The name Winnats comes from ‘Windy Gates’ as one of the windier entrances into Castleton and the Hope Valley.
How was Winnats Pass formed?
This limestone valley was once under a tropical sea- the limestone is full of fossils of sea creatures which lived here over 350 million years ago. This makes Winnats Pass a protected site, by law, known as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Rocks and plants are not allowed to be removed from here. The valley was created by melting glaciers wearing away the rock – the limestone gradually dissolved and streams flowed through and under cracks and fissures in the rock. One of these streams created a large underground cave system which eventually collapsed, leaving the steep-sided valley you can see now.
Farming and nature
The limey soil above the rock provides good habitat for wildflowers and grasses- Jacob’s Ladder and Derby Hawkweed are very rare, but do grow here. The local National Trust tenant farmer works with us to manage and control grazing with sheep which helps give the plants a better chance to flower and seed. We are working in this way to improve the overall mix and health of vegetation in the Pass.
Mining for minerals
Winnats Pass is riddled with caves and old mine shafts. Lead mining was a busy industry around Castleton in the 18th century- you can see some relics of the mining industry in the Speedwell cavern museum and shop at the bottom of the pass. Blue John was mined for its ornamental value during the 19th Century and mining continues on a small scale locally. Blue John is a rare semi-precious mineral, with bands of purple-blue and yellow. In the UK it is found only in the limestone mines of Castleton.