The incredible Dovedale Walk starts near Ilam. This amazing trail takes you along the River Dove to Milldale, allowing you to take in the impressive limestone features of Lover's Leap, Tissington Spires and Dove Holes. The return of the Dovedale circular walk is tougher, but at the summit of Bailey Hill, a spectacular feast of panoramas await.
To get to the Dovedale Walk trailhead, near the towns of Thorpe and Ilam, find the access road to the Izaak Walton Hotel and onto the Dovedale public car park. Get to the car park early before it is full.
|When to do|
Yes. Common End Farm
At the trailhead and in Milldale
Dovedale Circular Walk Description
The Dovedale Circular Walk begins from Dovedale car park. From there, turn right onto a tarmac road and follow the River Dove, which marks the boundary between Staffordshire and Derbyshire, upstream to a large set of stepping stones. Alternatively, you can cross a small wooden bridge and follow the rocky path under Thorpe Cloud to the stepping-stones but this route is advised only when it is dry and the river level is low.
After carefully crossing the stepping stones, follow the clearly signed path along the valley floor all the way to the village Milldale, keeping the river to your left- Navigating this part of the route is straightforward, allowing you to gaze up at the limestone crags and explore the river nooks and falls.
Approximately 3.1mi into the Dovedale Walk, you will reach Viators Bridge and Milldale. From here, you can cross the picturesque bridge to explore the village or immediately begin the more challenging half of the hike. Viators Bridge has been used by pack horses transporting silk and flax since the Middle Ages.
From the river path, ascend a steep, grassy, zigzag track (signposted to Bailey Hill). At the brow of the dale, you will come to a section of drystone wall. Keeping the wall to your left, contour along the dale and then take a diagonal line uphill toward the fence. When you reach the fence keep it to your right and follow it further uphill until you reach a corner stile (a set of steps to pass over a fence).
Cross the stile and continue the Dovedale Walk, which leads straight ahead until you meet a drystone wall coming off the rocky summit of Bailey Hill. Follow it to the top. After marvelling at the views, continue along the ridge of Bailey Hill to a wooden gate (Brian’s gate) and the beginning of the descent to the Nabs. The first section of the descent is steep, grassy, and undefined. Be careful in wet weather and keep close to the wall on your left.
Eventually you will reach a wide rocky track called Nabs Dale. Turn right onto Nabs Dale and enjoy the final part of the descent through the woods to Dove Holes. You will recognise the valley path from earlier.
Immediately past Dove Holes, there is a discrete single track on your left that leads into Upper Taylor’s Wood (covered in bluebells in late spring). Follow this track as it ascends gradually back above Dovedale and the Tissington Spires. Be careful not to venture too far to the right as there are steep drops.
Once over Sharplow Dale, you will pick up another wall and follow a high path for approximately 1km in the direction of Thorpe Cloud. There is a lot of livestock up here so keep dogs on leads.
After passing through a number of old stiles you will eventually come to a sign directing you to the right—off the dale and down to Lover’s Leap—where you will meet the River Dove path for a third time. Turn left onto the path and follow it back to the stepping-stones and Dovedale car park.
Walking Route Highlights
Dovedale is a valley in the Peak District owned by the National Trust. This picturesque location attracts millions of nature lovers each year. Dovedale was once an area covered by the sea. and millions of years underwater has shaped the scenic limestone rocks, caves and boulders you see there now.
The biggest attractions of this nature reserve are the River Dove and its limestone ravines, the famous stepping stones and the Bailey Hill, that rewards you with spectacular panoramic views over the whole Dovedale Valley.
The Dovedale area offers a rich natural environment full of beautiful wildflowers and ash woodlands along the river. It is home to a wide variety of wildlife including birds such as dippers, heron, buzzards and ducks.
Dovedale Stepping Stones
The Dovedale Stepping Stones are one of this valley’s biggest highlights. The stones form in a line and are one of the main ways to cross the River Dove. It’s a unique sight and people love to come here to take scenic pictures of this river crossing.
Take care if you are planning to cross the river there as the stepping stones may be underwater if the river levels are high. There is a bridge nearby that can be a backup option, although during high water the path to the bridge may become flooded and difficult as well. It is recommended to check the river levels and conditions before you visit so you are well prepared.
The Dovedale Stepping Stones date back to the late 1800s as the area became a popular tourist attraction of the Victorian era. They have been protected by the National Trust since 1934.
Thorpe Cloud is a limestone hill that lies on the southern edge of Dovedale, on the border between Derbyshire and Staffordshire. This odd-looking hill attracts thousands of walkers, not only to see the unique appearance of the hill itself -but also for the outstanding panoramic views from the top of Thorpe Cloud.
This 942 ft hill can be seen in the popular 2010 Robin Hood film, starring Russell Crowe. This hill is an amazing destination for those who want to extend their walk and enjoy some alone time since the majority of visitors often stop at the stepping stones.
River Dove is another one of the main attractions in Dovedale. The river helped to form this beautiful landscape and is one of the main food sources for the wildlife in this area.
Visitors are not only drawn to River Dove for its stepping stones and the limestone ravines, but also for its amazing fishing opportunities. The river is home to many fish species like carp, bream, roach, barbel, pike, trout and grayling. Some of these species, especially chub, grayling and trout, are highly rated for their culinary value.
The National Trust has asked us to share this important information on Parking & Arrival:
Due to a lack of signal infrastructures in the Dovedale and Ilam Park areas, they can only accept cash for car parking so please bring the correct change with you, £3.50 for up to 4 hours and £5 for all day. National Trust members park for free but please remember to bring your cards with you to scan at the machines or show to a member of staff at Dovedale car park and then display a ticket in your car window.
There is no need to book your car parking space but please be aware that spaces become very limited on weekends, bank holidays and school holidays by 9am. Please park safely and responsibly and only park in designated car park spaces and not on roads or grass verges. All access points and roads must be kept clear for farm tenants, local communities and the emergency services.
- (National Trust) Ilam Park car park is open from 8:30am until dusk – no overnight car parking allowed. £3.50 for up to 4 hours and £5 for all day. NT members park free with proof of membership card.
- (National Trust) Dovedale car park is open from 9am until 7:30pm – no overnight car parking allowed. £3.50 for up to 4 hours and £5 for all day. NT members park free with proof of membership card.
If you find that an area is very busy, please have an alternative place to visit planned and do not be tempted to park or queue on narrow roads or grass verges. BBQs/campfires/outdoor cooking equipment (stoves/free standing BBQs) are not allowed anywhere in the Peak District National Park as they are a severe health and safety risk to the landscape/people.
The stepping-stones are a great for photos and for a refreshing dip on a hot day. However, be aware that this scenic spot can become very crowded on weekends and holidays.
Light refreshments can be found in Dovedale Car park and at Polly's Pantry in Milldale, where you can get a coffee to go!
If hiking around the area in a large group why not consider renting the Ilam Bunkhouse, a nearby converted stable block, for a weekend.
The River Dove is famous for its trout and exclusive to only a few lucky individuals for fishing. It also supports a number of breeding birds from sparrowhawks to redstarts.
You can also park at the Car Park at the National Trust's Ilam Park, though it's a 1.5 mile walk across fields to Dovedale. The path is uneven and can get muddy.
There is an information barn at Dovedale Stepping Stones that is typically open from Easter through to October.
Consider stopping off for a visit to the nearby National Trust's Ilam Park. You can also enjoy a snack from the fine Manifold Tea Room.
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