Nestled within the deep forested gorges of the Derwent River, Matlock Baths is a scenic spa resort built in the 18th century.
Until then, this almost Alpine landscape on the edge of the Peak District had been developed into lead and limestone.
When the Abraham Heights amusement park opened, those giant lead mines became part of the attraction.
To get to Abraham Heights, you can fly over the valley on a cable car, while family theme park Gulliver’s Kingdom also uses a chairlift to help you through the nearby vertical slopes.
The limestone landscape of the Peak District and White Peak lies just behind Matlock Baths, while the Derwent Valley, an important UNESCO industrial heritage site, lies to the south.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Matlock Bath:
1. The height of Abraham
The park, which sits on the west side of the Derwent Valley Gorge, has been attracting visitors since 1780. To get there, you can climb the slopes on foot, or take the scenic gondola ride from the east coast through the canyon. Operating since 1984. At the top, you’ll find 60 acres of landscaped woodland, stunning views of the valley, a log cabin-style visitor center, and two man-made caves that we’ll discuss later.
For views of the valley, Matlock Bath and nearby landmarks such as Ribe Castle, head to the Victoria Lookout Tower or Tinker Shaft Platform dating back to 1844, which details the history of lead mining in the Abraham Heights panel.
The Long View Pavilion chronicles the 240-year history of the Abraham Heights as a tourist attraction, while the Mason Pavilion is dedicated to Damasin Cave.
2. Grand Masson and Grand Rutland Caves
The price of the gondola includes a visit to the show cave at Abraham Heights.
These labyrinths that meander through the hillsides were first excavated by the Romans and continued to grow over the next 1800 years, reaching their peak in the 17th century.
In both caves, man-made passages are grafted into natural caves and tunnels that are 350 million years old.
Of the two, the Great Masson is the most eye-catching, with more than 10 meters of vaulted ceilings and high-tech lighting fixtures for even more spectacle.
The Great Rutland Cavern puts you in the middle of a 17th century mining family with many well-preserved miners’ inscriptions on its walls.
3. Peak District Lead Mine Museum
This valley-floor museum is a great addition to the Abraham Heights Showcase Caves, delving into the region’s major mining history.
You’ll learn about the days of the men and women (and children) who had to make a living in the industry, and visit the Temple Mine where lead and fluorite were mined in the 1920s (tours are less frequent in winter). Children can also rush through three simulated mine tunnels, while the area is home to a wealth of antique equipment recovered from the mines.
You can’t ignore the Wills Founder hydraulic motor, a 200-year-old pump that uses gravity to pump water from the ground.
The famous geologist Robert A. Howie also left an extensive mineral collection for the museum.
The donation is so large that only some of the 3,000 specimens will be displayed at a time.
4. The Peak District
Matlock Baths is the perfect location for anyone who wants to experience the majesty of the Peak District.
The southern part of the mountain range is called the White Peaks, a rocky grassland area where sheep and cattle graze, and pale limestone has eroded into caves and ravines.
At Matlock Bath, you’re just a few miles from the High Peak Trail, a 17-mile wide trail from Dowlow to Cromford.
This was on the route of the Peak Railway (1831), which was designed to connect Cromford to the Peak Forest Canal.
The railway was designed like a canal, and in the early years the railway used horsepower and fixed beam engines in the engine room instead of steam locomotives.
5. Derwent Valley Heritage Road
Matlock Bath is also near the midpoint of a 55-mile long walk that follows the Derwent River from near Bamford in the north to the picturesque inland port of Shadlow in the south.
You can walk north to the picturesque town of Bakewell and the magnificent Chatsworth House, while to the south the valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where a modern factory system was established in the 18th century.
We’ll mention Richard Arkwright’s Masson Mills and Cromford Canal below.
Go a little further and you’ll come to High Peak Junction (1830), one of the oldest surviving railroad workshops in the world, and the Leawood Pumphouse with a working steam engine dating back to 1849.
6. Gulliver’s Kingdom
Another panoramic attraction on the west side of the canyon, Gulliver’s Kingdom is a theme park for children ages 3 to 13. The abyss-like valley as it descends more than 100 meters.
The park’s cable car and walkways make it easier to access Gulliver’s Kingdom, which is great news for parents with young children and strollers.
Joining the lineup of rides like the Switchback coaster and the self-driving monorail is Crow’s Nest Quest, a pirate-themed high ropes course that opened in 2017 with more than 20 challenges for young adventurers.
7. Lover’s Walk
Crossing the bridge from Derwent Gardens, the winding walkway winds its way up the steep east bank of the gorge.
The ancient woodland habitat here is rare in Europe and is considered an outstanding “Tilio-Acerion forest” found only on hillsides and ravines.
Equally fascinating, the trails date back over 270 years, making Lovers’ Walks one of the oldest surviving public play parks in the UK. In the 18th century, the trails were reached by ferry, as the cast iron bridge in Derwent Gardens was not built until 1969. Through the foliage near the top, you can see small waterfalls fed by natural springs, while at the base of the slope is a set of exquisite formal gardens and play areas.
8. Masson Mills
Key to the Derwent Valley UNESCO site, Richard Arkwright built this hydro-powered cotton mill in 1783. One of the many innovations in this type of architecture is the placement of the staircase in a central projection, keeping the factory floor open and uncluttered.
Inside is a collection of what is hailed as the best operational textile machinery in the country.
Most of these are in situ, but there are also artefacts collected from textile mills across the UK. When you visit, you will be treated as a worker, which is better than it sounds, and will see cotton mules at work, winding machines, “devils” who break down raw cotton bales, cotton doubling machines, the largest collection of bobbins in the world , the world’s oldest working loom and the original 1785 bell marked the beginning of a transformation.
9. Black Rock
This massive glutenite outcrop is on the High Peak Trail, not far from Matlock Baths.
On the lower slopes of the outcrop are rubble formed when lead was mined from the rock.
The plants that now grow here are known as leadgrass because of their unique tolerance to lead-rich soils.
A relatively strenuous climb will yield superb views.
You can also use the High Peak Trail to visit Sheep Pasture Top, another stunning view of Derwent Valley, Cromford and Matlock Gorge.
The Middleton Engine House, not far to the west, still has the beam engine that powers the Peak Railway, and can be visited on open days.
Alternatively, you can walk through the heather and mixed woodlands of Cromford Moor.
10. Waterfall Garden
Also benefiting from Matlock’s expansive landscape is a 4 acre tourable garden surrounding the Bonsall B&B.
Cascades Gardens is set on a patio on the site of an old corn mill, originally planted in the 18th century, with a new “room” around every corner.
There are roses, perennial flower beds, alpine coniferous rockeries and waterside beds.
Bonsall Brook flows through the gardens and pours down, the waterfalls and cascades are beautiful after a shower.
You can follow the path to the cliff top for romantic views and visit the nursery that sells the many species grown in the garden.
11. Matlock Bath Aquarium
A quirky family venue, the Matlock Bath Aquarium is located in the resort’s converted Victorian bathroom.
Matlock Bath Aquarium is a lighthearted Victorian miscellaneous collection of carp in thermal pools, displays of gems and fossils from around the world, and the region’s only “petrified well”.
Use limestone deposits to make cakes of whatever is left in this spring.
There’s also an exhibit that recounts the storied history of Matlock Bath, one of the largest hologram exhibits in Europe, and an extensive collection of Goss crown porcelain from the 19th and 20th centuries.
12. Hollis Park
Matlock is just a few hundred meters down the road, and in the heart of the town is the fantastic Holles Park.
A Green Flag winner, this is a great low-cost hangout for summer families.
There’s a children’s boating lake, interactive play area, miniature railroad and putting green.
For older kids, Hall Leys Park has a skate park and acres of open green space if you want to park and picnic on a sunny day.
There is free Wi-Fi, and afternoon tea is served at the cosy café in the park.
The next stop along the Derwent Valley from Mason Mills is Cromford, a village built by Arkwright for his workers in the mid-1770s.
The focus is on Cromford Mill, built between 1771 and 1791. As the world’s first successful hydro-powered cotton spinning mill, it changed the course of manufacturing history.
Cromford Mill is located at the top of the canal of the same name and descends to Langley Mill, 14.5 miles away.
It’s a worthwhile walk as part of the Derwent Valley Heritage Way.
You can also experience some novelty and cruise down the canal along a stretch of waterway in Birdswood Heritage Narrow Boats.
14. Hopeton Quarry Nature Reserve
A few miles west of Cromford, at the tip of the national park is a 10-acre reserve where three former limestone quarries have been filled with calcareous grasslands and woods.
The rocky walls of the site are impressive, gradually replaced by greenery.
Try to time your visit in late spring or summer, when the flat grounds of the quarry are home to an array of nationally important wildflowers.
Among them are orchids such as frog orchid, rare fly orchid, common pandan and pandan.
Also look out for small signs of previous industries, such as ground lead ore shafts and remnants of old kilns.
15. Matlock Bath Light
First held in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, the Matlock Bath Illuminations are the resort’s summer highlight, running for eight weeks between early September and late October.
The event has been organised by the Matlock Bass Venetian Boat Builders Association since its inception.
They build lighting models according to a new theme each year and install these models on a fleet of small rowing boats.
The place to see the lights is Derwent Gardens, where you pay a small entry fee.
Every Saturday night, the lights float, followed by a fireworks finale.
Where to stay: The best hotels in Matlock Bath, England
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