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Derbyshire Cavemen

Stephen CLIFFE

Amberley, Chalford. 2010. 192pp, 32 colour and 110 b&w photographs and drawings. Softback, 156mm × 233mm. £14.99

ISBN 978-1-84868-156-9

Derbyshire CavemenIN Derbyshire Cavemen, Stephen Cliffe ‘explores the little known world of cave folklore and archaeology in a cave rich region encompassing the uplands of the Peak District and the surrounding areas.’ Thus states part of the cover blurb, providing a good description of the contents and perhaps indicating that although the right subject matter to interest cavers, like Penwyllt it wasn’t written with them in mind.

The book runs to eight chapters, plus extras such as a bibliography and index. As might be expected, the area’s showcaves feature large, notably Peak Cavern and Poole’s Cavern (these being, with Eldon Hole, two of the seven old-time Wonders of the Peak) as well as others such as Treak Cliff and Speedwell Cavern. The county, of course, contains an incredible heritage of bone caves and thus the author had plenty to choose from for his chosen theme.

Details of the Peak’s legends and stories include quotes from old tomes and feature the lives of cavers and miners and the like, with the tales that surround them. In this Cliffe is quite successful and the text is written in a light-hearted manner. While the text is up to date with even recent discoveries, the maps are those used in the third edition of Caves of Derbyshire compiled by Trevor Ford and published in 1974, so are perhaps not so current (the book did not even use the 1979 edition drawings, which added new caves to the maps). The photographs and drawings are mainly black and white (those in colour are found in a single sixteen-page section) and, as illustrations of cave entrances or surface features, suffice for the purpose.

A fair number seem to feature the author, one of which will serve as an example of an irritation that began with finding too many throwaway comments and ended with a caption. The picture shows an entrance in Cave Dale that no caver would hesitate at crawling into, the text reading: ‘No cave is too small, no crack too narrow, and no cliff too steep to prevent your intrepid author from investigating the remotest possibility of archaeological interest!’ A caver at heart, then, but comments such as this felt very out of place.

The style and presentation of this Amberley imprint will be well known to bibliophiles (think Sutton and Tempus), which brings a niche topic to a wider readership than it might otherwise find. This is a good collation of entertaining facts and stories, especially relating to archaeology (where the fifty-page gazetteer of caves is particularly well done), plus which the author should be commended for visiting the many sites in person, to go by the photographic evidence. The price is reasonable so, if you have an interest in the area’s cave-related history, this one’s for you.

Chris Howes

First published in Descent (217), December 2010