This walk can be done at any time of the day, but if you are staying in and around Monyash, it is a perfect walk for a summer’s evening; by day, Lathkill Dale is a busy hiking route, but leave it until lateafternoon or early evening, and you will experience it at its best, when a quiet stillness sets in as the visitors’ leave and the trees come alive with birdsong, resounding off the steep dale-sides.
The walk begins in Monyash and you need to head out of the village, downhill towards Bakewell on the B5055.At the bottom of the hill, turn right next to the public loos and enter into Lathkill Dale. The route is obvious for the next four and half miles - you just keep heading down the dale. However, the landscape changes at intervals and there is always something of interest to look out for. The wide, grassy upper part has a dew pond near where you enter - always worth a look, especially in spring and early summer as toads, frogs and newts spawn in here - the great-crested newt is something of a rarity, yet look carefully and you may spot one or two swimming around under the pond weed. The next part of the dale is a little rocky underfoot and slippery after rain, but it is a fairly short section and it isn’t long before you reach the cave where the river Lathkill bubbles up from the ground - that is, if you happen to be there in the winter or if the spring is a wet one; usually, by summer there is only a dry river bed full of mossy stones.
Just beyond the junction with Cales Dale, is a weir, much loved by dippers, moorhens and mallards - although again, this sometimes dries up in the summer time. The river does miraculously appear again, however, as you get into the heart of Lathkill. The dense woodland provides a haven for many varieties of birds, such as blackcaps, bullfinches, chiff-chaffs, willow warblers, as well as the mor common garden birds such as chaffinches and robins. You will probably hear tawny owls hooting if it is towards evening, and you may hear the grating croak of a Jay. Further down the river there are tufted ducks and coots - in early summer you will see their large twiggy nests in mid-stream, and see the youngsters noisily taking their first swims. Fish are plentiful here too - but only because of the hard work of Natural England and its team of volunteers; each year in late spring, they mount an operatio to move the fish from the upper part of the river which they know will dry up, into the broader, deeper, lower section. Lathkill has a wide variety of flora too; alongside the river is water mint and watercress hemp agrimony, comfrey, meadowsweet, campion and the lovely blue-flowered Jacob’s Ladder - to name but a small selection of the abundant flowers and plants to be found in this verdant paradise.
Eventually you will reach a ford and footbridge, where a small lane goes uphill to your left. This, if you wish, is a quicker way up to Over Haddon, but our walk continues down Lathkill to Conksbur Bridge - and it is here that the river is at its widest part. The left hand bank emerges from the trees to wide-open fields which slope gently down to the water’s edge; you may see an elegant swan gliding by amongst the other water birds and in the evenings, the mallards settle down to sleep in grassy tufts by the path.
On reaching Conksbury Bridge, turn left onto the quiet lane, and at the first corner, hidden amongst the trees is a stone stile on the left. Take this, heading sharply uphill, then continue over the next stile, still upwards but bearing slightly left to diagonally cross a field before the route levels off. Still going left, the path goes through a gate and hugs the top of the dale. By now you will have spotted the long, white-fronted Lathkill Hotel at Over Haddon, a short distance away, and the line of the path takes you straight towards it.
The Lathkill Hotel offers a fine range of real ales and serves excellent meals lunch times and evenings; if you arrive out of the main lunch time, light bites are available until 5.45pm. The views from here are wonderful and look down to the lush tree-line of Lathkill, to the village of Youlgrave in the distance and the pine woods, rolling fields and rocky-outcrops beyond.
Fed and watered, it is time to move on. Turn right along the road from the pub, on the Monyash Road. If you have time and energy, you might like to explore the village; there is an old pump by the village well and some fine, limestone cottages tucked away down hidden alleyways.
Our walk continues along the top road now for a couple of miles, but fear not, barely more than one car will pass you. Keep left when the road splits, soon passing Mandale House, which was the “Reckoning House” in the old days when lead mining dominated this area. At Haddon Grove, the road turns at a sharp right angle and at the end of the first field on the left, which runs alongside, you will see a rough,
similar direction and is well signed and walked. Eventually you will cross another footpath as you get to the shallow part of Ricklow Dale. You can extend your walk if you wish by turning left onto this and heading back to Lathkill Dale to return to Monyash, but our route takes you straight over, up and across two further fields before meeting the Monyash - Bakewell road once more. When reaching the road, turn left along it for the final half mile back to where you began. If you find yourself in need of a pint, The Bulls Head has a selection of fine real ales, and if you missed the food slot at Over Haddon, has an extensive menu of snacks and bar meals.
This walk is approximately eight and a half miles and although there is a short, steep ascent out of Lathkill Dale, is not too taxing the rest of the way.