Ilam Park to Dovedale Stepping Stones

Ilam, Peak District National Park, Derbyshire

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Tranquil views at Ilam Park © Andrew Butler

Tranquil views at Ilam Park

Unusual Swiss-style cottages in Ilam village © Andrew Butler

Unusual Swiss-style cottages in Ilam village

Dovedale and Bunster Hill from the summit of Thorpe Cloud © Joe Cornish

Dovedale and Bunster Hill from the summit of Thorpe Cloud

Route overview

Discover the limestone countryside of the southern Peak District, famed for its wildlife and geology. Starting at the tranquil Victorian landscape and woodland of Ilam Park, this easy walk takes you into Dovedale, an iconic and spectacular gorge carved out by the river Dove. There’s plenty to explore at both ends.

Route details

See this step-by-step route marked on a map

Route of the Ilam Park to Dovedale Stepping Stones walk in Derbyshire
  • Directions
  • Route
  • Bus stop
  • Parking
  • Toilet
  • Viewpoint

Start: Ilam Park, grid ref: SK132507

  1. Start at Ilam Park and take the footpath towards Ilam church. Look out for the shafts of two 1000-year-old Saxon crosses in the churchyard.

    Show/HideIlam Park

    Designed in the 19th century as an idyllic setting for Ilam Hall, the Manifold and Hamps rivers re-emerge here after several miles flowing underground. The places where they rise are known as boil holes, as the water appears to bubble and boil at the surface. A Tudor mansion once stood in Ilam Park, but in the 1820s local industrialist, Jesse Watts-Russell, built the current Ilam Hall. The hall fell into ruin in the 1930s and two-thirds of it was demolished before Sir Robert McDougall, a member of the flour-milling family, bought what remained for the National Trust. It's now run by the YHA as a youth hostel.

    Tranquil views at Ilam Park © Andrew Butler
  2. Follow the path past the Church into Ilam village. Here you'll find alpine-style houses and a school, provided for locals by Jesse Watts-Russell. Continue until you reach the Mary Watts-Russell Memorial Cross, built in 1840 in memory of Jesse Watts-Russell's wife. Carry on along the road until you leave the village.

    Show/HideIlam village

    The historic estate village of Ilam was mostly demolished and replaced by these unusual alpine-style cottages in the 1830s. They were almost certainly designed by George Gilbert Scott, who is most famous for his imposing Gothic cathedrals and workhouses, plus the Midlands Grand Hotel at St Pancras Railway Station.

    Unusual Swiss-style cottages in Ilam village © Andrew Butler
  3. On leaving Ilam village at a lay-by, cross the road, go through a wooden gate and up a short steep slope to the footpath. Turn right onto the track and go through a squeeze stile into the fields, where there are wonderful views of the Manifold Valley.

  4. Follow the paths across the fields behind the Izaak Walton Hotel, named after the author of a book called The Compleat Angler. He fished the River Dove in the mid-17th century. The hills of Thorpe Cloud and Bunster can be seen from this point.

    Show/HideThorpe Cloud and Bunster Hill

    Rising up on either side of the River Dove, these hills are both reef knoll - immense piles of calcareous material, or underwater lifeforms, which accumulated on an ancient sea floor over 350 million years ago. Thorpe Cloud is an especially distinctive, conical hill. Its slopes are covered with loose stones, called scree - rock that has been weathered by freezing and thawing. It's a short but challenging walk to the top. Despite greeting over a million visitors a year, the 3-mile (4.8km) Dovedale gorge supports a vast range of rare habitats and wildlife. For this reason, it became a National Nature Reserve in 2006.

    Dovedale and Bunster Hill from the summit of Thorpe Cloud © Joe Cornish
  5. Cross a stile and follow the footpath downhill to join a road. Turn left and walk along this path, with the River Dove on your right, to enter Dovedale. The name is derived from the old Norse word dubo, meaning dark. An information panel here tells you more about the work that we do to care for this area.

  6. Congratulations, you've reached the Stepping Stones - take a minute to absorb the fantastic scenery. Put in place in the middle of the 19th century, the stones have long been a magnet for visitors to the area. Cross the stones to continue your walk or return to Ilam Park.

    Show/HideThe Stepping Stones

    The Stepping Stones at Dovedale were first set down for Victorian tourists to cross the river. If you're still feeling energetic when you get here, the footpath continues for 2.5 miles (4km) to Milldale at the north end of the gorge and a set of steps climb to a limestone promontory called Lover's Leap. The original steps were built by Italian prisoners of war captured in the Second World War.

End: Dovedale Stepping Stones, grid ref: SK152514

  • Trail: Walking
  • Grade: Easy
  • Distance: 2.5 miles (4km)
  • Time: 50 minutes
  • OS Map: Landrange 119; Explorer 259
  • Terrain:

    Mostly even path surfaces but some uneven ground, especially across the field. Stiles and a slight gradient in places.

  • How to get here:

    By bike: National Cycle Network Route 68, 4 miles (6.5km) east, then along Narlow Lane through Thorpe to Ilam. This road can be busy at times

    By bus: Regular service, Ashbourne to Thorpe, and weekend bus to Ilam

    By train: Matlock, 11 miles (17.7km); Derby, 21 miles (33.8km)

    By car: Ilam Park and Dovedale are near Thorpe about 5 miles (8km) north-west of Ashbourne. Both are signed off A52 and A515

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