This walk takes in the beauties of one of the many faces of Dovedale, before climbing out by way of a tributary and as far as the upland village of Biggin. The village sits on the limestone plateau of the White Peak, one of those places that seem to be cut off from the frequently busy more popular tourist villages such as nearby Hartington. There are no gift shops but just one welcoming friendly pub, the Waterloo where it is easy to imagine some war weary soldier taking on the first licence after serving with the illustrious Duke of Wellington.
The route is easy to follow, but only by heeding the note of caution spelled out later in the text. Starting from the car park on the site of the old station for Alsop en le Dale, it quickly drops down into the first of the two dales. Here Wolfscote Dale helps the tranquil River Dove on its timeless way to the Trent. The partly wooded dale is followed, upstream to the obvious junction with Biggin Dale which is then followed all the way to its head and a minor road into Biggin. This road runs nearly arrow straight on its way through the village and is followed, until it is crossed by a bridge once carrying traffic on the railway line between Ashbourne and Buxton. An access path on the far side of the bridge climbs up to the track which is now used by the Tissington Trail, one of the two linking trails along abandoned railways.
17th-century author of the Complete Angler, Izaak Walton and his impecunious friend Charles Cotton fished the waters of the Dove and still found time to converse on matters setting the world to rights. Cotton lived at the now demolished Beresford Hall further upstream from our walk, but seems to have spent much of his time hiding from his many creditors. All that is left of the duo’s friendship, apart from the book, is a tiny cabin, a fishing temple briefly glimpsed by walkers on the opposite bank of the Dove, when passing Pike Pool. Regrettably the building is inaccessible and in any case is on strictly private land.
- 7½ miles (12.1 km) of easy to moderate walking on clearly defined footpaths and minor roads. Surface water can be encountered in Biggin Dale after prolonged rain, especially in winter.
- Recommended map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 scale Landranger Series sheet 119; Buxton, Matlock and Dovedale. n.b This map is preferable to the usual 1:25,000 scale Explorer maps recommended for my walks, the reason being is that the walk is on two sides of this map and anyone using it would be forced to struggle opening it, especially in a high wind!
- Parking (pay and display) at Alsop Station; signposted off the A515 Ashbourne/Buxton road, about six miles north of Ashbourne.
- Public transport: High Peak 442 service from Ashbourne runs at two hourly intervals from 10:36 on Sundays and Bank Holidays and from 10:05 the rest of the week.
- Refreshments: The Waterloo in Biggin has a good bar menu – covered outside seating allows dogs to accompany their owners.
- From the car park cross the busy A515 and go down the minor road opposite. Turn right where it joins another road and walk down into the dale.
- At the bridge do not cross but turn right to go down some steps to join the riverside footpath.
- Go past a pair of cottages and follow the east bank of the river, upstream through intermittent natural woodland and open sections at the foot of the steep valley side.
The building on the opposite bank immediately above the bridge is the once water driven Lode Mill, where the locals brought their grain for grinding into flour.
- Ignoring the tempting footbridges passed along the way; continue upstream as far as the obvious entrance into Biggin Dale.
- Turn right at the finger post and follow the dale, gradually climbing until it widens and where there is a three-way signposted footpath junction.
Biggin Dale is a nature reserve and time spent flower hunting especially in spring and summer will be well rewarded: look for the tiny alpine-like plants growing in crevices amongst the rocks.
A small cave-like opening on the right about a quarter of a mile along the dale was a trial opening for an unsuccessful lead mine.
The rocky dale bottom can become a stream during wet weather, but is generally drier further up.
- On reaching the junction with a side dale, turn left at the signpost to Hartington and go through a stile. Continue along a grassy path for about 200 yards.
- At the next signpost to Hartington bear right away from it and continue steadily uphill along the dale.
The small often green slimy pond over the wall on the left of the first signpost, is a man-made dew pond, providing drinking water for cattle and sheep in this normally dry pasture.
- Go past a small sewage works on your left and climb out at the dale head to join a minor road.
- Turn right along this road for a few yards and then left on to the road into Biggin. The Waterloo Inn is on your left about a quarter of a mile further on.
- Walk along the road through the straggling village as far as a bridge carrying the Tissington Trail.
- Immediately on the far side of the bridge turn left to climb the access path. On reaching the trail, turn left, to follow it for about two scenic miles back to Alsop-en-le-Dale car park.
Biggin is one of those places where time has passed it by, but it does have a history, much of it recorded in its medieval church. During the English Civil War there was a skirmish nearby on Hartington Moor, but it seems to have been something of an inconclusive spat between cavaliers and roundheads.
The occasional cattle and sheep markets once the high spot in local farmers’ weeks, seem to have disappeared, no doubt in favour of better services at Bakewell.
Quiet as it may have been, during WW2, Biggin was ‘invaded’ by hundreds of German soldiers, P.O.Ws who, as hostilities eased were employed on local farms and occasionally to dig out trapped vehicles, snow bound on surrounding roads, especially during the exceptionally severe winter of 1947. Many of the soldiers in making the best of their captivity, became friends with local people and were generally well liked, especially for their help at harvest time. There is a tale about one who became something of an anglophile and used the money he earned to buy a second-hand tweed jacket and a bicycle, which he used to visit local pubs and ride around the nearby lanes.