Pan for gems, build a drystone wall, and hunt for fossils at The National Stone Centre, just outside the Peak District National Park, close to Matlock Bath.
The National Stone Centre is free to enter, although it’s £3 to do the panning for gems, and £1 for geo-trail map. There’s also a café on site (with a rock shop and small exhibition), as well as a playground.
Combine your visit with a walk along the High Peak Trail to Black Rocks, or even further to Cromford Canal. Although, do allow 2-3 hours for wandering about The National Stone Centre, which includes a bite to eat at the Blue Lagoon Café.
Where to find the National Stone Centre
The National Stone Centre is located just outside the southwest National Park boundary of the Peak Disrtrict, 2km from Cromford and 4km from Matlock Bath.
The entrance is just off the B5035 Cromford-Carsington road.
Click here for the location on Google Maps. The postcode is DE4 4LS.
Where to park for the National Stone Centre
Follow the road right down, past Mount Cook Adventure Centre Car Park. There is a pay and display car park for the High Peak Trail on your right (£1.50 for two hours, £3 for 4 hours and £5 for all day).
Those visitors with mobility issues can use the free parking next to the Blue Lagoon Café. Follow the road round to the left and underneath the tunnel.
Blue Lagoon Café, Exhibition Hall, and playground
The Blue Lagoon Café is open every day and food is served until 3pm. Click here for the menu, which includes cream teas, paninis, sausage rolls, jacket potatoes, and all day breakfasts. Be prepared that service is rather slow, although staff are extremely lovely.
There is seating both inside and outside. The outside seating overlooks the walled playground; very handy for parents to keep an eye on their little ones.
Inside the same building as the café is a small exhibition (free) which presents the geology of the region through the ages. There is also a small rock shop here selling quirky rock mementos and beautiful gem jewellery.
Pick up your gem pan from the rock shop, inside the main building. Gem pans are £3 each, and contain a handful of colourful gems hidden in sand. You get to take the gems home!
Take your gem pan to the side of the main building (to the right of the outdoor seating) where you will notice two rectangular water troughs. This is where you do the gem panning! Please don’t stand in the water.
There are instructions on a post for how to do the gem panning. But for your reference, and so you’re prepared:
- Turn your gem pan so that the ridges are on the opposite side from you.
- Put a small amount of water into the pam and swirl around to get all the sand wet and settle the gems to the bottom.
- Gently empty the water over the side of the pan where the ridges are. Be careful not to lose your gems over the edge.
- Now using a lapping motion in and out, gently vary the angle of the gem pan so that a small amount of sand is washed away.
- Repeat steps 2-4 often to settle the gems to the bottom of the gem pan.
- Continue lapping the pan in the water until the gems are revealed, either caught on the ridges or in the bottom of the gem pan. They can then be removed and put into the plastic bag for you to take home.
- Return the gem pan to the shop and wash your hands once you have finished.
Pick up your geo-trail map for £1 from the rock shop. This provides a some information at each of the seven points along the geo-trail.
The geo-trail is only 800 metres long and starts just in front of the free parking area, then leads away from the Blue Lagoon Café. You are then guided through the disused limestone quarries whose rocks once formed part of a tropical island with shallow lagoons, barrier reefs and white sand beaches.
There are lots of opportunities for fossil hunting along the geo-trail, including corals, brachiopods and crinoids. Though please note that fossil collecting and hammering is strictly forbidden.
Half way along the trail you will come across the Millenium Wall; this is a drystone wall separated into 19 different sections built from different stone around the UK.
Just past the end of the Millennium Wall is the drystone walling area. This is mostly sectioned off for the professionals. But just in front of this, rocks have been left for kids to try their own drystone walling.
The geo-trail is not suitable for prams, and dogs need to be kept on a lead.
What else to do in the area
Follow the High Peak Trail up to Black Rock; a rocky outcrop with fantastic views. From the main car park, follow the High Peak Trail along to the left for 600 metres. There is then a footpath on your right to lead you up to Black Rock. You could then continue along the High Peak Trail to Cromford Canal (click here for walk details).
StarDisc is also just a 5 minute drive away. Built in 2011, this is a stone circle and celestial amphitheatre that spans 12 meters. Carved into black granite is a star chart that mirrors the northern hemisphere’s night sky. It’s free to visit.
Also, check out our guide for things to do in Matlock and Matlock Bath.