Monsal Dale 7 mile walk
...starting with a stunning view
This easy circular stroll takes in some of the most beautiful sections through Monsal Dale, Miller’s Dale and the delightfully-named Water-cum-Jolly Dale...
The Dales of the Wye
The valley of the Wye changes its name every mile or so and is not actually known as Wye Dale until it approaches Buxton. But with every name change comes a change in scenery, and this easy circular stroll takes in some of the most beautiful sections through Monsal Dale, Miller’s Dale and the delightfully-named Water-cum-Jolly Dale.
This is one of the most popular viewpoints in the most popular National Park, so arrive early if you want to find a parking spot. The view down two reaches of the River Wye is justifiably famous – looking north over Upper Dale towards Cressbrook and west across the famous Monsal Dale viaduct to the bold escarpment of Fin Cop, crowned by its Iron Age hill fort.
The construction of the Midland line - and the 80ft-high viaduct - in 1860 through this wonderful scenery prompted one of John Ruskin’s fiercest outbursts in Fors Clavigerer, published in 1896. It is interesting to note that the Monsal Dale viaduct is now a protected and listed structure, and forms part of the Monsal Trail, a walking and riding route opened by the National Park in 1980.
From the road which drops down into the dale, take the first stile (left) and keep left on the path through the trees which runs above the viaduct. The path descends through the trees to meet the Wye beside a weir. A footbridge takes you to the northern bank, and you continue downstream. Through the trees opposite, the craggy landslip known as Hob’s House is prominent, below the escarpment of Fin Cop.
Fin Cop hillfort
Fin Cop is something of a rarity among the Peak District’s Iron Age hillforts, being constructed on limestone. It is a large enclosure occupying the crest of the escarpment, and is heavily defended by an embankment to the south and east, ultitising the natural defences of the steep gorge formed by the Wye on its northern and western sides. A recent (2009) community-led excavation of the site revealed a human skeleton roughly thrown into a ditch, quantities of Iron Age pottery and even signs of Neolithic occupation.
Just before you reach the A6, take the main path which leads to a stile at Lees Bottom and cross the road with care to the National Park’s White Lodge car park. A stile leads off through the trees, and you bear right through pastures above the mysterious little ravine known as Demon’s Dale or Dell. The dry valley we follow to the right is the similarly-sounding Dimin Dale, and it leads up through increasing trees to Taddington Field Farm. Follow the drive from the farm westwards to Lodley View Farm, which leads on to the edge of Taddington at Town End.
Taddington is a typical one-street White Peak limestone village, largely unspoilt and thankfully by-passed by the roaring traffic on the modern A6. The restored parish church of St. Michael and All Angels – at the far end of the village – has a slender spire rising from its 14th century tower and a 1,000-year-old Saxon cross shaft in its hilltop churchyard.
Older still, on Taddington Moor to the west of the village, is the Five Wells Chambered Cairn, which dates from the Neolithic, or New Stone, Age. Here in the highest monument of its kind in the Peak, the remains of the earliest settlers of the White Peak were buried, to watch over their successors from this airy vantage point.
From the east end of the village, take the lane which leads down to the A6 at the head of wooded Taddington Dale. Cross and take the walled track which leads straight up and then down into steep-sided High Dale.
Turn left up this dry valley and where the wall stops, turn sharp right following the path up a hollow to meet a green lane with Bull Tor away to your left. There are good viww from this high point to the hills beyond Castleton and as far as the long Kinder escarpment.
Turn left and then right through a stile on this lane and follow the path through stile to reach the long drop down into the Wye valley again at the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s Priestcliffe Lees nature reserve. Descend through the scrubland to the Monsal Trail and Litton Mill, which is reached by a footbridge.
Litton Mill, now in residential use, began life as a cotton mill in the late 18th century, using the power of the River Wye. It was the scene, if the propagandist Memoirs of Robert Blincoe published in 1832 are to be believed, of some of the worst deprivations of child labour under the aegis of the cruel owner, Ellis Needham.
Follow the concessionary path past the mill and across the millrace by a footbridge and head downstream between the river and the mill cut. You will soon notice the impending limestone walls which mark the entrance Water-cum-Jolly Dale. This is a well-known climbing ground for the best of Peak District climbers, for whom features like the Cornice and Rubicon Wall, which overhang the path, hold no terrors.
The path now crosses the river again on a footbridge over a weir in a works yard, and then rises to the left to rejoin the Monsal Trail above the graceful buildings of Cressbrook Mill.
Cressbrook Mill is yet another example of a fine old building, orginally built by Richard Arkwright, now tastefully converted to residential use. The present Georgian-style building, with its fine cupula bell-tower which once called the apprentices to work, dates from 1815. But while Litton Mill, a mile upstream, was notorious for the ill-treatment of its young employees, Cressbrook’s owner, William Newton, is said to have treated his apprentices well.
The last mile of the walk follows the Monsal Trail along its embankments and cuttings above Upper Dale, passing the vestiges of the platform of what was once Monsal Dale Station.
Soon, your starting point of Monsal Head appears ahead, and the final flourish of the walk is the crossing of that famous - or infamous - viaduct, with fine views up and down the valley. A path leads off to the left at the end of the viaduct and up through the trees to the starting point.
Start/finish: Car park behind the Monsal Head Hotel on the B6465
Distance: 11km/7 miles
Approximate time: Allow 4 hours
Highest point: Near Bull Tor, 330m/1,083ft
Map: OS Explorer Sheet 24, The White Peak
Refreshments: Cafes at Monsal Head and Cressbrook. Pubs at Monsal Head and Taddington
Terrain: Easy dale walking, with a couple of steep climbs and descents
These walks have been adapted from Roly Smith’s Rambler’s Guide to the Peak District, published by HarperCollins
@ Let's Stay Peak District
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015