Castleton is a town of old, mellow stone, winding lanes and history. On the edge of the cliff, high above the cavern, stands Peveril Castle. The position, even to the untrained eye, appears to be both impregnable and a blatant statement of dominance. With the keep perched on the edge of a sheer drop and the castle enclosure occupying a ridge high above the little town of Castleton, the Norman invaders were making it very clear who was now in charge. Little now remains to show just how important this castle was in history.
The castle is guarded by the steep slop of the hill from the town, the great cavern and the cliffs of Cavedale. From a military perspective, it is a fantastic site, giving clear views for miles across the surrounding countryside and watching over the route that runs through Winatt’s Pass and down through the Hope Valley.
The area is rich in lead and other minerals as well as being the only place in the country where the beautiful Blue John is found. The Romans had recognised the value of the area and built the fort of Navio at nearby Brough. Roman tiles, presumably from the fort were reused in the construction of Peveril castle almost a thousand years after the Romans had arrived in the area.
The castle was originally built by William Peveril, Bailiff of the Royal Manors of the Peak. The story goes that he was an illegitimate son of King William I, better known to history as William the Conqueror, who took the throne from Harold after the Norman invasion of 1066. At first the castle was probably a simple fortification built of wood, but it was soon constructed in stone and was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. The seemingly rough construction is a result of the passage of time and the appropriation of good building materials. The top of the keep still shows how it was faced with smooth stone and it must have been a very impressive sight in the sun.
Peveril established the town of Castleton, enclosing the settlement in an earthwork ditch and building the garrison chapel that became the current church of St Edmund’s; a beautiful, peaceful building with plenty of history of its own that lies at the end of an ancient corpse road.
William Peveril the Younger inherited the castle, but his lands were forfeited to the Crown after his part in the Anarchy that challenged King Henry I. The lists of royal names and events associated with Peveril Castle is long… and it would need someone with more expertise in that area of history than I to do the place justice.
Trying to unearth the myths and legends is more in my line. There are one or two hauntings, which is to be expected with a castle… as well as several others in the town and the surrounding hills. The Castle Inn tells the story of a jilted bride known as Rose, who committed suicide and who wanders the gallery in her wedding dress, while in the cellars a uniformed nurse is still on duty. Perhaps she is there to help the man in the pinstripe suit who haunts the bar… or the Restoration soldier who still walks…
In Winnats Pass you may still hear two murdered lovers pleading for help. In 1758, Allan and Clara eloped. They were travelling to the ‘runaway church’ at Peak Forest, where those eloping in defiance of their families could find sanctuary and wedlock. They were set upon by miners in the Pass and their bodies were found years later, buried near a barn. Clara’s saddle of red leather can still be seen in the town though…and the miners came to a sticky end. One was killed by falling stones, another committed suicide and a third broke his neck. They too moan in Winnats Pass…or perhaps it is the wind… The lovers are thought to have been laid to rest together in St Edmund’s churchyard.
Goosehill Hall nestles in the valley below the castle. Parts of the Hall may date back over seven hundred years to a time before the medieval knights rode in tourney for the hand of a fair maiden. Many knights were killed, but it seems that some have not accepted defeat, riding still to the joust in the grounds of the Hall.
Perhaps it is one of these knights who lingers within the castle itself, clothed in white and standing by the walls. But he is not alone, his horse still trots around the empty spaces, waiting, perhaps, for the knight to remount. Banging and clanking noises are heard within the castle at night, but no explanation has been found … as yet. And then there is the black dog that roams the area around the castle too…
The castle is not the oldest hilltop settlement. At a mere thousand years old, it is modern in comparison with the burial mounds, three and a half thousand years old, atop the Shivering Mountain. Legends and folk tales may be hard to find in Derbyshire these days… but the land is populated by the ghosts of the past, some nebulous and ephemeral, others built in stone.