I have lived in Derbyshire for a long time and one place that I love to visit again and again is the town of Matlock Bath. I live about 15 minutes away, or in peak tourist season on a hot summer Sunday, an hour away. The traffic in Matlock Bath on such a day is heavy, but somehow adds to the excitement.
Matlock Bath has a really great atmosphere on warm summer nights, the more people there are, the more fun it is. If you have 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 colors and models line the streets, attracting many fans of all ages.
So what does Matlock Bath have to offer for those of us who are just tourists, looking forward to a nice day out with our family and friends? As you approach Matlock Bath on the A6 from Derby you will pass the New Bath Hotel on the left hand side. The New Bath Hotel in Matlock Bath has been reviving weary spirits since the year Prince Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie led their Jacobites south to nearby Derby. The new bath for which the hotel is named was a naturally heated whirlpool bath opened in 1745, about a quarter of a mile away from the first primitive mineral bath in operation since 1698. The New Bath, to distinguish it from the Old Bath, had water “just as warm, if not warmer than the other bathroom.” At the end of the 18th century, the bath and its arched stone ceiling were incorporated into the hotel building. Today, the “new bath” serves as the hotel’s indoor plunge pool and is still fed by the waters of the mineral spring that emerges from the ground in
As you approach Matlock Bath, there is a steep left turn. This leads to the children’s theme park by the name of Gulliver Kingdom. It is a well planned theme park aimed at families with younger children. Gullivers Kingdom has a beautiful wooded hillside setting and there are thirty rides and attractions, as well as shops, eating places and picnic areas. It is best to arrive early and catch the rides before it gets too crowded. As with any theme park, food and drink can be expensive, so it might be a 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 rail system that was so essential in transporting the mined material. Temple Mine has displays that recreate the atmosphere of mining in the 20th century.
When you’ve had enough, leave the car where it is, or my personal favorite is to move the car to the parking lot at the other end of town. In the modern age of commercialism, Matlock Bath is unusual in that it has no high street names amongst its excellent range of shops. This makes a nice change and you feel like you can navigate on your own. The shops are located mainly 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 landlocked seaside town. With its myriad of arcades and fish and chip shops, you might be fooled into thinking that Derbyshire does, in fact, have a coastline. Of course not, but no visit to Matlock Bath is complete without walking along the river bank eating fish and chips out of the wrapper. You just have to do it. There are some lovely tourist type shops with all kinds of gifts and new ones opening all the time. If you don’t want your chips while you’re on the go, there are plenty of cafes to sit and eat, all with their own special boards.
The Matlock Bath Aquarium and the Hologram Gallery are worth a visit. The site of an original thermal pool with various aquariums containing British and tropical freshwater fish species. There is a large open pool fed by a hot spring and illuminated at night containing common carp, mirror carp and koi carp. Visitors can feed the fish with fish food obtained on the premises. There is a hologram gallery, a petrifying well, and a collection of precious stones and fossils. There is also a photographic history display of times gone by in Matlock Bath.
Another museum worth visiting is the Matlock Mining Museum. It is dedicated to the history of lead mining in the Peak District. One of the main exhibits within the museum is a collection of vintage mining equipment taken from the many former mines in the area. The impressive recreations of the lead mines are complete with sound effects, giving visitors an insight into the history of the lead mining industry.
The best time to walk the “ocean front” is definitely at sunset. Unlike most places on Sundays, the shops stay open until well past 4 pm and only close when the public decides they’ve spent enough money. Around September/October, the city celebrates illumination nights where the streets are lit up and special floats sail up and down the river, which are brilliantly decorated and illuminated.
Across the River Derwent is a woodland walk with a children’s playground for them to release some of that energy, picturesque gardens and even a bandstand.
If you can pack it all into one day, then a visit to the Heights of Abraham is well worth it. The Heights of Abraham is a unique hilltop park located atop a dramatic limestone gorge, amidst outstanding natural beauty. Travel above the Derwent Valley in the cable cars. Tour two famous show caverns, play and picnic areas, ‘Who+Why=What’ exhibit. Spectacular views, cafeteria and gift shops.
In short, Matlock Bath is well worth a visit if you’re touring the sights and sounds of Derbyshire, it’s very difficult to pack it all into one day, so you’ll have to go back again and see the things you didn’t. I don’t see before!