Ilam Bunkhouse

… it seems almost unfair that such a place exists…

Ilam might be one of my favourite places in the world. The bunkhouse is part of the Ilam Hall estate in this stunning village.  It is run by The National Trust, sleeps 16 in 3 bedrooms with a large open plan communal area and kitchen and plenty pf toilet and cleaning facilities. And because it is run by The Trust, you can be sure of the cleanliness and quality. Yet the real reason you’ll come is for the location.

I have brought both school groups and family groups here and enjoyed it more each time. My favourite way to approach is to walk from Hartington. It is a gentle 9-mile riverside walk. After leaving Hartington, you soon pick up the picturesque, winding River Dove as it enters the wooded gorge right next to Izaak Walton’s fishing lodge, the inspiration for his famous ‘The Compleat Angler’. You stay in this steep valley almost all the way, being treated to caves, high pinnacles,  ice cream shops and darting kingfishers until the valley opens out in the shadow of Thorpe Cloud. Here, you can cross the widening river by stepping stones and take the track the remaining short distance to Ilam. At some point it joins the Manifold River and they become one. 

The village is almost too lovely for words, with its stout church and intriguing hexagonal chapel. St Bertrand, an 8th century Mercian, is buried here and gives his name to the nearby bridge. The houses and school are picked out in black and white with intricate gingerbread-work roofs. Central to the village is Ilam Hall, owned by the National Trust but managed by the YHA. It sits within landscaped park grounds beside the river, the Bunkhouse is tucked away behind in the old stable block. In the evenings, as the swooping swifts swap shifts with the bats, I have sat on one of the simple benches in front of the hall, cool ale in a bottle at my side. At my back, the solid splendour of the Hall buildings; in front of me the square church tower, the intriguing cut-off-flat summit of Thorpe Cloud and the horseshoe of hills around. I’ve often commented that it seems almost unfair that such a place exists.