Turn your gaze back over the river to the town itself. See if you can make out the row of shops and amusement arcades below, and the glare of the theme park towering high up on the opposite side of the gorge. You might even catch the smell of fish and chips wafting its way up the cliffs!
We have explored how the road to Nottingham opened up access to the village, but how did this change an aristocratic spa town into the one we see below us today?
In early the 18th century, Britain was in conflict with France. The resulting Napoleonic Wars made travel across Europe unsafe and discouraged the wealthy from taking continental holidays (known as ‘the Grand Tour’). Instead British travellers were diverted to places much closer to home. Dramatic British landscapes – such as the Peak District and Lake District – became very popular tourist destinations.
Soon, Matlock Bath saw the arrival of the railway, just 30 years after the toll road. With this came a completely different kind of visitor… the large, organised excursion had arrived!
Matlock Bath was now even more accessible from newly industrialised Derby and Nottingham. Location and access meant Matlock was then not only a spa destination but a perfect getaway for land-locked city dwellers. With the nearest coastline nearly 100 miles away, Matlock Bath took on the role of a traditional seaside resort. As the new middle classes came to see the sights, the village’s aristocratic ambience gradually gave way to commercialism. At the peak of the Pavilion’s popularity in the early 1900s Matlock’s station saw 17 trains arrive per day.
Mass tourism here still scales new heights – literally! The cable cars we spotted earlier transport visitors to another Victorian spectacle – The Heights of Abraham. These are a set of caves, which formed both naturally and from mining. In the early 20th century they were turned into show caves, complete with light displays for the increasing numbers of day trippers.
Tourism, however, also grew in an era of fascination with the natural world. The wilderness and dramatic landscape of the gorge itself also made it a visitor destination in its own right…
Continue on the higher level of the walkway with the town below you. You will reach a wooden fenced path that leads back down the hill, but take the right fork to continue along the top with the town on your left. At the second fork do the same out into more open countryside – there is a ‘Lover’s Walk’ sign post on this fork.
Follow this route past the sign post until you have wound down the hillside to reach the Matlock Bath station car park. Turn left out of the car park over the small bridge that leads you onto North Parade. Follow this along until you reach Jubilee Bridge on your left and cross over to the opposite bank to stand on the lower level of Lovers Walk.
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.