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Walk Derbyshire – Where Izaak Walton Fished – Hartington

Walk Derbyshire – Where Izaak Walton Fished – Hartington

Izaak Walton, seventeenth century author of ‘The Campleat (sic) Angler – The Contemplative Man’s Recreation’ would have been familiar with at least half of this walk. The Dove was one of his favourite places to cast a fly, along with his younger friend, the impecunious Hartington landowner, Charles Cotton.

They regularly fished the river’s clear waters, mostly below Hartington, especially favouring the quiet pool opposite Cotton’s home at Beresford Hall.  This quiet spot they named Pike Pool in acknowledgement of a monster pike that traditionally lay in wait beneath the shadow of the tall pillar, or spike of rock rising from the deepest and shadiest part of the pool.  In the treatise, Walton calls himself VENATOR (traveller) and Cotton is known as PISCATOR (angler).  Charles Cotton had a fishing temple built as a resting place for them, it still stands behind a high stone wall in the grounds of now demolished Beresford Hall, but being on private land the only time to catch a glimpse of it is in winter when the surrounding trees are bare.

The Dove flows through two accessible dales below Hartington which are followed on this walk. Named in some far off time, these are Beresford and Wolfscote Dales, just waiting to be explored after the walker climbs down through comparatively dry Biggin Dale on the way back to Hartington. Leaving the riverside path and following a short walk across fields beyond the head of Beresford Dale that would have been familiar to the two angling friends, the village is reached after a mere fifty yards of road walking.

Hartington has long been a busy village.  A market place for locals until a few decades ago, but now the only agricultural industry is the delicious Stilton cheese, made in one of only a handful of places allowed to call the product of its dairy, Stilton cheese.  A small converted cottage beside the lane down to the dairy now serves as a shop selling this and other locally made cheeses.  The closest the village comes to running a market is on one of the annual events organised locally.

Ancient Britons would have known the rich valley land on either side of Hartington and it is believed they fought Roman legionaries on nearby Hartington Moor, perhaps in a dispute over the Roman plan to build their road from Derventio, Derby to Aquae Arnemetiae, their spa which still produces warm water in present day Buxton.  Many great and famous personalities have either lived or stayed briefly in and around the village. Literary giants and philosophers, such as Doctor Johnson, fully enjoyed the delights of the shady dale, still unchanged thanks mainly to the care given by the Peak District National Park Authority, or the National Trust, an organisation that owns many sections of the dale, mainly acquired through the generosity of donors.

While the walk passes through these three secluded dales and over lush meadows, it runs close to Biggin, one of the least known villages in the Peak District.  It is hard to believe that during World War 2, there was a large POW camp close to the village on land now used for sheep auctions.  A degree of freedom was offered to trustworthy prisoners who worked on surrounding farms, many of them later recalling their affection towards the Peak District countryside.  Hartington Hall, a Jacobean manor house at least 300 years old is now a high standard youth hostel, very much in keeping with a resting place where Bonnie Prince Charlie is said to have stayed on his abortive march on London, a march strangely abandoned for little or no reason at Derby.

Useful Information

A moderate 5 miles (8km) walk across fields, followed by two dales alongside a famous trout stream, beyond a short walk through a dry dale famous for its semi-alpine flowers every summer.

Recommended Map:  Ordnance Survey Explorer map, Sheet OL24, 1:25000 scale; White Peak Area.

Public Transport: buses from Ashbourne and Buxton.

Car Parking:  Market Square (free), or pay and display in the car park next to the road towards the Manifold Valley.

Refreshments: Two pubs in centre of village and a scattering of small cafés and shops around the market place. Refreshments can also be bought at the youth hostel.


From the market place follow the road eastwards, past shops and a café until it reaches a side road marked by a small war memorial commemorating the village dead in two World Wars.  Turn right here and walk up the steep hill.

Follow the road, uphill to the youth hostel, then turn right opposite its garden gates, into a walled un-surfaced track heading towards fields stocked with grazing cattle.

At the end of the lane, go over a stone stile, then turn half right to cross two fields by an indistinct path – aim towards a clump of trees ahead next to a minor road.

There are many interesting views both near and distant to be enjoyed as you walk across the elevated open fields.  The prominent rise to the south west beyond the cleft marking Dovedale is Ecton Hill above the Manifold Valley, a one-time valuable source of copper, zinc and lead ore deposits.  It is said that a Duke of Devonshire in the eighteenth century was able to use the profits from the mine to build the Devonshire Royal Hospital and its dome.

Cross the stile beside the trees and turn left along the narrow metalled lane as far as a cross roads.  Continue ahead on a rough cart track.

Pass a well-made stone barn, then leave the walled track at a gate to walk downhill on an open path into Biggin Dale.  Turn right and walk along the rocky dale bottom.

Join the main dale as you pass a high limestone crag where harebells and other semi-alpine plants bloom in early summer.

Turn right on to a rocky path and walk upstream beside the River Dove.  The path fills a narrow ledge between the riverbank and the loose, scree-covered valley side.

A small opening high in the crag above and to your right is where Charles Cotton once hid to escape the demands of his creditors.

Turn left in order to cross the river by the narrow wooden footbridge and turn right on the opposite bank, continuing to walk upstream on a freshly laid gravel riverside path.

Passing the famous Pike Pool and its unclimbable limestone pillar, then cross a second wooden footbridge going right to reach the opposite bank and its mature woodland.

Turn left on to a wide path climbing gently away from Pike Pool.  Leave the wooded area at a narrow iron kissing gate.  

Cross a series of fields, using stiles and gateposts or stiles in the drystone walls to follow the frequently pathless route over occasionally muddy fields.

Go to the right beside the back wall of a farm house to reach a narrow stone stile.

 Turn left and go down a short flight of concrete steps at the side of a public toilet block.

Turn right on to the road and walk on, past the Charles Cotton pub, back into the centre of Hartington.  (or left if wishing to reach a parked car waiting in the pay and display car park).

Hartington is grouped around its duck pond in the market square with the cheese shop to its left and shops and two pubs scattered on all sides.  High above the village, the Parish church of St Giles is well worth a visit for its medieval relics and attractive windows.


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