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Irresistible Dovedale

Dovedale is a well known beauty spot situated within the National Trust's South Peak Estate. Dovedale 's popularity owes much to its accessibility by a broad level path following the bank of the River Dove through a gorge lined by craggy rocks and pillars. The most famous section is a wooded ravine at a bend in the river, marked by a crossing point constructed from stepping stones, which must appear on thousands of postcards and amateur photographs. The area attracts over a million visitors a year, but not today. It's near the end of November the weather is damp, windy and rain is definitely on its way, but for the time being, anyway, we were going to walk Dovedale .

The car park still had a few cars but the car park attendant who was normally perched by the entrance close to his/her shed had been replaced by a ticket machine. Being very much like royalty I never carry any wonga So what about the car park fee? Deciding that "car park plod" would be somewhere less remote today, we parked and didn't pay the recommended 2. As it happened, being members of the National Trust exempted us from the obligatory bung.

Having already photographed up to the stepping stones we were anxious to get up there as quickly as possible. The River Dove was free flowing at speed and its level up the bank gave an indication of how much rain had fallen in the previous few days. Assuming that the stepping stones would be underwater we crossed the first footbridge by Thorpe Cloud and proceeded up the bank with no formal footpath. Under normal conditions a level walk of one mile will take the less adventurous or elderly up the river bank past Thorpe Cloud which is 940 ft high and past the stepping stones. Crossing the stones is easy for the nimble of foot but today they were under water.

From here it is 2 miles to Milldale and the Viator Packhorse Bridge. Upstream from the stepping stones the heights on the left are known as Dovedale castle and these are followed by the Twelve Apostles , best viewed from the grassy spur called Lover's Leap , possibly named after a rejected maiden threw herself off the precipice but was saved by the bushes that broke her fall. It is believed she spent the rest of her life in perpetual seclusion. How times have changed.

Following the path we passed the upraised fingers of the Tissington Spires and the geological oddity of Reynard's Cave , high on the eastern bank. This massive detached arch of rock was the mouth of a cavern until the roof fell in. It is named after one Reynard , a local scally who made the cave his refuge. The accent is steep and dangerous particularly when carrying expensive camera equipment, but once there it is well worth the trek. There are actually two caves here, the smaller one being called Reynard's kitchen. The kettle wasn't on so we left via the back door, which despite initial trickiness was an easy descent.

The next part of the Gorge is steep sided and the path has been raised, almost like a landing stage to allow a safe passage for walkers. At this point the river reminded me of the log flume at Alton Towers , the difference being that you didn't have to queue for an hour to see it.

The path then passes beneath the Lion's Head Rock , so named because of its likeness to the king of the beasts and where a plaque is built into the rock to commemorate Mr F. A Holmes of Buxton, who embarked on a personal campaign to protect the area for the enjoyment of future generations. Onto Ilam Rock, which rises sheer from the waters edge and Pickering Tor on the right is like a natural fortress. Here there is another footbridge which takes you to Stanshope but Milldale was for us.

The gorge itself ends where the river swings east. Here are crags known as Ravens Tor and the Dove Holes , 2 circles hollowed out when the water level was higher. These are the last show pieces of Dovedale gorge. The larger of the 2 holes is some 60 feet wide and 30 feet high. As we lined up the shot the rain started. Looking at the sky told the story-it was a wrap. Though this marks the end of the gorge, Dovedale continues for a further mile upstream to Milldale where the river is crossed via Viator Bridge.

That is the first time I had been so far up Dovedale and won't be the last. Having walked it's near neighbour, Wolfscote Dale , the day before it is obvious to see why Dovedale attracts the numbers of walkers that it does. But if you are seeking an idyllic enchanting walk not only Dovedale and Wolfscote Dale , but also leafy Beresford Dale fit the bill.

Look at our panoramic photographs to see for yourself-
Dovedale
Wolfscote Dale
Beresford Dale

Chris Sabian, Peak District View - 2006-12-11 00:00:00





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