The Limestone plateau of the Peak District National Park is cut by many delightful valleys. Possibly the best known of these, Dovedale, offers peace and tranquility in the heart of the White Peak, although it does get quite busy at weekends in the tourist season as it is one of Derbyshire's top tourist beauty spots. Dovedale itself is only accessible on foot and has a good path along most of its length.

Dovedale is perhaps the most well known of the Derbyshire limestone dales. It was an important Victorian tourist destination and was immortalised by Isaac Walton in his book ‘The Compleat Angler’. The pack horse bridge that marks the top end of Dovedale is named after Viator, one of Walton’s friends and characters in his book. The river Dove is about 45 miles long but it is only for only a short distance that it flow through this beautiful dale. North of Viator Bridge, the dale is named Mill Dale, further north it is Wolfscote Dale and before that, Beresford Dale. The river is shallow and clear and if you just stand a while and look into its waters, you can often see trout swimming past.

Probably the most famous view (and most sent postcard perhaps) is the one of the stepping stones below the ancient carboniferous era reef of Thorpe Cloud, worn shiny by the passage of millions of feet. During the summer, it is likely that you will have to queue to get across. If you don’t want to wait, there is a bridge further down stream. In 2010, there was absolute outrage at the repair of the stepping stones by the County Council. The council dared to cement limestone slabs onto the tops of the individual stones in order to make them less slippery, more even and to even out the discrepancy of the level from bank to bank. Those outraged by this claimed that it was "Health and safety gone mad" whilst the National Trust supported the action of the Council. We have seen a few visitors slide into the water from the stones, however, in each case the mishap has been treated with amusement by those concerned. You decide for yourself whether this alleged "Act of Vandalism" was merited or not ... BBC news report on the issue >> Perhaps more worrying, particularly for the older visitor and environmentalists, is the possibility of the closure of the toilets. The cost of pumping the sewage from the toilets to the mains drainage is proving too much for the Peak Park authority and as at Nov 2011, they were looking at ways of raising cash to cover costs. One worry about the potential closure is that, given the visitor numbers, the River Dove could easily be polluted by those 'answering the call of nature' near to the riverbanks ...

The whole dale is crowded with both day trippers and tourists on sunny Sundays. Thorpe Cloud dominates the southern end of Dovedale and it is worth the steep climb to see the extensive panoramic views from the top. The Cloud is named for the nearby village of Thorpe, one of the few Peak District places whose name has a Norse origin. The name of this steep, conical hill means Thorpe Hill - the Cloud part of the name is derived from Old English 'Clud' which means hill.

There are many reasons for its popularity, the beauty of the area, the reputation and also the National Trust maintain an excellent path alongside the river. There are a few ups and downs on the latter where those who are a little unsteady on their feet may need a helping hand. For anyone who takes the trouble to walk upstream, the reward will be to see the crags and caves of this valley. The valley itself is relatively narrow and the ascent out on any of the paths is steep. There is an annual race called the Dovedale Dash, which starts and ends at the village of Thorpe in Thorpe Pastures. It is held each November. The event was initiated in the 1950s and currently attracts about 1200 entries. Despite its short length (under 5 miles) it is regarded as a tough challenge. As with many open sporting events, along with the elite runners, out for the competition, you will always see the usual crop of cows, chickens, aliens and other charity runners in various wacky outfits!

Dovedale also attracts climbers, who can be seen and heard clinking their way up the crags of Tissington Spires, Ilam Rock, the twelve apostles and Dovedale Church. If you do climb there, take care since the rock is a friable limestone, holds can pull off and careless rope work can cause chunks of limestone to roll down and drop from the grassy tops of the climbs. We have experienced several incidents caused by groups above and at one point, during an abseil descent, a razor sharp fragment about the size of a dinner plate was dislodged and sliced through my rope bag.

The top end of Dovedale can be viewed from the Tissington Trail and the station at Biggin was a convenient point for passengers to alight for a visit to Dovedale, accessing it by Biggin Dale. But that was all in the past as the Ashbourne to Buxton line closed in the 1960s.

The Geology of Dovedale is based on Carboniferous Limestone and you can see many fossils (such as crinoids - Derbyshire Screws - and brachiopods - a type of shellfish) in the rocks as you walk along. The limestone contains fossilised reefs which are more resistant to erosion that the surrounding rocks, Thorpe Cloud has already been mentioned but there are also the reefs of Bunster Hill, the Twelve Apostles and Tissington Spires amongst others. The valley is thought to have been carved out of the limestone by a river long before the Dove came on the scene and then buried, only to have been re-excavated by the forces of nature in more recent times - a real snapshot of the past!

Nearby towns and villages include Alstonefield, Hartington and Ashbourne where you can find plenty of accommodation.


Dovedale - Derbyshire Limestone Valley

Lying in the Peak District, north of Ashbourne.

The river Dove flows through several valleys, of which Dovedale is the best known and most visited. The valley is accesible on foot only, cars have to be left at the ends, which makes it a peaceful place to visit.

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