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Dovedale, arguably the prettiest of the Derbyshire Dales, is one of the most popular dales to visit in the Peak District with millions flocking to visit it year on year. It is around 3 miles long, between Thorpe to the south and Milldale to the north.
The dale follows the winding course of the River Dove, well known for its limestone ravines, and it is here you will find the iconic and famous Dovedale stepping stones at the foot of Thorpe Cloud. In this area, you will also find dramatic scenery, pretty villages and outstanding walks – everything you need for a holiday in the wilderness.
Come and stay in a Dovedale holiday cottage and discover this fantastic region for yourself. Here are 5 reasons why you should visit Dovedale…
The Manifold Valley is perfect for countryside walks
The Manifold Valley is one of the Peak District’s most beautiful places to visit. Once a site of industry, it is now a natural place for visitors to find peace and tranquillity. People mainly come to walk here and enjoy discovering all of the geological features along the way. There is a great, easy-going walking route which is about 6-7 miles long and consists of paths, tracks and country lanes.
The path leading you along the Manifold Valley floor is great for cyclists and horse riders, and time can be spent enjoying the surroundings at your own pace whilst taking everything in. Keep an eye out for Wetton Mill – a redundant corn mill, which closed in 1957, turned tearoom and picnic spot. This would be the perfect place to rest your legs and have a bite to eat.
Fascinating fact: The Manifold Valley abounds with natural caves and fabulous rock formations created over time by water carving its way through the limestone. Some caves have been the subject of archaeological excavations, revealing the bones of prehistoric animals and evidence of occupation long ago by man. These finds can be seen in both Derby and Buxton museums.
Alton Towers is within an easy drive
The children will be excited to hear that Alton Towers is a mere 20 minutes away from the Dovedale Valley in Derbyshire and makes for a fun day out with the whole family. This is the number one theme park in the UK and it is the park's mission to ‘make Britain happy’. With over 50 rides, two themed hotels, an enchanted village and a waterpark, we can safely say they do a good job!
A theme park is a great way to have fun as a family, a couple or a group of friends. Whatever the adventure level of the party, there is something to suit everyone here, whether that’s a log flume ride for some watery fun, a wild rollercoaster to let the hair down or a teacup ride for those timid members, Alton Towers has it all. With lots of places to grab a bite to eat or a hot coffee for an energy boost, you can all spend the whole day here making the most of every hour. Return to your self-catering cottage in the evening, away from the madness, and laugh about your day.
Challenge yourself: Take on ‘Oblivion’, the world's first vertical drop roller coaster. It takes you 180 feet up in the air, dangles you at the top and then drops you into a dark hole – if this isn’t a challenge, we don’t know what is!
Location: Stoke on Trent, ST10 4DB. Visit their website for opening times and prices.
Visit the traditional market towns of Leek and Ashbourne
When visiting a new area it is lovely to get out and explore the local towns and villages to soak up a bit of culture and enjoy the local community spirit. The traditional market towns of Leek and Ashbourne reside in the Dovedale Valley and are lovely places to visit of a day to potter around the pretty streets and admire the historic architecture.
Leek: ‘The Queen of the Staffordshire Moorlands’
Leek is a former textile town which boasts a picturesque stone-cobbled market square and an unspoilt town centre lined with independent retailers, a trendy shopping mall and coffee shops to rest the legs in. It's also well known for its traditional markets; these take place in both the indoor Victorian Butter Market and outdoors at Market Place where you will find everything from antiques and collectables to fine foods and general goods.
The town has a long and fascinating history with links to the Napoleonic Wars and the Arts and Crafts movements, and its beautifully preserved architecture makes it not only interesting but pretty to look at too. Leek's long history features such famous characters as Bonnie Prince Charlie, canal engineer James Brindley, Queen Victoria, and Victorian designer William Morris too.
The town has numerous independent food shops including traditional butchers, bakers, greengrocers, and delicatessens selling wine, local whisky, and beers – so there is plenty to see, learn about and sample in this great Derbyshire village. Nearby is Rudyard Lake, pictured above, which makes for a lovely nearby detour when visiting Leek.
Ashbourne: ‘The Gateway to Dovedale’
With more than 200 listed buildings including coaching inns, historic almshouses (hospitals) and genteel townhouses, Ashbourne in Derbyshire is a feast for the eyes of those who come to visit. It has winding cobbled streets which lead you to a new treasure with every corner; keep an eye out for St Oswalds Parish Church and the Grade I-listed Old Grammar School.
The real foodies will be excited to learn that the original recipe for Ashbourne Gingerbread was acquired from French prisoners of war who were kept in the town during the Napoleanic wars (1799-1815). Head to St John Street and sample it for yourself in the Ashbourne Gingerbread Shop. Shopping is a lovely way to spend some free time, finding little gifts and treats to take home with you for loved ones and hunting for that perfect postcard to pop in the post. There are lots of family-run businesses and independent eateries and bars offering lovely places to try local cuisine and ale. In Ashbourne, enjoy browsing for fine antiques, quality food and drink, designer fashion and much more, then relax over morning coffee, lunch or afternoon tea in a selection of cafés, inns and tea rooms.
Explore valley railways and discover new sights
The Churnet Valley Railway operates from Leekbrook via Cheddleton (5km south of Leek) and Froghall to Oakamoor, a distance of 11km, along the deep and picturesque valley of the River Churnet. The railway was once the North Staffordshire Railway (known as 'Owd Knotty' due to its emblem of the Staffordshire Knot) which ran from North Rode to Uttoxeter via Leek. The railway was closed as part of the Beeching cuts, between 1968 and 1970, though freight trains ran on part of the line until 1988.
The Churnet Valley Railway was started by enthusiasts with aid from the local authorities, and began running trains in 1996. Several stations, including those at Cheddleton, Consall and Froghall, have been restored. The railway takes you on a journey back to the classic days of railway travel on a rural line that passes through beautiful countryside known as Staffordshire's ‘Little Switzerland’. This would be a lovely day out for those who enjoy scenery and countryside views from a comfortable seat.
Dovedale is home to amazing walking and historic caves
The most popular walk in this area is the Dovedale Walk: a lovely circular walk which starts and ends near the village of Ilam. This amazing trail takes you along the River Dove to Milldale where you can admire the amazing limestone features of Lover’s Leap, Tissington Spires and Dove Holes. On the return journey, there are a few more hills, but once on the summit of Bailey Hill your amazing efforts are rewarded with spectacular views.
Top tip: To get to the Dovedale Walk trailhead, near the towns of Thorpe and Ilam, find the access road to the Izaak Walton Hotel and onto the Dovedale public car park. Get to the car park early before it is full. For full day parking it is £3.
Beyond Leek and Ashbourne, there are quite a few trails to embark on for all fitness and stamina levels. Try the ‘Leek to Peak’ trail, or walks on Biddulph Grange, Brown Edge, and Green Vale, through Charnet Country, or Furnace Forest; there’s a day out here for everybody. In fact, there are 108 miles of district council-managed, self-guided walking trails on Staffordshire Moorlands.
If you are in the area, also journey to Thor’s Cave; a good spot for rock climbers, there are several routes to the top. The cave entrance is 7.5 m wide and 10 m high. It can be reached with ease from the Manifold Way trail. Film fans will know it from 1980s horror flick ‘The Lair of the White Worm’ starring a very young Hugh Grant. Sadly, there’s no evidence to connect its name to the Norse god of thunder, Thor!
After a day of walking, why not reward yourself with a tasty meal in a local pub? There are plenty of traditional pubs throughout Dovedale, even dog-friendly ones too, so make sure you stop by and tuck into some much-deserved pub grub.
Plan your Derbyshire getaway and stay in a Dovedale cottage
Whether you’re looking for a pet-friendly holiday, a sporting break, a trekking trip, or a romantic getaway, Dovedale has it all. As well as pretty rural villages like Ashbourne, Ilam, Leek and Fenny Bentley, this area has some of the best scenery around.