All this country is hollow. Could you strike it with some gigantic hammer it would boom like a drum, or possibly cave in altogether and expose some huge subterranean sea wrote Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in a short story about Derbyshire. The creator of Sherlock Holmes is referring to the hidden depths of the county and Buxton has its own excellent example.
Situated in the suburbs, you may wonder about the curious location of Buxton’s solitary show cave. If you’re a first-time visitor to town, you can be forgiven for thinking that you’re the target of some mischievous local’s prank, being sent into the sticks in search of a tourist attraction. However, it’s fair to say that the cave has been there considerably longer than the houses; around 2 million years in fact. The urban encroachment has something to do with Buxton’s connection to the nearby towns of Macclesfield and Leek. Green Lane, on which Poole’s Cavern is found, was once called Leek Road.
Once located, you will discover a sizable car park in the shadow of Grinlow Woods, which covers the majority of Buxton Country Park. The trees invite you onto their labyrinth of paths, some of which lead upwards to the summit, where the tower of Solomon’s Temple sits majestically, or Grinlow Folly as it is sometimes known. There is even a small but fun sculpture trail. The car park also serves the cavern which provides further accommodation with its café, picnic area, toilets and visitor centre. If neither show cave nor woodland trail is adrenalin-fuelled enough for you, then there is the seasonal option of the Go Ape aerial zip-wire adventure which starts here too.
No trip to Buxton is complete without a visit to Poole’s Cavern. With traces of extinct prehistoric animals, Roman occupation and Victorian investment, not to mention the eponymous outlaw Poole, the cave represents a microcosm of the town’s vibrant history. The guided tours are surprisingly colourful with a modern lighting system that projects across the eccentric limestone formations. The cave has stunned visitors for hundreds of years including Mary Queen of Scots and you get the humble sense that your footsteps follow those of many generations before you. Amazingly, the cave has actually been lit since the 1860s although the original system was powered by gas piped all the way from the town centre.
It is likely that Poole’s Cavern runs much deeper into the hills, currently beyond the reach of civilisation, and you can wonder what lies beneath when you explore the woods. The trees conceal more of the town’s history; they thin out at the summit to reveal the remnants of lime kilns. Solomon’s Temple was built on a much older monument where Neolithic human skeletons were once unearthed by local antiquarian Micah Salt. The remains are kept at the town’s museum, along with more archaeological finds from the cave, including some remarkably exquisite Roman jewellery. If you have the time, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is a logical extension of the visit to Poole’s Cavern (or vice versa). Admission is free so it won’t make your wallet any lighter.
As well as heritage, the woods are home to a diverse range of flora and fauna and you can read about that here.
For more information, and visiting Poole’s Cavern & Buxton Country Park, go to www.poolescavern.co.uk