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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….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.
Many towns and villages celebrated the year 2000 by erecting a permanent memorial stone or creating some other landmark of time.
The parish of Middleton and Smerrill’s boundary stones
The Derbyshire parish of Middleton and Smerrill raised funds and commissioned from local artists, a permanent marker for each of the 17 places that it was possible to cross by path or road into the parish. Members of the parish choose the words for each boundary marker.
I was reminded of these markers on a recent walk by discovering marker number 6, the Clapper Bridge marker. The words on this marker stone are;
“Consult the Genius of the Place in all; That tells the Waters or to rise and fall”
It doesn’t say it on the bridge but these words are by Alexander Pope, one of our greatest poets. Pope was also an architect and was influenced in his writing by his interest in design and landscaping.
The Earl of Burlington, Richard Boyle
Pope’s words were written in the first half of the 18th century as part of an “Epistle to the Earl of Burlington”. The Earl of Burlington addressed in the Epistle was Richard Boyle, a renown architect of the time.
Earlier, Boyle had published a collection of “Palladio’s designs of the baths, arches, theatres etc of ancient Rome”. Pope, it seems, was moved to write the first of four moralistic poems in support of the ‘designs’. He was railing against what he saw as bad taste in some of the architecture of the day.
Pope was keen that nature formed the inspiration for design. He suggests that we ask what is special about the place (“Consult the genius of the place”) when we come to landscaping the countryside. He felt that planting should be sympathetic to the landscape and the way that the gradient of the land rises and falls (“that tells the waters or to rise and fall”).
The words were not written of the area specifically. When you stand on the clapper bridge in Bradford Dale, however, glancing up and down the unspoiled valley, you can appreciate what he was driving at.
The connection to Derbyshire and Chatsworth
Richard Boyle grew up in Yorkshire and did a lot of his work in London. At the time of the Epistle he had no connection with Derbyshire. (The use of Earl of Burlington as a courtesy title by the Dukes of Devonshire came late). A few years before his death, however, Boyle’s daughter, Charlotte, his only heir married the 4th Duke of Devonshire. The link to Derbyshire was made.
Having Charlotte’s inheritance and wealth allowed the 4th Duke to make great changes at Chatsworth, both to the house and gardens. I’d like to think that he had read Alexander Pope’s ‘Epistle’ to his father-in-law. I’d also like to think that he considered “The Genius of the Place” in appointing Capability Brown to redesign a more natural and ‘tasteful’ landscape at Chatsworth, a legacy that survives today.
It is 50 years ago this week since the opening of the Pennine Way, the 268 mile grandad of long distance paths in Britain. The route runs from Kirk Yetholm in Northumberland to Edale along what has become known as the backbone of England.
The route was conceived back in the 1930s by journalist and rambler, Tom Stephenson who was inspired by the long distance trails of the United States. It was to take 30 years, however, to see the dream become a reality.
It is estimated that quarter of a million people use at least part of the trail every year. This number of people obviously has a big impact on the trail itself so many sections have to be actively managed with flagstones and duckboards.
If you wish to complete the walk you can expect to cross more than 430 stone and wooden stiles, open and close in the region of 280 gates and cross 200 bridges! There will be more than 450 route marks to ensure you stay on the right path.
I remember being inspired to complete the long distance route when just a child – not that I have actually done it!
Birthday celebrations are taking place this weekend with more than 50 circular walks taking in the majority of the long distance route. Closest to us, celebrations take place in Edale from Friday 24th April until Sunday 26th.
Literally meaning “rocks” The Roaches act as an impressive sentry on the south western corner of the Peak District National Park
North of leek and south of Buxton, the Roaches are regarded as an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”. On top of the rocky outcrop you can see (weather permitting!) the plains of Cheshire to the west and the forbidding moors and dry stone walls of this corner of the Peak District to the east.
The Roaches are a coarse sandstone called gritstone. The land was once the gritty bottom of a huge delta that covered a lot of what is now England. Around 300 million years ago the delta bed was pushed up into a vast dome. Over subsequent millennia, the central area of gritstone was eroded away leaving escarpments of rock in the west (The Roaches) and in the East (Stanage, Baslow and Froggatt Edges)
The rocky outcrops have wonderfully evocative names such as; The Winking Man, Dains Mill, Apprentice Hut, Queen’s Chair, The Bawdstone, Hen Cloud
One of the most popular activities on The Roaches is rock climbing. There is something for everyone with climbs from moderate to extremely severe (for those in the know about these things). Pegs have not been left permanently in the rock faces so the faces are “clean” for the next climber
Lud Church is a 15m deep, 100m long chasm which you can walk through. Said to be the inspiration for the Green Chapel in 14th century tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight it was formed by a landslip. Having its own microclimate, it is a great environment for ferns and mosses to thrive, and for walkers seeking some shelter from the wind!
In the summer, you should look out for peregrine and red grouse in the air. On the ground look out for wallabies (yes, I’m serious!) last seen in late 2014. Originally they were released from Whipsnade Zoo in the late 1930s. The genetic pool of the released animals was limited and very close so it was believed that they had died out. It would be fabulous to think that this wasn’t the case and that they are still there.
The Roaches Appreciation Society web site is a great resource for finding out more about the area.
Follow this link for a challenging walk in the area.
There are two designated car parks in The Roaches area;
at Gradbach (grid reference: SJ996661); and
near Upper Hulme (grid reference: SJ005621)
There are maps in Hayloft, Byre and Jasmine Cottages that cover the area.
From Hayloft and The Byre the Gradbach car park is approximately 13 miles (30 minutes drive)
From Jasmine Cottage, 20 miles (40 minutes)
From Cliffe Cottage, 17 miles (40 minutes)