DISTANCE: Approximately 6 ½ miles
Alstonefield is a picture postcard village of character cottages and neat gardens, little wonder then that it has won the annual award for the best kept village on several occasions.
Alstonefield was the centre of a vast parish some 150 years ago, although now greatly reduced in size, it still extends to include the hamlet of Milldale. Alstonefield stands at 900 feet above sea level and is situated between the Rivers Manifold and Dove at the junction of many ancient paths.
Alstonefield takes its name from Aelfstan’s Feld which translates roughly to ‘tract of open country’. Among the packhorse routes that converge here is Millway Lane which comes up the hill from Milldale. Izaak Walton would have travelled this way then descended Narrowdale when visiting Berresford Hall and his best friend and fellow angler Charles Cotton.
Start your walk at the public toilets at Alstonefield, where standing at the exit to the little car park you turn left down the lane and head out of the village going north along the road to Hulme End, passing through an area known as The Rakes.
After about ¾-mile take a stile on your right on a slight left-hand bend. Cross the field diagonally to the left heading to the top corner of the wood and pass through a series of stiles emerging onto a lane. Turn right and walk along the lane until it ends then cross a stile at the side of the gate and descend the grassy track to the bottom of Narrowdale.
On reaching the bottom where you pass through a gate, head straight on along a further grassy track and a series of gates. This was the original main route from Alstonefield to Hartington. Where the track enters a meadow with the river in sight, take the indicated bridlepath on your right which follows the wall side.
Cross a footbridge and enter Wolfscote Dale, its name a reminder that wolves still roamed the Royal Forest of the Peak until the early 15th century.
Directly in front of you as you cross the bridge are Frank i’ th’ Rocks caves where Charles Cotton of nearby Berresford Hall on several occasions is said to have hidden from his creditors. Follow the riverside path heading downstream. Izaak Walton in his description of the Dove wrote of Wolfscote Dale “……. after a mile’s concealment appears again with more glory and beauty than before the opposition, running through the most pleasant valleys and most fruitful meadows that this nation can justly boast of”.
Wolfscote Hill to your left rises to 1272 feet and The Tors whose sharp appearances give the dale stunning beauty are of fine-grained almost porcelaineous limestone. The rough areas of small stone scree, formed from frost weather limestone are known as ‘slitherbanks’. In summer the dale’s sides are speckled with a multi-coloured array of wild flowers, some of the more common varieties include wild thyme, herb Robert, meadow sweet and meadow crane’s bill, but there are also rare flowers to be found.
After about 1¼-miles you will come to Drabber Tor, just beyond which Biggin Dale branches off to your left. From this point to Ilam several miles downstream, the entire Derbyshire side of the dale and most of the Staffordshire side are owned by the National Trust. Biggin Dale was given to the Trust by Sir Robert McDougall.
You will now enter a wooded section where the birdlife is prevalent and several varieties can be distinguished by their singing. On your left are the remains of the Ram Pump House which pumped water from the river to farmland above.
Follow the riverside path until it emerges from the wood at Coldeaton Bridge where there is a small building. Cross the footbridge and ascend Gipsy Bank heading back towards Alstonefield. Stop every twenty yards or so not only to rest, but also to observe behind you the wondrous views. See the variety of trees in the wooded hillside opposite and notice also the Tissington Trail and railway bridge high up on the hill. Gipsy Bank evidently takes it name from once being the rendezvous for Romanies.
Cross a stile and follow Gipsy Lane back to Alstonefield. An Alstonefield deed which dates back to 1687 refers to this lane as leading to Bakewell. Land here was given by a local man named Bowman for use as a Quaker burial ground. The last barn on the right before you meet the road into Alstonefield is reputedly still known as Bowman’s Barn.
At the road turn right and head back into Alstonefield. At the junction turn left and head towards the village green where the local market was held from 1308 until around 1500. Annual cattle sales were also held in the yard of the George Inn until earlier this century.
Follow the lane past the former rectory and manor house with its date stone 1587 above the porch. Behind this is a tithe barn. St Peter’s Church is fascinating and contains some interesting features including box pews which have original brass-work (obviously regularly polished) and the Cotton family pew which was painted green by a former vicar in the 19th century. There is a two-decker pulpit of 1637 whilst in the churchyard can be found fragments of a 10th century cross shaft with interlace decoration, along with one of the earliest recorded gravestones dated 3rd April, 1518 belonging to Anne Green.
There have been three churches on this site in Alstonefield, the original being built about 892. The earliest parts of the present building are probably the Norman south doorway and chancel arch which date from about 1100.
To return to the car park and the end of your walk retrace your steps to the village green bearing left past the pub and at the junction turn right then left at the parking sign.