Peak Cavern

Peak Cavern

Peak Cavern entrance
Location Castleton, Derbyshire
Geology Limestone

The Peak Cavern, also known as the Devil's Arse[1][2] (so called because of the flatulent-sounding noises from inside the cave when flood water is draining away), is one of the four show caves in Castleton, Derbyshire, England. Peakshole Water flows through and out of the cave.


A plan of the Peak Cavern from 1834

Unlike the other show caves in the area, Peak Cavern is almost entirely natural; the only artificial part of the cave was blasted to bypass a low tunnel that was only accessible by lying down on a boat. The cave system is the largest in the Peak District, and the main entrance is the largest cave entrance in Britain. Until 1915 the cave was home to some of Britain's last troglodytes (the cave-houses at Kinver Edge near Kidderminster were populated until the 1950s), who lived in houses built inside the cave mouth, and made a living from rope making, while the depths of the cave were known as a haven for bandits. In legend, it was where thieves' cant was created by a meeting between Cock Lorel, leader of the rogues, and Giles Hather, the King of the Gypsies.[3]

Several passages lead from the entrance, known as "The Vestibule". The only one open to the public is "Lumbago Walk", named as traversing it requires most adults to stoop. The route continues through two main caverns, "The Great Cave" and "Roger Rain's House", and into a passage, "Pluto's Dining Room". This is the furthest point currently open to the public, but the show cave used to extend considerably further: down "The Devil's Staircase" to "The Halfway House" and then along an underground stream known as the "Inner Styx", via a series of bridges and under "Five Arches".[4]

At this point, several routes are open to cavers. The main path, to the right, leads to "Victoria Aven", a sizeable shaft and on to "Far Sump", through which lies the Far Sump Extension. This area was first explored in 1980, but difficult access limited discoveries until routes through from Speedwell Cavern and James Hall's Over Engine Mine were opened in 1996.[4] This permitted further exploration, and in 1999 Titan Shaft was discovered, at 141.5 metres (464 ft) the deepest pitch in Britain.

The name

Historically the cave was known as the Devil's Arse, under which name it is described in William Camden's Britannia of 1586:

...there is a cave or hole within the ground called, saving your reverence, The Devils Arse, that gapeth with a wide mouth and hath in it many turnings and retyring roomes, wherein, for sooth, Gervase of Tilbury, whether for want of knowing the truth, or upon a delight hee had in fabling, hath written that a Shepheard saw a verie wide and large Country with riverets and brookes running here and there through it, and huge pooles of dead and standing waters. Notwithstanding, by reason of these and such like fables, this Hole is reckoned for one of the wonders of England...[5]

Daniel Defoe uses the same name in his A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain (1724–26):

...the so famed wonder call'd, saving our good manners, The Devil's A—e in the Peak'.[6]

and also mentions the shepherd story recorded by Gervase of Tilbury. The name of the cave was changed to "Peak Cavern" in 1880 in order not to cause offence to Queen Victoria during a visit for a concert. More recently the cave has been promoted using its older, more vulgar name.[1]


The cavern has hosted concerts by Richard Hawley and The Vaccines. In 2013 the operators began promoting more concerts and events as a way to secure new streams of income. It was transformed into a cinema during Sheffield Doc/Fest in 2013 for a screening of The Summit[7] attended by 500 people.[8] The success of this event led to screenings every night during Doc/Fest 2014, including Happiness and Cave of Forgotten Dreams.[9][10]

See also


  1. 1 2 Hawley, Richard (5 August 2006). "Richard Hawley in Yorkshire and Derbyshire". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
  2. "Welcome to Peak and Speedwell Caverns". Peak Caverns (official website). Retrieved 18 July 2012.
  3. Rid, Samuel (1610). Martin Markall, the Beadle of Bridewell. as quoted in Reynolds, Bryan (1 April 2003). Becoming Criminal: Transversal Performance and Cultural Dissidence in Early Modern England (Google eBook). JHU Press. p. unnumbered.
  4. 1 2 "Micro Guide: Peak Cavern, Castleton" (PDF). Peak District Caving. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
  5. Camden, William (1610) [1586]. Britain, or, a Chorographicall Description of the most flourishing Kingdomes, England, Scotland, and Ireland. Translated by Holland, Philemon. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  6. Defoe, Daniel (1724–26). "Letter 8, Part 2: The Peak District". A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  7. Kay, Peter (30 May 2013). "String of concerts will help raise famous natural venue to new peak". Sheffield Telegraph. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
  8. "'Once in a lifetime chance' to see films". Sheffield Star. 30 May 2013. Retrieved 28 January 2014.
  9. Martin Scorsese premiere for Sheffield Doc/Fest, BBC News, 8 May 2014, retrieved 4 August 2014
  10. Helen Pidd, Pulp to Scorsese: down-to-earth Sheffield Doc/Fest reaches for the stars, The Guardian, 8 June 2014, retrieved 4 August 2014
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Coordinates: 53°20′27″N 1°46′45″W / 53.3409°N 1.7791°W / 53.3409; -1.7791

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