Dove Dale to Milldale

Dove Dale

This is a great walk through the most popular tourist attraction in the Peak District, however do not let its popularity put you off. Most people do not even go past the first half mile of this route and if visited at the right time, such as a quiet weekday, it can be a very peaceful walk. Dove Dale is one of, if not the most beautiful limestone dale in Britain. Dove Dale has a variety of scenery with the ever-changing River Dove, the steep limestone cliffs and spires, the rare woodlands species and at the half way point the quaint picturesque village of Milldale. One of the most fascinating features of this walk is its many caves, Reynard's Cave is definitely one of my favourites and the huge Dove Holes are outstanding. If you do the full walk you will soon find out why this place became popular way before even the stepping stones appeared! It is a fairly easy to moderate walk with no serious terrain or ascents. Allow plenty of time for exploring the many features and relaxing by the beautiful River Dove.

Route Directions

  1. This walk starts from the large Dove Dale car park situated at grid ref SK 146 509. The area is situated a few miles north of Ashbourne at the very south end of the Peak District National Park. There is a minor road that branches off the major A515 Ashbourne to Buxton road from both the north and south approach, signposted to Thorpe, Ilam and Dove Dale. Head to Thorpe then take the minor road to Ilam. When you reach St Mary's Bridge a minor road heads north, well sign posted to Dove Dale Car Park.
  2. From the car park head in a north east direction along the road, keeping the River Dove on your right hand side. After half a kilometre you will reach a left turn in the river where you have to cross the famous Dove Dale stepping stones.
  3. Cross the stepping stones with care to reach the other side of the River Dove. There are situations when the stones can't be crossed for example if the stones are submerged due to the river being in spate, they are covered in dangerous ice, or there are simply too many people waiting to cross. In this situation head back down the road towards the car park and take the wooden footbridge over the river on the left before the car park, then turn left along the other side of the river until you reach the bend where you will now be at the other side of the stepping stones.
  4. As you wait at the stepping stones take a look up at Thorpe Cloud in front of you. Thorpe Cloud which towers above the stepping stones to the south is a huge limestone hill, or reef knoll, well known for its fossiliferous qualities, dating back to 350 million years ago when Britain was closer to the equator. The limestone on this amazing hill is still full of fossils and a short detour to ascend it will reward you with a fantastic view down Dove Dale.
  5. After crossing the stepping stones turn left and head along the obvious path, keeping the River Dove on your left hand side. This is the busiest section of the walk but don't be put off as most people stay around this area and don't continue on the route down the dale.
  6. The path continues in a north westerly direction up the dale following the river passing a number of weirs. After just over half a kilometre it rises slightly and reaches the outcrop of Lovers Leap. Here you can clamber up the rock for a view down the dale.
  7. There are many mysteries and stories surrounding the history of Lovers Leap, most of which are based around the heart broken lady who is said to have taken her life here and others of how a young disgraced but in love couple who took their lives to be with each other.
  8. The path now descends north from Lovers Leap. After three hundred metres you pass the huge Tissington Spires on your right where you will often see climbers clinging on to the huge limestone spires. Continue along the path for another three hundred metres and you will reach a point where a path ascends to the right up to Reynard's Cave.
  9. Head up the steep ascent through the woodland and after a short climb you will reach the impressive entrance to Reynard's Cave, a huge natural arch made of smooth limestone. Standing on the other side of it looking out over the dale affords a fantastic view.
  10. After descending back down to the main path turn right and head north again keeping the river to your left. After seven hundred metres you will come to a wooden footbridge across the river. Here you will see the huge pinnacle of Ilam Rock on the other side of the river. Behind you on this side of the river is the equally impressive pinnacle of Pickering Tor.
  11. Do not cross the wooden footbridge, instead carry on along the path heading north with the River Dove on your left. The path now heads round two sharp right bends with the woodland on the right.
  12. After the bends there will then be a bend to the left. Here you will suddenly come across two huge unmissable open caves on the right side of the path in the cliff. These are the Dove Holes. These impressive caves are created by water eroding the soft limestone cliffs.
  13. After admiring the grandeur of the Dove Holes continue along the path heading north with the river on your left. Here it passes through a narrow section of the dale with steep sides closing in. There is no room for a path at one point so the path continues along a wooden boardwalk.
  14. After the boardwalk through the narrow section the path passes Raven Tor on the left then opens out and crosses a few small meadows before reaching a delightful small stone packhorse bridge known as the Viator's Bridge which was named after a character from Isaac Walton's book The Complete Angler. Cross the bridge to reach Milldale.
  15. Milldale is a quaint little village with no more than a dozen square stone cottages and a small road which, after two visits, I am still to see a car use. Milldale is mostly visited by those on foot, which is no bad thing. There is a National Trust information centre in the old barn, and a great little tea shop which sells a few walking essentials and refreshments.
  16. At Milldale you are at the half way point of this linear route so after you have enjoyed the sights cross back over the packhorse bridge, turn right and head south with the River Dove on your right for the second leg of the route.
  17. After heading south for a kilometre pass Raven Tor on the right then walk through the narrow section before passing Dove Holes again. You will then round two bends to the left and reach the wooden bridge at Ilam Rock.
  18. Head south for another two kilometres retracing your footsteps past the Reynards Cave and Lovers Leap and you will eventually find yourself back at the stepping stones. Cross the stones or take the alternative route along the river to the wooden footbridge and back to the car park.
  19. If you have all day for this walk then try to do the diversion to the summit of Thorpe Cloud as it is well worth exploring its fossils and savouring its unique views up Dove Dale. You can make the diversion on the way out or on the return. At the stepping stones take the path in a south to south east direction that ascends round the back of the hill to its summit.
  20. The nearby historic village of Ilam is well worth a visit on your way home. It is a beautiful village on the banks of the River Manifold with the highlight being the huge and stunning Ilam Hall Youth Hostel. The hall is a recently refurbished Victorian Gothic National Trust mansion and also has a restaurant open to non-residents.

Maps for this walk

Paper maps for this walk

Click to buy OS Explorer OL24 Map Click to buy OS Landranger 119 Map Click to buy Collins Ramblers Guide Peak District Click to buy Pathfinder Guides Peak District

GPS files for this walk

Route map of this walk

Photos & Trip Reports

Planning for a walk

Check the weather

The weather is a very important part of hill walking. Weather conditions and daylight hours will dictate where you walk, what gear you will need to carry, how far you walk, and may even decide if you go at all. The following links will help you gather information on weather conditions for areas of Britain...

Plan your journey

Planning your journey before you set off for your walk can save you vital hours on the day. You need to make sure you know the area surrounding your starting point as many factors can influence or change the place you park. Don't forget change for parking meters and fees.

Maintenance of your vehicle and being ready for breakdown situations when driving to remote areas is also vital. Pack a full spare petrol can in your boot, and take de-icing tools in winter, including a shovel. The Transport Direct website below is a great resource for anyone wanting to get to the start of their walk using public transport...

Pack the right gear

Carrying and wearing the right gear is essential for walkers to remain comfortable and safe while hill walking in Britain. However, the best gear in the world is of no use to anyone who doesn't know how to use and care for it. Knowing how to use your gear will give you a much more enjoyable experience. The following items are, in my opinion, the essential items to wear and carry for a hill walk in Britain. It would be foolish to head into the hills and mountains of Britain without these essential items and the knowledge of how to use them. Check out the gear section of this site for techniques and gear lists...

  • Footwear
  • Clothing
  • Rucksack
  • Warm Clothes
  • Waterproofs
  • Map & Compass
  • Emergency Kit
  • First Aid Kit
  • Food & Drink
  • Seasonal Gear

Know what to do in emergencies

It is good practise to tell someone where you are going, and when you expect to return. If you don't get in contact when you said you would on your return, and those you told can't get hold of you, at least they will be able to provide the search party with your general location.

Emergency equipment in the check list above means items such as a survival bag, whistle, and emergency food rations. This isn't anything special; any whistle will do, the orange emergency bags only costs a few pounds, and basic food rations can consist of a couple of chocolate bars. Carrying a head lamp is also an important component and a vital piece of kit used for signalling when you require rescuing.

You should always try and get out of a difficult or emergency situation using your own gear, knowledge and energy. If you cannot do this, then you should dial 999 and ask for the police. Use all the gear you have to keep any unwell or injured members of your party or yourself safe and warm, and use your signalling devices to let the rescuers know your whereabouts. To do this blow six good long blasts on your whistle, or flash six flashes of your torch. Stop for one minute. Repeat. Carry on with the whistle blasts until someone reaches you, and don't stop because you've heard a reply.

Never contact mountain rescue unless absolutely necessary, but on the other hand don't ever feel guilty for having to do so, especially if you are a prepared walker. The Mountain Rescue teams are full of fantastic like-minded souls who love nothing more than people who are prepared for being safe in the mountains.