On many fine days, or for that matter on some that are not so fine, the area around the Dovedale Narrows can become so crowded that queues often build up as walkers try to cross the famous stepping stones. What they do not realise is that only a short mile or so downstream, the Dove together with its partner the River Manifold meander gently between sylvan meadows where the chance of meeting another walker is rare indeed. This walk starts from the Tissington Trail car park and cycle hire on the outskirts of Ashbourne. It then climbs the spur of high ground separating the Dove from its tributary Bentley Brook before dropping down to the pretty village of Mapleton and by so doing enters the lower reaches of Dovedale. The river is followed upstream through meadows and scattered copses as far as Coldwall Bridge; here it leaves the valley to climb up to Thorpe and then onwards to reach the tree shrouded Tissington Trail, following this all the way back to the car park.
7 miles (11 km) of moderate meadow and riverside walking followed by the level track-bed of Tissington Trail. Short muddy sections close to the river. Regular bus services to Ashbourne from outlying areas with connecting service (Bowers 442) to the Tissington Trail car park and cycle hire. Access to the car park (pay and display) is from the Mapleton/Thorpe road above Ashbourne Recommended map: Ordnance Survey Landranger Series, Sheet 119 – Buxton, Matlock and Dovedale, 1:50,000 scale. Refreshments: beside the cycle hire depot near the car park and two pubs slightly off route at Mapleton and Thorpe.
• Look for the tree-lined drive to Callow Hall Hotel and go through a field gate on the right a few yards prior to the drive.
• Walk up the field and roughly parallel to the drive as far as a grassed over mound.
• Keep to the left of the mound and cross a small wooden stile, continuing to walk uphill.
• Go through a narrow pedestrian gate well to the right of the hotel’s outbuildings and follow the edge of their sheltering trees.
• Where the woodland boundary turns left, go forwards and away from the trees, through a boundary hedge and into a gently rising field. • Aim for the field’s far boundary hedge on your right and look out for a stile. Climb this and turn left, but ignore the farm track and walk steeply downhill, then through a gap in another boundary hedge.
• Join the access drive to Callowend Farm and turn left to follow it for a few yards down to the road.
• Turn right at the road to walk past the village sports ground and scattered houses as far as the first houses in Mapleton proper.
• Opposite the first house in the main village, leave the road by turning left to enter a riverside meadow. Bearing half right, cross this and walk on as far as a stile next to hump-backed one-arched Okeover Bridge over the River Dove. Cross the road and go through another stile, continuing to walk upstream beside the tree-lined river. Mapleton is the home village to Okeover Hall which lies on the opposite, Staffordshire, side of the river. The tiny 18th century church has a curious octagonal dome for a bell tower built on the foundations of an even older structure. The Cokaynes, an ancient Derbyshire family, had links with the village as far back as 1587 when Thomas Cokayne produced an English/Greek dictionary designed to help students intent on translating the New Testament.
• The path winds its way pleasantly beside the river, in and out of clumps of trees and over narrow side streams for well over a mile. Ignore any side paths.
• Go past an idyllically situated farm house on your right and follow its unsurfaced drive as far as Coldwall Bridge. Coldwall Bridge is one of Derbyshire’s oddities. It is simply massive but never carries traffic heavier than farm tractors, or walkers crossing over from Staffordshire into Derbyshire. The bridge was built to carry the coach road from Cheadle in Staffordshire by way of Thorpe and onwards to Alfreton, but the road fell into disuse through lack of traffic. The only link with this bygone time is a roadside marker a little way above the bridge which shows that it is eleven miles to Cheadle. This part of the walk is along the southern extension of the Limestone Way.
• Follow the track uphill from the bridge, leaving it as indicated by a finger post to cut a wide corner of the track and so into Thorpe village.
• Bear left beside the first houses for about a hundred yards and then right to walk down a short access drive, leaving it beside the last house to continue downhill along a wide grassy path. Thorpe although close to the fleshpots of Dovedale is a hidden gem. Its houses cluster around the church built in Norman times, but still following a layout that would be recognised by earlier Saxon settlers. Its pub, the Dog and Partridge a one-time coaching inn, is outside the main village, beside the cross roads a quarter of a mile to the left of the next part of the walk.
• Go gently downhill beneath the church and cross the head of a side valley and climb up to a side lane
• Turn right uphill along the lane, past a single house and then a large farm to reach a ‘T’ junction with a slightly busier road.
• Cross the road and go through a stile on the other side to walk steadily downhill through a field used by a number of friendly horses.
• Cross another stile and drop down by way of a stepped path to join the tree-lined Tissington Trail, following it all the way back to the car park picnic site and refreshments cabin. Tissington Trail follows the track-bed of a pre-Beeching railway. It ran from Uttoxeter to Buxton by way of a junction with the High Peak line (now another trail), at Parsley Hay between Hartington and Monyash. There is a strange but true story about three Scottish bagpipers who as a change from competing at Ashbourne’s Highland Gathering decided to march along a banked section of the trail. In front of them appeared a group of heifers that had escaped from a nearby field. Coming the other way were a group of girls riding ponies. The heifers now in the middle of skirling pipers on one side and horses the other panicked and tried to jump the boundary wall. Unfortunately this was beyond their ability and so they were left sea-sawing wildly until a passing Peak Park ranger had to sort out the chaos!