Matlock is a little town in Derbyshire on the A6, clustered along the banks of the Derwent river
around a small mountain in the southern part of the Peak District. At one end of the town the river makes
white water over rocks beside a high, sheer cliff, and there are climbers and canoeists: if you look
up, towards the Heights of Abraham towering above you, you'll see the cable-car which crosses high
above the road taking people to the Mining Museum, and is usually packed with touring schoolkids
rocking the car and making the old ladies scream. You can climb up the steep hill on the other side of the
river, past the old parish church (where the graves in the cemetery, on rainy days, have been known to
slide off the cliff and discharge ancient coffins onto the railway line) and at the top you can picnic
among tiny blue butterflies beside the ruins, where there are cool echoey caves, and passages that
might be Roman.
Follow the river upstream and round a bend and you'll find yourself in Matlock Bath, once a
Victorian lido and now the Midlands equivalent of Southend. All along the waterfront, every weekend
and Bank Holiday, rows and rows of bikes parked up: big, growly beasts of motorbikes with lovingly
restored chrome and all sorts of gadgets and decorations. The bikers stroll decked out in their finest
leathers, displaying acres of tattoos, talking bike along the little twisty streets filled with ice-cream
coloured houses and shops while mullet-headed biker kids straggle along behind, breaking chunks off
enormous pink sticks of candy floss bigger than their heads. In the middle of the country there is no
seaside, you see, so Matlock has to do instead.
It has a seaside feel to it, a very British seaside feel. Penny arcades and picture postcards,
sticks of rock, tiny shops full of tacky souvenirs. The river in Matlock Bath has promenades, and is
strung with coloured lights like the seafront at Blackpool. At dusk, sometimes, they put on a river show.
Carnival floats bob by filled with plastic flowers, ladies dressed as fairies and hula-hula girls, and gigantic
spooky plastic figures. Scary cartoon faces loom out of the dusk while the band plays oompah-style.
Running shadows and whoops in the formal gardens, sticky-faced kids playing hide-and-seek. Meanwhile,
above the red-and-blue-and-green sparkling chains of the lights on the river, the sun slides slowly down to
meet the top of the mountain. When the sky is deep purple and the show is over, the air is filled with the
roar of hundreds of engines all starting up at once. Time to go home.