The history of the Peak District is writ large on this walk. Starting way back in time when volcanoes spewed out their lavas, the walk enters one of the loveliest dales in the White Peak, but it was where orphaned children were unable to enjoy its delights. Climbing out of the dale, the way is across fields whose layout would still be recognised by the medieval farmers who ploughed their furrows with pairs of oxen. Two villages come next, Litton and Tideswell, the latter with its church classed as the ‘Cathedral of the Peak’. From there the way back to the car park follows back roads and footpaths laid out well over a hundred years ago.
The volcanic activity mentioned above took place in what is now known as Tideswell Dale. The hillside to your left, on walking down the dale, has some quarried areas of dark coloured rock between layers of limestone. These are the remains of lava flows that spewed out of volcanic vents surrounding a tropical lagoon that once covered what became the White Peak of Derbyshire. At the dale end the path joins the main, or Miller’s Dale down which flows the clear waters of the Derbyshire River Wye. A mile or two downstream the river enters its prettiest section, aptly called ‘Water-cum-Jolly Dale’, but before it reaches this sylvan glade, the river once powered a cotton mill whose young operatives lived a life of hell. This is Litton Mill to which orphaned children were brought from workhouses as far away as London to enter a life of cruel servitude as so-called apprentices. Nowadays the mill having ceased production, has been converted into apartments and its subordinate cottages are now lived in by locals whose ancestors may well have been those orphans apprenticed to slavery. There were two cotton mills along this section of Miller’s Dale, and depending on fate, any child not destined to the cruelty of Litton Mill might have found itself working at Cressbrook Mill a few yards beyond the delights of Water-cum-Jolly. These children although still used as cheap labour, were by comparison with their brothers and sisters upstream treated more fairly. The place where they worked was called Cressbrook Mill. Like its partner, the mill stopped spinning cotton decades ago and like Litton has been converted into apartments.
Climbing out of the main dale, the walk follows Cressbrook Dale where this salad plant was once gathered as a cash crop. Using a woodland path until it reaches open pastures, a side path climbs narrow Tansley Dale to reach Litton village. This village where the locals run a co-operative store selling basic foodstuffs rather like the original self-help founders, has a welcoming pub as well as a tea room attached to the shop. Narrow fields surrounding Litton and its larger neighbour, Tideswell are known as strip fields designed to be ploughed in one day by a team of two oxen.
A quiet side road leads from Litton into Tideswell. Once the major town in this part of the Peak, its parish church, aptly called the Cathedral of the Peak, speaks well of Tideswell’s one-time even greater prosperity. Being on what was once a busy cross-country turnpike, it still has pubs that once welcomed travellers on not-so-comfortable mail coaches whose horses could be changed here.
6 miles (9.7km) of moderate walking along paved paths, valley bottom woodland ways and limestone upland field paths. 690ft (210m) climb. Muddy sections, especially after winter rain.
Recommended Map. Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure Map – Sheet 24, the Peak District, White Peak Area.
Refreshments: Tea rooms and pubs in Litton, Tideswell and Miller’s Dale.
Public transport: Chesterfield/Tideswell service: (Buxton route) – G&J Holmes/Hulleys number 66.
Parking. (Pay) is at the head of Tideswell Dale (B6049)
Follow the partly surfaced path down Tideswell Dale from the car park and toilet block. Swop sides at the fork and go over a small wooden bridge, continuing to walk downstream.
A side path on the left a hundred yards from the start of the walk leads up to a small quarry where the basaltic lava was spewed millions of years ago.
Entering Miller’s the main dale, turn left along the valley-bottom road and follow it to Litton Mill.
Go through two imposing gateposts and walk through the mill yard, bearing right on a concessionary path. Continue to your left down the dale.
Although the rest of the mill is private, it is still possible to see the pipework of a turbine which powered the working mill in its later years.
Look out for birdlife as you follow the River Wye in its twists and turns down the dale. Spend time admiring the view of Water-cum-Jolly Dale. N.b. the path is sometimes flooded at this point, so keep well to your left.
Keep to the left of Cressbrook Mill and follow the path as far as the road.
Turn left along the valley road and where it begins to climb, take the right fork still going uphill.
Leave the road where the road doubles back uphill, and walk forwards along a woodland track.
Beyond a group of cottages, continue ahead on a narrow woodland path climbing steadily up Cressbrook Dale.
Where the path goes downhill at a clearing, follow it over a narrow footbridge and climb steeply uphill from the far bank of the stream.
Reaching a boundary wall at the top of the slope, do not cross the stile but begin to go back downhill in order to cross the dale.
At a junction of paths close by the stream, cross the latter by way of stepping stones and begin to climb Tansley Dale.
At the head of this dale start to bear slightly right and cross a series of narrow fields, using stiles to keep on course.
Bear left on entering a narrow track accessing the fields and follow it for about twenty yards and then go to your right into a field.
Walk diagonally left to the far left hand corner of the field in order to enter Litton village close to its tiny village co-op. (The pub is almost opposite if you want something stronger).
Bear left along the village street and, on reaching the green, bear right on to a side road.
Follow this road, over a minor cross roads for about three quarters of a mile, until it joins Tideswell’s high street opposite the magnificent parish church.
Tideswell sits at the bottom of a sheltered bowl. Almost a town, it is one of the most self-supporting places in the Peak; the church dates from around the 14th-century and is an indication of the wool-based wealth of that time.
The ebbing and flowing well which gave Tideswell its name was once one of the Seven Wonders of the Peak, is in a private garden round the back of the church, but it does not appear to have worked for many years.
Bear left along the main road past the church, past the public toilets and then turn right on to a side road (Gordon Road).
Follow this side road, parallel to the main, until its end and go through a small gate above the sewage works and join a path.
Follow the path until it reaches the main road and then turn right.
Cross over and turn right to follow the pavement back to the car park.