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The road winds steeply through a ravine, rising up from the Hope Valley to the south of Mam Tor and is surrounded by dramatic towering limestone pinnacles. The pass was once thought to have originated as a giant collapsed cavern, however, a more recent explanation is that it was a ravine between the coral reefs that originally formed the limestone. The name derives from a corruption of 'wind gates'.
There are numerous underground stream systems in this area and one of these created a large cave system beneath the edge of the cliff overlooking Castleton. The valley contains a number of known pot-holes and Speedwell Cavern, one of the area's many interesting caves, is entered at the foot of the pass.
The pass was the scene of a gruesome murder un 1758. A young couple named Allan and Clara eloping from Scotland to be married in the Extra Parochial Church of Peak Forest were waylaid in the Winnats Pass by five miners who took them to a nearby barn where the young couple were robbed and murdered. The terrible crime came to light when the last of the five miners, who all died violent deaths, confessed to what they had done. The lady’s side saddle from Clara’s horse can be seen in the Speedwell Cavern shop. The large gritstone cornerstones of the barn in which the young couple were murdered can still be seen as part of the wall in the field just below the Speedwell Cavern car park.