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A day out in Matlock Bath

I have lived in Derbyshire for a long time and one place which I love to visit time and time again is the town of Matlock Bath. I live about 15 minutes away, or in peak tourist season on a hot Summer Sunday, about an hour away. The traffic into Matlock Bath on such a day is heavy, but it somehow adds to the excitement.

Matlock Bath has a truly excellent atmosphere on warm Summer evenings, the more people there, the more fun the atmosphere is. If you've never been to Matlock Bath before, then it is quite difficult for an outsider to understand the true relevance of the town within the locality. It is traditional to visit the town on a Sunday, especially if you are a biker. By mid-afternoon, motorcycles of all shapes and sizes, all colours and models line the streets, attracting many admirers of many ages.

So why do the leather-clad motorcycle fanatics congregate in this small Derbyshire tourist trap? Well, some come along just for the ride, some to soak up the atmosphere with fellow bikers, but a trip to Matlock Bath for a true bike enthusiast is not complete without a visit to the Bike Shop. The infamous Bike Shop at Matlock Bath is like a Mecca to some, with many bikers making long pilgrimages every year just to pay a visit. Each to his own I suppose.

So what does Matlock Bath offer for those of us who are simply tourists, wanting a good day out with our family and friends? As you approach Matlock Bath along the A6 from Derby you pass the New Bath Hotel on the left hand side. The New Bath Hotel at Matlock Bath has been reviving tired spirits since the year in which Prince Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie led his Jacobites as far South as nearby Derby. The new bath after which the hotel is named was a naturally heated spa bath opened in 1745 about a quarter of a mile away from the first primitive mineral bath which had operated since 1698. The New Bath, to distinguish it from the Old Bath had water "as warm if not warmer than the other Bath". By the end of the 18th century the bath and its arched stone roof were incorporated into the hotel building. Today the "new bath" serves as the hotels indoor plunge pool and is still fed by the waters of the mineral spring which emerge from the ground at

As you approach Matlock Bath, there's a steep left hand turn-off. This leads to the children's theme park going by the name of Gulliver's Kingdom. It is a well-planned theme park aimed at families with younger children. Gulliver's Kingdom has a lovely wooded hillside setting and there are thirty rides and attractions as well as shops, places to eat and picnic areas. The best bet is to arrive early and get on the rides before it gets too packed. As with any theme park food and drink can be expensive so it might be good idea to bring your own.

Next to the theme park is Temple Mine. Here, visitors can actually pan for lead and gold and see the railway system that was so essential for the transportation of the mined material. Temple Mine has displays which recreate the atmosphere of mining in the twentieth century.

When you've had enough, either leave the car where it is, or my personal favourite is to move the car to the car park at the other end of town. Part of the fun of visiting Matlock Bath is battling for a car parking space. Last time I visited, I circled the car park 10 times before I found a space, witnessing many examples of car park rage, better than watching soaps on TV! In the modern-day age of commercialism, Matlock Bath is unusual in that it has no "high street" names among its fine array of shops. This makes a pleasant change and you feel that you can browse at your leisure. The shops are mainly located on one side of the street, the other is like a promenade, following the line of the river. Many of the locals call Matlock Bath the seaside town without a sea. With it's vast array of arcades and fish and chip shops, you could be fooled into thinking Derbyshire in fact has a coastline. It doesn't of course, but no visit to Matlock Bath is complete without walking along the riverside eating fish and chips out of the wrapper. It simply has to be done. There are some lovely tourist-y type shops, with all sorts of gifts, with new ones opening up all the time. If you don't want your chips whilst on the move, there are plenty of sit-down and eat cafes, all with their own specials boards.

Matlock Bath Aquarium and Hologram Gallery is well worth a visit. The site of an original thermal swimming pool with various aquaria containing species of British and tropical freshwater fish. There is a large open pool which is fed by a thermal spring and illuminated at night containing common carp, mirror carp and koi carp. The fish may be fed by visitors with fish food obtained on the premises. There is a hologram gallery, a petrifying well and a gemstone and fossil collection. There is also a photographic history display of the past times in Matlock Bath.

Another museum worth a visit is Matlock Mining Museum. It is devoted to the history of lead mining in the Peak District. One of the main displays inside the museum is a collection of old mining equipment taken from the numerous former mines in the area. Impressive re-creations of lead mines are complete with sound effects, which give visitors insight into the history of the lead mining industry.

The best time to walk along the “sea front” is definitely evening-time. Unlike most places on a Sunday, the shops remain open way past 4pm, only really closing when the public decide they have spent enough money. Around September/October, the town holds it's Illuminations where the streets are lit up, and special floats sail up and down the river, which are brightly decorated and illuminated.

Across the River Derwentt there is a woodland walk with a children's playground to let them release some of that energy, scenic gardens and even a bandstand.

If you can pack it all in to one day, then a visit to the Heights of Abraham is well worthwhile. the Heights of Abraham is a unique hilltop Park set on top of a dramatic limestone gorge, amid great natural beauty. Ride high above the Derwent Valley in the Cable Cars. Go down two famous Show Caverns, play and picnic areas, 'Who+Why=What' exhibition. Spectacular views, cafe and gift shops.

In summary, Matlock Bath is well worth a visit if you are touring the sights and sounds of Derbyshire, it is very difficult to pack it all into one day, so you will just have to come again another time and see the things you didn't see before!

Chris Sabian, Peak District View - 2007-09-04 11:33:54

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