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


This is a list of previous times this walk has been done by the club (since Jan 2010). For more recent events (since April 2015), full details are shown.

Date Option Post # Weather
Sat, 15-Jun-19 Saturday Walk - Dovedale (Ashbourne Circular): A long day but…the Peak District's most famous dale 10 all kinds of weather
Length: 20.0 km (12.4 mi)
Ascent/Descent: 509m
Net Walking Time: ca. 5 hours
Toughness: 7 out of 10
Length: 13.8 km (8.6 mi)
Ascent/Descent: 213m
Net Walking Time: ca. 3 ¾ hours
Toughness: 2 out of 10
But add an 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 and still less effort than the main walk)
Length: 26.5 km (16.4 mi)
Ascent/Descent: 772m
Net Walking Time: ca. 7 hours
Toughness: 9 out of 10
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 (map-led) ascent of Thorpe Cloud in the afternoon adds 250m and 125m ascent/descent.
Bus line 442 from Fenny Bentley (15.31, 16.41 & 18.41, outside the Coach & Horses pub) to Ashbourne, 1.2 km off-route, cuts 3.5 km/2.2 mi.
For summary, walk directions, map, height profile, photos and gpx/kml files click here.
Lunch: (on the main and short walks) The Dovedale Bar at the Izaak Walton Hotel in Ilam (7.1 km/4.4 mi, food all day); (on the long walk) The Watts Russell Arms (food to 14.30) or The George (food to 14.00) in Alstonefield (between 14-15 km). Tea: Plenty of options en route, in Ashbourne and in Derby. For details see the pdf. T=swc.326
Either take the 08.31 Sheffield train from St. Pancras to Derby, arrives 10.09. Then leave the station quickly and walk to the bus station 1.1 km away (for directions see page 5 of the pdf or download the gpx). [With a bit of luck there will be a delayed bus Line 1 waiting to go to the bus station (for a £1 fare)]
From Stand 24 at Derby Bus Station (the furthest stand as you enter it) take bus SW1 (direction Uttoxeter) to Ashbourne Bus Station, departs 10.20, arrives 10.57. Should the bus be gone, the City Centre and the Market Halls with some cafés are just around the corner/across the road…
Or take the 08.02 Sheffield train from St. Pancras to Derby, arrives 09.28. From Stand S1 in the train station forecourt in Derby take bus 114 to Ashbourne Bus Station, departs 09.53, arrives 10.47.
Relevant return buses, all terminating at Derby Bus Station, are… Line 114: 18.30 (arrives 19.08) and Line SW1: 16.25 (arrives 17.05), 17.25 (arrives 18.05), 18.30 (arrives 19.00), 20.15 (arrives 20.45). Note: return tickets bought on the 114 are not valid on the SW1 and vice versa…
Relevant return trains are therefore: 17.30, 18.31, 19.31 and 21.01 (the latter with a tight connection from the bus). After that there is only the 21.10 via Birmingham to Euston (or a night in Derby).
  • 12-Jun-19

    Intend going.

  • 16-Jun-19

    2 took the 08.02 train with the comfortable connection to the bus in Derby, 8 others the 08.31 with the tight connection. Thankfully the train arrived on time, walkers were at the ready to route march to the bus station and we got there a minute and a half before scheduled bus departure. Enquiries were made about cheap group return tickets and good bargains are indeed available for groups of 2 and 5. The earlier walkers waited in Ashbourne for the second group, so that 10 set off for a day of all kinds of weather (ok: no snow or sleet, thankfully).

    Others may want to comment on the pleasures of the walk route (I think it's a very fine one), so just for the 'admin' aspects from the walk author's perspective: some mud and plenty splippery surfaces after heavy recent rain, making for an overall slow average pace for summer; the Dove quite full and fast, but below the level it can have (i.e. the Stepping Stones were still walkable); 5 opted for the main 20 km walk, with lunch/picnic at/near the Izaak Walton; 5 went long, missed the kitchen cutoff time at the Watts Russell Arms by a minute (no mercy shown there, shame really as the menu looked highly interesting; next time: call ahead), so settled for drink and crisps, then had a second stop at Polly's Cottage 30 minutes further along for takeout sausage rolls, tea, choc etc.

    The two periods of heavy rain (an hour after lunch and 45 mins right at the end for the long walkers) were interupted by blue skies and warm sun, while the morning had been mildly overcast with some drizzle. The route along the Dove was practically deserted of people in the afternoon when we walked it, compared to how busy it can be and was in the morning, judging by how full the car parks were then, confirming the route choice of going clockwise as correct.

    We got back to Ashbourne around 18.15, where the main walk folk were already queuing up at the bus station for the 18.30. Back in Derby, most had tickets for the 19.31 train, which then was so delayed that the 20.04 was taken instead. 2 others had Advance Tickets for the 21.01 so spent some time at The Brunswick Inn 3 minutes from the station, CAMRA Pub Of The Year repeatedly but also with surprisingly good food.

    All in, all controllable elements worked out fine. A very good day.

  • 17-Jun-19

    As an independent view, I would add that the walk route is really fantastic! You quickly slip out into the countryside on a footpath through a very long Victorian former train tunnel..almost a portal into another world and fairly quickly gain some height to enjoy views far and wide...the terrain is beautiful -- even in less than ideal weather conditions -- lush green hills with steep sides leading into narrow valleys with occasional distinct hilltops and rocky crags, adding a bit of drama to the scene...A real highlight of the extension is a route through the very narrow Hall Dale..really almost a hidden chasm...

    I would also add, in terms of travel logistics, although a long travel day, the overall travel time is similar to that required for some of the Dorset walks...