Thorpe Cloud and Bend in River by the Stepping Stones

SWC Walk 326 - Dovedale (Ashbourne Circular)

25-Apr-19 • thomasgrabow on Flickr

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Thorpe Cloud from field above Izaak Walton Hotel

SWC Walk 326 - Dovedale (Ashbourne Circular)

25-Apr-19 • thomasgrabow on Flickr

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View back down Hall Dale

SWC Walk 326 - Dovedale (Ashbourne Circular) [Long Version via Alstonefield]

25-Apr-19 • thomasgrabow on Flickr

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Viator's Bridge, Milldale

SWC Walk 326 - Dovedale (Ashbourne Circular) [Long Version via Alstonefield]

25-Apr-19 • thomasgrabow on Flickr

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Ilam Rock and Footbridge, Dovedale

SWC Walk 326 - Dovedale (Ashbourne Circular)

25-Apr-19 • thomasgrabow on Flickr

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Raised Boardwalk, Dovedale

SWC Walk 326 - Dovedale (Ashbourne Circular)

25-Apr-19 • thomasgrabow on Flickr

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Thorpe Cloud and Bunster Hill (1st walk recce in Jan 19)

SWC Walk 326 - Dovedale (Ashbourne Circular)

19-Jan-19 • thomasgrabow on Flickr

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Dovedale (Ashbourne Circular) walk

Through a pastoral landscape to the Peak District's most famous and scenic dale with its ravines, crags, pinnacles, arches and caves


20.0 km (12.4 mi). Cumulative ascent/descent: 509m.
For a longer or shorter walk, see below Walk Options.


7 out of 10
Time: 5 hours walking time. For the whole outing, including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 12 hours.


Ashbourne Bus Station is served by many buses from all corners of the Peak District and surrounding areas, most useful are those from Derby: lines 114 Derby - Ashbourne (Mon-Sat, 54 mins, from/to Derby train station) and Swift Derby - Uttoxeter (daily, 37 mins journey time - quicker on the return, from/to Derby bus station). A 1.1 km walk in Derby from train station to bus station is needed for the Swift bus and is described at the start of the directions and also shown on the route map.
Derby Station is on the Midland Main Line from London St. Pancras, with two trains per hour Monday to Saturday, one per hour Sundays (journey time from 84 mins Monday-Saturday, much longer on Sundays).

Saturday Walkers’ Club: Take a train no later than 8.30 hours.

OS Maps

OS Landranger Map: 119 (Buxton & Matlock)
OS Explorer Map: 259 (Derby) & OL24 (The Peak District – White Peak Area)

Walk Notes

A walk from Ashbourne, a pretty market town near the Staffordshire/Derbyshire border where the Midlands’ plains meet highland Britain, through the White Peak area and the Peak’s most scenic and famous dale.

You follow a dismantled railway line out of town and then a whaleback-shaped ridge north through a lovely pastoral landscape to Thorpe, where the isolated reef limestone hills of Thorpe Cloud and Bunster Hill guard the southerly end of Dovedale. The route initially skirts to the west of the dale around Bunster Hill to avoid the early day crowds in the dale and later climbs up the hill to stay high above the dale on an airy route before dropping down into it through woods. The core part of Dovedale, with its numerous impressive limestone ravines and cliffs, towering crags and pinnacles, arches and caves, is then walked downstream – flanked by some of the best calcareous ash woods in England – to the most iconic part of Dovedale: the picturesque Stepping Stones. A final ascent through the scenic Lin Dale with fantastic back views is followed by a long stretch back to Ashbourne along the dismantled railway line.
Note: stretches of the path above Dovedale – above a very steep hanging wood – are a little exposed.

A short walk gets you straight to the Stepping Stones and you can add an easy out-and-back up Dovedale.
A long walk also takes in Hall Dale en route to lunch and returns through the full length of Dovedale.

Walk Options

A Short Walk to the base of Thorpe Cloud and then along the River Dove to the Stepping Stones and the bottom of Dovedale proper is 13.8 km/8.6 mi long with 213m ascent (rated 2/10). This can/should be combined with an (flat bar one small ascent) out-and-back up Dovedale towards Milldale hamlet with its tea option of a length of your choosing (up to 4.2 km/2.6 mi each way).
An alternative route in the morning along an elevated path across the nose of the ridge of Bunster Hill (rather than around the base of it) saves a bit of distance, but is only recommended in dry conditions.
An out-and-back Extension to the main walk from the footbridge over the River Dove north along Dovedale (flat) towards Milldale hamlet with its tea option adds anything up to 1.9 km/1.2 mi each way.
An Extension of the main walk up Hall Dale, through Hopedale and via Alstonefield village and Milldale hamlet creates a 26.5 km/16.4 mi walk with 772m ascent/descent, rated 9/10.
A variation of that extension leads to the alternative lunch stop The Watts Russell Arms.
A (map-led) ascent of Thorpe Cloud in the afternoon adds 250m and 125m ascent/descent.
Bus line 442 from Fenny Bentley to Ashbourne (late afternoon Mon-Sat), 1.2 km off-route, cuts 3.5 km/2.2 mi.


The Dovedale Bar at the Izaak Walton Hotel Ilam, Dovedale, Ashbourne, Staffordshire, DE6 2AY (01335 350 981). The Izaak Walton is located 7.1 km/4.4 mi into the walk. Open daily all year 08.00-23.00.
The Watts Russell Arms Hopedale, Alstonefield, Staffordshire, DE6 2GD (01335 310 126). The Watts Russell is located off-route of the long version of the walk, on a variant. Its food service hours are a bit longer than those at The George. Open daily apart from Wednesday 12.00-late. Food served Mon-Tue & Thu-Sat 12.00-14.30 and 19.00-20.30, and 12.00-18.00 Sun.
The George at Alstonefield Alstonefield, Staffordshire, DE6 2FX (01335 310 205). The George is located 14.3 km/8.9 mi into the extended walk. Open daily in summer, closed Mon-Tue in winter. Open 12.00-15.00 and 18.00-22.00 weekdays, 12.00-16.00 and 18.00-22.00 Sat and 12.00-18.00 Sun. Food served 12.00-14.00 and 18.00-20.30 weekdays, 12.00-14.00 and 18.00-21.00 Sat and 12.00-16.00 Sun. An award-winning family run pub, recognised by The Good Food Guide since 2009; and by Michelin and Sawday’s.


Tea (en route):
Polly’s Cottage Millway Lane, Milldale, Alstonefield, Staffordshire, DE6 2GB (01335 310 486). Polly’s Cottage is located 15.5 km/9.6 mi into the extended walk (or on out-and-back diversions from the main (after 13.0 km/8.1 mi) and short walks (after 11.3 km/7.0 mi)). Open 10.30-17.30 daily in summer, Sat-Sun in winter. A lovely takeout shop selling hot and cold drinks, hot pies, sandwiches and ice creams.
The Old Dog Spend Lane, Thorpe, Ashbourne, DE6 2AT, (01335 350 990). The Old Dog is located 5.0 km/3.1 mi from the end of the walk. Open 11.30-22.30 Tue-Sun. Food served Tue-Fri 12.00-14.30 and 17.30-20.30, Sat 12.00-20.30 and Sun 12.00-19.00. “Low Lighting, No Bookings.”
The Station Hotel Station Road, Ashbourne, Derbyshire, DE6 1AA (01335 300 035).

Tea (in Ashbourne, on the optional route through town):
The Maison de Bière, Café Impromptu, Dillon’s Tea House and Café, The Greenman, The Horns Inn Victoria Square, Ye Olde Vaults Micropub, The White Swan, The George & Dragon, The Coach & Horses, The Wheel Inn.

Tea (Fenny Bentley Ending):
The Coach & Horses.

Tea (near Derby Bus Station): [all within 150m of the bus station, but on the town centre side]
The Castle & Falcon, The White Horse, Noah’s Ark, and several options for food in the INTU Shopping Centre (formerly Westfield).

Tea (near Derby Train Station):
The Brunswick Inn,The Victoria Inn, The Waterfall, The Merry Widows.


Ashbourne is a fine old market town in the Derbyshire Dales, close to the southern edge of the Peak District and near the county boundary with Staffordshire. It contains many historical buildings and independent shops and is famous for its annual Shrovetide football match over Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. Being the closest town to the very popular Dovedale, the town is known as both the 'Gateway to Dovedale' and the 'Southern Gateway to the Peak District'. Tourism therefore forms an important element of the local economy. The cobbled market place hosts a market every Thursday and Saturday throughout the year, complementing the wide range of individual shops in the town, which in 2005 became a Fairtrade Town. Almost one in four buildings in the town have either been an alehouse, pub or inn or were redeveloped on the site of such an establishment. 11 pubs are currently trading, a high number for a town of 8,000 people.

The Royal Shrovetide Football Match is a "Medieval football" game in which one half of the town plays the other at football, uses the town as the pitch, with the goals 5 km apart near former mills on the Henmore Brook (a tributary of The Dove). Several thousand players compete with a hand-painted, cork-filled ball. The game is played by two teams, the Up'ards and the Down'ards (representing the upper and lower parts of the town, with the Henmore Brook the boundary), over two 8-hour periods (14.00-22.00 hours), subject to only a few rules. A moving mass (the Hug) continues through the roads of the town, across fields and along the bed of the Henmore Brook. That is why shops in the town are boarded up during the game, and people are encouraged to park their cars away from the main streets. If a goal is scored (in local parlance, the ball is goaled) before 17.30 hours, a new ball is released and play restarts from the town centre, otherwise play ends for the day. The game has been played for centuries, perhaps even over 1,000 years, and there were attempts to ban it, but to no avail.
Two short country walks have been created north and south of the town, featuring Royal Shrovetide Football Challenge Walks markers.

Ashbourne - Buxton Railway
The Ashbourne line joined the North Staffordshire Railway (NSR) at Ashbourne, proceeding to Uttoxeter, together they ran for 54 km (33.5 mi). It was built by the London and North Western Railway using a section of the Cromford and High Peak Railway. The country between Buxton and Ashbourne was sparsely populated, and the terrain immensely difficult, but a lucrative trade in limestone developed which was one motivation for building the line. Another was rivalry between neighbouring railway companies. Despite the relatively short length of this branch line, it was deservedly popular with walkers and ramblers, enjoying its heyday in the 1930s. Apart from the elevated views over the Peak District itself, a large attraction was that it passed close to Dovedale. Nowadays all trace of the old NSR lines has practically disappeared, the track bed from Ashbourne to Parsley Hay though was acquired by Derbyshire County Council and the Peak National Park for a cycle and walking route. This, the Tissington Trail, was one of the first of such ventures in the country. Later, Ashbourne Tunnel was acquired by Sustrans.

The Peak District (National Park)
The Peak District is an upland area at the southernmost end of the Pennines. The Peak District National Park is one of the UK’s most popular and is located within the boundaries of five counties (Derbys., Ches., Staffs., Yorks. and Greater Manchester). Founded in 1951, it was the first national Park in England. The Park spans an area of around 1,440 km2 (550 mi2) and – despite its name – its terrain consists mainly of rolling hills, farmland, moorland and some gritstone escarpments (the "edges"). It is however significantly higher than much of the terrain in the surrounding area.
The Peak District is formed almost exclusively from sedimentary rocks dating from the Carboniferous period. They comprise the Carboniferous Limestone, the overlying Gritstone and finally the Coal Measures, though the latter occur only on the extreme margins of the area. In addition there are infrequent outcrops of igneous rocks including lavas, tuffs and volcanic vent agglomerates. The northern Dark Peak (whose geology is gritstone) is one of the most famous landmarks in the Peak District National Park, known for its exposed and isolated tracts of moorland, as well as its expansive rolling plateau which is covered by cotton grass bogs and heather moorlands. The soil of the area is composed of moorland peat which provides the perfect environment for the plant life in the area. The areas to the flanks of the high moorland host numerous copses which are composed of Oak and Birch.
The southern White Peak (whose geology is mainly limestone) is another distinctive area within the park due to its gently sloping Limestone plateau, crisscrossed by the Limestone Dales. The Dales provide the areas’ drainage and vary in steepness throughout the area.

Tissington Trail
The Tissington Trail is a bridleway, footpath and cycleway, along part of the track bed of the former railway line connecting Ashbourne to Buxton. It takes its name from the village of Tissington, which it skirts. Opened in 1971, and now a part of the National Cycle Network, it stretches for 21 km (13 mi) from Parsley Hay in the north to Ashbourne in the south. At Parsley Hay, it is joined by the High Peak Trail.

Dove Valley/River Dove/Dovedale
The River Dove is 72 km (45 mi) long and the principal river of the southwestern Peak District. It rises on Axe Edge Moor near Buxton and flows generally south to its confluence with the River Trent at Newton Solney. For almost its entire course it forms the boundary between Staffordshire and Derbyshire. En route it cuts through a set of stunning limestone gorges known collectively as Dovedale: Beresford Dale, Wolfscote Dale, Milldale and Dovedale, i.e. the name Dovedale is also – and now more commonly – used for just the 5 km (3 mi) stretch between Milldale in the north and a wooded ravine near Thorpe Cloud and Bunster Hill in the south, before its major tributary the Manifold river joins the Dove.
The river's name is derived from Celtic “dubh” = dark and although it is now usually pronounced to rhyme with "love", its original pronunciation rhymed with "rove".
The limestone rock that forms the geology of Dovedale (known as reef limestone) is the fossilised remains of sea creatures that lived in a shallow sea, about 350 million years ago. During the two ice ages, the rock was cut into craggy shapes by glacial meltwater, and dry caves such as Dove Holes and Reynard's Cave were formed. Around 13,000 BCE, after the last ice age, the caves were used as shelters by hunters, and Dovedale has seen continuous human activity since.
The River Dove is a famous trout stream. Charles Cotton's Fishing House, the inspiration for Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler, stands in the woods by the river. Tourism started in the 18th century, and the Victorians built the famous stepping stones across the river. There are caves such as the Dove Holes and Reynard’s Cave and other attractions include rock pillars such as Ilam Rock, Viator's (packhorse) Bridge at its northern end, and limestone features such as Lovers' Leap. In 2014 a hoard of Late Iron Age and Roman coins has been discovered in Reynard's Cave. The 26 coins included three Roman coins that pre-date the Roman invasion of Britain, and 20 other gold and silver pieces of Late Iron Age date thought to derive from the Corieltavi tribe.
Nowadays, Dovedale is owned by the National Trust, and annually attracts about a million visitors.

Limestone Way
The Limestone Way is a 74.7 Km (46.4 miles) waymarked long-distance footpath in Derbyshire. It runs through the limestone scenery in the heart of the White Peak area of the Peak District, from Castleton south through Peak Forest, Miller’s Dale, Monyash, Youlgreave, Matlock, Parwich, Tissington, Thorpe, Lower Ellastone and finishing in the Dove valley at Rocester over the county boundary in Staffordshire. It originally ran only to Matlock, but was diverted to its current, longer route to join up with the Staffordshire Way.

Friends of the Peak District Boundary Walk
The Boundary Walk is a 305 km (190 mi) waymarked Long-Distance Path which never strays far from the boundary of the Peak District National Park. It was devised in 2017 by Friends of the Peak District, a branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). It follows existing paths, tracks and quiet lanes, past or through dramatic crags, open moorland, quiet woodlands and some popular trails. A guide book is available.
The Peak Pilgrimage is a 63 km (39 mi) waymarked linear Long-Distance Path through South Derbyshire from Ilam to Eyam. It was created by Eyam Parish Church and is marketed as a ‘spiritual journey’.

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Start Ashbourne, Derbyshire, DE6 1BW Map Directions


National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline (bus times): 0871 200 22 33 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234


Jun-19 Thomas G

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