Tucked away on a tree shrouded bend of the River Manifold, Ilam village was built in the 1830s on the instructions of Jesse Watts-Russell. The original Victorian houses forming the village still echo the fairytale image of the settlement, built at a time when skilful labour was cheap. It was also a time when people could be moved at the whim of their landlords, if, as in this case, he wanted more personal space or privacy.
The Ilam Hall we see today, with its Tudor-style chimneys and mock Gothic architecture, is only part of the original building. The central tower and most of the formal rooms were demolished in the early 1930s. The rest of the building was about to suffer the same fate when it was bought by Sir Robert McDougall, a Manchester businessman involved with flour milling. He had the remaining parts of the hall made habitable and presented it, together with the grounds, to the National Trust. Ilam Hall is now a youth hostel.
The hall and Ilam village replaced dwellings of a much earlier vintage. The shaft of a stone cross was found in the foundations of a cottage during the rebuilding of the estate village. Said to commemorate a battle between local Saxons and invading Vikings, it now stands to one side of the riverside below the hall. The cross is thought to date from around 1060 AD.
The walk is from the National Trust car park next to the hall and follows a wooded path aptly called Paradise Walk. Crossing the river, the way is uphill through natural forestation of Hinkley Wood and on to the heights surrounding the farming hamlet of Blore. Beyond the farms a grassy track winding down to the river was once part of a coach road from Cheadle in Staffordshire to Chesterfield. It crossed a huge bridge before climbing up to Thorpe. Beyond the bridge an idyllic path wanders upstream beside the river and back into Ilam.
4½ miles (7.2km) of moderate walking through woodland and along field paths. One climb of 512 feet (156m)
Recommended map: Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger Series. Buxton, Matlock & Dovedale.
Public Transport: Warringtons 449 service (summer only) between Bakewell and Ilam. N.b. runs only on alternate first and third Mondays, plus fourth Monday in June. High Peak 442 service between Ashbourne and Buxton calls at Tissington village ten times daily during the week and five times on Sunday.
Car Parking: National Trust Ilam Hall Estate (pay), or roadside near village.
Refreshments: Ilam Hall café and Izaak Walton Hotel.
- Follow the footpath at the top side of the car park in the grounds of Ilam Hall, through woodland and down to the riverside path.
- Turn left and follow the woodland walk as far as a stone bridge.
The woodland path was specially made at the time the hall was built and is known as Paradise Walk. Along the way you will pass the remains of an ancient cross, thought to commemorate a battle between local Saxons and invading Danes around 1060AD.
St Bertram is said to have lived as a hermit in the tiny hollow above the point where water bubbles out beneath a rocky overhang beside the path. The water has travelled about 5miles (8km) underground from the point where the River Manifold disappears at Darfur Bridge below Wetton. In spring, the woods are full of celandines, anemones, primroses and bluebells until the re-awakening trees take their light.
The 17th century dramatist William Congreve wrote part of the comedy ‘The old Bachelor’ on a purpose made stone desk within the woods – you can find it next to the path climbing from a point near the Battle Cross.
- Turn right over the stone footbridge, dedicated locally as St Bertram’s Bridge. Turn left on the far side and follow the gravel path, gently uphill.
- Pass an abandoned gate house and cross the grassy field beyond.
- Cross the unfenced road and follow the line indicated by waymarks.
- Go through a narrow gate and then up the field to a stile leading to a scenic car park.
Pause on reaching the hilltop. Ilam Hall can be glimpsed below through the trees. To its right are Bunster Hill and the conical nose of Thorpe Cloud jointly marking the southern entrance to Dovedale.
- Follow the minor road leftwards to a cross roads and turn left at Blore in order to walk past a group of holiday homes at a converted farm.
16th century Blore Hall on your right is now part of the holiday time share complex.
- Aiming for the next farmhouse look out for a waymarked stone stile in the hedge on your left. Cross this and aim towards the cattle sheds of Coldwall Farm.
- Turn left and follow the rough track away from the farm and go downhill on to a winding grassy field track.
The grassy track is all that remains of a turnpike road once linking Cheadle (Staffs) and Chesterfield. It crossed the large bridge carried on sturdy buttresses at the bottom of the slope; nowadays the bridge only carries walkers and the occasional farmer’s tractor.
- Do not cross the bridge, but bear left through a stone stile near the start of the bridge and drop down through bushes.
- Go through a gate and follow the direction of waymarks, keeping well above the river and in and out of scrub woodland. N.b ignore the temptation to follow the disturbed ground created by cattle moving into the lower waterside field. Not only is this off route, but it leads to horrendously deep mud churned up by cows’ hooves.
- As indicated by waymarks beyond the trees, drop down towards the river bank and follow it upstream. Look out across the river for the confluence of the Rivers Dove and Manifold.
- Cross a series of riverside fields until you reach the bridge leading into Ilam village.
- Climb a short flight of stone steps and turn right. Cross the bridge and follow the road into Ilam village.
Ilam Village. The elaborate Gothic cross at the road junction is a memorial to Mrs Watts-Russell and was a constant reminder to the villagers of an apparently not over popular lady.
- Bear left away from the road, to follow the drive past Dovedale House and on to a path beside the ancient church with the tomb of St Bertram. Continue along this path to the right and up to the car park and the National trust café within the hall grounds.