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Thorpe Cloud and Stepping Stones, Dovedale
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Coordinates: 53°03′35″N 1°46′36″W / 53.0597°N 1.7767°W / 53.0597; -1.7767

Thorpe Cloud and Stepping Stones, Dovedale
RiverRiver Dove

Dovedale is a valley in the Peak District of England.[1] The land is owned by the National Trust, and annually attracts a million visitors.[2] The valley was cut by the River Dove and runs for just over 3 miles (5 km) between Milldale in the north and a wooded ravine near Thorpe Cloud and Bunster Hill in the south.[3] In the wooded ravine, a set of stepping stones cross the river,[4] and there are two caves known as the Dove Holes.

Dovedale's other attractions include rock pillars such as Ilam Rock,[5] Viator's Bridge, and the limestone features Lovers' Leap and Reynard's Cave.[6]


The limestone rock that forms the geology of Dovedale is the fossilised remains of sea creatures that lived in a shallow sea over the area during the Carboniferous period, about 350 million years ago. During the two ice ages, the limestone was cut into craggy shapes known as reef limestone by the melting ice, and dry caves such as Dove Holes and Reynard's Cave were formed.[7]

The caves were used as shelters by hunters around 13,000 BCE, and Dovedale has seen continuous human activity since. Around 4,500 years ago Neolithic farmers used the caves as tombs. There is evidence from Reynard's Cave of Bronze Age activity and artifacts found there are displayed at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.[8]

Vikings settled in the area around 800 CE. Local place names such as Thorpe are of Scandinavian origin.[9] These settlements became permanent, and Thorpe is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.[10]

Viator's Bridge, a packhorse bridge in Milldale has been in use since the medieval period when silks and flax were transported from nearby Wetton and Alstonefield.[11]

Tourism started in the 18th century, and Dovedale is now one of the most visited natural tourist sites in Britain.[citation needed]

River Dove[edit]

The Dove with a few walkers

The River Dove is a famous trout stream. Charles Cotton's Fishing House, the inspiration for Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler,[12] stands in the woods by the river. From Hartington to its confluence with the River Manifold at Ilam the River Dove flows through the scenic limestone valley known as Dove Valley,[13] or Dovedale. From Hartington south to Ilam, a distance of eight miles (13 km), the Dove flows through Beresford Dale, Wolfscote Dale, Milldale, and then Dovedale.

Riverside paths make the valley accessible to walkers. On one Sunday in August 1990, a footpath count recorded 4,421 walkers on the Staffordshire side of the river and 3,597 walkers on the Derbyshire bank.[14]

National Trust[edit]

Much of the dale is in the ownership of the National Trust's South Peak Estate. Dovedale was acquired in 1934, with successive properties added until 1938, and Wolfscote Dale in 1948.

Dovedale became a National Nature Reserve in 2006 in recognition that it is "one of England's finest wildlife sites" with diverse plant life and interesting rock formations.[15] The National Trust became embroiled in controversy in 2010, when in conjunction with Derbyshire County Council it oversaw the renovation of Dovedale's iconic stepping stones. It involved topping all but one of the stones with layers of mortar and limestone slabs.

Thorpe Cloud[edit]

At the southern end of Dovedale, at grid reference SK151510 between the villages of Thorpe and Ilam, stands Thorpe Cloud, 942 ft (287 m), an isolated limestone hill known as a reef knoll. It provides a viewpoint north up the dale and south across the Midlands plain.[16] Its name "cloud" is a derivation of the Old English word clud which means "hill". On the opposite bank, at grid reference SK141516, is the higher but less isolated Bunster Hill, 1,079 ft (329 m), which is also a reef knoll. They were acquired by the National Trust in 1934 for the South Peak Estate.


The River Dove at Milldale

Milldale is a village of stone cottages at the northern end of Dovedale and the main access point to the dale from the north.[17] A corn mill existed until the mid-19th century, its stables are now used as an information hut by the National Trust.[18]

Viator's Bridge[edit]

Viator's Bridge with Milldale village in the background.

The ancient, narrow packhorse bridge at Milldale originally had no side walls so that horses with panniers could cross the bridge without being impeded. Izaak Walton, who refers to himself as "Viator", which is Latin for "traveller", wrote about it in The Compleat Angler:[19]

"What’s here, the sign of a bridge? Do you travel in wheelbarrows in this country? This bridge was made for nothing else – why a mouse can hardly go over it, tis not two fingers broad!"

From this the bridge acquired the name Viator's Bridge.[20]

The bridge has been in use since the medieval period, for packhorses transporting silks and flax from nearby Wetton and Alstonefield. It is listed as an ancient monument.[21]

Limestone formations[edit]

Ilam Rock

Dovedale is notable for its numerous limestone formations. The most southerly named formation, Dovedale Castle, is a short distance along the river from the stepping stones at Thorpe Cloud. A set of steps accesses the limestone promontory called Lover's Leap. The original steps were built by Italian prisoners of war captured in the Second World War, and are now maintained by the National Trust and the National Park Authority.

At Lover's Leap a young woman who believed her lover had been killed in the Napoleonic Wars threw herself off of the promontory. Her skirt caught in the branches of a tree as she fell and saved her. When she got home she heard her lover was alive. There are other similar legends about Lover's Leap, including one that places the same story in World War II.

Opposite Lover's Leap is a limestone formation called the Twelve Apostles. The rock spires have been created from hard reef limestone; they protrude from the valley side and the river has eroded the rock and soil around them. The National Trust clears plant life clear to ensure the rock formations are visible.[6]

Natural history[edit]

Wolfescote Dale

Dovedale is of special ecological interest for its plant life, particularly the calcareous ash woods, which are considered among the best in England.[6] There are unusual plants such as Solomon's seal, lily of the valley, Paris quadrifolia and small and large-leaved lime trees. Birds found here include Common Kingfisher, Grey Heron and Dipper.


Starting in the 18th century, visiting gentry visited Dovedale and Ilam in the summer. With improvements in road transport and the arrival of the railways making travel easier, Dovedale's popularity with visitors expanded and began to embrace all social classes.

In the early 20th century there was a growing appreciation of the great outdoors and by 1931 Ramsay MacDonald's Labour government held an inquiry which recommended the creation of a ‘National Park Authority’ to select areas for designation as National Parks, and Dovedale was one of the areas proposed. It was included within the Peak District National Park when it became Britain's first National Park in 1951.

From 1899 the Ashbourne-Buxton railway line ran to Thorpe Cloud station, above the village of Thorpe, making Dovedale accessible to walkers. The line closed in the mid-1960s and was converted into a track known as the Tissington Trail. In July 1937, Staffordshire County Council had converted the nearby Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway into a tarmac path now known as the Manifold Way. Walking is a popular reason for visiting Dovedale. 21% of visitors in a Peak National Park visitor survey conducted in 1986/87 gave walking as their main reason for visiting. A footpath count on this track on an August Sunday in 1990 recorded 4,421 walkers on the Staffordshire side of the river and 3,597 on the Derbyshire bank. Its popularity has caused serious problems of congestion and erosion.

Fishing is popular due to associations with Walton' The Compleat Angler, and some fishing rights are owned by the Izaak Walton Hotel (part of the Duke of Rutland's estate at the southern end of Dovedale on the Staffordshire bank, SK143508).

Literary and cultural associations[edit]

Samuel Johnson, Lord Tennyson, John Ruskin and George Byron all praised Dovedale's scenery.[22] The latter wrote of Dovedale to the poet Thomas Moore, "I can assure you there are things in Derbyshire as noble as Greece or Switzerland."

Dovedale was featured on the 2005 BBC TV programme Seven Natural Wonders as one of the wonders of the Midlands. The area along the river was used in Franco Zeffirelli's 1996 version and the BBC's 2006 version of Jane Eyre,[23] and Dovedale also featured in the 2008 film The Other Boleyn Girl.[24] The Russell Crowe film Robin Hood also used Dovedale as a location, and it can be clearly seen in several scenes towards the end of the movie.

Dovedale Dash[edit]

The Dovedale Dash is an annual 4 34 miles (7.6 km) cross-country race along the banks of the River Dove, along Dovedale, and between the villages of Ilam and Thorpe.[25]

First organised in 1953, the race takes place on the first Sunday of November, although previously it was held on the closest Sunday to Guy Fawkes Night. The race has been cancelled on four occasions, most recently in 1998, 2000 and 2004, as a result of bad weather.



  1. ^ "Peak District walk down Dovedale from Alstonefield". Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  2. ^ "Dovedale - Dovedale in Derbyshire and the Peak District". Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  3. ^ "Dovedale Derbyshire". Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  4. ^ "Discover Derbyshire and the Peak District". Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  5. ^ "Walks in The Peak District - Dove Dale and Wolfscote Dale walk". Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  6. ^ a b c "Ilam Park – Dovedale". National Trust. Archived from the original on 2008-03-17. Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  7. ^ "The Peak District National Park - Fact Zone 8. Dovedale and the Dove Valley". Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  8. ^ "Archaeology_caves". Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  9. ^ Anglo-Saxon and Viking Derbyshire, Richard Bunting, Wye Valley Press (April 1993), ISBN 0-946404-03-8
  10. ^ "The Domesday Book Online - Derbyshire S-Z". Retrieved 2008-04-05. 
  11. ^ "Milldale near Alstonefield in the Peak District National Park". Retrieved 2008-04-05. 
  12. ^ "BBC - Radio 4 - The Philosopher, Fish and the Dove". Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  13. ^ Peak District Education website
  14. ^ "Discover Derbyshire and the Peak District". Retrieved 2008-04-05. 
  15. ^ "Natural England celebrates new National Nature Reserve". Retrieved 2008-04-04. [dead link]
  16. ^ "Dovedale, spectacular limestone gorge between Derbyshire and Staffordshire". Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  17. ^ "Milldale – Peak District Towns and Villages". Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  18. ^ "Milldale near Alstonefield in the Peak District National Park". Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  19. ^ "Discover Derbyshire and the Peak District". Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  20. ^ "Viators Bridge - Milldale". Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  21. ^ "Local Plan - Peak District National Park Authority". Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  22. ^ HighPeak website
  23. ^ Derbyshire UK website
  24. ^ "Visit Peak District Film Locations". Retrieved 19 September 2013. 
  25. ^ "Dovedale Dash 2006". Retrieved 2008-04-04.