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 1.5 mile walk for families and dog walkers all year round.
Plenty to see as you walk through Ilam village, across open fields and into the narrow limestone valley.
The walk starts at Ilam Park, where you'll find a National Trust car park, tea-room, shop 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. To avoid cattle, please look out for the 'alternative route' sign to avoid the fields with cattle, and also avoids stiles. The route is not suitable for pushchair and prams due to the uneven ground and width of stiles and gates.
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 before the stone bridge 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, after the last house, cross the road and go through a small wooden gate. There is a short steep slope to the footpath. Turn right onto the stone track and continue along the base of Bunster Hill, grazed by sheep and lambs.
Take the lead
Sheep graze Bunster Hill throughout the year, so please keep your dog on a lead to minimise disturbance.
At the first squeeze stile on the path there are two route options for you to choose from. You can continue through the squeeze stile and across the fields towards Thorpe Cloud, which will include further step stiles and passes through fields of cows and sheep. Alternatively, turn left before the squeeze stile and walk beside the drystone wall. This route avoids cows and stiles but will take 10 minutes longer. This is the recommended route for walkers with dogs and those wanting to avoid stiles.
The route across the fields passes behind the Izaak Walton Hotel, named after the author of the book 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.
Please keep your dog on a lead when walking through fields of grazing animals. Avoid approaching farm animals as they are not pets and don't want to be stroked. If cows do approach you with your dog, let go of the lead and get to safety.
The path will go downhill to join the surfaced track by Dovedale car park (not National Trust) and the public toilets (20p charge, not National Trust). Turn left and walk along the track into the valley, passing a small wooden bridge on your right. Welcome to Dovedale. The River Dove is on your right, at the base of Thorpe Cloud. The river marks the boundary between Derbyshire and Staffordshire. Dovedale became a National Nature Reserve in 2006, because of the vast range of rare habitats and wildlife found here. The river is an important habitat for fish, invertebrates and birds. Look out for dipper, heron and ducks on the river bank as you walk along. The steep valley slopes have woodlands and grassland meadows with wildflowers, fungi and ferns.
A mobile National Trust barn is located by the wooden bridge every day between Easter and the end of September. At the barn you'll meet our friendly National Trust volunteers who are happy to give recommendations on walking routes and the local area. A range of maps, souvenirs, postcards and guides are available to buy too. Proceeds go towards caring for Dovedale and Ilam Park.
Congratulations, you have reached the Stepping Stones - take a moment to look around and 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. There are lots of fossils in the stones, you can spot them as you cross them. Many visitors choose to stop near the stones for a picnic or paddle before walking back to Ilam Park.
More to explore in Dovedale
If you want to explore further in Dovedale before returning to Ilam Park, there are lots of things to spot further along the valley. After crossing the stones, you can continue along the surfaced path beside the river to spot the money trees, the fossil filled Lover's Leap steps, and several limestone caves and pinnacles.
Dovedale Stepping Stones, grid ref: SK152514
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