Peak District:
Dovedale, Castern Hill and Milldale from Ilam

11 March 2007

A beautiful warm early spring day saw Stephen and George make a trip to the Peak District

Ilam, Peak District
After a very muddy crossing of farmland from the Thorpe Cloud car park, we gently descend into Ilam village. The village was created by Jesse Watts Russell, a wealthy industrialist, who rebuilt the existing village in the 1850s, out of sight of his Hall.

Bridge over River Manifold, Ilam
The bridge over the River Manifold at Ilam

Ilam Hall
Ilam Hall, rebuilt in the gothic style in the 1820s by Jesse Watts Russell. It is now owned by the National Trust, and part of it is a Youth Hostel.

Ilam church
Ilam church - on the left (north) side is an octagonal memorial chapel to Jesse Watts Russell's father-in-law.

River Manifold valley
Ascending from the valley of the River Manifold, we begin our cross-country journey towards the village of Stanshope

Castern Hall
The Georgian house of Castern Hall dates from 1660 and was the home of the Hurt family for around 300 years.

Castern farm, Peak District
Looking down on Castern farm. The public footpath, having followed the farm road for over a kilometre from the valley road, and toured round three sides of Castern Hall, abruptly leaves the farm road and climbs up this hillside, across a stile through a wall, then back across that wall and down the hill again to near that white Range Rover, reappearing as those two grooves in the field above and to the left of the farm buildings. The group of schoolgirls on the track below are confusedly consulting their maps, having reached the "private no access" sign: this was followed by some pointing at the man with the dog!

Manifold valley, Peak District
Before we descend back towards the farm, a look down into the Manifold valley

Having made it successfully around the farm and on our way towards Stanshope, a look to the west finds that school party once again standing around uncertainly looking at maps. They are on the track that leads north, but it isn't a public footpath - whether they were intending to go my way towards Stanshope or the other way towards Wetton, I don't know.

Dog opening stile gate
George tries to open one of the many stile-gates to be found on this route.

Limestone drystone wall construction, Peak District
One of the glories of the White Peak area is the bright limestone walls. Unfortunately, many of them are too short to keep the sheep where they belong, and so many of these traditional stone walls are topped with barbed wire or an electrified fence. Here, a rather more expensive but much better solution is being adopted - an existing wall is being rebuilt, but higher. You can see the construction of the wall, including its sloping sides.

Drystone walls, Peak District
A panoramic view from the same point - click the picture for a larger version.

Stone stile, Peak District
George disappearing over a stile. He really has got the hang of these, and disappeared over several that were much higher than this, with no problems at all.

Stanshope village, Peak District
A beautiful spring morning, looking across fields towards Stanshope

White Peak, limestone drystone walls
Limestone walls in the White Peak

River Dove, Milldale
We then reached the River Dove at Milldale, and stopped for lunch

Milldale and Viator's Bridge, Dovedale
Looking back to Milldale and Viator's Bridge as we begin our walk along Dovedale

Dovedale, Peak District
Looking down Dovedale. Much of the path was very easy underfoot...

River Dove, Peak District
...and while Dovedale was attractive, the thing that impressed itself most on me was the number of people. Granted it was a pleasant Sunday, but it was hardly the peak of summer, and the place was packed. At no point for the rest of the walk was I ever out of sight of people.

Dove Holes caves
The caves of Doves Holes

River Dove
The River Dove. The trees on the valley sides are relatively new - until around 50 years ago, sheep kept the slopes covered in grass, but their removal has allowed trees to take over.


Ilam Rock, Dovedale
Ilam Rock

Dovedale, Peak District
The valley narrows around here

George by the River Dove
George as the valley narrows, first with this constructed path, and in the distance with a boardwalk carried above the river in places on stone piers

Climb to Lover's Leap, Dovedale
The only mildly taxing bit of the walk down Dovedale is the ascent to the top of the crag known as Lover's Leap. The guidebook describes it as a superb viewpoint, but the growth of trees has robbed it of that ability, and you can now see rather less than in the bottom of the valley

Dovedale by Thorpe Cloud
As we approach the stepping stones at the bottom of Thorpe Cloud, the throng of people gets greater

Stepping stones, Dovedale
The stepping stones were providing some fun, but no-one was crossing over the full width of the river. Fortunately a bridge a little further down meant that we didn't  need to make the attempt, which would have been quite a challenge with such an audience.

River Dove
We continue down Dovedale, almost back at the car park. Time for an ice cream to round off a good day - we had one from the log cabin at the car park (there are two places to choose from) and it was excellent, and very good value too.

So, a very good walk, but is Dovedale really "supremely beautiful, one of the loveliest valleys in England"? It would be lovelier when quieter - there was no sense of exploration with so many people about, but even without them, it felt a bit like a walk through a park, with 90% of the path being a constructed one. Although Dovedale should have been the climax of the walk, the pre-lunch part was perhaps more enjoyable. But still a lot better than lurking around north London!

Total 13.1km and 312 metres of ascent taking 3 hours 35 minutes (including 45 minutes stopped).


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Unless otherwise stated, all images copyright (c) Stephen and Lucy Dawson