Dove Dale & Bunster Hill

Dove Dale & Bunster Hill

Dove Dale & Bunster Hill 13.5km/8.5 miles

This walk includes a limestone gorge with spectacular rock features and crags, a particularly attractive upland village, and a hilltop with superb views.

Dove Dale – Milldale – Alstonefield – Stanshope – Hall Dale – Ilam Tops – Bunster Hill – Dove Dale

Start Dove Dale car park, situated equidistant from Thorpe and Ilam, northwest of Ashbourne and 4km west of the A515. Grid Reference 147 508

DOVE DALE & BUNSTER HILL: Limestone Country
DISTANCE: 13.5km/8.5 miles
TOTAL ASCENT: 560 Metres/1830 feet
START: Grid Reference 147 508
TIME: Allow 5 hours
MAP OS: OS EXPLORER® OL24, White Peak, 1:25000
REFRESHMENTS: Izaak Walton Hotel near the start and finish. Teas and refreshments but no cafe at Milldale, George Inn and teashop at Alstonefield
NAVIGATION: Straightforward, although there is a need for concentration at Ilam Tops above Dove Dale.


The Walk Our walk starts with us following a path upstream into the narrow limestone gorge of Dove Dale. The path passes beneath the steep flanks of Thorpe Cloud, a former reef knoll that grew from the sea bed in a limey tropical sea over 300 million years ago. Further on we come to the impressive Tissington Spires, the natural arch near Reynard’s Cave and Lion’s Head Rock. On the other side of the Dove is the tower-like Ilam Rock.

Six hundred metres further upstream, we come to Dove Holes, which were etched out by the river when it flowed as a torrent at a higher level. Eventually, the path crosses an ancient packhorse bridge and enters the hamlet of Milldale.

Our route leaves the gorge at this point to climb to Alstonefield. This is a delightful upland village of old stone cottages, an Elizabethan Manor House and a 15th Century church. The route loses height from Alstonefield, only to climb again, giving us the chance to descend one of Dove Dale`s tributary dales.

Hall Dale is a dry valley, down which the path drops steeply over a few metres near the confluence. Alas, our route climbs again from here, this time up steps, lots of them – leading up to the top of a steep wooded slope. A narrow path, which requires care, continues across the top of the woods.

Suddenly, the path emerges into the open at Ilam Tops to reveal a breathtaking view across the gorge. It crosses high pastures to reach the top of Bunster Hill overlooking Ilam. After a grassy descent a path leads us across the flanks of the hill back to the start.

From the car park walk past the toilet block and follow the path upstream on the left of the river. Unless the river is very low, cross the footbridge and continue on the right bank. The path improves in 300m. If the river is low, stay on the left side of the river, then cross at stepping stones. Continue up the gorge on the undulating path for 4km, where the path crosses the river by an old packhorse bridge to enter Milldale.

2.Turn left, then first right and pass in front of Polly`s Cottage to follow Millway uphill to Alstonefield. 150m beyond the church bear left, then keep straight on to a junction.

3.Turn left, then take the first track on the left (50m). Keep straight on along this to where it bends sharp right. Leave the track, cross the stile and keep straight on with a wall on the right. Cross a stile and bear right with the wall to descend steeply to a road. Cross the road and continue up the track opposite. This leads to the hamlet of Stanshope.

4.At the junction, turn left along a track then in 100m cross the stile on the right. Follow the path across fields, down into Hall Dale and so to the River Dove.

5.Turn right and walk downstream alongside the river to a waymark post in 150m. Bear right to follow the stepped footpath up to the top of the woods and the valley side. Continue along the top edge of the wood along a narrow footpath. Eventually the path exits the wood at a stile.

6.Bear slightly left downhill as directed by the fingerpost. The path becomes narrow as it skirts below an isolated cottage then bears right through two stiles on its far side to emerge on the cottage drive. Turn left and follow this as far as the gateway to Ilamtops Farm.

7.Turn left and walk along the avenue of trees and through a gate. Keep straight on here with a wall on the right. Cross a stile in the corner ahead (Bunster Hill sign). Keep more or less straight on to the top of Bunster Hill. Retrace your steps as far as the stile. Instead of crossing it turn left and descend with a wall on the right. Ignore a stile on the right in 100m and continue as far as a definite path cross roads with a stile on the right.

8.Turn left here to follow the path across the flanks of Bunster Hill. Continue through a gap on the ridge then bear left downhill. Cross a stile and maintain the same direction across fields to reach the back of the Izaak Walton Hotel. Bear left to return to the car park.

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This route is an excerpt from Day Walks in the Peak District by Norman Taylor & Barry Pope.