County walk Lathkill Dale

Derbyshire Life - - Sport - WORDS AND PHO­TOS: Sally Mosley

En­joy scin­til­lat­ing scenery and fas­ci­nat­ing snip­pets

as you ex­plore this mag­nif­i­cent Der­byshire dale


1Walk down the hill from the car park, pass­ing St Anne’s Church built in the late 1870s. The grave­yard con­tains the fi­nal rest­ing place of Sir Mau­rice Old­field GCMG CBE. Born into a lo­cal farm­ing fam­ily, he grew up in Over Had­don with a hum­ble child­hood be­fore ris­ing to fame as Head of MI6 from 1973 to 1978.

2Ar­riv­ing at the river, turn right to walk past the old corn mill. Records show a mill on this site from at least 1529. Fol­low the con­ces­sion­ary river­side path be­side the Lathkill, de­scribed by Charles Cot­ton as ‘By many de­grees the purest and most trans­par­ent stream that I ever yet saw’. This is a river of much char­ac­ter as dur­ing dry spells for al­most a mile it can look as though the water has dis­ap­peared. How­ever, its flow ac­tu­ally fol­lows a sub­ter­ranean course, per­me­at­ing down through lime­stone, old mine work­ings and a former sough be­fore bub­bling up again from boil holes close to the old fish­ing lodge.

You will pass two small en­trances to what look like caves. These mine adits were driven into the hill­side many cen­turies ago in the pur­suit of lead ore known as galena. On en­ter­ing the woods be­yond you may wish to de­tour up a short path to the right to visit the re­mains of Man­dale Mine, a rare sur­vivor of min­ing ac­tiv­ity from at least the 16th cen­tury, with the re­mains of an en­gine house, gated mine en­trance, wheel pit and aque­duct leat.

3At a bend in the river no­tice the ‘Ja­panese Pagoda Gar­den’ bridge, which pro­vides ac­cess to Bate­man’s House, and its ac­ces­si­ble ‘se­cret shaft’. Con­tinue through the dale past numer­ous dips and hol­lows, ev­i­dence of even more dis­used mine work­ings. Lis­ten for buz­zards and jays that haunt the woods and skies above and watch the river for dip­pers pa­trolling up and down the sur­face of the water, of­ten sit­ting on rocks to ser­e­nade you as you pass by.

4Emerg­ing from Palmer­ston Wood you will pass through two gates be­yond a weir and then walk past the re­mains of Carter’s Mill, where a pair of old grind­ing stones can still be found half buried in the ground. Fol­low the path be­side the former mill pond to where water cas­cades over a moss-coated wa­ter­fall.

You have now en­tered a more dra­matic stretch of steep-sided dale, flanked on the right by slith­erbanks of loose stone topped by lime­stone crags. Look for wild­flow­ers and watch the river for elu­sive and en­dan­gered water voles feed­ing on lush fo­liage.

5Ar­riv­ing at a foot­bridge pro­vid­ing ac­cess to Cales Dale, which heads away to your left, con­tinue ahead be­side the river that by now is gen­er­ally just a stream trick­ling and trip­ping along a bed of scat­tered stones and rocks. Soon you will come to the loom­ing promon­tory of Par­son’s Tor. This is named af­ter Robert Lo­mas, a rec­tor of Monyash who fell to his death here in 1776 whilst re­turn­ing home from Bakewell on horse­back in thick fog and re­put­edly some­what ine­bri­ated.

6Lathkill Head Cave is the over­ground source of the river. How­ever, its course has been fol­lowed un­der­ground as far as Knot­low, which lies be­tween Monyash and Flagg.

The next sec­tion of the dale is breath­tak­ing, ap­pear­ing like a deep gorge strewn with rocks and home to numer­ous wild­flow­ers, some of which are not com­mon species, in­clud­ing or­chids, avens, bird’s-foot-tre­foil, vetch and great mullein, which tow­ers sky­wards like gi­ant cab­bage gone to seed. In a fenced off and pro­tected area is a patch of jacob’s-lad­der – the county flower of Der­byshire. Widely grown as a gar­den plant, this na­tive va­ri­ety is ex­tremely rare in the UK and found only here, in the York­shire Dales and on river cliffs in Northum­ber­land. Un­der the Wildlife and Coun­try­side Act, 1981 it is il­le­gal to pick or up­root any wild plant with­out per­mis­sion from the landowner or oc­cu­pier, with the po­ten­tial of a hefty fine.

7Cross a wall stile by an old mossy tree and im­me­di­ately turn right to as­cend a flight of numer­ous small stone steps lead­ing steeply up­hill with a wall to your right. Turn left at the small sign and keep to the nar­row path pass­ing above the spoil heaps of Rick­low Quarry. The crinoidal lime­stone found here was pol­ished to look like mar­ble and be­came ex­tremely pop­u­lar with Vic­to­ri­ans, who used it for fire­place sur­rounds, man­tel­pieces and doorsteps. A won­der­ful ex­am­ple of this can be seen a lit­tle later on the walk.

8Pass through a stile with im­pres­sive up­rights of dressed lime­stone and con­tinue to a com­bi­na­tion of gates. Go through the larger five-bar gate and head up a grassy track, no doubt used long ago by carts to ac­cess the quarry. Head over a wall stile and con­tinue to a cross­roads of paths.

9Turn right to fol­low the fin­ger­post sign for Had­don Grove across a se­ries of fields and high wall stiles. At the sec­ond stile no­tice the top step con­tains what looks like count­less screw threads and wash­ers. This piece of stone is the won­der­ful ex­am­ple of crinoidal lime­stone re­ferred to ear­lier and is packed with fos­sils some 30 mil­lion years old.

Stile in Rick­low Quarry

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