Although Dovedale refers to the majority of the route along which the River Dove flows, when we hear the word Dovedale, we immediately think of those iconic stepping stones for which it is so famous. From a tourist point of view, we tend to think of Dovedale as the 3 miles or so section of the river between the stepping stones under Thorpe Cloud and Milldale.
Where does the River Dove go?
The Rover Dove rises on Axe Edge Moor near Buxton and then heads south through the limestone landscape of the southern Peak District. For the vast majority of its 45 mile course, the river marks the boundary between Staffordshire and Derbyshire.
The Rover Dove joins the River Trent at Newton Solney, near Burton upon Trent.
A history of the stepping stones
The stepping stones were originally laid in about 1890 for Victorian tourists who would take donkey rides along the riverside. The river itself was made famous long before that when Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton wrote ‘The Compleat Angler’.
The Ashbourne to Buxton railway stopped at Thorpe Cloud station which made Dovedale very accessible to tourists in the early part of the 20th century.
The stones and other parts of the Dovedale valley were passed into the care of the National Trust in 1934.
Over time thousands have crossed the river using the stones and they became uneven, worn and slippery. When the water ran high they sometimes flooded.
For safety and to help prevent people slipping, the original stones were controversially “capped” in 2010 with uniform limestone slabs. As they are now higher, it is much less likely they will be flooded. We just need another 100 years use to recreate the wear and charm of the original stones!
Other famous parts of Dovedale
Milldale village is a very pretty village with quaint houses. It’s a great place to start a walk along the river. The bridge, Viators Bridge is a packhorse bridge that been in use since medieval times.
Thorpe Cloud is the very conical hill close to the stepping stones. When we are travelling home from the south, we know that we are getting close when we see its very distinctive shape.
There are numerous rock formations and limestone features along the valley, all with romantic names such as; Twelve Apostles; Tissington Spires; Lovers Leap; Reynards Cave; Lions Head Rock; Dove Holes; and Pickering Tor
How to get there;
Dovedale is about 20 minutes by car from Ashbourne. It’s about 40 minutes to either Bakewell or Buxton. Dovedale is approximately 30 minutes by car from the cottages.
There is a privately owned car park for Dovedale. The closest postcode is DE6 2AX. There are signs for parking as you get close. You can also follow directions to the Isaac Walton hotel which will get you very close.
The stepping stones are then a 10 minute walk from the car park on the tarmac.
From there, you can walk for as long or as little as you wish. If you are feeling energetic then take the opportunity to stride up Thorpe Cloud, the very conical looking hill, The views from the top are well worth the effort.
Can you take dogs to Dovedale?
Dogs are very welcome at Dovedale
What else to do whilst you are there
The National Trust property, Ilam Park, is only a couple of miles away from the Dovedale car park. There, you’ll find a tea room and dog watering bowls.
Dovedale attracts around 1m visitors a year. Other dales in the area to check out that are just as pretty but nowhere near as busy are; Beresford Dale, Milldale and Wolfescote Dale (all are along the River Dove)
You’ll stand a better chance of seeing some of the river’s bird life – dippers, kingfishers, herons – if you head away from the crowds.
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One of the most popular things to do during a stay in Derbyshire or the Peak District is a visit to one of the numerous caverns we have in the area. Discover some quirky facts about Derbyshire’s caves.
From north to south (with one thrown in for luck);
Blue John Cavern and Treak Cliff Cavern, Castleton
The only two mines in the world where you can find the semi precious Derbyshire Blue John mineral. The stone is a kind of flourite with yellow and blue crystalline bands running through it.
The mineral is still mined in small quantities and you can have a go at polishing your own piece of Blue John stone.
Don’t put your piece of blue John in the oven though as the blue colour will disappear!
Speedwell Cavern, Castleton
Speedwell Cavern came to be because of the lead mining that took place here.
The entrance to the cave was some way from the excavation area and, due to the flooding in the mine, the journey was made by boat, which still happens for the visitor today
Despite sizeable investment, the mine was never very successful as a source of lead but due to the quirky means of travelling in the cave, it’s always been popular with tourists.
Peak Cavern, Castleton
Peak Cavern is the largest cave system in the Peak District and is almost all entirely natural.
The cave was inhabited by ropemaking cave dwellers until the early 20th century. Up to 40 families in two rows of cottages in the cave entrance. There were also stables, an inn and three small shops – wow!
Ropes were made in the enormous mouth to the cave (the largest cave opening in Britain) and you can see a demonstration of this on a visit, The ropes were made for; lead miners; as window sashes, tow ropes for barges, bell ropes and the odd hangman’s noose too!
Traditionally every bride in the village was given a rope, a washing line, on her wedding day
Poole’s Cavern, Buxton
Lead was also mined at Poole’s cavern in Buxton but the supplies were dwindling. The town was a popular visitor destination during Victorian times and earlier due to the spa waters and the visitors were quite keen to look around the cave. You can still see the Victorian turnstile that allowed visitors to enter the cave and the neighbouring country park
Heights of Abraham
The Heights of Abraham must be one of the oldest tourist attractions in the country. It opened its doors to visitors in the 1780s. There are two caves at the site. At one, Rutland Cave, you can experience what leading mining in the 17th century might have been like, the atmosphere, the sights and the sounds.
and the one thrown in, Cresswell Crags
Cresswell Crags caves were inhabited by prehistoric man. We know that because tools have been found at the site. What the archaeologists have never found, however, are human bones. What did the humans that were there use the caves for? We’ll never know for sure but it looks like the caves were used by travellers on hunting trips, perhaps they could be thought of as the first self-catering accommodation!
Great things to do in the Peak District in winter
The main attractions may be closed but there are still things to do in the Peak District in winter.
Castles, caverns and churches
Bolsover and Peveril Castles are open to visitors at the weekends during the winter. The keep at Peveril Castle is closed for maintenance but the views from the castle walls make the walk up worthwhile. Bolsover Castle was built by Sir William Cavendish in the 17th century as an entertainment venue rather than a defensive castle. You’ll hear stories of lavish parties fit for a king rather than of daring escapades.
The caverns in Castleton and Buxton could be a great place to go to in the winter. With an even temperature all year round, it may even be warmer to be below ground. If you’d like to see some caves close up and not like the traditional tourist, call on Dolomite training for an introductory course on caving.
Churches are normally always open and we have wonderful churches to visit. All Saints Church in Bakewell has a wealth of Saxon carved stones and a pair of Saxon crosses. St Edmund’s Church in Castleton was begun by William Peveril, the illegitimate son of William the Conqueror and has a 12th century chancel arch. Tideswell has the ‘Catherdral of the Peak’. Of course, we should also mention St Mary and All Saints Church in Chesterfield, famous for its 13th century crooked spire (and which you take a tour into)
Trails, tours and museums
The ground underfoot may be a bit boggy for a walk across open fields but there is nothing more exhilarating than being outside on a cold and crisp day. The trails are quiet at this time of year and the walking easy. If you are feeling energetic, head to Hassop Station and hire a bike for the day. Cycling from one end of the trail to the other (and back) will warm you up!
Live for the Hills offer a unique way of seeing the Peak District National Park – in the comfort and warmth of your own Caravelle minivan. Choose one of the tours on offer or create your own. A tour will normally involve a pub lunch stop too – what’s not to love!
Buxton Museum had a £1.5m makeover 18 months ago. It’s now a super place to spend half a day or more exploring the art, social, archaeological and geological history of the area. Exhibitions change regularly.
Finally, whatever you choose to do, there is nothing nicer than coming back to a toasty warm cottage, lighting the fire and putting your feet up!
History of the Farm Shop
The Chatsworth Farm Shop was established in 1977 by the later Dowager Duchess, Deborah Devonshire, to make best use of the livestock raised on the Chatsworth farms. It was just a very small outlet, selling whole beef and lamb carcasses.
Five years later, the Chatsworth House chef was asked to make some extra cakes that could also be sold in the farm shop. The rest, as they say, is history.
The award winning shop now boasts a butchers counter, fish counter, fresh fruit and veg, delicatessen, patisserie, a growing selection of ready meals and chilled items, an extensive range of wines, beers, gins and soft drinks and all manner of store cupboard items too.
Philosophy of the Farm Shop
The philosphy of the farm shop is to source as locally as possible, the estate first, then the tennant farms, then other Derbyshire businesses. Only if a product cannot be sourced nationally will an international supplier be sought.
As you would expect, quality is paramount and corners aren’t cut in production. For example, a good amount of brandy goes into each fruit cake and Christmas pudding and those products are left to mature for a minimum of 6 months.
Behind the Scenes
On a behind the scenes tour you’ll get to meet the faces and personalities who bake, butcher and cook a lot of the produce that is on sale and discover some fascinating facts along the way.
A real surprise to us was the scale of production at the farm shop. I think that we were expecting it to be bigger, however, the produce is not mass produced, production line style. Care and attention goes into each cake, pie or butchered joint.
There are three production areas bakery, butchery and main kitchen. Each is only a little bigger than our own kitchen. The staff are there 364 days a year, the bakers being the first on shift each day at 2:30am.
Part of the tour is to sample some of the produce and to experience the Farm Shop Cafe. Yummy!
The tours are only run three or four times a year but, if you get the opportunity, it’s a fascinating way to spend an evening.
….shopping, shopping, shopping!
Skip to the last few paragraphs if shopping is not a reason for you to visit Ashbourne.
The shopping history of Ashbourne
Six coaching roads intersected in Ashbourne in the 18th century, on route from London to Carlisle, so Ashbourne has been a great place to trade for at least 200 years!
Many of the beautiful buildings from the 18th century remain and, after the Victorians added their buildings and developments, not much changed. As a result, there are now over 200 listed buildings in the town.
Independent and Fair Trade Shops
Ashbourne has worked hard in recent years to excel at its retail offering. As well as a few national chain stores (Joules, WH Smith, Costa, Fatface), there are a wealth of independent shops offering a personal service and a feeling that customers matter.
Many of the independent shop owners source great quality, locally produced goods and most are trying to offer products that differ from the recognisable high street brands. Many offer fair trade products, the town becoming a fair trade town more than 10 years ago.
There is a sense that the shops are complementary rather than competitive so there is much to keep you interested.
There are just a few empty premises and it feels like Ashbourne is bucking the national trend. The high street is buzzing, there’s a positive vibe and a real sense of community. Many shops play the same local radio station so the shopping experience can feel almost seamless at times.
The shops are clustered around the historic cobbled market place and along the main streets of the town. Hidden alleys and yards are a pleasure to explore.
The town is big enough to offer choice but not so big that you are in competition with hordes of other shoppers.
Don’t be put off by dowdy exteriors – interiors are generally contemporary and welcoming. Indulge in some retail therapy, why don’t you?
What to expect
Antiques, art, bakeries, cafes and restaurants, fashion, gift shops, jewellery, speciality food and drink, sweets.
You can also get hands-on with ‘have a go’ craft activities at Sticky Fingers or designing your own jewellery at Avanti
What else apart from the shopping?
If shopping is not your thing or you have some time to spare, there is also the parish church of St Oswald, with its imposing 212 ft spire, to visit.
Take in the wonderful architecture that dates from the 16th century and some of the 200 listed buildings in the town. The Memorial Gardens are also worth a quick wander around.
There are free guided tours of the town twice a week from Easter to end of September (from the visitor centre).
If you get your timing right, there is also a vibrant annual arts festival or Shrovetide football to witness.