Creepy caverns and haunted hills: The ghost story of Winnats Pass

view over pass and road to Hope Valley beyond sunlight and shadow

Winnats Pass has always attracted attention for its unusual limestone rock formations, and its name comes from ‘windy gates’ due to the swirling winds there. But the local legend of the unfortunate Alan and Clara means that it might be more than wind you can hear howling in the valley…

Winnats Pass was part of a now collapsed limestone cave system, but there are traces of this ancient geology in the caverns of the area such as Speedwell Cavern at the bottom of the Pass. The steep hills on either side of the valley were formed by the action of water eroding the limestone for hundreds of years. After the ‘broken road’ around Mam Tor was closed, the Pass became a busy thoroughfare. But in the time of Alan and Clara, the Pass must have been a much more isolated place.

There are still many caverns present from the old Winnats Pass cave system
Cavern in Winnats Pass
There are still many caverns present from the old Winnats Pass cave system

In a tale of star-crossed lovers, it is said that Alan and Clara eloped in 1758 to Peak Forest Chapel. Their families disapproved of the match, as Alan came from a poorer family than Clara. After Clara’s brother threatened Alan, they ran away, and stopped at Stoney Middleton and then Castleton on their secret journey. Peak Forest Chapel was known then as the ‘Gretna Green of England’ where couples could marry without the normal legal requirements. But tragically Alan and Clara were not destined to make it to the Chapel.

Whilst staying at a Castleton inn, Alan and Clara came across some drunken miners who noticed that they were finely dressed. Thinking that the couple were rich, the miners plotted to follow the couple on their journey that night.

When the couple were riding through Winnats Pass, the five miners ambushed them, pulling them from their horses, and taking their money. They stole the £200 the pair were carrying with them to start their new life together. This would have been worth over £35,000 in today’s money. However, the ordeal did not end there for the couple. The miners murdered the couple after taking their money and are said to have hidden the evidence of their crime by hiding them in a mine shaft, where they were only found ten years later.

Today Winnats Pass is home to grazing sheep and cars passing through
Ewe and lambs in Winnats Pass
Today Winnats Pass is home to grazing sheep and cars passing through

But those same miners did not get away with their crime without punishment, and all were said to have suffered tragic fates. One is said to have fallen from a cliff near the place of the murder and another was hit by a falling stone there, one committed suicide, one went mad, and the last was so guilt-ridden that he confessed it all and the names of his accomplices on his deathbed twenty years later. It is rumoured that he used his share of the stolen money to buy horses, which suffered from ill health so turned out to be bad investments, leaving him in poverty over his final days.

Today Alan and Clara are buried in St Edmund’s Church, Castleton, and the red leather saddle on display in the Speedwell Cavern Museum is said to have belonged to her. Some say that their ghosts haunt the Winnats Pass still, certainly the miners would have thought so. But is it their voices, or is it just the wind?