Hartington to Pilsbury Castle
...along the Upper Dove Valley
This walk goes up the Upper Dove valley and has as its objective one of the most interesting medieval sites in the Peak – a splendidly-sited motte-and-bailey castle which commands the reaches of the Dove from a natural defensive position at Pilsbury...
Hartington’s spacious square, fine buildings and lovely church give it the air of a much bigger place. This walk goes up the Upper Dove valley and has as its objective one of the most interesting medieval sites in the Peak – a splendidly-sited motte-and-bailey castle which commands the reaches of the Dove from a natural defensive position at Pilsbury.
The prosperous, urbane air of Hartington dates from 1203, when it was the first Peak District town to be granted a charter to hold a weekly market. The ruling family then were the De Ferriers, whose ancestors probably founded the solid little Perpendicular-towered hilltop church of St. Giles, which now dates mainly from the 14th century. The modern Market Hall, now a shop, dates from 1836. Another of Hartington’s fine old buildings is the early 17th century Jacobean-style Hartington Hall to the east of the village centre. This is surely one of the grandest youth hostels in Britain, and claims that one of its earliest “bed-nights” was none other than Bonnie Prince Charlie, on his way to Derby in his ill-fated bid for the English throne in 1745.
Old photographs show Hartington’s Market Square bustling with traders and travelling shows with exotic animals such as bears on display. Today, the square is mostly occupied by visitors and their cars, many of whom use in as a base for walking in the Upper Dove Valley.
From the restored village mere (pond), follow Dig Street northwards and then turn right into unmetalled Wallpit Lane, which rises to meet Hide Lane, where you turn left.
You are now faced with a choice of routes. You can either follow the valley road north to Pilsbury, via Bank Top, Ludwell Farm and Parks Barn; or alternatively, where Hide Lane takes a right-hand bend, take the stile to the left and follow the footpath through a series of stiles traversing below Carder Low, which rises to just over 380m/1,247ft above the limestone outcrops to the right.
Either route gives extensive and expanding views towards Pilsbury and the reef limestone peaks of Chrome and Parkhouse Hills at the head of the Upper Dove valley. Across the valley to the left, the 380m/1,247ft table-topped Sheen Hill is prominent.
Both routes lead eventually, after about two miles, to the by-road which leads down to the hamlet of Pilsbury. It is a short step from here about a quarter of a mile northwards to the Pilsbury Castle Hills.
Guarded by an upstanding crag of reef limestone, Pilsbury is a classic example of an early Norman motte-and-bailey castle. When originally built in the 11th or 12th centuries, it would have had a wooden stockade around the exterior embankment of the bailey, and the motte would have been crowned by further stockading and probably a wooden watchtower. It may well have been the original administrative centre for the De Ferriers family’s Dove Valley estates, but by the 13th century, the De Ferriers, Earls of Lancaster by this time, had moved their headquarters down the valley to Hartington. Another school of thought suggests that Pilsbury may have been constructed during the 12th century civil wars between Stephen and Maltilda. The name of the site also suggests that the naturally defensive site, controlling the length of the valley, may have been utilised even earlier.
Return to Pilsbury and turn right on the footpath which leads to the footbridge over the River Dove and ascends the other bank by the green lane which was a former Salt Way which led from Cheshire to the towns east of the Pennines. To the right stands the attractive ruins of Jacobean Broadmeadow Hall (no access).
Take the stile to the left opposite the entrance to the hall, and climb diagonally up the slope to reach the road which runs beneath the top of Sheen Hill ahead. Turn left on the road until you reach Harris Close Farm, where you leave the road and continue straight ahead through the farmyard and follow the embanked wall to your right which descends above the escarpment towards a plantation.
Keep on the path which runs through the upper edge of the plantation and then descends through scrub to a stile. There is a fine view of Hartington, with the tower of the church prominent, down to the left. Bear left here and then right through a series of stiles which eventually bring you to to the forecourt of the Hartington cheese factory.
Many visitors to Hartington go away with one of village’s traditional specialities – a piece of Stilton Cheese. This “King of English Cheeses” was made at the former Nuttall’s Cheese Factory, and can only be made in Derbyshire, Leicestershire or Nottinghamshire. Hartington, just half a mile from the Staffordshire border, only just qualified. Although the factor is now closed, the cheese is still sold in the specialist cheese shop in Stonewall Lane.
At the access road to the former factory, turn left to return to the centre of the village and your starting point.
Start/finish: Hartington, which is served by buses from Buxton, Ashbourne and Leek
Distance: About 9km/ 5½ miles
Approximate time: Allow three hours
Highest point: 324m/1,063ft near Sheen Hill
Maps: OS Explorer Sheet 24, The White Peak
Refreshments: Pubs and cafes in Hartington
Terrain: Field and lane walking, two fairly steep ascents
These walks have been adapted from Roly Smith’s Rambler’s Guide to the Peak District, published by HarperCollins in 2000.
Copyright Let's Stay Peak District 2010
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015