“Gateway to Heaven”
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Well, I'm setting off from Ashbourne which describes itself as the Gateway to Dovedale. If it's summer season the town adorns itself with 8 miles of bunting which looks fantastic. Several town centre pubs & cafés are doggy-friendly notably The George & Dragon who offer dog treats & The Flower Café who welcome pooches inside & newly opened Artisan Café who promise a gluten-free friendly menu. This morning, I've promised Mansell, our black lab, a great walk as the sun has just appeared. Dovedale promises dramatic limestone ravine scenery, impressive rock outcrops, rare wild flowers and tranquility, let's see…
We start at the Dovedale car park which is in Staffordshire. There is a toilet block & a refreshment shack that has plenty of choice. (The ice creams here have no gluten containing ingredients.)
As soon as you set off, you can hear the soothing sound of the water flowing past from the river Dove - I'm immediately relaxed. Once he's over his initial craziness, I let him off the lead. The advice here is that dogs must be “under close control” so he ambles off along the path in front of me & has direct access to the shallow river water.
Near the start of the walk is a National Trust kiosk. The volunteer was very knowledgable; he showed me a book full of dog walks in the Peak District, various maps & guide sheets, gave me a free dog lead too. He told me that he keeps wondering if he ought to retire but each time a family says “see you next year”, it makes him think twice!
You'll soon arrive at the famous Stepping Stones across the river. Our dog loves racing across these & bouncing about in the river afterwards. Look out for fossils clearly visible under your feet. Once across you could choose to climb up Thorpe Cloud – the triangular shaped hill – fantastic views await you if you do. This is a very popular spot for picnics. If you have children with you, bravery & mountaineering certificates are available from the kiosk!
We continued to follow the river, seeing “two little ducks” and ducklings along the way. Look out for dippers, white fronted birds the size of a thrush who bob up and down on branches over the river. Swallows were swooping over our heads. I didn't spot one but the river is home to brown trout. The terrain becomes a bit rockier & then the steps up to Lovers Leap hit you: 120 up and 59 down - or thereabouts! No sign of the heartbroken woman but a great outlook once you reach the top.
Further along, look high up on the hillside on your right and you'll see Reynard’s Cave, I nearly missed it but saw someone dashing through the natural rock arch to the cave behind it. Also look out for the money tree trunk lying next to the path.
Spot the fallen tree trunks that lie right across the river and you'll soon arrive at the boardwalk, which helps you get through the narrowest part of the dale, known as the Straits. The landscape either side, with its dramatic limestone rock faces known as Pickering Tor, really makes you feel like you’re escaping…
Ilam Rock if often used by climbers, I spotted a brave, lone rock-climber. You can access a footbridge to get a closer inspection of the rock finger. A little further along are Dove Holes; two awesome shallow caves with large open access, our dog was excited to rush in exploring. A little grey wagtail was singing its heart out into the cave which sounded beautiful.
The landscape opens up a little now & you'll be treated to flora & fauna. I spotted a large skipper butterfly landing on a wood cranesbill and lambs all over the vast hills. We then arrived at Viators Bridge, Milldale. A tiny hamlet with toilet facilities, a cute “hole-in-the-wall” shop called Polly’s; selling pasties, soup, cake, drinks, ice-creams as well as plasters & hay-fever relief! Not much in the way of gluten-free snacks but the lady said she tried gluten-free cakes but they didn't sell very well. I’d packed a ball, so I sat down by the duck pond and Mansell had the time of his life jumping in to retrieve his ball several times over.
Take a short stroll around Milldale and admire the dry stone walls, the limestone cottages, their gardens & vegetable patches. Set off up the steep hill just past Polly’s. This part of the walk is less traveled. Due to the ascent you may well start with an “eyes down” approach, but stop to turn around and see how far you've climbed, on a clear day the view will reward you. Unfortunately, we got caught in a shower, but we were entertained by a Goldfinch family flitting across the path just steps ahead of us and chirping merrily.
I spotted a glimpse of the church and knew we'd soon be arriving at Alstonfield. I admired the wildflower meadow in St Peter’s churchyard, with 13 wildflowers, including Oxlips brought by a Vicar in the 1830s. I got a fright as a man suddenly appeared round the corner. Turns out Friday is clock-winding-day & on a fine day he’s rewarded with extensive views from the top of the church. Stroll further admiring the beautiful homes & gardens until you reach the village green & The George pub – with 3 pretty outside areas, a quarry tiled bar, welcoming log fire & a watering bowl waiting for your four legged friend. Emily recommended a glass of picpoul de pinet for me, you could have one of their hand-pumped real ales. I think Mansell is looking at my glass wondering why I didn't order the venison burger that just caught his eye! Well, after such an easy to navigate & stunning walk with the perfect companion, a little treat was in order...
If you have a little more time, then I would highly recommend exploring a little further to Tissington - featured in the recent series of “Britain’s Best Villages”. Bassetwood Farm and tea-room is idyllic, be sure to visit Edward & Vintage sweet shop where little doggie Neddie will welcome you in. There's a traditional Butchers shop and a little doggie tells me that The Bluebell Inn are often very generous with offcuts of ham!