At the eastern flank of the Peak District National Park, Matlock is a town famed for its Victorian spa and the spinning industry launched by Sir Richard Arkwright in the 18th century.
The Derwent Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and within minutes you’ll be at the Cromford Mills, where Arkwright invented the modern factory system in the 1770s.
Thermal springs had been discovered near Matlock in 1689, and in the 19th century a spa resort flourished just downriver.
Matlock Bath hugs the Derwent in the steep valley and has family destinations like the Gulliver’s Kingdom theme park, and the fantastic Heights of Abraham, a country park posted on the crest of a hill.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Matlock:
1. Heights of Abraham
In 60 acres, this Victorian country park even has a name that evokes a bygone era.
The “Heights of Abraham” comes from the Plains of Abraham in Quebec, scene of a pivotal battle in 1759 during the Seven Years’ War.
There’s a cable-car lifting you up to the hilltop park where you’ll be awed by the panoramas of the Derwent Valley from the Victoria Prospect Tower and an amphitheatre below.
The park also has two caves, the Great Masson Cavern and the Great Rutland Cavern, both mined for lead since Roman times.
Kids can burn off energy on two adventure play areas, while there’s a cafe and an exhibition hall covering the history of the estate and showcasing an amazing fossil collection.
2. Lumsdale Valley
On the east side of Matlock this steep wooded gorge blends striking natural beauty with the ghosts of water-powered industry.
Cromford Mills has set up a mile-long self-guided walking trail through the valley, on which you’ll pass the evocative ruins of mills, as well as mill ponds, waterfalls and cascades.
The trail is a photographer’s dream and takes around 90 minutes, descending 500 metres as you go.
You can download a leaflet that points out the history behind the buildings on the route.
It’s a good idea to wear walking shoes and to go carefully, as some of the rocks can be slippery in wet weather.
3. Peak District Lead Mining Museum
The local lead mining industry has been consigned to the past, but was once one of the region’s main sources of income.
The museum in Matlock Bath’s Grand Pavilion has three mock mine tunnels, in which you’ll taste the conditions miners including children were expected to work in.
Kids will get to crawl through tunnels and play with interactive stations.
You’ll also get to marvel at the immense Wills Founder Water Pressure Engine, built in Coalbrookdale in Shropshire in 1819 and using hydraulic power to pump water from deep underground.
There are detailed exhibitions about the geology that made these mines so lucrative, and a collection of more than 3,000 mineral specimens collected by the eminent petrologist Professor A. Howie.
4. Gulliver’s Kingdom
In Matlock Bath, Gulliver’s Kingdom is a theme park marketed towards families with children aged between two and thirteen.
It opened in 1978 and was the first of three Gulliver’s Travels-themed attractions in England.
There are rollercoasters, including the steel-built Swtichback, as well as a cycle monorail, fairground-style amusements and water rides.
The attraction is perched on a sharp hill, and has distant views of over the Heights of Abraham and Starkholmes.
The rides adapt to the contours of the hill, while there’s a chairlift ferrying visitors up and down the slope.
Kids can be active too, at the Crows Nest Quest, a high ropes course that opened in 2017 and has a maximum height of 17 metres, looking across the valley.
5. Matlock Bath Aquarium and Arcade
The building where Victorians would “take the waters” has been turned into a peculiar but likeable visitor attraction.
The original thermal pool is replenished by more than 2,271,000 litres of water each day.
Victorian bathers have long since been replaced by common, mirror and koi carp, some as heavy as 13 kg.
You can also see a “petrifying well” once believed to turn objects into stone (rather than coating them with mineral deposits!), as well as an assortment of gemstones and fossils, a collection of holograms and more than 1,700 pieces of Goss and Crested china.
6. National Tramway Museum
Ten minutes on the road from the centre of Matlock is a museum devoted to the vehicles that were a linchpin of cities in the UK in the early 20th century.
The museum has more than 60 trams, built between 1900 and 1930, many of which are in working order.
These run for a mile through the surrounding Crich Tramway Village, a nostalgic street scene, and out into the open countryside.
You can take unlimited rides, and explore indoor spaces like the Century of Trams exhibition in a huge shed.
Some of the trams have been adopted from systems in other countries, and you can see them being restored at the Workshop Viewing Gallery.
7. Cromford Mills
A first stop on your trip through the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site, Cromford Mills was Sir Richard Arkwright’s first spinning mill complex.
Constructed in the 1770s this site changed the course of industrial and world history, as the place where the modern factory system was born.
Cromford Mills is the centrepiece of the World Heritage Site and has a multimedia gallery where you can meet a hologram of Arkwright, check out interactive displays and watch a film about the mills narrated by actor Brian Blessed.
This sprawling site also has shops, cafes and more galleries, and you can also take a guided narrowboat ride along the Cromford Canal for deeper insights about the complex and the Derwent Valley.
8. Cromford Canal
Starting out at the Cromford Mill you could take a memorable walk along the 18th-century Cromford Canal for a few miles.
In summer there’s plenty of cover from the trees next to the towpath, and some beautiful old features, like wharf warehouses, the Gregory Tunnel, railway brake cars, a functioning swing bridge and a pumphouse, which we’ll bring up next.
June is a lovely time to walk by the water, when you’re sure to see goslings, ducklings and cygnets in the water.
The canal used to run for 15 miles from Cromford to the Erewash Canal, and so far five miles have been restored as far as Ambergate.
9. Leawood Pump House
A charming piece of industrial heritage, the Leawood Pump House is just over a mile along the Cromford Canal and dates to 1849. This facility was built to draw water from the River Derwent, which travels along a 140-metre tunnel and is then lifted nine metres to be pumped into the Cromford Canal.
The Pump House was in constant use from its construction until 1944, and was restored by the Cromford Canal Society in 1979. It’s a sight to admire at any time, but even better on the days when the steam-powered Watt-type beam engine is up and running.
On these days you can go in to feel the heat radiating from the boilers and see the wave caused by tons of water being discharged into the canal.
10. Hall Leys Park
In 2017 Hall Leys Park picked up its tenth consecutive Green Flag award, which places it among the best parks in the country.
South of the town centre, on the Derwent and facing the hilltop Riber Castle, the park has lots to keep children stimulated in summer.
There’s a boating lake with vintage motorised boats, a miniature railway and an interactive wet play area.
There’s also a cafe, a pretty Victorian bandstand where local brass bands give summer concerts, and a cute fountain at the centre of formal flowerbeds.
11. Peak Rail
On Platform 2 at Matlock Railway Station you can step aboard a steam train for a four-mile steam train ride.
Peak Rail runs between Matlock and Rowsely South, a short way up the Derwent.
This used to be on the Midland Railway Line that ran from Manchester to London up to 1968. This piece of the line has been restored since 1987, and was only extended to Matlock in 2011. The locomotives operating on heritage lines can vary because of repairs, but in summer 2018 all services were pulled by a mid-20th-century Hunslet Austerity 0-6-0ST steam engine.
All trains have a buffet coach for drinks and snacks, while there’s also a less frequent Pullman-style Palatine Dining Restaurant train if you want to have a Sunday lunch in style.
12. Matlock Meadows
High on Matlock’s western shoulder is a dairy farm that has become a fun summer day out, especially if you love ice cream.
The farm is free to visit, and generates income through its ice cream, made using milk from the farm’s own dairy herd.
You can buy some to take with you or try it at the cafe, which serves 15 different flavours, as well as a choice of sorbets, sundaes and snacks.
There’s a shop selling arts and crafts handmade on the farm, and a small play area outside.
You’re also welcome to visit the field and barn next door, which have cows, chickens, sheep and a micro pig.
13. Black Rocks
Soaring over Cromford to the south is a sudden natural gritstone outcrop.
You can navigate the waymarked trails on Cromford Moor, climbing to Sheep Pasture Top for a stirring panorama encompassing the Cromford, the Matlock Gorge to the north and parts of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.
The Black Rocks were mined for lead, and growing in cracks are unusual plants that can tolerate the high lead content in the rocks.
This wall has been a climbing destination for more than 100 years and on a sunny day you’re sure to see people clambering up the sheer rock faces.
Close by you can get onto the High Peak Trail, following the course of the defunct Cromford and High Peak Railway.
14. Matlock Farm Park
On a working farm covering 600 acres, this child-oriented attraction has a host of domestic animals like lambs, llamas, goats, sheep, turkeys, ponies and cattle, but also wallabies and meerkats.
There are seasonal animal encounters for kids, like holding rabbits, guinea pigs and chicks, and feeding lambs in spring.
At the meerkat enclosure little ones can watch live talks and demonstrations, while also picking up facts about the countryside and finding out about life on a farm.
There are also pony rides and ferret races, as well as indoor and outdoor play areas and go-karts.
The Farm Park is also attached to a riding school and trekking centre for horseback rides and pony trekking.
15. Matlock Bath Illuminations
Between early September and late October there’s a light display on the River Derwent that inspired a lot of local affection.
Matlock Bath Illuminations are now more than 120 years old, and are produced by the Matlock Bath Venetian Boat Builders Association.
Mounted on their boats are models made with plenty of love, following a different theme each year.
Recent subject have been Chinese dragons, transport, Dr Who and Star Wars.
You can watch the displays on the displays on Saturday and Sunday nights just off Derby Road beside the Derwent.