The Scottish Queen goes caving?

The recent visit to Poole’s Cavern by a well know comedian got me thinking about the great, the good and perhaps the not so good who, having a couple of hours to spare on a wet damp Buxton summers afternoon, have ventured into Poole’s Cavern.

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first of all. The obvious one? Who else but Mary Queen of Scots of course.

There are few castles or stately homes in England that don’t have a story or legend concerning Mary visiting or staying with them.

She definitely came to Buxton. She stayed in the Old Hall, now a lovely hotel, though when she visited it was a four storey tower, a place of imprisonment, of confinement.   Her last visit was in 1584, when it was alleged that she carved an inscription on a window of the tower that reads;

“Buxton, whose warm waters have made thy name famous, perchance I shall visit thee no more – Farewell.” The window pane can still be seen in room 26.

By 1587 she had been executed.

The burning question of course is; did she visit Poole’s Cavern?

There is no evidence that Mary hitched up her skirts, and grasping a guttering, spluttering torch, slipped and slid her way through the mud and the damp tunnels to glimpse the wondrous sights, other than a reference to the Queen of Scots pillar that Defoe refers to in one of his letters on the Peak District.

“As for the Queen of Scots pillar, as ’tis called, because her late unfortunate majesty, Mary, Queen of Scots, was pleased to have it be called so, it is a piece of stone like a kind of spar, which is found about the lead; and ’tis not improbable in a country where there is so much of the oar, it may be of the same kind, and, standing upright, obtained the name of a pillar; of which almost everybody that comes there, carries away a piece, in veneration of the memory of the unhappy princess that gave it her name. Nor is there anything strange or unusual in the stone, much less in the figure of it, which is otherwise very mean, and in that country very common.”

Did she agree to have it named after her, having seen it a first hand? Perhaps she rested her hand on the cool damp rock and in the flickering candle light, surrounded by the gloom and the unknown darkness, did she glimpse something of her own mortality?

And if she had ventured inside, how far would she have got? And who would her gaolers allow as her guide? Perhaps some Catholic sympathiser living a quiet and blameless life in Buxton?

A more relevant question would be; how far could she have got? For there would be no level path, with convenient hand rails, and well-lit passages. No electric lighting, just the flickering yellowy candle light, held by her guides.

So we are left with rumour, speculation and a decent tale to tell the visitors to the cave today.

One thing is certain, it would have been a much harder, tougher trip then than now. There would have been an element of danger and of fear of the dark, of the demons that may lurk beyond the shadows, out of sight of the flickering yellow light. The echoing footsteps and the steady drip of water from the roof, combined with the roar of the underground river, all would have made for a tense and fearful atmosphere.

But while we are uncertain as to whether Mary made the trip, we do know that Poole’s Cavern or Poole’s hole as it was better known, was visited by many famous and well known people.

Next time we will look at Daniel Defoe and his love of the Peak District.



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