Peaks district – Blue John Cavern and the Chestnut Centre

August 14, 2014
Peaks district – Blue John Cavern and the Chestnut Centre
Sunrise Thursday the weather looks clear and cool but the TV forecasts rain for everywhere else in Britain. Therefore a good time to visit the Peaks District. This is about 1 hour 15 mins north-west of Long Eaton by car travelling out through Chesterfield. We have two objectives the Blue John Cavern and the Chestnut Centre both near the village of Chapel en le Frith (Yes we are still in the UK but in the 12th century when this used to be royal hunting forest King Stephen established the chapel and from there grew the town. These royals of course were Normans and spoke French not Saxon so it became known as the Chapel in the Forest or Chapel en le Frith).
The drive was trouble free and when we started to climb the hills the scenery changed dramatically. Suddenly the hills were the colour purple with heather flowering everywhere. We stopped by a public walkway (these paths are all over the UK allowing the public to walk across most open fields and hills) and took the photos below. Tres pretty and this is where we got the first inkling that cool really meant very cool. We continued the drive and the scenery just got more and more picturesque. It is hard to pull over to take photos so I just snapped them from inside the car. I also took a video which I am not sure if I can put into my blog but I will try. It will give you some idea of the extraordinary beauty of this region.
We came into the Blue John cavern region through Castletown and to access the cavern we had to travel through this pass in the hills which looked like a giant sword strike in the hills (see photos below). As we travelled up the crag sheep hung precariously off the slopes grazing but I wondered how many had become road kill over time – how they hung on I don’t know. Once we reached the top and made our way to the turnoff to the cavern another extraordinary vista opened before us. Just pretty country.
The cavern looked pretty tired. The visitors centre looked more like a military bunker and the entrance to the cavern looked like a cell. It did not help that we were dressed for a summer day and it felt like the middle of a Brisbane winter day. Even in the cavern it felt like a fridge.
Blue John (or as the nobles of the 17th century referred to it “Bleu et Juene” [French was still the language of the nobility] – hence the locals misinterpreted it as Blue John) is a semi-precious fluor-spar mineral formed in the limestone and mined for the last 300 years. It is the only hill in the world where this mineral can be found so the clever miners have reduced production to simply top up use of the product annually thereby holding its value as a semi-precious mineral. I have included some of our photos going through the cavern and some of the veins of the mineral and the entrance to the current cavern where the commercial deposits can be mined (not allowed in there). I have also taken a photo of a yellow stone/deposit in the gift store window as there was none of that evident in the cavern.
After surfacing from the cavern we travelled on to the Chestnut Centre (Otter Owl and wildlife-park). We stopped for a coffee from our new flask courtesy of our friendly bus driver Robert and then ventured into the park. We arrived at feed time for some of the animals. We saw a martin, some European polecats (looked very much like the martin) various owls from little ones to big ones and otters from little ones to big ones. Kerry was put off that they were feeding them dead day old chicks but none of the kids seemed the least bit worried. I have given you a variety of pictures below. As we arrived at the Giant Otter pen it started to rain and rain and rain so we made our way back to the visitors centre but on the way stopped under a tree to watch the deer being feed hence the rain drops on the lens.
It was time we were fed. So we decided to shout ourselves lunch instead of the boiled eggs we had planned to eat. We found the Roebuck Pub in Chapel en le Frith in the ancient part of the town (the pub had been there in some form since the 12th century and the food tasted like it was from that epoc). Rested and fed we travelled home via Ikea town where Kerry solved a problem with the curtains in our bedroom – bought new curtains. So ended another successful adventure.
I have attached photos of:
• the heather over the hills
• views of the picturesque country side
• the gorge and the visitors centre
• the trip down the cavern
• “blue john” in the face of the wall and cut and polished and
• The pole martin and his friends at the Chestnut Centre.

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Retired Australian Lawyer having worked representing the innocent and the not so innocent in Australia and some of the remote parts of the world and having travelled widely through Europe, Western Russia, Canada, USA, New Zealand, Thailand Malaysia Solomon Islands northern China, Hong Kong and the UAE So now that I have the time I am writing about my travels present and past. Hope you enjoy exploring off the beaten track.