Castleton, Home of peak cavern and Mam Tor

Mam Tor (Shivering Mountain)

Mam Tor
Mam Tor

Mam Tor is one of Castleton’s most famous landmarks, and one that remains ever popular with visitors to the village. Mam Tor rears up above the western end of Hope Valley, peering towards nearby Edale at the same time. It is believed to be one of the earliest hill forts in Britain, and the second highest at 1,700 feet above sea level Its name supposedly means ‘mother hill’, named so because it is shaped like a breast or because it keeps spawning mini-hill beneath as bits drop off, depending on who you believe. It is also known locally as the 'shivering mountain'. This is due to its horizontal layers of shale and gritstone, said to be ‘cake-like’ sedimentary bands, which begin to crumble due to their unstable nature when water and ice work their way into the layers. The shale and gritstone was laid down some 350 million years ago within a river delta. The hill side is said to ‘shiver’ as its rock crumbles away, which is particularly prominent on the east side of the mountain. The area below the face is continually in motion and each period of heavy rain undermines the loose shale and causes it to slip further down the valley. The former A625 main road from Stockport to Sheffield once went down this way but was swept away by a landslide in 1974 and was eventually closed for good in 1979. It is now only accessible by foot, as in 2005 the cost at rebuilding it was estimated at £10,000,000.

At the base of the Tor and nearby are the famous Castleton show caves, Peak Cavern, Speedwell Cavern, Blue John Cavern and Treak Cliff Cavern. The Tor sits near the top of Winnats Pass (a steep and narrow limestone gorge), forms the eastern end of Rushup Edge, and dominates the western end of the Great Ridge, one of the most famous, beautiful, and easy-to-reach ridge walks in the Peak District. The Ridge separates the two arms of the Hope Valley the valley of the River Noe (Edale) to the north, and the Peakshole Water (Castleton) to the south.

Tourist information centre  and Mam Tor
Tourist information centre and Mam Tor

One of the distinctive features of Mam Tor Peak is the active debris flow resulting from a rotational landslide that occurred in the region of 4,000 years ago. Experts say that this began in pre-historic times when the drier climate of the Bronze Age gave way to today's Atlantic period. Geologists think the landslide activity will only stop when the face of the hill reaches an angle of 30 degrees, which isn’t predicted to happen for at least another 1,500 years. The initial failure exposed bedrock displaying a sequence of shales and sandstones near to the summit. Evidence for the continued movement of the slide mass is demonstrated graphically by the complete destruction of a road that once crossed the width of the failure. The road was originally built in 1819 by the Sheffield Turnpike Company using spoil from the nearby Odin mine. The route was designed to bypass the steep limestone gorge of Winnats Pass, where the gradient was a severe test of a coachman's skill and the strength of the horse team. The road was subsequently re-laid until local authorities closed the road in 1979. Layers of tarmac and gravel are up to two metres thick in places, signifying the frequent efforts made to keep the road open.

The pinnacle of Mam Tor offers incredible views and some fascinating historical facets. The summit is ringed by the remains of a great ditch and a series of ramparts (essentially an embankment, often with a parapet built on top). The ramparts can be followed most of the way around the hilltop, and there are clear remains of two gateways on the paths leading from Mam Nick and from Hollins Cross. Further quarrying has proved that the original ramparts had a timber palisade (a basic fence) on top, but later the timber was changed for stone. There are also the foundations of many hut circles within the defences and pottery has also been found, which indicates that the peak of Mam Tor was not merely a defensive site, but rather a developed, inhabitable village.

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There are two Bronze Age burial mounds at the peak of Mam Tor which are the oldest remaining features on the mountain at approximately 3,500 years old. The first burial ground is on a level area shortly before you reach the summit, with the second one residing at the peak itself. These contain the remains of the ancestors and possibly would have demonstrated the 'ownership' rights of the local tribe to lands around through the burial of ancestral remains.

During the latter stages of the Bronze Age, experts believe the hill was inhabited as found near the summit were over a hundred small level platforms were scraped into the hill, which would have allowed timber huts and storage areas to be constructed. This was believed to be the case around 1000 BC. Though no concrete evidence can be sought as to how long people inhabited the area, further mining during the 1960’s suggests it could only have been for a couple of generations. These were Celtic settlers in pre-Roman days who were more than likely aligned with the Brigantes, a tribe whose main district lay to the north in Yorkshire.

In fact, there are several uncertainties concerning the remnants that have been discovered at Mam Tor. One that that is undecided is whether or not the rampart defences date back to the same era as the village settlement. Nor is it clear if the hill fort on Mam Tor was built to protect local inhabitants inside, or to govern and impose themselves on the surrounding area. The ditch and rampart may even have been built during the Iron Age at a later stage after the village had fallen out of use, though this no expert has yet to explain why this would be the case. There is still a great deal unknown about Mam Tor and its former inhabitants.

One thing that is undeniable, however, is the quality of the sights it provides tourists who visit Castleton. The scenery from the summit of Mam Tor is splendid, with a fine view across Castleton and beyond, taking in Edale and Kinder to the north and Hope Valley to the east, as well as a splendid ridge leading from the summit down to Hollins Cross and along to Lose Hill. Mam Tor looks particularly impressive when approached across the limestone moors from the direction of Peak Forest.

The walk across the footpath along the ridge from Mam Tor to Lose Hill is one of the most popular in the Peak District, providing astounding sights in every conceivable direction, including the Derwent Moors, Stanage Edge and the limestone plateau to the south.

The popularity of Mam Tor throughout the years has caused some problems with erosion due to the sheer mass of visitors. Hill paths and some archaeological features have been damaged due to excessive use, so the National Trust has sought a resolution by closing some routes, with walkers encouraged to use specific surfaced paths that have been specially constructed over the last decade or so. Flagstones have been laid along the route which follows the ridge to protect any archaeology underneath. A section of path from the roadside has recently been re-laid, to make it more user friendly. Wooden rail barriers have also been removed, which has improved the view

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