Dovedale is owned by the National Trust and farmed with many sheep on the rocky slopes and in the woods. Dovedale is one of Derbyshire's finest and most popular dales. It is little more than 3 miles distance between Thorpe to the south of the dale and Milldale in the north with the famous part being the wooded ravine between the stepping stones, a short distance from the car park at the front of Thorpe Cloud and the cave like Dove Holes. Dovedale's stepping stones appear on thousands of post cards and the area attracts a million visitors a year. Keep away on sunny weekend afternoons.
Many of the rocks in Dovedale used to be parts of active coral reefs. Flowing water aided by rain and wind has eaten away the softer limestone. In some places caverns or arches have been formed, in others where the harder rock has offerred more resistance to erosion, huge crags or pinnacles have been left projecting from the sides of the valley. Lichens cover parts of them but for the most part they stand out bare, grey and massive. Many have been named.
Upstream from the stepping stones, the heights on the left are known as Dovedale Castle and these are followed by the Twelve Apostles, best viewed from the grassy spur called lovers leap, possibly named after a rejected maiden threw herself off the precipice but was saved by the bushes that broke her fall. It is believed she spent the rest of her life in perpetual seclusion.
Following the path the walker passes the upraised fingers of the Tissington Spires and the geological oddity of Reynards cave, high on the eastern bank. This massive detached arch of rock was the mouth of a cavern until the roof fell in. It is named after one Reynard , a local brigand who made the cave his refuge. The ascent to the cave can be dangerous as one irish dean who tried to go up on horseback found out. He was out riding with a young lady friend when the horse slipped and all 3 tumbled down the slope. The dean died from his injuries and lies buried at Ashbourne.
The path then passes beneath the Lions Head Rock, so named because of its likeness to the king of the beasts and onto Ilam rock which rises sheer from the waters edge. Pickering Tor on the right is like a natural fortress.
Dovedale gorge itself ends where the river swings east. Here are the crags known as Ravens Tor as well as the Dove Holes, 2 caves hollowed out when the water level was higher. These are the last show pieces of Dovedale gorge. The larger of the 2 caves is some 60 feet wide and 30 feet high. Though this marks the end of the gorge, Dovedale continues for a further mile upstream to Milldale where the river is crossed via viator bridge, a honey pot for tourists.
All along the route watch out for dippers. They bob up and down perched on the lower tree branches and rocks and then dive into the water looking for food. You might also see the odd kingfisher or even a heron. Wild flora abounds with stitchwort, dogs mercury, forget-me-nots and lilies everywhere.
The Dove has many literary associations the most famous of whom is perhaps Izaak Walton, best known for his instructive book `The Complete Angler` or `The Contemplative Mans Recreation`. It remains the authoritive work on fly fishing. Another literary figure was Charles Cotton who in 1681 produced a laudatory poem called `The Wonders of the Peak`. These 2 men gave dovedale its initial reputation which has encouraged generations of visitors to seek out the idyllic enchantment that Dovedale can provide, even to this day.
Directions for Dovedale
For the southern entrance to Dovedale, take the A515 out of Ashbourne towards Buxton and after a couple of miles take a left turn sign posted Ilam, Thorpe,Dovedale. The road passes infront of the heights of Thorpe Cloud and Bunster Hill and just over the bridge crossing the river dove, an access road leads past the entrance to the Izaak Walton Hotel and onto a public car park for visitors to Dovedale.
Photographs of Dovedale at Derbyshire and Peak District Photographs
For Peak District information try Peak District National Park