Monyash to Lathkill Dale – A Different Perspective. 5 miles; one steep ascent.

Most walkers tackle the upper part of Lathkill Dale the obvious way; i.e. they walk in the bottom of the dale, gazing up at their surroundings, content to follow the river or its dried-up, rocky bed (in summer).  Now, this walk, starting and finishing in the lovely village of Monyash, lets you see the upper Lathkill and no less than three of its tributary dales from many different viewpoints, making for a fascinating and perhaps even more spectacular journey.  As an added bonus, if you don’t like crowds, parts of this route you should find almost deserted, even on busy weekends when the main dale is a virtual motorway of hikers.

You might choose to centre your walk on the Bull’s Head pub and Old Smithy Café which sit side-by-side on the village green.  This is also the village bus stop, (you’ll see the shelter on the green) for bus services 177 & 178 to and from Bakewell, currently operated by Hulleys.

With your back to the Bull’s Head, turn left and head down the road a short distance to St. Leonard’s parish church, (which dates back to Norman foundations and is well worth a quick visit; it is normally kept unlocked during the daytime).  Cross the road towards the church and continue along the pavement to find a small stone squeeze-stile set into the churchyard wall.  Take this path cutting across the graveyard, with some fine old gravestones to distract you even further.  A step-over stile in the far wall under an ash tree now takes you into a series of undulating green pastures, over more dry-stone walls and already you are “off the beaten track”. 

The first two stiles after the churchyard are obvious, as the path veers toward and then hugs the wall on your left.  The third is a little less clear at first, as you head across a larger field and the pasture here can grow quite lush, but trust in the direction you have been heading and this third stile will be bring you onto the Limestone Way.  (Expect a bit of pedestrian traffic).   Turn left and up this stony, but sometimes muddy lane, bordered with both hawthorns and blackthorns and it will lead you, through a stile, or gate, (take your pick) into the top of Fern Dale.  More on this later, as our homeward path will wind its way up this dale.  This part of the Limestone Way offers some wonderful views of the surrounding limestone plateau; a classic White Peak scene of hills topped with stands of trees.

Once through, briefly, into Fern Dale, keep to the wall on your right and go through a small gate / squeeze-stile onto a fairly obvious footpath, skirting some long-abandoned lead mine workings (a graphic reminder that Monyash was once the centre for lead mining in this part of the Peak; so hard to believe now, looking at these pastoral scenes).   The path then crosses another wall into a much larger field.  Hug the wall to your left now; in the next field, a step-over stile takes you over this wall, next to a concrete water trough, but you continue in the same direction, downhill now, towards One Ash Grange Farm – through a gate and onto the farm track.  Expect some mud here, it’s a proper working farm with cattle.

Nearing the centre of the farm complex, turn left to pass behind the main farmhouse and suddenly you find yourself in an almost medieval-looking world.  Ancient pigsties on your left, with cleverly built feeding system; what looks like a grotto hidden amongst the ivy, immediately after, but is thought to have been a medieval ice-house that would have kept dairy products fresh in the days before refrigeration.  Some more odd little outhouses, as the path falls between a large metal barn on your left and  old stone constructions on your right.  The word “Grange” in the name is the key to history here; it normally denotes a farm belonging to an abbey.  There is no abbey nearby, but One Ash Grange was an outpost of the Cistercians at Roche Abbey, near Doncaster, founded in 1147.   It is rumoured that monks who had misbehaved were exiled here to work and do penance.  Later, in the seventeenth century, the farm was licensed as a quaker meeting house, long after the abbeys had been dissolved, of course.

Pass between the metal and stone barns to descend some steps into the field beyond.  Keep in the same direction (still on the Limestone Way), through a small gate into the open access area that encompasses Lathkill and associated dales; this one is Cales Dale.  It’s peaceful; birdsong echoing off the high stone cliffs and the rhythm of water from the stream below during the wet season.  But mind your step on the slippery stone descent, worn by many boots and really treacherous when icy.  You’ll be so busy watching your step on this difficult first bit, that you might easily miss the small and very ancient lead mine shaft on your right; but do take a moment or two to explore it.  It looks entirely natural at first glance, overhung with ivy; but its rectangular entrance gives it away, along with some small deposits of quartz and the green stain of ore in the walls.

The Limestone Way crosses Cales Dale just beyond here, but you are to continue on the path now heading gently down-dale, above the stream.  Plenty of hazel trees here and look out for a little fern-concealed spring just below the path (except in summer); a great spot to fill bottles with natural water.

As Cales Dale starts to head down into Lathkill, some spectacular views open up and you will begin to appreciate this “cross-dale” approach to the walk.  The path descends to a little wooden footbridge over the Lathkill River.  “Idyllic” hardly does the place justice.  Look down from the bridge to see all sorts of aquatic plants; watercress, water forget-me-not; meadow-sweet.  Moorhens nest in this section and you have quite a good chance of seeing a dipper bobbing on the rocks in the river. (If not, then just head down-river a short way to the shade of the trees, where you are almost guaranteed a view of these dapper little birds, emblematic of Lathkill).

Take a good rest by the river; you are about to ascend, steeply.  Yes, that’s it; steps directly opposite the footbridge take you up, (not so steeply all the way) to the very top of the dale.  Pause on the way to admire flowers and the view up-dale, back towards Monyash.  Reaching the lip of the dale, you’ll want another excuse to pause and the best place to do it is to turn right, (the down-dale direction) about fifty metres, to a rocky promontory, which commands a truly fantastic view of the dale in both directions, with the little footbridge now far below.  You’ll be so glad you made the effort.

Pause over;  you are going off the beaten track now.  Go back to where you emerged onto the lip of the dale.  Ignore the footpath into the field on your right, but instead go straight ahead.  Your route now skirts the very edge of the dale, in the rough pasture, keeping the boundary wall on your right.  The path, of sorts, sometimes divides into an upper or lower way; it does not really matter as this is all open access land.  The lower path can get a bit hairy if you don’t like heights (there are sections along a sudden drop), in which case you might want to stay as high as you can.  Follow the wall; follow your nose; at one point curving around a huge side-arm of the dale. (Children might have fun playing with the echoes around this point, though it will shatter the peace).   The line of walkers in the dale below will seem like ants from up here, so you can feel very superior, as well as very free. 

After what will seem like a mile, the path descends into Ricklow Dale and the site of a former limestone quarry, now all part of the nature reserve, of course.  There are some small green plaques showing where a guided trail runs.  Turn right up the small dale, through a narrow stone stile and then a small wooden gate on your left will take you up the other side of Ricklow and then onto the more gentle descent into Lathkill once more.  (None of these small paths are marked on the OS maps, it should be noted).

You have arrived into Lathkill Dale’s last gasp, an easy-going green hollow.  Now, turn up-dale a short way, through a wooden gate and then, off the beaten track one last time, sharp left between a few rocks into the start of Fern Dale.  (Again, no path is signed or mapped at this point; it is a “concession path” granted by the National Trust.)  It is not a spectacular dale by any stretch of the imagination, but it has a quiet, unassuming beauty of its own; scattered hawthorn trees in many quirky or attractive postures; outcrops and boulders of limestone; short-cropped turf with native flora;  and no people!   There is some controversy about the name of this dale; the map and the National Trust sign clearly state “Fern Dale”, whereas older locals in the village insist it is “Fere Dale” – the derivation of which might be from fere meaning “healthy” or from an old English word for “heifer”.  There are certainly very few ferns.

Wander where you want; at the top of the dale you should find yourself back at the point where the Limestone Way touched here.  Go back along the stony track once more, right, towards Monyash, but this time stick to the track to emerge onto the road known as The Rake.  Continue down into the village,  stopping to admire Fere Mere, Monyash’s last remaining mere, of which there were five at one time, by some strange quirk of geology.  A clay deposit holds the water around the village, in what is otherwise an extremely well drained limestone plateau, lacking natural watering holes.  This feature obviously made the site a very attractive spot for early settlement and may even be the origin of its name;  possibly “mony-aish” or “many waters”, the “aish” part being a Celtic word for water.  Celtic names for rivers are very common nation-wide, but especially so in the Peak District, so this does seem at least as likely an explanation as “many ash trees” – though there are certainly plenty of them too.

Beyond the mere, continuing along the road, you will find the village green whence you started and some excellent refreshment.

Simon Corble.