Limestone is the architect and dominant feature of Dovedale. This pearly grey, 350 million-year-old rock dictates the tone for the whole of this glorious landscape. It was this apparently intractable rock, carved over the millennia by wind, rain, frost and glacial meltwater into the soaring pinnacles, secret caves and free-standing arches we come to see and admire in the gorge today.
These rocky features have provided refuge for our ancient ancestors and the source of inspiration for writers and painters. And it is the limestone which produces the soil that supports rare flora and filters the water to make the river the perfect habitat for trout and other wildlife.
Dovedale is one of the major honeypots of the Peak District National Park, visited by over a million people every year. Visiting on a crisp winter’s day, it’s strange to think that this was all once part of an ancient tropical coral reef.
You now have a choice of routes to return to your starting point. Return the way you came to get an entirely different view of the dale, or take a high level route above the dale to the west:
Continue along the road turning left up a narrow lane to reach the stile at the top leading across the fields through more stiles to the lane leading to Stanshope Pasture on the left. Turn left after a few steps, and descend to the head of Hall Dale which is crossed by a stile. Keep straight ahead alongside a wall to a ladder stile and follow a series to stiles to reach the metalled Ilam Moor Lane, where you turn left.
Follow this for about half a mile, enjoying extensive views across the Lower Manifold Valley to the right, while Dovedale remains hidden by the rounded hills of Ilam Tops to the left.
The unfenced road to Ilam Tops soon appears on the left,; cross a cattle grid and then branch immediately right, keeping above an old quarry, dropping down to a stile at the eastern end of Moor Plantation.
The path traverses the lower slopes of Bunster Hill. The estate village of Ilam appears below ahead and to the right, but you continue to contour around the slopes of Bunster Hill to a saddle, where you descend to a stile.
Two more stiles lead around the back of the Izaak Walton Hotel, from where you bear left to emerge at a stile opposite your starting point at the Dovedale car park.
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.