Poole’s Cavern is a natural limestone cave located near Buxton in the Peak District. Dating back some 2 million years, this elaborate cave system is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is one of the region’s most popular historical visitor attractions.
History of Poole’s Cave
Its name originates from an outlaw named Poole, who allegedly used the cave as a hideout as well as a base from which to rob travellers during the 15th century. However, he wasn’t the first to make use of the cavern.
Archaeological findings have also revealed that the cave was occupied during the Bronze Age. The first discoveries were made when the cavern was opened to the public in 1853. After the glacial sediment was excavated, animal and human bones were unearthed.
Twelve years later Roman coins, pottery as well as bronze-silver jewellery were discovered. The latter artefacts seem to indicate that a bronzesmith once worked at the site.
Poole’s Cavern’s limestone walls provide a fascinating clues about how the caves were created. It is believed that the limestone was formed during the Carboniferous geological period around 340 million years ago.
At this time, Britain was connected to a massive continental landmass near the equator. Under these tropical conditions, ancient rivers, brimming with marine-life such as molluscs and coral reefs, poured into shallow, warm seas. The shells of these ancient sea creatures merged with silt to form layer upon layer of rich sediments.
When the continental plates eventually lifted and split apart, the silt layers were deposited over the limestone and formed the Millstone Grit sandstone that’s particularly prevalent in the Northern Peak District.
Evidence indicates that Poole’s Cavern was also shaped by rainwater, which seeped through cracks and into the rock. The water’s acidic content then reacted with the limestone, slowly dissolving the stone over millions of years. Subterranean rivers also contributed to the formation of underground caverns by eroding the limestone.
Poole’s Cavern has attracted the curiosity of visitors since the 16th century; among them have been a host of famous figures including Mary Queen of Scots who is thought to have explored the cave system in 1582.
Writer Charles Cotton also paid a visit around hundred years later, naming it one of his seven ‘Wonder’s of the Peak’. However, the cavern wasn’t officially opened until 1853, by the 6th Duke of Devonshire
The Show-Cave Opens
The Duke’s predecessor had already helped to develop Buxton into a major Spa resort to rival that of Bath, using proceeds from his copper mines. So it made perfect sense to turn Poole’s Cavern into a show-cave that complimented Buxton’s existing attractions. To this end, the 6th Duke appointed Frank Redfern as custodian of the cave.
Under Redfern’s stewardship, the cavern’s entrance was enlarged and hand-rails installed to improve safety and accessibility. The pathways were also levelled and extended, thus providing access to another chamber. A bandstand, monkey house, museum and formal garden were also added over the ensuing years.
In 1859 gas lamps were installed to replace the candelabras that had been in place since the cave’s official opening. These actually remained in use until the cavel’s closure in 1965.
When it was re-opened in 1976 by the Buxton Civic Association, electric lighting was finally introduced. However, many of the 19th century gas lamps can still be seen to this day along with their soot deposits which still smudge parts of the cave walls.
Poole’s Cavern includes four large chambers: the Great Dome, the Roman Chamber, the Poached Egg Chamber and the Sculpture Chamber.
These vast chambers are adorned with stunning mineral formations including stalactites, which hang from the cave’s ceiling – the cavern is actually home to the longest one in Derbyshire. Know as the Font, it is seven feet in length and around 100,000 years old.
Flowstone curtains, which are similar in appearance to stalactites, can also be seen in parts of the cave and are equally as impressive. Shaped by flowing water, they are most typically found in limestone ‘solution caves’ such as Poole’s Cavern.
Further geological marvels can be seen in the Poached Egg Chamber which features stalagmites. In contrast to stalactites which emanate from above, stalagmites are upward growing mounds. The most prominent examples at Poole’s Cavern include the Flitch of Bacon and the Mary Queen of Scots Pillar.
Fascinatingly, these stalagmites display growth rings which offer clues as to their age, just like trees. Within each layer are particles and isotopes that also help scientists to plot historical climate change.
In 1998, a survey was conducted to determine how far Poole’s Cavern extended beyond the exiting chambers. It was discovered that the caves could potentially stretch for up to one and a half miles.
As well as the intriguing geology on display, Poole’s Cavern is home to various families of Bat which use the cave to roost and hibernate. They include Whiskered, Brants, Daubenton’s and Natterers bat species.
Supervised tours of Poole’s Cavern are run from the visitor exhibition area and last around 15 minutes. Experienced guides take visitors into the depths of the intricate cave system via a secure pathway, offering their own unique and informed insights into the geology and history of the caves.
Despite there being 28 steps to negotiate, the use of pushchairs and child buggies are allowed and shouldn’t present too many difficulties. However, caution is advised for the infirm. It’s also worth taking an extra layer of clothing when touring the caves given that the temperature is kept at a bracing 7C.
Cafe and Visitor Centre
A cafe is situated near the cave serving hot food, snacks and drinks. Its menu includes homemade dishes made from locally-sourced ingredients as well as cakes and freshly-ground coffee. Free Wi-Fi is also available.
The visitor centre, which is opposite the cafe, offers guide books and maps of Buxton Park as well as an exhibition displaying archaeological finds from the cavern. There’s also an excellent well-stocked gift-shop selling an extensive array of rocks, crystals and gemstones. Books, gifts, jewellery and toys can also be purchased.
Buxton Country Park
Poole’s Cavern lies beneath Grin Low Hill which is set within the borders of Buxton Country Park. The park was developed in the 19th century to conceal the white spoil heaps formed by lime-burning.
Along with the 100-acre Grin Low Wood which was planted around the same time, it has become a haven for woodland, flower and bird species.
Numerous information panels have been placed throughout, describing the park’s history as well as the wildlife that flourishes within its confines. Four trails meander through the beautiful, plush-green open spaces and wild-flower pastures.
The Yellow Route is a geology trail that runs from the car-park to Grin Low Summit, taking in fossil sculptures as well as a detailed wooden carving of a lime-burner known as Charlie. The route takes about 25 minutes to complete.
The Green Route, which takes about 30 minutes, passes the nearby Go Ape Adventure Park and on through open wildflower meadow. After a while it steepens, wending its way past open fields to its end point at Solomon’s Temple.
Blue Route is the most circuitous of the three trails and takes about 45 minutes to complete. Running through open fields and a variety of rock formations, it comprises a steep section with steps and winds past a caravan site on to Solomon’s temple.
Solomon’s Temple is a major landmark within Buxton Country Park. At 439 metres above sea-level this Victorian folly affords some outstanding views of the local countryside. Inside, a spiral staircase leads to the top where visitors can take in the beauty of Buxton and beyond.
The temple was built in 1896 on an ancient burial mound. This was discovered during the tower’s construction when an archaeological dig unearthed skeletons from the Bronze Age. Roman artefacts were also found during the excavation.
Go Ape Adventure Park
One of the largest Go Ape parks in the UK is situated within a short distance of Poole’s Cavern. Set in the Peak District National Park, the award-winning adventure course boasts a variety of tree-top activities including zip-wires, Tarzan swings, high ropes and elevated obstacles.
Thinking of staying near the show-caves? View our Peak District holiday properties.