The Heights Of Abraham – A Derbyshire Dales Day Out
We had a Bonus Bank Holiday the other week. I know everyone did – Good Friday and Easter Monday are, after all, the highlight of my year – but ours was a little different. My husband had to work on Good Friday. While I watched everyone on Instagram cracking open the beers and having Family Time, it was just another working day for us. However, that did mean that he got the Tuesday off. Yep, when everyone else was grumbling about rolling back to work after the four-day weekend, we had a whole other day together. A whole other day to spend as a family, and do some exploring. We presented our son with the Days Out Jar and he picked a slip. And so, we found ourselves heading to the Heights of Abraham at Matlock Bath.
I went to the Heights of Abraham as a teenager, with my friend and her dad. I really don’t remember much about it. At all. Clearly the alcohol years that followed have deleted those particular brain cells. It was very much a New Day Out for all of us.
We were slightly apprehensive. If you know anything about Matlock Bath, you may guess why. In a nutshell, Matlock Bath is a town that the Victorians descended upon en masse, flocking to enjoy the warm spring waters and rugged topography. In became a kind of seaside resort in the middle of the country, packed full of fish & chip shops and penny arcades. And these days, it’s full of bikers. It’s just like a seaside town – a little cheesy, a little tacky. The Heights of Abraham is a park on the hilltop that looks down on Matlock Bath. We weren’t expecting much.
Until 1984, people had to walk up to the Heights of Abraham. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Well. HA. Let me tell you a short story: years and years ago when my husband and I started seeing each other, I told him that I enjoyed hill walking. Which I did, but not to EXTREMES. Less than one month after we officially became boyfriend/girlfriend, he took me to Matlock Bath and on a “walk”. Spoilers: it wasn’t a “walk”. It was a bloody MOUNTAIN CLIMBING expedition that scaled more than 1200 feet in less than 1km. And that height and that walk…that is the walk you’d have to do to walk to the Heights of Abraham.
Let me just say: these days, you don’t have to do that. In 1984, a cable car was installed that has become a huge part of the tourist attraction in itself. The cable cars rise from just beyond the river, across the main road and the town itself, and up into the hills. They’re great to watch without even being on them. And, in all fairness, I probably would’ve paid just to go on them.
However, the Heights of Abraham lumps its entrance fee all into one. You pay to get on the cable cars, and then those tickets will take you anywhere within the rest of the park. For £16.00 per adult and under 5s being free, that seemed a pretty sweet deal. Especially as we had a 20% off voucher.
I wasn’t hugely sure how TD would react to the cable cars. He’s never been in anything super high before, and although he’s generally a little scrapper sometimes you just can’t predict his reactions to things. But he was fine. Better than fine. Just before climbing into our car, we explained to him that the cables held it up, etc etc. He was so happy to sit and watch the ground fall away below, pointing out the river and the railway and the cars. And yep, we enjoyed the ride a lot too. It really is quite magical seeing everything become so small beneath you.
The cable cars pause halfway up to allow people to take in the view and take some photos. It’s a good idea really, as the rest of the ride really does go very quickly. We had chosen such a clear day, and the views just from that halfway point were incredible.
At the top, the park opens out and there are a few choices of where to go. You could carry on up the hillside to the Great Masson cavern, the Victoria Prospect tower, or Tinker’s Shaft – the highest point in the park. Or you could do what we did, and get dragged down to the adventure playground by your preschooler.
To be fair, it was a pretty good playground. The type I would’ve gone crazy for at any age under 10. And, as we were there quite early, the park wasn’t too loud or crowded. Plus, then with Play Fever out of the way, we could easily bribe TD to explore the rest of the park.
There’s quite a bit of Rest Of The Park at the Heights of Abraham. There’s also a fair bit of climbing involved in any activity. Be aware: you’re not going to have a relaxing stroll on flat paths. But we love a bit of a challenge, and TD loves climbing hills. Plus, I guess they help burn off the ice cream…yes?
Anyway. There are two caverns in the hillside, both with guided tours at regular intervals. Both are definitely worth exploring, and the order in which we went is probably the best: first the Great Masson, and then the Great Rutland. The Great Masson tour goes into a lot of detail about the history of the hillside and the mines that the Great Rutland tour would be a bit lacking in context without. Both are pretty spectacular in the way that underground caverns always are. Both involve some sort of climbing, and the Great Masson has a fair number of steps so unfortunately it’s not great for mobility issues. However, it does lead out at almost the highest point of the park – Tinker’s Shaft.
The view from there is pretty spectacular, I’m not gonna lie. You can walk up to Tinker’s Shaft easily without encountering steps, if you didn’t fancy going through the cave first. And it’s definitely worth it.
TD had already made a friend for life by this point. It was lovely stood up there, looking out at the surrounding countryside and watching two preschoolers race around pretending to be dinosaurs. That part was perhaps not so lovely for the people trying to have a quiet picnic – SOZ GUYS.
After touring the Great Masson cavern we headed for some lunch. There are two different eateries at the Heights of Abraham, both in one building with separate entrances. It’s a bit confusing if you’re not aware, and we accidentally went to the more expensive Vista Restaurant. But it was totally worth it. When we arrived, the balcony was vacant. We ended up with a lovely lunch with a view across the park, the hill, and down into the valley and Matlock Bath. It was pretty magical.
After lunch we headed down the hill (and I MEAN “down”. It’s steep.) to the Great Rutland cavern. Both of the cave tours feature some periods of darkness, which might not be fantastic for kids who are afraid. However, TD is a little afraid of the dark but was absolutely fine. He was mainly just so excited about being inside a CAVE. The Great Rutland cavern is smaller, but still definitely worth a gander. However it’s definitely a bit chilly, and apparently gets even colder when the weather outside is warmer. So take a jacket or prepare for a bit of a shiver.
At this point, we wandered down through the rest of the park and back into Matlock Bath. It’s hard on the knees at times – steeeeeeeep – but a lovely walk. Alternatively, you can climb back up the hillside to the cable car station and go back down that way. But, again, steeeeeep. And uphill. I wasn’t in the mood for mega uphill by then (Princess 4 lyf).
We had a stroll through Matlock Bath, enjoying the pathways by the river and the eclectic mix of independent shops. We even took TD into an arcade and let him loose with a cupful of coins… I’m proud to state that he realised after only 10 minutes that it was all a fix and he didn’t want to play anymore! Hopefully that’ll be any potential gambling addiction nipped in the bud. Ha.
There were a lot of things we didn’t end up seeing at the Heights of Abraham park. We had wanted to climb the Victoria Prospect Tower, but hadn’t been able to persuade TD to go up. We also didn’t venture into any of the exhibition centres, since it was such a lovely day. But we were Happy. So Happy.
So happy, in fact, that we’d happily go again. It’s a great place to explore with kids, especially given the amount of features they can enjoy. The caves as well are a great introduction for kids, and now we know TD is happy in them we’ll likely visit the larger cave networks in the Peak District. And the staff were all fab – the tour guides in particular. I know you’ve got to be a bit of a Happy Extrovert person anyway to be a tour guide, but still. They made the script that they must spout at least 5-6 times per day seem fresh and interesting.
In summary: the Heights of Abraham = Good. Totally worth a Day Out in the Derbyshire Dales. Keep it in mind if you’re local, or if you’re ever due to visit!