Route: Dovedale

Area: Peak District

Date of walk: 8th June 2021

Walkers: Andrew and Gilly

Distance: 7.5 miles

Ascent: 1,200 feet

Weather: Sunny and warm

The lower reaches of Dovedale and its stepping stones are a honeypot location in the Peak District, so we made an early start in order to avoid any crowds. We parked in the picture postcard village of Ilam, where there were plenty of roadside parking spaces thanks to our early arrival

We followed the Thorpe road out of the village for a short distance before joining a path which climbed along the flanks of Bunster Hill. There were some lovely views back over Ilam as we gained height. We continued uphill to Ilam Tops, and skirted around Air Cottage, which is set in a wonderful position high above Dovedale. We then followed a path along the upper edge of Dovedale Wood. After about half a mile we had some moments of uncertainty before we located the path down into Dovedale. We passed by one unsigned path which looked exceptionally steep and continued above the wood in the hope of locating an alternative. None appeared and so we retraced our steps and set off down the path we’d passed earlier. It was an unpleasant descent, very loose and at a gradient of about 50%, or 1 in 2. At one point Gilly took a tumble – luckily only her pride was damaged. It’s possible that we took a wrong turn somewhere, as we emerged at Ilam Rock, a distinctive limestone rock tower by the bank of the River Dove. The correct exit should have been a little further upsteam, where there is a sign marked ‘Public footpath to Ilam (steep path)’

Safely down to the valley floor, we crossed the nearby footbridge and set off along the stunningly beautiful path along the floor of Dovedale. Thanks to the tortuous descent we’d lost the advantage of our early start and the path was a little too crowded for our taste though, thankfully, everyone was going in the opposite direction to us. We reached the famous stepping stones and here we turned away from the river to climb up Lin Dale. We enjoyed more good views as we climbed up to a col and then descended into the village of Thorpe

Beyond Thorpe we joined the Limestone Way, crossed Coldwall Bridge and walked back through the fields into Ilam. It had been an almost perfect walk in stunningly beautiful surroundings, but I have to deduct 1 star on account of the descent recounted above. Proper hiking boots are definitely needed and walking poles are a help, but if you’re properly equipped and used to rough walking don’t let this put you off – the rest of the route is more than ample compensation. Not an ascent (even less a descent) to attempt in wet weather though 

If anyone follows this route I’d recommend reversing the direction of travel which we took. The steep climb would then become an ascent rather than a descent, and the path easier to locate thanks to the public footpath sign at its foot

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