Andy and I slept in, which allowed us to gain energy to explore Castleton. Castleton is an ancient Derbyshire village, which Andy describes to me as being “stereotypical” when I probe him now on facts of the area. What he means though isn’t negative — He uses this word to explain that Derbyshire is the picture-perfect English village: Ruins of an eleventh-century castle sit atop a hill dotted with grass-munching sheep.
And this castle, Peveril Castle (along with those sheep too I guess) overlooks the area.Below, little cottages are tucked behind the village’s shops while a bubbling stream creeps past residents’ front doors.Here, all is quiet except for the sound of bees and butterflies whizzing through the air before landing on flowers to dine on nectar.
Inside the heart of the village, a sprinkling of pubs with great beer and food, along with charming shops, stretch down the main road.
So sure, overall maybe Castleton is “stereotypical” if stereotypical is also a synonym for beautiful. A small close-knit community with friendly people, the village seems to draw outsiders in, welcoming them.
Andy tells me the atmosphere may be this way because the area survives off tourism. Beyond Peveril Castle (for which the village was named), Castleton is also known for its Blue John Stone, a purple-blue to gold and pink gemstone distinct to the area. Worldwide it can only be found in the two Castleton caverns: Blue John Cavern and Treak Cliff Cavern. Inside those caves today, mining is done on a small and controlled scale and is mostly done for jewelry.I suppose the Blue John Stone has different meanings to different people: For tourists, it is a reason to go to Castleton. For the residents, the stone means money and how the village makes a profit.
To me, the stone symbolizes kindness: When I first met Andy’s mother, she gave me one of those genuine types of hugs before darting upstairs to fetch a surprise gift. Reappearing with a small box, I opened it to find a beautiful Blue John pendant on a chain. I remember her telling me about the gem — How she wanted to be sure it was blue, not yellow or pink, but the purple-blue color of its reputation. She told me how it was delicate — If mined incorrectly, the crystal immediately loses color and turns white. And she ended saying, almost blushing, how she wondered if I wanted to have a bit of England from where Andy was raised. Her gift — unexpected, pure, kind — remains possibly the most meaningful present I have received . . .
and this is why I was excited to visit Castleton. I wanted to see more, learn more.
Wandering through the village with Andy’s parents, we walked beside tourists and residents, squeezing down the narrow sidewalks as cars swerved past. Then we darted in and out of shops, stopping at a local pub with food where we ate one of the best English Sunday dinners I’ve had thus far.
Once we were done, our plan was to tour one of the four caverns in the village. I mentioned the Blue John and Treak Cliff Caverns earlier: They are known for their gems. However, there are two others (Peak and Speedwell) that get attention due to their rock formations. Peak Cavern allows tourists to go on a leisurely light walk through the cave, while Speedwell navigates at times through darkness on a boat ride.
Peak Cavern was the closest of the four so we headed towards it.
As we walked, I ran my fingers over the uneven stone walls and snuck peeks through slender alleyways at flowering gardens.
The walk wasn’t far from the village center where homes appeared to be napping next to the stream while the cavern walls stretched high in the background.
We quietly crept past pastel front doors while flowers seemed motion-censored, opening as we walked. Meanwhile, the cavern’s massive walls loomed ahead, growing taller as we approached the cave’s entrance.
Unfortunately Peak Cavern, nicknamed The Devil’s Arse, was closing for the day so we couldn’t hop a ride in the boat; but those closing told us Treak Cliff Caverns was still opened so we filled with hope again and set off on a sidewalk for that direction.
The walk stretched ahead and I found myself often turning to look back in the direction we had come. The village of Castleton was disappearing into the valley, no more a fleck in the land. I looked around — The vastness of England surprised me. I’ve seen English cities more than its countrysides where urban buildings are packed so close together they morph into one, ballooning out until the land below shrinks. This was the opposite and it was so refreshing, I would have gladly continued walking for days.
Sadly, the end of our path came and that’s when we learned Treak Cliff Caverns was also closed for the day. It was no one’s fault but mine, too — I had been absorbed in the beauty of the place, taking pictures until time escaped. In truth though, I was glad — I craved more of the moors, the farmland, the open sky. Because of that, I felt guilty but giddy as we heading back to Castleton, opting for the scenic Longcliff Trail.
Here, it was the epitome of “English walking” — a thin dirt trail though large moors with tall grass that was munched by shaggy sheep.Little lambs baa-baaed at our side before darting, nervous and frightened, across our path.
Meanwhile protective parents stood their ground, guarding their offspring, with gazes straying little from us.
The trail provided fantastic views of the surrounding farmland where the golden grass glowed before the sun was covered again by clouds.
Meanwhile Castleton appeared shy, hiding in the land as if wanting to remain a secret.We were in no rush, our gait slow as we continued on the trail, passing still more families of woolly-bottomed sheep.
This was England in the summer — lambs, sprawling farmland, golden grass, faint sunburn on my skin — and I felt so happy.