About five miles; fairly easy going, with a few difficult stiles.
The starting point of this walk is not in the village of Ellastone itself, but down at the magnificent bridge over the River Dove, (on the B5033). Just before the bridge there is a kind of lay-by on the right (if you are approaching from the Ellastone direction) which makes for easy parking on this fairly quiet road.
The first thing you will want to do is to have a short explore along the footpaths that lead along the River Dove in either direction, as the famous river is particularly lovely here, in its more mature phase, shaded by large trees, bordered by lush pastures and haunted by swans. You might be tempted to abandon any idea of a walk and settle for a lazy picnic instead!
However! Walking back along the road towards Ellstone, the first track on your right, after a couple of hundred yards, is the start of the walk proper. It is a section of the Limestone Way, a long distance path covering many miles of the Southern area of The Peak District. The very easy going soon becomes scenic too, as you cross first an area of marshland – look out for bright yellow Kingcups – also known as Marsh Marigolds or “Mayblobs” in The Peak District dialect. As that name suggests, they are best seen in Spring, but this landscape has charms at anytime of year. The marsh gives way to a very mature parkland scene, with huge oaks, copper beeches and other specimen trees; you have entered the grounds of Calwich Abbey. Medieval fishponds and a lake lurk somewhere hidden in the woods below the track, while the beeches above are carpeted with bluebells in May. A notice further on warns to keep dogs on a lead through the woods as there are free-range chickens.
Expecting gothic grandeur, you will be severely disappointed as the abbey and historic house that followed it in the eighteenth century are both long gone. All that remains is a sad shell and some still-active farm buildings around the former stable block; but they are not without their own air of romance. It is reported that Handel once stayed in the grand house, and some have even suggested that he was inspired to write his Water Music after walking along the Dove, but back to navigational realities…
As the track leads you up to the entrance into the stable block complex, you need to be looking to your left for the footpath taking you through those beech woods, (watching our for chickens). Two large “improved” meadows, with gorgeous views across to Ellastone village, are then traversed to arrive at a crossing over the B5032. Take care here – traffic is not that busy, but sight lines are poor. Once over the road, there are two possible ways; you want the track leading uphill to the right. Crossing into a larger meadow, the path now descends a little and skirts the edge of the woodland to the left, before rising away from it once more, towards Hutts Farm. The fields are still dominated by magnificent solitary oaks, which must be hundreds of years old. Dogs are requested to be on a lead through the private grounds of Hutts Farm, which has some impressive features, including a small fishpond and two enormous stone balls.
A short way through the farm, following the track out of the farmyard, and a path to the right, just before the first sharp bend, leads you through the corner of a field and then into Gold’s Wood. This is where the forest magic begins. Gold’s Wood is a wonderful mix of different tree species, with many oaks and other native kinds; the woodland floor is rich in flora, (bluebells, ferns and forget-me-nots are a big attraction in the spring and early summer). The path descends steadily before reaching a footbridge over Ordley Brook. Here, ramsons – the wild garlic – grow in profusion along the moist banks; take a left turn to follow the brook downstream and on either side of the path you have red campion, greater sitchwort and yellow deadnettle in addition to the species detailed above. It has to be one of the most varied floral scenes of any woodland in The Peak District. In fact it is hard to believe that this dale falls outside the boundaries of The Peak District National Park, such are its many delights. There are even bright yellow splashes of broom as you emerge into more open country once more, contrasting with the bluebells beneath.
The path joins the sharp bend of Ousley Lane, leading you back towards Ellastone village. A very quiet lane and another delight, with banks of roadside flowers and water meadows where herons hunt and kingfishers flash. The remains of Ousley Cross are displayed by the right of the roadside, dating from the 12th Century. This marked the way for pilgrims visiting the shrine to Saint Bertram at Ilam, a little way up the Dove. Just after the picturesque buildings of Northwood Farm, take the footpath through four fields to the right, crossing two very small brooks in the process, while descending and then climbing again towards the church in Ellastone. (Beware once more of free-range chooks).
Go through the churchyard, with its impressive seventeenth and early nineteenth century gravestones, to emerge onto the road. Turn left into the centre of the village and then right, to start down the main street. Very quickly you will discover The Duncombe Arms on the left and at the very least you must sample their excellent selection of ales, including one brewed exclusively for the establishment and bearing its name. There is also a very tasty range of foods on offer and a wide variety of seating areas, both inside and out. Both the pub and village itself are featured in George Eliot’s novel Adam Bede, though under different names.
Refreshed, the end of the walk is now no more than ten minutes away. You can always simply walk down the main street and turn left back to the bridge, or, (for the more adventurous) a fascinating short-cut begins just opposite the red telephone booth. A path on the left leads back to the water meadows but quickly takes a right turn over a small footbridge, to pass by the rear of the village’s newer homes. In doing so, it takes you over a number of stiles and through what are now a series of extended garden lawns, though some may contain a few sheep. (Note that the stiles are not very dog-friendly). The path is obviously far more ancient than the domestic properties. The very last section takes you right past the side door of a 1930’s semi-detached and through their metal gates; but be reassured by the “public footpath” sign half buried in the hedge.
Turn left along the pavement and you are soon back at the bridge over the River Dove. The bridge was considered of strategic importance during World War Two and you will see pill boxes, now very overgrown and hidden by mature trees, still guarding this stretch of tranquil, flowing water.
This walk was brought to you by Simon Corble.