Standing on the main street, look along the line of shops, arcades and attractions. The tranquility of our view from High Tor above may seem like a lifetime ago!
Imagine the hustle and bustle of this main thoroughfare when the railways first ferried visitors in droves. The sights prompted J. B. Firth in 1908 to describe
the bawling of the drivers of brakes and waggonettes, the attentions of the pushing salesmen“.
Today the bold blues, yellows and pinks of ice cream shops, fish and chip bars and arcades are hard to miss. And neither is the Aquarium. This building holds another clue to Matlock’s visitor appeal. Of the many spas and wells that first brought visitors to Matlock in their thousands, behind these walls is the only one that still works today – the Petrifying Well.
A ‘Petrifying Well’, as advertised on the board outside, was once a real feature of the town and drew in crowds of thrill seekers from the surrounding cities. But what is a ‘Petrifying Well’?
The answer again points to how Matlock Bath gorge was originally formed. The high mineral content of the limestone cliffs gives the water a seemingly mystical quality. Limestone makes the water so rich in calcium and other minerals it appears to turn objects into stone!
What actually happens is that when the heavily mineralised water evaporates in the heat of the thermal springs, this leaves a deposit of calcium carbonate and lime salts. These build up on objects left in the water and their exteriors become ‘solid’. The process is similar to the way stalactites and stalagmites – the icicle-like columns inside caves – are created.
This curio, once a pillar of Matlock Bath’s development, is now bolstered with an aquarium and fossil collection. Both are further examples of the village’s continuing seaside aroma. .
Though we are back on the main street, our trail has taken in riverbanks, cliff top walkways and cable cars. Our, journey has uncovered the ways Matlock’s natural landscape and human intervention have combined to create a one-off destination. Although we are 100 miles from the sea, we explored the unique set of circumstances that give Matlock a coastal resort feel – from the types of rocks in the gorge to its ideal location for Victorian holiday makers in the East Midlands.
Maybe Matlock Bath has the perfect combination of factors to sustain this unusual but undoubtedly popular tourism for many years to come?
Continue on down North Parade until you return to the start point at the Grand Pavillion on your left.
This trail was originally appeared on the Royal Geographical Society’s Discovering Britain. Thanks are due to:
Jo Kemp for creating and photographing the trail.
Rory Walsh and Caroline Millar for suggestions and advice.
Neil Theasby for images reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Lily Alsop for putting together the written guide.