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Dovedale & connecting area

Dovedale Valley - An introduction
Over thousands of years the River Dove has carved its way through this massive limestone plateau within the Trust's South Peak Estate, to create a deep, sinuous and spectacular gorge, long famous for its rock pinnacles spires, arches and caves, with the well known hills of Thorpe Cloud at the southern end, and Wolfscote Hill at the northern end.

Dovedale is of great geological and physiographic interest for this string karst scenery. It is also of great ecological interest for its limestone grasslands, crags and woodlands. There are some of the best calcareous ash woods in the country here, although only small parts of the extensive woody cover are ancient, now linked by much recent secondary growth. The Trust has cleared some of the secondary woodland, which has grown up since the early 1900s as a result of the decline in grazing, to reveal again the dramatic rock features. The ancient 'cores' such as The Nabs and Iron Tors have many unusual plants, such as angular Solomon's seal, lily-of-the-valley, herb Paris and small and large-leaved limes.

The limestone grasslands, notably Hall Dale and Biggin Dale support many Derbyshire and Staffordshire specialities and both northern and southern limestone species mix together, for example Nottingham catchfly, limestone bedstraw, stemless thistle, dropwort and greater burnet saxifrage. The crags, with their thinner soils and lack of grazing, harbour many more unusual plants such as Hutchinsia. All these habitats have specialist-associated invertebrates, including glow worm and northern brown argus. Grey wagtail and dipper can be seen along the River Dove.

There is evidence that the gorge was inhabited from early prehistoric periods. Surviving from later periods are some Bronze Age barrows, old limekilns and post-medieval farm buildings. The names of the crags, such as Jacob's Ladder and Reynard's Cave, Lion Head Rock and Tissington Spires, originated with Victorian tourists, as did the famous 'Stepping Stones'.

Alsop Moor adjacent to the A515 is an isolated remnant of limestone heath that the Trust's management is aiming to restore.

Footpath (accessible in parts by wheelchair, mainly from Milldale). Car parks at Milldale and Stepping-Stones end (not NT). NT information barn at Milldale; NT information centre/WCs at Ilam Park and Milldale. 651 ha (1607 acres) 4-7ml NW of Ashbourne, W of A515. [119:SK148510]

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Thorpe Cloud SK 151510.
The southern entrance to Dovedale. is dominated by two hills, Rocky Bunster on the West and the conical hill of Thorpe Cloud on the East. Thorpe Cloud is a reef knoll, best described as an immense pile of calcareous material which accumulated on the bed of warm shallow seas 350 million years ago creating the carboniferous limestone we see today. Within the growing reef there were cavities that were occupied by communities of organisms, seen now as local pockets of well preserved fossils.

The pressure of visitors using the same steep route up to the top of Thorpe Cloud over many years caused considerable wear and tear on the vegetation. Once the vegetation was damaged and the underlying soil exposed to rain, frost and snow the steep route became progressively more uncomfortable to walk on, then unsafe, and the continual erosion resulted in a deep and ugly scar on the hillside, visible for miles. The National Trust in the 1980s established a course of action to repair this route and this work continues to this day.

Nature itself is doing most of the repair work through natural regeneration. But to give the seedling grasses a chance to establish themselves, they need to be protected from trampling. This is why National Trust Countryside Wardens erected a fence at the foot of the hill, and later on gave additional protection to the damaged area itself.

Thanks to the protection of this fence, and the public's co-operation, the erosion scar has recovered very well. During 1992 the main fences were taken down to allow grazing once again, but some fences have been left in place to protect the original eroded area.

Thorpe Cloud rises above the morning mists of Dovedale White Peak.
©NTPL / Joe Cornish

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Dovedale Wood SK 146523
Dovedale Ashwood has been designated a Grade 1* Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in the Nature Conservation Review as one of the best Carboniferous limestone woodlands in the country, and is also considered to be one of international importance. The stands of hanging yew on the crags constitute one of the finest yew woods in the Peak District.

The overall management aim is to maintain the ash-wych elm canopy, the large variety of shrub species (such as guelder rose) and the unusual woodland plants (such as herb-Paris). To this end, work has been carried out with the support of English Nature to both selectively remove and monitor the non-native species, such as sycamore and beech. Also to protect the woodland from grazing animals and encourage natural regeneration, the entire west boundary fence has been renewed, 2 miles of fence in total.

The large variety of habitat within Dovedale Ashwood, combined with its long history of woodland cover has resulted in a woodland particularly rich in species associated with dead and decaying timber (millipedes and centipedes). The Trust's policy here is to leave as much dead wood as possible, importantly where it falls, particularly the larger trunks and boughs and the value to a large variety of wildlife species is enormous.

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Lover's Leap and The Twelve Apostles SK 145517
Not far from the steeping stones a flight of steps carry you up to a limestone promontory known as Lover's Leap. Climbing this hill is the only way to continue your journey north through Dovedale, and the first steps were built after the second world war using Italian prisoners of war. Over the years both the National Trust and National Park have contributed to maintaining and improving these steps.

The name Lover's Leap came about following the story of a young woman, who on hearing that her young man had been killed in the Napolionic wars, climbed to the top of Lover's Leap and threw herself off. Her billowing skirt caught in branches on her way down, and she was able to scramble to safety. On her return home, she received the news that her boy friend, far from having lost his life in the war, had recently arrived in England, and was returning to see her.

On the other side of the valley from Lover's Leap stand a large group of limestone towers and crags known as the Twelve Apostles, which being formed from the harder reef limestone, have been left sticking up from the side of the valley as the river eroded down. The National Trust periodically clear the scrub to ensure the rock formations are still visible, and we can see them as the Victorians did, which no doubt inspired them to name all the rocks in the dale.

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Reynards Cave SK144525
The cave is a natural feature behind a natural arch high up on the Derbyshire Bank of the gorge. To the left is a smaller cave known as Reynard's Kitchen. Excavations in 1960 indicated that it was used as a temporary shelter rather than permanent habitation site during the Neolithic, Roman and Medieval periods, as shown by the scarcity of finds (pottery shards, bronze fibula, worked bone, iron etc.) and lack of a hearth.

Annie Bennigton (1869-1950) lived in Milldale, and every day carried two large baskets packed with mineral waters, sweets and postcards to the foot of Reynards Cave, where she set up her stall. She then fixed a rope up the 50m slope to the cave and charged people a penny a time to pull themselves up! Among the thousands of people she sold postcards to were Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and George Bernard Shaw.

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Hurt's Wood and Hall Dale SK 137534
In the early 20th century Dovedale was owned by several different people. Although visitors could walk along the public footpath, they had no access to other parts of the dale, which was managed for forestry and farming, and not for conservation and access.

In 1916, a Mr F. A Holmes of Buxton, a frequent visitor to Dovedale, became concerned about the damage to the Hurt's Wood area from tree felling activities. He embarked on a personal campaign to protect the area for the enjoyment of future generations, and through a contact in Parliament managed to halt the commercial felling.

By 1924, Holmes was proposing that Dovedale should become Britain's first National Park. He gave lectures and wrote to the press to promote his idea, but when he failed to gain government support, he turned to the National Trust who were keen to support his idea but did not have the funds. Fortunately Holmes' work came to the attention of Robert McDougall, a wealthy businessman from Manchester who was keen to help. In 1934 Hurt's Wood and Hall Dale came up for sale, and MacDougall was able to buy them and donate them to the National Trust. These were followed by other properties, which today forms the South Peak Estate.

In 1951, 25 years after Holmes' original proposal, the Peak National Park was established. It was the first in the country and covered a much larger area than had been proposed by Holmes. The work of F. A Holmes still continues to this day with the National Trust acquiring in 2,000 the final section of Hall Dale.

Hall Dale is renowned for its herb rich Festuca rubra limestone grassland, and species that thrive here include abundant kidney vetch and early purple orchid, carline thistle, fine-leafed sandwort and musk mallow, plus an old record for bee orchid. Butterflies include small heath, speckled wood & brown argus.

During 2005 the National Trust will be felling an area of mature larch plantation and fencing the remaining broadleaved woodland to protect it from sheep grazing. This will open up new vistas and allow new species rich grassland to be established as well as increasing the overall naturalness of the dale.

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The Nabs SK 145537
The Nabs Woodland is an excellent example of a semi-natural/ancient limestone woodland site rich floristically, structurally varied and of high biological interest.

This site is one of eight on the Derbyshire limestone studied by Pigott (1969) in connection with morphological variation in small-leaved and large-leaved lime. The Derbyshire Dales is one of only four areas in Britain where large-leaved lime is thought to be native, and Dovedale is one of these areas.

The woodland has a rich shrub layer contains dogwood, wild privet, crab apple, hawthorn, blackthorn, rowan, holly, bird cherry, spindle, buckthorn, rock whitebeam and Guelder rose, and an equally rich herb layer includes angular Solomon's seal, lily of the valley, herb Paris, ramsons, yellow archangel and nettle-leaved bellflower. Several large old field maple are scattered throughout the area. Willow warbler occurs.

This area was fenced off in the 1980's to protect these rare species from grazing animals.

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Milldale SK 138546
In 1976, the Peak National Park approved a draft plan for Milldale to help reduce traffic congestion and parking problems. It was agreed by Staffordshire and Derbyshire County Council, and the National Trust (Europe's largest conservation charity) the main landowner. Much has been achieved, with the main action taken in successful partnership with Staffordshire County Council and the National Trust.

The Peak National Park has completed a landscaping scheme to prevent prominent parking by the riverside in Milldale, except for a few spaces for local residents and the less able. A new car park (40 cars) was provided alongside Hopedale Road, and improvements were made to a lay-by (15 cars) opposite the car park.

A view of Milldale, the National Trust information centre in the South Peak Estate area of the Peak District National Park. The scene depicts the view looking to the bridge over the River Dove.
©NTPL / Charlie Waite

Staffordshire County Council imposed a coach ban on the Lode Mill to Hopedale Road through Milldale. An experimental parking prohibition between Lode Mill and the new car park alongside Hopedale Road in Milldale between 10 am and 6 pm has been made permanent. It has enabled restrictions by signing rather than yellow lines in this attractive and sensitive area of the Peak District, and is working well.

In 1986 the National Trust bought an area of land known as Acha Bank and a small barn adjacent to the famous Viators Bridge in Milldale. Acha Bank is an excellent area of herb-rich calcareous grassland subject to a long-standing tradition of grazing by cattle which has been continued by the Trust. This has encouraged hawthorn and ash scrub, many mature ash trees and many wild flowers including early purple and common spotted orchid, kidney vetch, cowslip, salad burnet, yellow rattle, ox-eye daisy and bugle. The opportunity to provide a small information centre as suggested in the National Trust's 1973 Dovedale Plan was finally realized by utilizing the small barn. The local National Trust Warden researched much of the information with the help of local people who generously provided both information and photographs for display to the public, and this also provided an opportunity for local people to gain a greater understanding of the role of the National Trust.

In 1994 the Peak National Park, Staffordshire County Council and the National Trust agreed a proposal to examine the feasibility of a roadside path between Lode Mill and Milldale. All parties agreed this a practical idea, and work was started in 1995 and is now is now complete over a third of the length, most of the funds being provided by the Peak National Park and Staffordshire County Council.

Milldale Conservation Area was established in 1993, and was extended to encompass Lode Mill during 1994. The National Trust as owners of the mill site in Milldale have begun to examine ways to consolidate what are the remnants of a Mill dating from the18th century. It has been shown that this site is an important industrial archaeology remnant, and the Trust is proposing to survey the site to map its extent, it can then plan any consolidation work which is needed.

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River Dove Between SK 147510 and SK 130584
The River Dove is named after the old English word dubo meaning 'dark'. It rises on the gritstone moors of Axe Edge between Buxton and Leek, and flows south through Beresford Dale, Wolfscote Dale and Milldale before reaching the gorge of Dovedale. It meets the Manifold just east of Thorpe village, some 8km north of Ashbourne; and from there it meanders through farmland to its confluence with the River Trent at Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire.

The power of the river to erode and transport material is dependent on the volume of water and its rate of flow. Erosion occurs far more slowly now than it did several thousand years ago when the glaciers were melting. However, in the winter, when rain and snow are frequent, the river floods its banks and washes away soil and rocks, fences and footpaths, often causing extensive damage. However, this action by the river does create a dynamic river valley, with where the river is not contained, shingle spits, eddies, islands and pools being created. This form of river creates habitats favourable to invertebrates and the water birds that depend on them, such as the Dipper. Arguably, this wild river is a richer river in terms of nature conservation value that the sections of the river which have been changed by the installation of weirs and revetments which favour a game fishing river. The National Trust is working with the fishing clubs and Environment Agency to formulate a conservation plan for the river; this should ensure a river for all for the future.

A view of the River Dove which over thousands of years has carved its way through this massive limestone plateau to create a deep spectacular gorge famous for rock pinnacles and caves.
©NTPL / Joe Cornish

Isaac Walton and Charles Cotton were among the first of many writers to appreciate the beauties of the River Dove. Writing in the 17th century, they celebrated the river and its fish in The Compleat Angler:

On my word, this trout is
Perfect in season. I thank you,
All the brothers of the angle
Wheresoever they be.

Since then generations of fly fishermen have come to the Dove to catch trout and grayling, and also salmon in the past. The right to fish is available to all via membership of a club, and it is the clubs who maintain the river for fishing, stock the river with trout and control the numbers caught

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Iron Tors SK145564
Iron Tors is an area of extensive woodland just south of Wolfscote Dale, and is distinguished by its large and colourful conifer plantation and areas of ancient woodland around the extensive screes. Jacob's ladder, one of the Peak's most beautiful flowers occurs in this area as well as a wonderful spring show of cowslips, which turn the hillsides yellow.

Iron Tors is one of the areas in Britain attributed to being the place where the last wild boar was shot, sometime in the 18th century. There was also extensive mining for metal ore over the last 500 years, which may account for its name.

Close up of Cowslip
©NTPL / Steve Trotter

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Biggin Dale SK 143579
Biggin Dale is a long dry valley stretching 2.75 km from the village of Biggin down to meet the river Dove at Peaseland Rocks. A stream appears from resurgence during the wettest winters and runs for over half the length of the dale until it flows into the river Dove. Nature conservation is a priority in this dale, and the Trust has managed the limestone grassland sward by stock grazing, monitoring the wild flowers and selective cutting of the encroaching gorse. Small areas of semi-natural ash woodlands occur on the scree with an understory including hazel, and hawthorn, with ground flora includes dog's mercury, wood anemone and notably broad-leaved helleborine.

The northern part of the dale is part of English Natures Derbyshire Dales National Reserve, and in 2001 was leased to the National Trust on a 999 year lease. This means that the Trust will be able to manage the whole dale for its nature conservation interests.

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Wolfscote Hill SK 138581
Wolfscote Hill stands high above the river Dove reaching a height of 388m (1,272 ft), and from its boulder strewn summit marvellous views of the upper and lower Dovedale Valley can be appreciated. From a conservation point of view, there is a good area of acid grassland with an old record for mountain pansy in '84. There are many boulders and a relic of limestone pavement.

On top of the hill there is a prehistoric round barrow (SM). This was excavated in the mid 19th century, and a roofless cist containing two child skeletons and a food vessel were found, as well as previous signs of disturbance.

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Two children with their terrier dog sitting on a slope admiring the view of Dovedale & Thorpe Cloud in the distance.
© NTPL / Joe Cornish
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