Castleton, Home of peak cavern and Mam Tor

Blue John Cavern

Blue John Cavern is a natural cave with the occasional remaining mine workings. Of the 16 known veins where Blue John Stone is found in Castleton, eight of them are located in Blue John Cavern. The eight veins here are Twelve Vein, Old Dining Room, Bull Beef, New Dining Room, Five Vein, Organ Room New Cavern and Landscape. The name Blue John Cavern is thought to have been made up by John Kirk and Joseph Hall, who worked the mines in the 18th Century. The mineral is still worked here during the winter months in areas way from public view. The miners who work the remaining seams act as guides for the Castleton underground tours.

The walking route for Castleton visitors follows the dried up bed of the river that initially formed Blue John Cavern. The river existed only for short periods during the ice age, as it was fed by the melting ice of the beginning interglacials. It has been over 8000 years since the river was last flowing freely.

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For visitors to Blue John Cavern, the route commences with the drop of a short set of steps through a man made passageway around twenty yards long. From the foot of this stairway, visitors immediately pass into the beginning of the natural caverns. From this point onwards, the awe-inspiring splendour of Blue John Cavern can be indulged in.

From this vantage point, it is easy to appreciate the difficulties the Castleton miners had in accessing the cave, and it is certainly not a comfortable passage to walk down into the chambers. The original entrance is visible when you reach the first chamber, which is just an old pothole high in the roof. The first explorers were lowered on a rope into the caves down this aven. The action of water is visible everywhere in the cavern in the scalloping and etching of the rock walls. Soon the path follows the dried-up river bed itself.  

Clearly noticeable in the chamber are the relics of the old Castleton miners that have been preserved for the benefit of tourists in Castleton - a trolley, windlass and bellows, and some of the old workings where the best pieces of Blue John Stone were gathered.

There are six predominant natural chambers in Blue John Cavern, all with their own inimitable features. The sheer beauty of the caverns, complete with their exotic mineral colourings and exceptionally attractive crystals, has to be seen to be believed. Indeed, the whole of the show section winds through many chambers, each one special and exciting, with wonderful formations and colourings.

The first is Bull Beef, which is a working mine that is credited with producing some of the most spectacularly large pieces of Blue John Stone ever mined. This variety of Blue John Stone is known as Bull Beef because of its similarity to raw beef.

Second chamber is The Grand Crystallised Cavern. This is shaped like a dome, with a lofty roof and a type of Blue John Stone that looks like a tree trunk sawn in half due to its colour and markings.

The Waterfall Cavern is the third chamber. The left hand side of the cavern is covered entirely in stalagmitic formations, appearing like a spectacular frozen waterfall. Thanks to the iron oxide deposits, the high roof is decoratively coloured.

The fourth natural chamber is called The Stalactite Cavern. The Stalactite Cavern shows the meandering course that the underground river originally took. A trimming of stalactites are visible from the reasonably high roof, which bears a resemblance to an upside down riverbed.

Lord Mulgrave's Dining Room is the penultimate natural chamber. It was formed when two underground rivers collided, creating a whirlpool which is responsible for forming the circular shape of the chamber. It's named Lord Mulgrave’s Dining room because of a fabled tale that stated his Lordship entertained a group of miners to a dinner of some sort.

Finally is The Variegated Cavern. This is the last of caverns shown to Castleton tourists. At nearly 200ft high, the chamber is imposing and awe-inspiring in equal measure. Its peculiar name is derived from the variety of the etchings on the walls and in the roof. Here it is possible to fully value the force and power of the water which formed the caverns. From a position standing 20ft above the ground on a specially constructed platform, it is possible to look on into the blackness, down a vast hall, where only speleologists tread, littered with huge boulders, carried there by some long forgotten stream. 

It is not until tourists begin their trip back up to the surface, which is taken along the same route as travelled down the cave, that the depths that have been descended can be fully appreciated. Although it is quite an effort to climb back up the chambers - the cave descends for 214 feet – the endeavour is made worthwhile thanks to the beautiful scenery that is passed on the return journey.

On completion of the tour, there is a craft shop that has available a wide variety of Blue John Jewellery set in silver and gold, alongside Blue John Ornaments such as bowls, eggs, and goblets.

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