The first long walk of 2015, and with my new years resolution and personal challenge to walk 1000 miles in one year well underway sort of, I needed a biggy to raise the mileage a bit. It was time for me to put in a day walk! A few weeks ago, before Christmas, I walked a circular route exploring Lathkill Dale and Bradford Dale in Derbyshire so it seemed only right that I chose the well known and well visited nearby neighborough Dovedale for my first day-walk of the year!
Arriving at the car park at the foot of Thorpe Cloud just before 10.00am and it was already filling up, even this early in the year! Thorpe Cloud towers above and marks the entrance to Dovedale, scaling this lump as inviting as it is will have to wait for another day. Today my route takes me through the valley to the delightful village of Milldale. Leaving Milldale it is then onto Wolfescote Dale for a few miles before ascending the steep slope of Gypsy Bank. The village of Alstonfield is the next point on the map via a few fields and tracks, including the zig-zag and slippery descent of Harry’s Bank. A brief climb on a stoney track brings us to Stanshope before descending through Halldale to re-join the Dovedale and the final couple of miles back to the car park. All in all, a distance of about 11 miles.
Dovedale is a limestone wooded ravine cut by the river Dove in the southern Peak District a little north west of Ashbourne and is managed by the National Trust. Within its 3 mile length the various points of interest to keep an eye open for are Illam Rock, Dove Holes, Raynards Cave, Lovers Leap and the Twelve Apostles, and viewing the map loads more besides!
I chose to walk the eastern bank of the river. However, at this time of the year the river was running a little higher, sometimes covering the path completely and forcing a few little detours, but nothing of too much hardship. Mind you, the tarmac surfaced path on the other side would have been easier, but where is the fun in that!
The points of interest soon come thick and fast and the first of these; the first one I noted anyway was Lovers Leap. One of many stories associated with this landmark and my favourite is that of a young woman believing her lover had been killed in the Napolonic wars threw herself off only to be saved from death by her dress getting caught in a tree. She later found that her lover had indeed survived. Standing on top be sure to look across and you will see another rock formation known as the Twelve Apostles.
Further along the valley the rock formations of Illam Rock, Raynards Cave and my favourite Dove Holes. Lots of interest and probably way too much detail and history to go into here. But suffice to say that thanks to the crushing of dead sea creatures some 350 million years ago, and a couple of ice ages thrown in to the mix, we are left with an outstandingly beautiful and interesting place.
Some 3 miles from where I parked the car, the quaint little village of Milldale sits neatly at the head of Dovedale. As I near this picture postcard village I am reminded of the opening title scene from TV’s Emmerdale and almost on cue a Land Rover rolls in. I was almost expecting it to charge through the river but it just stopped on the roadside, probably for the best! I enter the village via the aptly named Viators bridge, viator meaning traveller. A medieval packhorse bridge and a listed ancient monument.
It seems for most that Milldale serves as a turn-around point because on leaving the village I see fewer and fewer people and I am left to continue my walk along Wolfescote Dale almost alone! Still following the river Dove, Wolfescote Dale is a little less dramatic as the landscape takes on a more open appearance. But a little over two miles and I’m faced with a steep climb. Crossing the river by the footbridge at the bottom my way out of the valley involves going up!
Gipsy Bank and the subsequent climb really does feel like you’ll topple over backwards, and at one point when I stopped to rest for a moment, I took the the time to look round and got a surprise. A real feeling of vertigo washed over me and momentarily had me feeling a little queasy and off balance. Oh eck, best not look down! The series of small steps cut into the hillside did not assure me of an easier ascent either, infact I don’t think they were much help at all given the damp conditions as I neared the top. But oh man, once at the top…
…Sorry, you’ll have to watch the video!
I stopped briefly for a break, a sit down and take in the incredible view, before setting off on much flatter ground thankfully, in the direction of Alstonfield. Lunch on the small village green was a hurried affair spurred on by the overcast appearance the sky had taken on, and the wind was getting up too. But also time was ticking away and I still had some mileage to cover!
The path out of the village is a little confusing to begin with, as it seems to go straight through someone’s private driveway. Only briefly though as I am quickly again crossing open fields heading for Harry’s Bank. This time though it’s going down affair. But my joy soon turned to despair as the muddy conditions made for an entertaining, somewhat wobbly descent as I struggle to stay upright! At the bottom and with my dignity intact I am immediately faced with the climb back up to the higher ground and on to the village of Stanshope to pick up the path that will take through Hall Dale.
Seemed pretty straight forward on the map! But after about a mile and reaching a dead-end marked by barbed wire and “No Access” signs, I realised I’d made a navigational cock-up. Fighting with the map in the now frighteningly strong wind, I found where I was and where I was supposed to be and guess what, they didn’t match! An about-face was in order, and I re-traced my steps finally picking up the footpath to Hall Dale, and thankfully some shelter from the wind.
The descent through Hall Dale brings me into the woods on the west side of Dovedale and eventually crossing the river at Illam Rock for a re-trace of the mornings route, back over Lover Leap. No trip to Dovedale would be complete without a trip across the famous stepping stones, where I take the opportunity to cross and make use of the easier going tarmac path back to the car park in the fading light.
A great day walk, with lots of interest, stunning scenery, fantastic rock formations and epic views! Pick your time visiting this lovely part of the Peak District, like most areas of the National Park it can get a little busy in the warmer months. but if you are up for a longer walk, you will soon leave the crowds behind and still enjoy some quieter walking!
Map of the route.