South west from hence, about a quarter of a mile, or not so much, on the side, or rather at the foot of a very high ridge of mountains, is a great cave or hole in the earth, called Poole's Hole, another of the wonderless wonders of the Peak. The wit that has been spent upon this vault or cave in the earth, had been well enough to raise the expectation of strangers, and bring fools a great way to creep into it; but is ill bestowed upon al] those that come to the place with a just curiosity, founded upon antient report; when these go in to see it, they generally go away, acknowledging that they have seen nothing suitable to their great expectation, or to the fame of the place.
It is a great cave, or natural vault, antient doubtless as the mountain itself, and occasioned by the fortuitous position of the rocks at the creation of all things, or perhaps at the great absorption or influx of the surface into the abyss at the great rupture of the earth's crust or shell, according to Mr. Burnet's theory; and to me it seems a confirmation of that hypothesis of the breaking in of the surface. But that by the way:
It may be deepen'd and enlarged by streams and eruptions of subterraneous waters, of which here are several, as there generally are in all such cavities; as at Castleton in this country, at Wooky Hole in Somersetshire, which I have already spoken of; and at several like caves which are now to be seen among the mountains in Swisserland, in Norway, in Hungary, and other places.
The story of one Pole or Poole, a famous giant or robber, (they might as well have called him a man eater) who harboured in this vault, and whose kitchen and lodging, or bed-chamber, they show you on your right-hand, after you have crept about ten yards upon all-four; I say, this I leave to those who such stories are better suited to, than I expect of my readers.
However, this helps among the people there, to make out the wonder ; and indeed such things are wanting where really wonder is wanting, else there would be no wonder at all in it; as indeed there is not.
The utmost you meet with after this, is the extraordinary heighth of the arch or roof; which, however, is far from what a late flaming author has magnified it to, (viz.) a quarter of a mile perpendicular. That it ? very high, is enough to say; for it is so far from a quarter of a mile, that there seems nothing admirable in it.
Dr. Leigh spends some time in admiring the spangled roof. Cotton and Hobbes are most ridiculously and outrageously witty upon it. Dr. Leigh calls it fret work, organ, and choir work. The whole of the matter is this, that the rock being every where moist and dropping, the drops are some fallen, those you see below; some falling, those you have glancing by you en passant ; and others pendant in the roof. Now as you have guides before you and behind you, carrying every one a candle, the light of the candles reflected by the globular drops of water, dazle upon your eyes from every corner; like as the drops of dew in a sunny-bright morning reflect the rising light to the eye, and are as ten thousand rainbows in miniature; whereas were any part of the roof or arch of this vault to be seen by a clear light, there would be no more beauty on it than on the back of a chimney; for, in short, the stone is coarse, slimy, with the constant wet, dirty and dull; and were the little drops of water gone, or the candles gone, there would be none of these fine sights to be seen for wonders, or for the learned authors above to show themselves foolish about.
Let any person therefore, who goes into Poole's Hole for the future, and has a mind to try the experiment, take a long pole in his hand, with a cloth tied to the end of it, and mark any place of the shining spangled roof which his pole will reach to; and then, wiping the drops of water away, he shall see he will at once extinguish all those glories; then let him sit still and wait a little, till, by the nature of the thing, the drops swell out again, and he shall find the stars and spangles rise again by degrees, here one, and there one, till they shine with the same fraud, a meer deceptio visus , as they did before. 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 every body that comes there, carries away a piece, in veneration of the memory of the unhappy princess that gave it her name. Nor is there any thing strange or unusual in the stone, much less in the figure of it, which is otherwise very mean, and in that country very common.
As to the several stones called Mr. Ce'ton's, Haycock's, Poole's Chair, Flitches of Bacon, and the like, they are nothing but ordinary stones; and the shapes very little resemble the things they are said to represent; but the fruitful imagination of the country carls, who fancy to call them so, will have them to look like them; a stranger sees very little even of the similitude, any more than when people fancy they see faces and heads, castles and cities, armies, horses and men, in the clouds, in the fire, and the like.
Nor is the petrifying of the water, which appears in its pendant form like icecles in the roof aloft, or rising pyramids below, if such there were, any thing but what is frequent and natural both to water and to stone, placed thus under ground, and seems to be the way by which even stone itself, like other vegetables, fructifies and grows.
So that, in short, there is nothing in Poole's Hole to make a wonder of, any more than as other things in nature, which are rare to be seen, however easily accounted for, may be called wonderful.
Daniel Defoe (2002). A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies Letter 8, Part 2: The Peak District.