Castleton, Home of peak cavern and Mam Tor

Peveril Castle

Peveril Castle
Peveril Castle

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The village of Castleton is dominated, both historically and scenically, by Peveril Castle. The castle is such an important monument in Castleton, not just for its rich heritage (and the fact the town was actually named after the castle), but for the opportunity it gives tourists to witness some breathtaking and unique views of the beautiful Castleton landscape.

Formerly known as the Peak Castle, Peveril Castle is still sometimes referred to as Castleton Castle. It looms large over Castleton, overlooking the village, situated high on a ridge that provides wonderful views down on the village itself, as well as across Hope Valley and Cave Dale. Its significance is highlighted by the fact it is a protected Scheduled Ancient Monument, meaning the castle is considered to be a ‘nationally important’ archaeological site or historic building, and is given protection against any unauthorised changes. The castle is also a Grade 1 listed building.

The history of the castle is a fascinating tale. Following the Norman Conquest, William I ordered for a series of castles to be erected up and down the country, with Peveril Castle believed to be among the first castles sanctioned for construction. The castle is actually named after William I’s son William Peverel (though rumours persist about Peverel’s illegitimacy, there is no proof to support the theory). Peverel, after the Norman Conquest, was granted Royal Manors of the Peak, and as such became the administrator of the Royal Forest of the Park in Castleton on behalf of the King.

The castle was then built in 1080 (the castle was so infamous it was even mentioned as Pechesers in the Doomsday book in 1086 where ‘Arnbiorn and Hundingr held the land of William Peveril’s castle in Castleton’). The site of the castle was strategically placed, likely to have been chosen for its natural strength, being both reasonably inaccessible and easily defendable.

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The original structure was built from wood, but when wear and tear was evident the castle was re-built with stone around 1175, and this is essentially the building that you can see in Castleton today. A square keep with round headed windows was built around the same time, which still stands in Castleton to this day.

Unfortunately for Peverel, his son, William Peverel the Younger, was to be the undoing for the Peverel family as custodians of the castle. In 1155, Peverel the Younger fell to dishonour with King Henry II, allegedly for becoming too independent, and the King confiscated the Peverel’s of their estate, in the process taking the responsibility of the Castle from them. Since Peverel the Younger was stripped of his duties, the castle has undergone many changes and been used in a series of different ways by Castleton’s rulers.  

Peveril Castle became the responsibility of a succession of Royal Kings and Queens for a couple of hundred years, but in the late 14th century it was granted to John of Gaunt in exchange for the earldom of Richmond, and became part of the Duchy of Lancaster’s estate. However, on John of Gaunt’s death, his son - who would later become King Henry IV - inherited Peveril Castle and it became part of the Crown estate.

After the Tudor times in Castleton in the 17th century, the building was considered to be too uncomfortable to reside at. Over a considerable period of time, the apartments were demolished, with only the Keep being retained to serve as a courthouse. From hereon in the Castle was left unoccupied and rapid deterioration occurred until, in the early 19th century, the Duchy finally accepted the depreciated state of the castle and took responsibility for the necessary repairs and reconstruction work.

The castle has belonged to the crown or the Duchy of Lancaster ever since, and is now in the care of the English Heritage. (Incidentally, it is on record that King Henry II visited Castleton, and Peveril Castle numerous times, many times to hunt, but on one notable occasion to meet King Malcolm of Scotland in 1157. The Castleton court records show that there was plenty of wine drunk that night!)

All of which means Peveril Castle is now open to the public, and tourists who travel to Castleton are keen to make the most of that fact.

To get into the castle, guests must walk up a very steep climb from Castleton, which is a considerable walk and will certainly help keep you fit! This was not the original main approach, however: the original entrance went up Goosehill and meandered up the hill to the approach along the ridge above Cavedale, which reaches towards the Keep. Peveril dug a breach in this ridge to create a moat which had a wooden bridge across it. Unfortunately, this bridge is no longer there and was never restored.

The Castleton entrance leads in through the remains of a gatehouse which was built in the 12th century and into the main courtyard of the castle. Around this is the remains of a curtain wall, which was constructed in early Norman times by the Peverils, and includes Roman tiles which presumably were taken from the ruins of the Roman fort at Navio (Brough).

Peveril Castle Visitor Centre
Peveril Castle Visitor Centre

Dominating the site are the remains of the keep, which was built by Henry II in 1176 and is relatively well preserved. The keep was originally about 60 feet high and was faced with fine gritstone blocks, which still remain on the east and south sides. It dominates the view across both Castleton and Cave Dale below. Inside the courtyard it is possible to trace the foundations of a Great Hall and kitchens and other buildings, but it is the view across the surrounding countryside of Castleton which is the finest feature of the visit.

An excellent short walk around the castle is to go up Cavedale from the centre of Castleton. When the dale begins to level out towards the top, cut up to the right to reach a path coming back along the top of the ridge. This approaches Peveril Castle from the west, and then descends to Goosehill via the original approach route mentioned above.


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