Dales of the Peak
...including Dovedale, Monsal Dale, Lathkill Dale and more
'The whole gift of the country is in its glens. The wide acreage of field or moor above is wholly without interest; it is only in the clefts of it, and the dingles, that the traveller finds his joy.'
That view expressed by the Victorian critic and early conservationist John Ruskin seems to coincide with that of the modern visitors, who flock to the beautiful “dingles” or dales of the White Peak in large numbers.
Unlike the more spacious dales of Yorkshire and the Lake District further north, most of the Peak’s dales are not wide enough to be threaded by a road. So the only access is usually only by foot, and that is without doubt the best way to see them.
Many of the finest Peak District dales form part of the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve, famous for its crystal-clear streams and flower-rich grasslands, where up to 45 different species can be found within a square metre. Rarities include Jacob’s ladder, spring cinquefoil and Nottingham catchfly.
The Dales NNR, which is managed by Natural England, consists of parts of five limestone valleys – Lathkill Dale, Cressbrook Dale, Monk’s Dale, and Long and Hay Dales.
Lathkill Dale, described by Charles Cotton as “the purest and most transparent stream I ever yet saw”, was like many Derbyshire dales once a hive of industry, with lead mines scattered along its length.
The well known and heavily-visited Dovedale and Biggin Dale are also NNRs, managed in this case by the National Trust.
Parts of Chee Dale and Millers Dale Quarry, in the valley of the River Wye, are also nature reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest, managed by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. Chee Dale is notable for the towering, 200-foot crag of Chee Tor, which is popular with climbers (there are over 80 routes on it), and for the stepping stones at its foot, which have to be crossed by the riverside path.
One of the best-known of the Peak District dales is Monsal Dale, near Great Longstone, and the view of the former Midland Railway viaduct from Monsal Head is justifiably one of the most popular in the Peak. The former railway line, which threads the valley of the Wye between Bakewell and Buxton via a series of viaducts, tunnels and bridges, was converted to the Monsal Trail walking and riding route when the line closed in the 1960s.
In May 2011 the four railway tunnels - Headstone, Cressbrook, Litton and Chee Tor Tunnel – were re-opened for trail users. Each tunnel is about 400 metres long and will be lit during normal daylight hours.
Two shorter tunnels - Chee Tor No.2 and Rusher Cutting – already formed part of the Monsal Trail.
The public can now experience the full length of the former railway route at their own pace and see breathtaking views at places like Water-cum-Jolly Dale that have remained hidden since the railway closed in 1968.
Monsal Dale is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) (1) and part of a Europe wide network called Natura 2000.
© Let's Stay Peak District 2011
Updated October 2014
Last Updated: 15 Jun 2015