weekend where we went to Altrincham Market and ate pizza, visited Eureka Museum and stayed in a hotel, it turns out it was the underwater barge of Speedwell Cavern that has had the kids talking and talking and asking about returning.
Insider Top Tips
- How Deep? Dive into the abyss; originally, Speedwell Cavern was a whopping 150m deep.
- Accessibility? Get those legs moving! Access requires descending a 105-step staircase. Quite the mini workout, but so worth it. We found Speedwell Cavern easier for Sam in comparison to Blue John Cavern
- Pet-Friendly? Not quite sure on this one. Best to check the official website or give them a quick ring.
- Opening Times? Make note! April to October: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. November to March: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.
- Pushchair friendly? No, you can’t go into Speedwell Cavern with a pushchair.
- Pricing? Adults are £18.75 with children £11. Under 5s are free
- Tickets? Be sure to book ahead, we booked on the morning of our visit (August Bank Holiday) but by the time we got there (2pm), all tickets for the day had been sold out.
- Timings? Be prepared that even though you pre-book your tour, you may still have to wait up to 20 minutes
- Are Dogs Allowed? Dogs are allowed onboard, but if busy you may be asked to sit them on your lap
- Parking? Not great as you’ll be sharing the small car park with hikers. This can make it tricky if you’re arriving in the afternoon
- Refreshments? Some basic drinks are available. However, if you want something more substantial, head to Castleton where you’ll find a variety of traditional English Pubs, cafes and newsagents.
- Dresscode? Being underground makes it the perfect wet weather attraction. It also means that the temperature is the same throughout the year. But it is chilly 9°C throughout the year, so dress up warm.
History of Speedwell Cavern
A blast from the past (pun intended), Speedwell Cavern has its roots set deep in 1771. It began its journey as a lead mine, and oh, what a vibrant history it holds! Over the 20 years it operated, miners guided visitors by boat, even while the mining continued. These brave souls ventured into the heart of the earth, progressing at an impressive rate of 1.9m per week. Though it was an expensive endeavour, costing £14,000, it’s the rich tapestry of tales and memories that makes it priceless today.
With Sam recently having turned four, we remarked that this weekend was probably our first experiences as a family that we’ve been able to enjoy undertaking some more educational visits. Although Sam didn’t necessary take in the guided tour, Mila certainly did.
Our guide was a young guy called Noah who was engaging and really brought the history of the mines to life. She was particularly interested in the fact that kids as young as seven (she’s currently six) used to be mining in Speedwell Cavern during the 1700s. This was a great opportunity to tell her we didn’t have enough money to pay for the tickets and would have to leave her underground to mine for lead!
We were both shocked at the fact that the cavern was flooded at the time of mining (approx half a metre) and that the miners had to wade through the water. This made the thoughts of the experience of laying dynamite and running back hundreds of meters all the more terrifying.
Journey Underground: The Boat Tour Experience
Board the boat, and embark on an exciting voyage that lasts about an hour. If you’ve been to Blue John Cavern, or places like Wookey Hole, this cave experience isn’t so much about magnificent underground views. It is more about the stories that echo in these walls. Tales of the “bottomless pit” that turns out to be approximately 20 meters deep, the connection to the Peak Cavern, and so much more.
A big shoutout to the guides, who pepper these tales with humour and intriguing insights, making history come alive. Be prepared to also shout abuse at other boats such as – your guide isn’t known to work in the cavern, and your boat has a hole in it! This all made it an overall more engaging and fun experience for the kids (and adults alike).
Recommendations and Tips
Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to the cavern and to get parked up especially if heading out on a weekend (with nice weather). You’ll be sharing the car park with hikers exploring Mam Tour as well as Winnat’s Pass. Parking is tight and there’s a lot of people vying for the few spaces. You may consider parking in Castleton and walking up to the caves however you’re looking at an approximate 1 mile walk so bear that in mind.
There are some fabulous pubs in Castleton. We ate in the Bulls Head from Stockport brewery Robinsons and had an amazing meal. We’ve also previously eaten in “Ye Old Nags Head’ where we likewise had an amazing meal. For those of you that may be overseas visitors, these are definitely great examples of what a true English countryside pub is, and nothing like what you’ll find in places like London so be sure to head here!
If you’re in or around Manchester, don’t miss the chance to explore the wonders of Speedwell Cavern. It’s not just a day out; it’s a journey through time, deep into the heart of the earth. See you underground! 🌍🕳️
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Speedwell Cavern?
Speedwell Cavern is a historic lead mine in Derbyshire that dates back to 1771. It is one of four show caves in Castleton, Derbyshire, England and offers underground boat tours to visitors.
How did miners work in the Speedwell Cavern?
Miners drilled blast holes, 20-25cm long, using a sledgehammer and gunpowder for explosions, making a progress of 1.9m per week. The mine’s main passage took around 4.5 years to complete.
What can I expect to see inside the cavern?
Inside, you will find fluorspar veins, stalactites, stalagmites, and the “Bottomless Pit,” which contains an underground lake with a 20-meter high waterfall and a deep vertical shaft partly filled with rock spoil.
How do visitors access the underground sections?
Access to the cave system requires descending a staircase and then traveling by boat through the flooded adit. The boats were originally propelled manually, later by legging, and now they are powered by an electric motor.
Are there any facilities like restaurants or cafes on-site?
There’s a basic cafe selling ice creams, teas and coffees. For proper food and drink, head to Castleton.
Was mining continuous at Speedwell Cavern?
No, mining took place intermittently over a span of 20 years. While mining was ongoing, visitors were also given boat tours.
How is Speedwell Cavern connected to other caves?
Speedwell Cavern’s “Far Canal” links to a vast network of underground streams and passages, connecting to Peak Cavern. Additionally, in 2006, a connection was discovered between Speedwell Cavern and Titan, the UK’s largest natural shaft.
Is It Suitable for Claustrophobics?
Quite possibly not! None of us do suffer from claustrophobia, however the path the boats take is extremely narrow in some places and I as someone who is 6″ had to really duck down whilst on the boat to avoid banging my head. The boat is also extremely narrow, so the four of us were very tightly packed next to each other.
How Far is Speedwell Cavern from Manchester?
Getting out to Speedwell Cavern is relatively easy if you have a car. Especially with the new A555 link road between the A34 and A6 it’s pretty quick to get out there, even from Manchester city centre. From Stockport – the nearest large town, expect about a 1 hour drive and from Manchester, expect about a 1hr 20min drive. If you need somewhere to stretch your legs on your way out to, or back from the cavern, be sure to check out Poynton Park, a great little spot to burn off some energy.
There are no train stations in Castleton, the nearest is Hope Valley Station which is 2.5 miles away.