The words sylvan, tranquility and arcadian easily come to mind when describing the beauties of Monsal Dale and its tributary, Cressbrook.
Superb walking dales they might be, especially in fine weather, but unfortunately during spells of rain or during wintertime, the walking underfoot can be rather tiring. Mud and an overflowing river can make life miserable at the best of times, something to be avoided wherever possible. This walk therefore tries to make its way without the bother of too much mud, but at the same time it takes in the delightful views on offer. We did this walk at the end of the now (hopefully) finished winter and I am happy to say we did it with boots almost as mud-free at the end as they were at the start.
The walk starts from the car park at the head of Tideswell Dale, about three quarters of a mile below its namesake village home of the Cathedral of the Peak. A good surfaced path winds down through this mini-nature reserve to join the valley bottom road alongside the River Wye. A left turn then brings you to Litton Mill now converted into bijou flats, but once the scene of much cruelty when so-called orphan apprentices were frequently worked to death. At the mill a side path climbs up to the old Midland Railway line now converted into a walkers’, cyclists’ and horse riders’ trail. Excitingly the trail passes through a couple of feebly lit tunnels, before a side path drops down to Cressbrook Mill. This, like its opposite higher up the dale at Litton, is now converted into spacious flats and residences. Turning left at the mill a minor road is followed, climbing up on to the airy uplands leading to the village of Litton, with its welcome pub and a village store that offers delicious home-made cakes and scones. The village road drops down to meet the Tideswell/Buxton road and a left turn along it will take you back to the car park.
5 miles (8km) of easy walking on by-roads and level trail. One steep road climb out of the dale.
Recommended map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Outdoor Leisure Map, Sheet 24, The Peak District, White Peak Area.
Parking (pay and display) at the head of Tideswell Dale off the B6049 Tideswell/Buxton road.
Public transport. Hulleys 173 Bakewell/Castleton service dropping off at either Litton or Tideswell runs daily every two hours throughout the year from 10:05 returning mid afternoon.
Refreshments: Pubs in Tideswell. Pub and tea room (village shop) in Litton and a tea place where you can eat your own sandwiches just outside Cressbrook Mill.
- From the car park walk down Tideswell Dale following the well made path. Take the right fork beside the wooden sculpture of a water vole – ‘Ratty’ from the ‘Wind in the Willows’.
Look up to your left beyond the sculpture. The hillside hollow was once a quarry exploiting brown dolerite, the remains of pre-historic basalt left behind by volcanic activity. The limestone ramparts of Raven’s Tor are ahead and slightly to your right. Above the crag is the popular youth hostel in the one-time home of a country gentleman.
- Turn left along the macadamed riverside road and follow it past the one-time millworkers’ cottages and as far as the entrance to Litton Mill.
Litton Mill. This old textile cotton spinning mill founded in 1782 has a notorious history from the time when it was run by on the virtual slave labour of orphans and other unfortunates who fell into the ‘care’ of the ‘Guardians of the Poor’.
- Do not enter the mill yard, but turn right to follow a signposted path beside the mill, over the river and up to the trail.
- Turn left along the trail and follow it through two tunnels.
The trail follows an almost alpine section of the old London to Manchester Midland main line. Look out for the view of Water-come-Jolly Dale below and to your left as you walk across the short stretch of open trail between the tunnels. It makes an ideal place for a mid-morning cup of tea.
- On leaving the second tunnel look out for a signposted path bearing left, steeply downhill towards Cressbrook Mill. Follow it down into the dale.
Water-come-Jolly Dale cannot be more aptly named. Limestone tree-topped crags overhang what is actually a man-made lake whose waters once powered the nearby mill. The building ahead as you cross the river was once a barracks where orphan apprentices lived in conditions not much better than those of their cousins further up the dale. The building is now open at weekends serving tea and other light drinks.
- Bear right and follow the path past the converted mill and as far as the road.
- Turn left at the road and continue ahead at the fork, signposted Cressbrook and Litton, climbing steadily uphill then around a hairpin bend and into the village of Cressbrook; to your right as you climb is the valley of Cressbrook Dale where this salad plant still grows in abundance.
Cressbrook village once housed workers at the nearby mills. When the mills closed the village went into decline, but has lately come back to life with a vibrant village atmosphere – there is even a cinema club and a pub-come-village hall. Nearby Cressbrook Hall is a popular venue for weddings.
- Follow the road out of the village and out on to the airy upland pastures with their views across the twin dales in one direction and in front towards Bretton Edge.
- Go past an oddly placed group of terraced houses known locally as the New Houses, but are obviously of quite old vintage. Walk on past Litton village cemetery and into Litton village.
- Turn left to walk through the village.
Litton is one of those villages with a green, a fairly uncommon feature in the Peak District; it has a village cross but the stone looks Victorian rather than Saxon. The old village smithy has been converted to a small store run along co-operative lines by volunteers; it offers tea and home made cakes to passing walkers. Anyone wanting something stronger must cross the green to make for the bar together with the locals.
- Walk out of the village and go down to the main road.
- Turn left along the road and either follow the pavement, or if you don’t mind a bit of mud on the last lap, go through a little gate in the limestone wall on the left and follow the concessionary path back to the car park.