The twin sentinels of Thorpe Cloud towering away to your right and Bunster Hill to your left guard the entrance to Dovedale. Over 50 miles from the nearest stretch of coastline you may be surprised to learn that these hills were once coral reefs! They are known as reef knolls and were formed around 350 million years ago from the compressed remains of coral reefs on the edge of a warm, tropical sea, which created the limestone plateau of the White Peak.
But look at the babbling waters of the River Dove to your side. It seems impossible that this quiet river produced such a steep-sided dale. So what happened here?
At the end of the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago, meltwater from glaciers swelled the Dove into a powerful torrent. Those icy waters cut down through fissures and faults in the rock like a knife through butter. The vertical crags and pinnacles we can see are harder bands of limestone that the water could not cut through so easily.
As we walk along Dovedale we’ll see some examples of the other fascinating features created in the limestone. Follow the west bank of the River Dove beneath Bunster Hill to the famous Stepping Stones.
This trail was originally developed by Roly Smith for the Royal Geographical Society’s Discovering Britain.
Roly is a keen walker and the author of over 90 books on the British countryside. He has been recently described as one of Britain’s most knowledgeable countryside writers.
Thanks are also due to Dan Seagrave for use of his photograph of Dovedale and Thorpe Cloud (CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr).
Dovedale is managed and cared for by the National Trust.