Ilam Park to the Stepping Stones in Dovedale
Discover the limestone countryside of the southern Peak District, famed for its wildlife and geology. This is a popular walk for families and dog walkers all year round.
Plenty to see as you pass through Ilam village, across fields and into the limestone valley.
The walk starts at Ilam Park, where you'll find parking, refreshments and toilets. Some parts of the walk can be muddy so suitable footwear is advised. You'll pass farm animals along the way so please ensure your dog is under control at all times.
Ilam Park, grid ref: SK132507
Start at Ilam Park and walk away from the hall and towards the surfaced footpath by Ilam church. Look out for the shafts of two 1,000-year-old Saxon crosses in the churchyard. Continue on the path into the village. In the distance you will see Thorpe Cloud, the large flat topped hill.
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 us. It's now run by the YHA as a youth hostel.
Follow the surfaced path past the Church into Ilam village. Here you'll find alpine-style houses and a school, provided for locals by Jesse Watts-Russell. Walk along the pavement until you reach the Mary Watts-Russell Memorial Cross, built in 1840 in memory of Jesse Watts-Russell's wife. Cross over the road and walk past the postbox on your right.
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.
On leaving Ilam village at a lay-by, cross the road, go through a small wooden gate and up a short steep slope to the footpath. Turn right onto the stone track and go through a stone squeeze stile into the fields, where there are wonderful views of the Manifold Valley. There may be cattle and sheep in the fields ahead. If you prefer a cattle free (also stile free) route take the alternative route by the squeeze stile and this rejoins the route near the River Dove. This may take slightly longer and include more slopes.
Follow the path 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. Bunster hill is on your left and Thorpe Cloud is ahead of you, with the flat top.
Thorpe 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's 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 more than 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.
Cross a stile and follow the footpath downhill to join a road by a car park and toilets. Turn left and walk along the surfaced path, with the River Dove on your right, to enter Dovedale. The river marks the boundary between the counties of Derbyshire and Staffordshire. On the river you may be able to spot ducks, heron and dipper while sheep graze the steep slopes down to the river.
Between April and September you'll spot our mobile information barn beside the river, where our friendly team of volunteers are ready to give you tips on the local area and sell a range of local maps, postcards and souvenirs.
Congratulations, you've reached the Stepping Stones - take a minute to absorb the scenery. Put in place in the middle of the 19th century, the stones have long been a magnet for visitors to the area. Spot the fossils in the stones as you cross them. You can cross the stones and continue your walk along the valley on the path, or return to Ilam Park.
The 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.
Dovedale Stepping Stones, grid ref: SK152514
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