Two prominent hills guard the southern entrance to Dovedale; bulky Bunster rises to the west at the end of a broad limestone ridge, while Thorpe Cloud’s graceful summit looks to the east. The steeper of the two, the Cloud has footpaths on three sides and as such has become a popular venue for walkers looking for a short exciting scramble. Alternatively it makes the centre piece of a little known walk linking the Dove and Manifold Rivers close by their junction.
This walk begins at the Dove Dale car park, before moving along a short road through the tight gap between the Dove’s guardian hills. At the road end (it is really there to guide anglers to the start of their beat), the famous Stepping Stones take walkers over to the opposite bank. An alternate crossing can be made if the river is in flood, by using the wooden footbridge closer to the car park.
If we were to continue to explore upstream along the path over the high rock we come to the place where an eloping parson came to grief a couple of centuries ago.
From the stepping stones, this walk turns right to pass round Thorpe Cloud’s lower slopes, by climbing broad Lin Dale. A grassy track reaches the Ilam road next to a public toilet. Thorpe village dots the far side beyond the main road and the walk then follows a series of quiet back roads, past the village church, before dropping down to Coldwall Bridge over the lower reaches of the Dove. Nine out of ten visitors ignoring Thorpe’s charm fail to realise that its foundations date from at least Norman times, but all that is left from that time is the unaltered tower of its church.
A wide track drops down to the river, here rather incongruously crossed by a wide stone-arched bridge. This is Coldwall Bridge, nowadays used only by walkers and the occasional farmer on his tractor. Hard to believe, but the bridge once carried an important road, the turnpike between Staffordshire’s Cheadle and Chesterfield, a road that was abandoned almost as soon as it was opened.
From the far Staffordshire end of the bridge, a riverside path leads down to the river bank which is followed upstream past the confluence of the Dove and Manifold rivers all the way into Ilam village. Ilam’s Hansel and Gretel cottages originally provided homes for estate workers on the local estate. Ilam Hall home of their lord and master is now a youth hostel based in the property owned by the National Trust. These original owners were the Watts-Russells shipping magnates, the first of whom, Jesse Watts-Russell commissioned George Gilbert Scott, the famous Victorian architect to design a mansion competing with the Earl of Shrewsbury’s Alton Towers. His grand ideas were only enjoyed by two generations of the family, but they had left their mark on this corner of the Peak. The mock –Eleanor cross at the road junction was erected by Jesse Watts-Russell in memory of his first wife, who if folk memory is correct, was not over popular amongst the local tenantry.
A much more revered settler in the quiet hollow where Ilam sits was St Bertram, a Saxon saint who preached the gospel to his tiny flock. He spent his days meditating beside the well on the side of Bunster Hill that bears his name, or in a tiny cave below Ilam Hall where the resurgent River Manifold again sees the light of day. His memorial, once a place of pilgrimage, is in a side chapel of Ilam church.
The walk on reaching the village, climbs up to the road bridge, then bears right on to the Thorpe/Tissington road. This is followed a little way beyond Ilam’s last houses as far as a kissing gate on the left. Through this your path climbs sharply to the right before crossing a series of fields behind the Izaak Walton Hotel, then back into Dove Dale and not only the car park, but a welcome coffee at the friendly kiosk.
4.5 miles (7.25km) of moderate walking along clear paths and through riverside meadows. Muddy places on the Ilam side of Coldwell Bridge.
Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger Series; Sheet 119 Buxton, Matlock & Dove Dale
Buses: Warrington’s 44 service runs between Ashbourne and Ilam.
Dove Dale car park – reached from the Thorpe to Tissington road (signposted).
Kiosk on Dove Dale car park. Izaak Walton Hotel (when open).
From Dove Dale car park, follow the surfaced track upstream beside the river until it reaches the famous Stepping Stones. (If the river is in flood, use the wooden footbridge a few yards above the car park).
Reaching the east bank, turn left to leave the river and then bear sharp right and begin to walk steadily uphill, at first beside a limestone wall. Cross the wide col and begin to go steadily downhill towards Thorpe village.
Go past the public toilets, then cross the main road in order to reach the side lane opposite.
Keep to the right of the church and then follow a side lane going steeply downhill towards Coldwell Bridge and the river.
A milepost at the side of the lane indicates that the bridge was once part of the long-abandoned turnpike between Cheadle (Staffs) and Chesterfield.
Cross the wide bridge and turn right at the far end. The path is partly screened by shrubby undergrowth and the going around this point can be muddy. So keep as high as is reasonable in these conditions and once the muddy section is crossed, steadily drop down towards the river bank. Bear left and follow the river upstream.
The path reaches the river more or less where the Manifold flows into the Dove. At this point there is a fine view of the twin bastions guarding Dove Dale and, at their foot the Izaak Walton Hotel pays homage to its illustrious namesake who along with his friend Charles Cotton, fished these crystal clear waters.
After about three quarter miles of riverside walking, on reaching the bridge close by Ilam village, climb up to the road and turn right to cross the bridge.
Keeping to the right of the elaborate cross in memory of Mrs Watts-Russell, bear right on to the Thorpe road.
Follow the road for a little way beyond the last houses in Ilam. Look out for a finger post beside a kissing gate.
Go through the gate and bear right, uphill on a grassy path.
St Bertram’s Well is about a quarter of a mile uphill to your left at this point. Once a place of pilgrimage, all that is left of this sacred spot is a pile of stones and a muddy trickle. Only cows appreciate this holy place nowadays, but it was once visited by pilgrims from far and wide.
Cross the boundaries of five fields by using the stiles as provided. Keep to the rear of the Izaak Walton Hotel on your right and then begin to move over to the left.
Follow this path over a slight rise and then go downhill to the road more or less opposite the entrance to the car park.