High Tor stands high above Matlock Dale on the eastern side of the River Derwent. It’s outstanding cliff face is reported to be the last nesting place of eagles in England. Today it is part of the Matlock parks and a popular place for visitors, this is nothing new, it has been a popular spot since the late 18th century. A mixture of Victorian walks and long term mineral and ore mining activity have created some interesting features that are worth exploring.
Climbing up High Tor
Alex and myself set off from a car park at the southern end of Old Matlock, and climbed the steep path up towards the top of High Tor. There were a couple of viewing platforms on the way up which gave us a taste of what was to come overlooking Matlock and the river Derwent. We could also see the Heights of Abraham opposite with the bubble car cable cars going up and down its side.
It was a steady climb up a well formed path and we soon arrived at a stone arch with a seat in it. Here we had to make a choice about where we were going to walk, along Giddy Edge or through Fern Gully? It was a difficult choice as both are equally inviting, so we decided to walk along Giddy Edge come back over High Tor and then walk through Fern Gully.
Aptly named Giddy Edge is a path along the cliff face that was created by the Victorians for their amusement – and folk are still being ‘amused’ by it today! There is no rail along the edge to protect you from the drop of hundreds of feet (apparently there was in Victorian times,) so the walk can be a little unnerving at best and petrifying if you do not like heights. We loved the mountainous feeling walking along the narrow path which at times forces you very near to the vertical drop. Unfortunately the path is not very long and just as we were getting into it’s ‘airy’ atmosphere it came to an end.
Because the path is only wide enough for one person, the parks people try to operate a one way system along it, to save some folk having to turn around and go back when they come face to face with someone coming the other way – it’s not really the place for an argument. On one side of you there is a shear cliff face rising to the top of High Tor and on the other a drop of several hundred feet – limited choices eh!
There is a seat about half way along the path, while sitting there you feel like an eagle in it’s nest watching the world far below. Bus’s on the road below look like toys making their way along a narrow thread. If you do not have a head for heights then do not go there, and don’t take small children, it is an Alpine experience.
Like I said unfortunately the path is quite short and only too soon we reached it’s end. We made our way back over the top of High Tor to find again the entrance to Fern Gully.
Fern Gully is the workings of miners over centuries who extracted ore from the rock, mainly lead. Reputedly ore has been mined from here since Roman times although no archaeological evidence has been found to substantiate this. The gully/cave was converted into a walkway for the Victorians but these days it is fenced off for health and safety reasons (Think of all the things that would never have been achieved if the Victorians had been as health and safety conscious as us!)
Happily it is a bit of a half hearted effort at fencing the gully off and it was easy to climb over the wooden fence. A steep down hill path leads to a very narrow entrance with an old rusty gate that had been forced open many years ago. The ground of the gully was covered with dark brown fallen leaves that rustled beneath our feet as we trod along the narrow path with high rocky walls on either side. It was very atmospheric and it felt like we were entering into another world, it was hard to believe that not far away modern day life was buzzing away.
Some of the gully evolved into a cave, the rock was covered with crystallised minerals that glisten in the torch light (you need a torch) and some of it looked like a primeval goo that you dare not touch. Here briefly was a subterranean world a taster of the caving life. Alex was ahead of me and asked me if I was scared of spiders “why?” I asked “because there are huge ones all over the roof”. I am not scared of spiders but there was an eerie feel of entering ‘Shelob’s lair’. Again the walk was over only too quickly and we soon came out into an open gully nearer the surface which Alex decided would be a great place for bouldering.
Finding a lead mine
Both Giddy Edge and Fern Gully were great experiences but our adventures were not over yet. On our way down from High Tor Alex found a path used by the BMC to access the cliffs for climbing and decided to explore. Along a narrow path we came across an old mine entrance and decided to go in.
The mine went into the side of the mountain for about 100m, it was low in places and narrow, how people worked in these places years ago who knows – wet and cramped and dark. I suppose they would have only had candles for light as well not the bright torches we had. All along the tunnel there were these fibrous strings hanging down from the roof which puzzled me, until Alex said that they were roots from the trees above. It was amazing to think that these roots had penetrated their way down through the rock.
In places along the walls we could see were the miners had drilled to placed explosive charges to blow the rock, it was weird to be so close to someones past.
Almost made it to the Heights of Abraham
Finally we left the Tor coming to its base near the ticket office for the cable car which I think was shut on this particular day. We crossed the river and found a small very steep road up towards the Heights of Abraham.
Climbing up the hill made us sweat, our plan was to walk across the top of the hill but we took a path too soon and ended up walking through the woods on its slopes, which was pleasant enough. It made a gentle finish to our walk after the extremes of High Tor.
Soon we were back at the River Derwent, crossing it again it was only a short walk back to our car. If you fancy something different I really recommend High Tor. You take your safety into your own hands but if you do not mind a bit of risk it is worth it, and I think if you like just clambering around on rocks then the gullies are a great place to spend a few hours.