This short walk can be fitted in with a trip exploring more of Dovedale or simply as a day out combined with lunch at one of the hospitable pubs in villages round and about the valley.
It is over 300 years since Izaak Walton fished in the pure waters of the river Dove along with his impecunious friend Charles Cotton of Beresford Hall, near Hartington. Apart from light traffic along the short stretch of modern road through Milldale, the two friends would easily recognise this part of the dale.
Dovedale and its famous trout stream have changed little since Walton and Cotton spent time along its banks, angling and philosophising. Walton referred to the Dove as being ‘The finest river that I ever saw and the fullest of fish’; a sentiment true even today. Many of the houses in this tiny hamlet are founded on dwellings that would have been standing in Walton and Cotton’s time. The village takes its name from two mills that once provided employment for people living there; remnants of both mills remain, still capable of taking power from the river. Lode Mill is higher up the valley; converted into a barn, it once ground and separated lead ore from the parent limestone. The mill closest to the village is Ochre Mill; powered by water from the leat which begins a few yards upstream of Viator’s Bridge, is also recognisable as a barn, but in its day it produced powder for making red lead paint.
In his angling treatise The Compleat Angler, Izaak Walton refers to himself as ‘Viator’ (traveller), and addresses Cotton as ‘Piscator’. (angler). In the book Walton expresses amazement at the narrowness of the bridge which bears his nom-de-plume, ‘Viator’.
The route followed by this walk follows the river downstream from Viator’s Bridge as far as the curious rock formation known as Dove Holes. A secluded dry dale to the left and a few yards prior to the holes, climbs up to Hanson Grange Farm where the walk joins an ancient packhorse way back down to Milldale.
The Walk :
From the car park walk down to the river and cross narrow Viator’s Bridge. Turn right to follow the riverside path for a little under a mile.
The thin alkaline soil on the craggy valley sides, supports many semi-alpine plants such as thyme and dwarf cranesbill.
Turn left at the finger post pointing to Alsop-en-le Dale and climb the tree-lined dry dale and go beneath the line of rocky crags known as The Nabs guarding the dale’s exit.
Before turning left uphill, walk forwards for about 80yards to visit Dove Holes.
These massive water-worn holes appear, at first glance to be the start of an extensive cave system but are, in fact only about 20ft (6m) deep. This is a good vantage point for views up and down the dale.
Return to the finger post and turn right to re-join the described walk.
Turn left though a stile at the dale head and follow a series of stiles leading to the right of Hanson Grange Farm. Join its exit lane about 100yds (91m) beyond the farm.
Hanson Grange Farm. There were several extensive monastic sheep walks in the area, until the Dissolution. Hanson Grange was part of one. The farm house looks Jacobean, but is probably built on older foundations.
At the end of the partly walled section of the farm lane, turn left as indicated by a signpost close to an underground reservoir. Follow the sign’s direction across a series of fields, downhill towards Milldale.
Zigzag downhill on the ancient packhorse way back into Milldale.
The George at nearby Alstonfield is a popular pub for travellers, either by car, on foot, riding or pedalling. The oldest relic in Alstonfield Church is the economically worded inscription on the double decker pulpit which states: ‘Be faithful and etc., and I will give thee a crown etc.’ No doubt the carpenter was in a hurry when he carved those words!
2½miles (4km) of valley walking, with one steep climb through woodland beneath The Nabs. Level farm tracks followed by a narrow packhorse track back down to Milldale.
Recommended map. Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale Outdoor Leisure Sheet 24; The White Peak Area.
Car Park. About a quarter mile above the village, west along Hope Dale (free).
Refreshments: a cottage in the centre of Milldale serves light refreshments over a half-door. Pubs in several nearby villages.