Pause where you can see the natural arch of Reynard’s Cave. To find out how it formed we need to travel back to the end of the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago, when glacial meltwater swelled the Dove into a powerful torrent. Icy waters cut down through fissures and faults in the rock like a knife through butter. The vertical crags and pinnacles we can see from here are harder bands of limestone that the water could not cut through, but just how did these natural caves and arches form?
Limestone has many joints and cracks. When acidic rainwater trickles into these joints, it dissolves and widens them into underground drainage systems, including tunnels, caves and caverns. As the river cut down through the limestone it intercepted some of these secret tunnels and caves, opening them up for the first time. Reynard’s Cave is the remnant of just such an old cavern, exposed as the Dove cut down through the limestone.
Round the corner from the arch is Reynard’s Kitchen – the home of some of our prehistoric ancestors. A hoard of late Iron Age and pre-Conquest Roman coins, said to be the most significant find of its kind in Britain, was found here in 2014. The cave is thought to have been named either after a local brigand who made it his refuge or for its use by foxes as a den.
Return to the path and continue along the dale. It soon narrows to the section known as The Straits. Here the footpath has been raised on wooden duckboards above the level of the river, which is often subject to flooding at this point. The path passes directly under the Lion’s Head Rock and then the dale opens out slightly where a footbridge crosses to Ilam Rock
This text was originally developed by Roly Smith for Discovering Britain. Created by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), the Discovering Britain website features over 350 walks and viewpoints which explore the stories of Britain’s landscapes.
Roly Smith 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.