Saturday, 7 January 2012


Peak Cavern is an impressive limestone cavern located in Castleton, the Peak District. Often referred to as ‘The Devil’s Arse’ it is a major tourist attraction as well as being the perfect opportunity for a bit of aid climbing!

In October 2011, a BBC Scotland documentary on free-climbing was filmed around the 200 ft high entrance. At the time of writing the documentary has not yet been aired; however, a number of blog entries have been posted on the internet relating to the cave. Although this was a free-climbing documentary, no acknowledgement was given to the fact that a number of aid-routes already exist in the cave. This seems strange, particularly as my nephew and I talked with the crew and spent 4 hours on the roof whilst they were preparing for filming.

In 1981, Ian Buster Wright and Rob Harrison bolted the first ascent of Peak Cavern roof. Although at the time it was the longest roof climb ever, it was based upon the agreement that the ~250 bolts would be stripped to prevent any further climbs. Since then public-access restrictions have inhibited further opportunities for play; however, in 2007 (give or take a year due to old-age!) John Harrison (the cave owner) allowed me to create some routes.

There are two main routes; “The Roof” and “Violin Solo”. These begin at the back of the cave, join for a few moves, and then go their separate ways.

“The Roof” (2007/8)

This route starts approximately 6 ft to the left of the culvert / bridge at the back of the cave. Follow the bolts up the back wall and, after about twenty-five, an escape is possible. Continuing along the roof for another ~15 bolts there is a second escape route. Instead of escaping, follow the bolts and eventually you’ll come to the lip and a chain lower-off. Seven moves higher, there is an even more comfortable chain lower-off. Rivets and bolts continue to a third lower-off further up the front-wall; a 60 m rope halved will just get you to the floor from this. More bolts and rivets will take you to a final lower-off near to a tree, 135 ft off the deck.
NB. Two moves before the lip, there is a line of 14 bolts continuing down to a lower-off on a ledge (#3). This can act as a third escape route for “The Roof” or a means of doing the routes the other way around; preferably if you wish to do the routes there and back. For light reasons, it’s a good idea to go front-back-front, starting from this ledge.

“Violin Solo” (2011/12)

This route starts approximately 30 ft to the right of the final steps. After finding the first bolt, lean across the gap and begin. Follow the bolts to the left and after ~20 you’ll get on the roof proper. Follow the bolts towards the front of the cave until you join “The Roof”, approximately 60 ft from the lip. “The Roof” goes right as “Violin Solo” goes left. When you reach the lip, you can either: (a) continue up the headwall on bolts and rivets finishing up the final few feet of “The Roof”, or (b) a bolt and a couple of rivets and you are back on “The Roof”. Some longer reaches and no opportunities to escape without losing gear make “Violin Solo” arguably the better of the two.

It is approximately 300 ft from the beginning of “Violin Solo” to the lower-off ledge (#3). In addition, there is ~85 ft between the lip and the top lower-off on the front-wall. Both routes are thoroughly good fun especially if you do them there and back. If you would like to do the routes you’ll need to speak to John Harrison or a member of staff at the cavern. As climbers are guests please be respectful to tourists by keeping noise to a minimum whilst tours are on and refraining from bad language. This way we can build and maintain a good relationship between climbers and the cave!

There is a line of bolts going up to, and into, the large hole in the centre of the roof. This is primarily for cave exploration but makes a pleasant aid-route in itself.

(Images by Robbie Shoane, Jack Williams and Martin Payne)


  1. This is all very interesting & inspiring - many thanks for posting!

  2. Hi Dave, Do you know if there are any restrictions to doing these climbing routes in the cavern? i.e no week-ends due to tourists, or having to ask to owners permission ahead of time?
    Beyond the basic aid slings and a tonne of quick draws is there any other specialist aid gear required.