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Sunday 15th September 2013

Matlock Bath and The Heights of Abraham

Stood in the Derwent Valley you are aware of so many different sights and sounds. There’s the tree-lined sides, the shops, the bed and breakfasts, even the grumble of a motorbike’s exhaust. In many respects its a seaside resort a good 80 miles from the coast, but take a cable-car trip up and over the gorge and the secrets are revealed.

At the top is the Heights of Abraham, although no Old Testament figure ever visited here. The former name of this place is Masson Hill but was renamed after the successful British naval battle against the French at the Heights of Abraham, in Quebec in 1789.

Even that belies its past, which would you believe was lead mining. The Peak District had been a centre for the mining from before Roman times, with the process being a family affair. A bore was drilled before fathers and children dug out the galena, which the wives winched up to the surface an smelted. Was it a dangerous business? Well not if you were actually mining, save for the odd rockfall, but for the women it could be slowly lethal, as they slowly contracted lead poisoning. A male lead miner often found himself married three times in his working life.

That rather grisly leech on life was slowly drawing to a close when Princess, later Queen Victoria visited Matlock Bath, and soon after unemployed miners would charge tourists a penny to visit the caves left when the galena had all been extracted, with a further penny for a candle and further pennies for further candles, and even to be rescued when the tourists got lost! The complaints were many, and eventually the whole experience was cleaned up.

Life was made still easier when the Cable Car was introduced, and other than the caverns there is the frankly extraordinary view to be admired. And that is where the pictures tell their own story.