Yesterday was the anniversary of our first date. We both had the day off and wanted to do something special. We still had a ticket for an underground boat journey into Speedwell Cavern, above the village of Castleton in Derbyshire.
I enjoyed the novelty of putting on a hard hat and then we descended several hundred metres down stone steps clinging on to the railing for dear life. One stumble and there would be quite a fall.
We finally got to the bottom where our guide was waiting. There was just an elderly couple and us so it was a nice private tour. We were given a safety briefing by the energetic spritely man before we set off, lying back to avoid hitting our heads as the miner’s tunnel closed in around us. People had first blasted the cave in the 1700s, hacking into seams of lead and hiding in hollowed-out side spaces as the dynamite spewed dust into the air, which was only made breathable by a young boy operating bellows.
The tour went on in this vein as our guide alternately used the boat’s engine, his feet and his hands to steer us through the passageway, with our little vessel bumping into the sides. Halfway along there was a passing point and I made full use of the opportunity to take photos, perhaps a little too much as I quickly became obcessed with getting the perfect shot rather than immersing myself in the experience. Apart from the click of my camera shutter, there was just the sound of water dripping from our shiny Hobbit hole ceiling when our guide paused. The lights rippled in the murky channel.
We reached the natural cave much further down. When we got off it was pitch black, with just the hollows above us illuminated in an ethereal light. Then the main lights were switched on and we marvelled at the sight. It is difficult to describe in words.
The limestone above us had been hollowed out over thousands of years by water and ice. On the other side of the cavern was a steep drop, with an artificial stream spraying down the side into a pool below, known as the “Bottomless Pit”. High up on the same side were round white stalactites resembling mammoth tusks inching down. On our right a watery tunnel stretched off for another 3 000 metres. The lights were switched off again, plunging us back into pitch black darkness as we returned to the boat.
I really enjoyed the experience, it had been a lovely way to spend the day whilst celebrating a year since we met.