If you are looking for somewhere to go for a picnic, that is accessible, yet wild, you need go no further than the banks of the River Wye in Monsal Dale at the very heart of the Peak District.
If you are driving, the place to park is off the A6, approximately mid-way between Ashford-in-the-Water and Taddington - an area known as Lees Bottom. This pay and display car park is managed by the Peak District National Park Authority. At the top end of the car park you will find a short path leading down towards the busy main road - it goes without saying that care is needed when crossing here; there are bends, and the traffic travels at a fair pace along this major highway.
On the opposite side of the road is a stile in the wall leading onto a path which heads down and across a field towards woodland. Keep on this to enter the lower end of Brushfield Hough, where the path now leads you above the river, through mature trees a little way, before descending to the river’s wide, grassy bank. Almost immediately you will see a broad, flat, rocky shelf - a perfect place to wile away a few hours, you might think; however, there is an even better place just around the bend, so keep going. The path splits in two just beyond this point - the left-hand route follows the edge of a wide meadow, whilst the right-hand one meanders through shrubbery close to the water’s edge.
In summer time, this bank is dense with wetland vegetation; it is a lush and beautiful world, where ash trees form a canopy over the gently babbling river and tall spikes of bright pink willowherb, paler hemp agrimony and delicately scented, feathery meadowsweet vie for space in the damp ground under the trees. Watch carefully and you will most likely spot dippers and grey wagtails bobbing among the stones in mid-stream.
At some point in the distant past there was probably a mill here as there is the odd moss-covered relic and planks over the tiny pool, but that was long ago and nature has just about destroyed the evidence.
As you leave the trees, you find yourself at a wide bend in the river - now, here is the perfect picnic spot. After you have spread your rug and almost before you have unpacked your sandwiches, the fish you may have spotted jumping for flies will have spotted you and will be swimming around in the shallow pool nearby, doubtless hoping for a few crumbs of bread to be thrown their way.
Children will love this area as there is plenty of room for them to run around and let off steam, while nature lovers of any age will appreciate the diverse flora and fauna. It could be a scene right out of The Wind in the Willows. Ratty is one character you will most likely see - note the holes in the bank just above the water-line, these are where water voles live. Misnamed “water rats” in the past, these lovely creatures are fairly scarce these days, but are doing well along this stretch, so your chances of seeing one are reasonably high. At first glimpse, you may well think it is a rat swimming along - but look again, the nose is broader and the eyes kinder - a much cuter animal by far. Mallards and coots will probably glide by, buzzards circle high above, redstarts and chiff-chaffs flutter about in the nearby trees - and, if you are very lucky, you may spot the electric blue flash of a kingfisher darting downstream. In fact this is one of the best spots in the Peak District to spot these beautiful, but very elusive birds. It is a great place in which to relax and, rather than stamp noisily about looking for things of interest, let the wildlife come to you.