Morning dawned misty and cool along the Amber Valley, a former mining district just southeast of the Peak District. Evening at the Farm Hotel had passed with comfortable ease, from drinks with the owner of a pub Saturday night to a decent buffet breakfast to start our Sunday.
Flicking though the local outdoor guides, the nearby Dovedale Walk looked appealing: One of the most beautiful limestone dales in Britain, a variety of scenery with the ever-changing River Dove, the steep limestone cliffs and spires, the rare woodlands species and its many caves. The trailhead was in the nearby village of Ilam, near a rolling park, a stately home, and a looping bend of the Manifold River.
Given that it was a nice spring weekend, though, families were out in force by 10 am and the narrow roads into the village clogged with traffic. We dropped anchor near the trailhead and walked the rest of the way in, along the tidy homes and past the stone church to Ilam Hall, a once-fashionable mansion converted to youth-hostel by the National Trust. ‘tea and a beer, then off into the hills.
It’s lambing time in the northern meadows, sheep all across the trail the wound up above the roads and traffic. There was a steady line of walkers, some with dogs and sticks, others lifting children over the stiles, all sloshing along the muddy slopes. It made (my) balance tricky, but the rocky upslope alternate path was longer and steeper, so we stayed to the pastures and took things easy.
The Dovedale Valley is about a mile onward, a frothing river flowing through steep-sided limestone canyons. The first attraction is the Stepping Stones, a sequence of flat rocks providing a well-known river crossing. There’s a bit of a queue to wait, but the rocks themselves, flat-topped and each about a foot apart, don’t seem to be much of an obstacle.
Or so I thought. Crossing the first three, they were a bit more rough, muddy, slippery, and tipped than I’d realised. My ankle is similarly rough, wobbly, and tipped, and there was no easy way to go forward or back.
Stuck, I beckoned my w.wezen back for an assist (who thought I only wanted to take a picture). With a steady hand to hold, the crossing was done, eliciting embarrassing applause from the group queued on the other bank. Age and hesitation, but falling into the water would have been worse.
Onwards, up the valley through rock formations, weirs, and little named settings (Lovers Leap). The whole three miles up to Milldale was more than we had time for, but it was nice to get back up into the hills and alongside the streams.
The further ridges and peaks were drawing venturesome teens and booted hikers, and it would be fun to scale for the views some other time.