County walk Lathkill Dale
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