As an Aussie medievalist abroad you tend to get super excited by any medieval town, artefacts, structures, etc. And if you’re me you pick up ALL the pamphlets and take way too many photos. This however is great for later research and for sharing with the blogosphere. In this post I’ll be sharing one of my local sites from when I was living in Sheffield – Peveril Castle and its adorable little town Castleton. The Peak District National Park lies between Sheffield and Manchester to the east and west, and Huddersfield and Derby roughly to the North and South. It therefore is incorporated into several different English counties, however the majority of it is part of Derbyshire – Chatsworth House (aka Pemberley) is also located nearby, and so is Bakewell the home of the Bakewell Pudding and the Bakewell tart. It’s idyllic countryside and the only really way to see it is by road – so I’d highly suggest grabbing a car or doing a bus tour, otherwise you’ll miss the scenery flying by on a train.
Castleton is accessible by bus from Sheffield or by train to Hope which is the closest train station and then a walk via a ‘public footpath’ (a rant for another time if you’re not familiar with English public footpaths). I would definitely recommend the first option. Follow the signs from the bus station (there’s a map with the town and the castle laid out) up the hill towards the castle, you’ll find and English Heritage shop where you can buy your ticket its £4.70 for adults and £4.20 for students. You then begin your steep and winding walk up the footpath of the outer bailey – bring your walking shoes! However make sure you stop every so often to turn around and admire the view over Castleton and the Peak – its almost worth the entry fee by itself.
You then enter into the inner bailey where remnants of the outer walls and hall are visible, medieval archaeologists will be able to notice the earthworks as other features as well (old and new halls, chapel etc.), however the keep is still mostly intact and the dominant building on the site. It is well placed atop the hill with views over the Hope valley and Castleton, as well as cliffs on two sides.
It was originally built in the 11th century as ‘The Caste of the High Peak’ with additions in the 12th and 13th centuries by the lords who governed over the ‘Forest of the Peak’ and the surrounding countryside. It morphed from a highly defensive and militarised Norman structure to a castle which was predominantly residential and governmental in function.
The keep holds all the novelty of other medieval keeps – now missing its wooden ceilings and floors, the beam slots for the several storeys are still visible, along with informative signs showing where the garde-robes and toilets were, because nothing says the middle ages like a toilet hole over a cliff!
When you wind your way back down the outer bailey and into the town there’s more medievalness awaiting you – the local parish church. St Edmund’s is over 900 years old and has records of its vicars back into the 13th century. The church graveyard is an absolute treat with headstones bearing ‘Celtic’ designs to Victorian monuments. When you step inside the 12th-14th century architecture becomes more apparent, some only leaving traces where I assume the reformation took its toll. There’s a great Norman chancel arch and 17th century box pews. There wasn’t too much information available on the details of the successive restorations or renovations but much of it was “restored” in the 19th century. If you want a good hot chocolate or pint there’s The George Inn across from the church, otherwise the town in its touristy splendour has lots of little pubs, cafes, a fudge shop and other options for F&B. Another great attraction that was sadly closed while I was there are the caves – it’s like Jenolan but British! There are several different cave options, one of which is so large they hold concerts in there – well worth a look.