As you can imagine, at BCH Camping
we speak to outdoor types of many different persuasions. Some like to beat their chest and head off on a technical, physically demanding climb, others like to go for a low-key ramble, and there are many types in between. One thing that unites most is the allure of the Peak District, and particularly one of its jewels, Dovedale and its famous stepping stones, caves and historical points of interest.
The Dovedale walk from Dovedale to Milldale cuts through this area of outstanding beauty which attracts millions of visitors every year, but if you’re thinking of following this popular walk don’t let this put you off. Many people, particularly with young families, who decide to follow the walk only go as far as the stepping stones and mill around there and turn back, leaving the rest of the hike peaceful and awe-inspiring.
What to expect from Dovedale Walk
Located a few miles north of Ashbourne at the very south end of the Peak District National Park, Dovedale is a beautiful limestone dale with changing landscapes, beautiful scenery and the winding River Dove. The steep limestone cliffs and rare woodland wildlife make this a very special place, and at the half way point you are rewarded with the quaint, picturesque village of Milldale.
One of the most fascinating features of this walk is its many caves, with Reynard's Cave and the two Dove Hole caves being favourites. It is an easy to moderate walk with no seriously challenging terrain or ascents. You should allow plenty of time for exploring the area’s many features and relaxing by the beautiful River Dove.
Dovedale stepping stones
Located early in the walk, the Dovedale stepping stones are used as a crossing within the wooded ravine, over the River Dove. The National Trust became embroiled in controversy in 2010, when in conjunction with Derbyshire County Council it oversaw the renovation of the stepping stones. It involved topping all but one of the stones with layers of mortar and limestone slabs.
There have been occasions when the stones have been impassable because one or two have become dislodged or submerged. So popular is this area that this made the local BBC News programmes! Please note that the stones will also be impassable during icy conditions.
Located between the villages of Thorpe
stands Thorpe Cloud, which is an isolated limestone hill standing at 942 ft (287 m). It was used in the 2010 film of Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe. From Thorpe Cloud there are stunning views north up the dale and south across the Midlands
plain. Its name "cloud" is from the Old English
“clud” which means "hill". On the opposite bank, is the higher but less isolated Bunster Hill at 1,079 ft (329 m). They were both acquired by the National Trust in 1934 for the South Peak Estate.
Lovers Leap, at the cliff tops of Stoney Middleton, is said to be named after an incident that happened nearly 300 years ago during the Napoleonic Wars. A young woman heard that her boyfriend had been killed. She was so upset that she climbed to the top of Lovers Leap and threw herself off. Luckily, she survived the fall because her long skirt became caught in the branches of a tree and she was able to scramble to safety. Apparently, when she got home, she was given the news that her boyfriend was actually alive and had just returned home to England!
There are hundreds of Lovers Leaps around the world, including several more in Derbyshire. It’s a name usually given to dangerous rocky outcrops, a range of hills or a location on the side of a valley.
Milldale is a tiny hamlet on the River Dove which derives its name from an old corn mill which was demolished in the mid-19th century. The foundations can still be seen and so can the pool where local farmers washed their sheep in the river prior to shearing, a practice which only stopped in the 1960s.
Milldale is famous for its role in 'The Compleat Angler', the 1653 book by Isaak Walton which detailed his conversations with his friend Charles Cotton about fishing on the River Dove. The book is written as a conversation between 'Viator' and 'Pescator', and the packhorse bridge leading out of Milldale across the river is known as Viator's bridge.
There is a National Trust information barn by the bridge where you can find out more about the area, and there are public toilets nearby.
Dovedale Walk route
The walk starts at the large Dovedale car park, near Thorpe which usually has plenty of spaces available. Keeping the River Dove on your right, head in a north east direction along the road. After half a kilometre you will reach a left turn where you will find the Dovedale stepping stones to get across the river. Before you cross, take time to look at the imposing Thorpe Cloud in front of you.
Cross the stepping stones if you can. If they are impassable for any reason, head back and take the wooden footbridge over the river on the left before the car park, then turn left along the other side of the river until you reach the bend where you will now be at the other side of the stepping stones.
After crossing the stepping stones turn left and head along the obvious path, keeping the River Dove on your left. This is the busiest section of the walk but as mentioned above, don't be put off as most people stay around this area and don't continue on the route down the dale.
The path continues in a north westerly direction up the dale following the river, passing a number of weirs. After just over half a kilometre it rises slightly and reaches the outcrop of Lovers Leap. Here you can clamber up the rock for a view down the dale.
After the walk takes you past Tissington Spires, striking limestone formations popular with climbers, you will reach Reynard’s Cave with its impressive arched, limestone entrance. Heading back down you come to a wooden footbridge that crosses the river where you will see Ilam Rock and Pickering Tor. Don’t cross the footbridge, carry on north to reach Dove Holes, the two huge unmissable open caves, created by water eroding the soft limestone cliffs.
Carry on the pathway to a boardwalk which has replaced the pathway. Follow the boardwalk and pass Raven Tor on the left before crossing a few small meadows leading to Viator’s Bridge. Cross the bridge to look around Milldale, the halfway point of the walk, but then come back over the bridge to turn right and head south with the River Dove on your right.
You will pass Raven Tor and Dove Holes again before reaching the wooden bridge at Ilam Rock. The nearby historic village of Ilam is worth a visit. Keep heading south past Reynard’s Cave and Lovers Leap to reach the stepping stones. If you have time, take the diversion to the summit of Thorpe Cloud as it is well worth exploring its fossils and savouring its unique views up Dovedale. You can make the diversion on the way out or on the return.
Get in touch!
If you walk regularly and would like to share your experiences or recommendations, do get in touch
with the BCH Camping team, we’d love to hear from you. If you need any clothing
for your walking, take a look around our website
to see the extensive ranges we have available.