With her walking shoes in her hands and her toes relishing the cool softness of the grass, my daughter walked the last few yards to the doors of Ilam Bunkhouse. After dinner she sighed, “can I go to bed now?” and drifted off.
It had been lovely to walk the first day of The Limestone Way with her. A lively and inquisitive companion, but the miles had exhausted her. From Rocester in Staffordshire, the path follows easy miles first along the River Dove and then, climbing out of Ellaston. Snacking on the wild blackberries thick on the bushes, our breath was taken as we crested the ridge with stunning views on both sides. We nestled in the buttress roots of an ancient tree and ate our lunch in peaceful seclusion. It was only when we greeted an energetic walker coming the other way that we realised that we hadn’t seen a soul since pretty much the start. An impatience to move on picked us up.
Dropping down towards, and then crossing the A52 we passed into Derbyshire. We paused and quietly enjoyed the company of a small owl who seemed in no hurry to leave its perch right beside the track. We left the Limestone Way at the intriguing Coldwell Bridge, which seemed too grand and ornate to be merely the farm track bridge it is today. We wondered at its history.
It’s a short detour to Ilam from there, but that’s where our accommodation was. With my daughter safely in bed, I enjoyed the handover from swifts to bats as I sat and breathed in the wonderful, wonderful evening view.
Day 2 finds me walking alone. I picked the path up again at Thorpe and walked overland through the imposing old gates to Tissington Hall, and along The Avenue, a mature tree lined lane. Tissington village was lovely. Limestone cottages and a slightly self conscious attention to period detail. The Limestone Way crosses the cycle and footpath of The Tissington trail and drops steeply down and back up above Bletch Brook. As a drizzle fell, I gladly sheltered on a wizened stile and caught my breath.
I had chosen the Limestone Way as I’d crossed, and indeed followed, parts of it many times as I explored the hills around my home town of Matlock. I was in the process of rebuilding my strength and fitness after a bout of illness. The reasonable mile count and the relatively gentle hills of The Limestone Way seemed like the ideal next challenge.
Although some of the next stretch was road walking up a long slow hill, I was rewarded with a lunch break perched on a high limestone pavement. Away to the south I could see Carsington Water and the smooth grace of its wind farm. I counted five buzzards patrolling their various territories.
The descent from above Grangemill isn’t great, with the industrialised lanes and noise of the quarries, but at least it reflects the true nature of limestone country. I was grateful by now not to have to traverse the steep gorge of The Via Gellia. Instead the path takes a gentle climb up through the farms of Ible and then to Bonsall in its warm and peaceful valley.
On Day three I am in very familiar territory, crossing the moors above Bonsall. The rutted ground and pits of the old mine workings were thick with gorgeous wildflowers. My wife would know their names. Again, I considered the simple joy of a clear head and the steady pace of solitude had to be balanced against the lost opportunities to share sights like this.
Suddenly, the path emerged on the shoulder of the valley and skirts the pretty villages of Winster and Elton. It dove down a wooded lane before leading up once again towards the twin towers of Robin Hood’s Stride. A glorious tor of rock. when I have been here before, I’ve been with family, climbing and laughing and exploring its wrinkles. This time I am alone. Resting against the sun warmed rocks, a nap overtook me.
Some miles later, having skirted the woods of Harthill, I enter the edge of Youlgreave. It is a beautiful village with good pubs and small shops keeping the community vibrant. Here the River Bradford is dammed into a series of fish pools for The estate of Haddon Hall. I take off my boots and wade upstream for about a half mile. Too soon I have to climb out of the shaded valley and up onto the moor again. I held out hope that the signposted picnic area hard at the top of the climb might hold an itinerant ice cream van, sadly not.
The path snips the end off Lathkill Dale, giving me only a brief taste of it’s stark, arid beauty, before leading me to Monyash.
The early part of day 4 takes me along roads and lanes, and although they are quiet, it is not as easy on the feet as a grassed footpath. Despite a quick dive down into Miller’s Dale, the momentum is definitely uphill. Over the past four days, with all its climbs and drops, the trend has been to rise. Over day 4 this trend becomes very clear indeed. The thin soil and limestone outcrops are more pronounced here and despite the clear skies, the air is cooler. As I cross the moors above Peak Forest, I am, for the first time since I began, cold.
The final destination, the northern end of The Limestone Way, is at Castleton. You begin the descent slowly enough, but soon you are scrambling over an uneven descent of broken dry stream bed rocks. Down the crack of a gorge which slowly widens to show that you are above the precipitous cliffs of Peveril Castle. Down, down. Quickly, over just a mile or so, all the hard won miles and feet of altitude drop away. I passed day walkers and picnickers, carrying plastic bags of goodies, who have climbed up from the town. I found myself resenting their presence a bit. Soon I was under the shadow of the castle and then before I knew it I was at the foot of the long drop down, my legs readjusting to level ground. Castleton. I had completed the
Limestone Way. I was surprised that there were people, cars, bustle.
I stood alone under my rucksack, alone among these people who hadn’t shared the distance and the effort with me. I felt stronger and welled than I had for a long time.
Full details of the route can be found on the LDWA website.
The Limestone Way
The Royal Oak, Hurdlow, Nr Buxton, SK17 9QJRoyal Oak Bunkbarn is a refurbished stone barn next to an award winning country pub with direct access to the High Peak and Tissington Trails in the Peak District National Park. Popular with climbers, walkers and families who enjoy exploring the limestone gorges and stone circles.
Mandale Farm, Haddon Grove, Bakewell, Derbyshire, DE45 1JFThe Reckoning House, Mandale Farm, Haddon Grove, is on the edge of the Lathkill Dale National Nature Reserve in the Peak District near Bakewell.Set in a meadow within a walled courtyard.The Reckoning House was built by lead miners & now provides simple self catering accommodation for up to 12 people
Forest Lane, Tideswell Moor, Tideswell, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 8JEBushey Heath Farm on Tideswell Moor offers a summer campsite and two bunkbarns for small and large groups at the heart of the Peak District. The farm has been developed with ground source heating, a wind turbine, and rainwater harvesting, so visitors can experience practical sustainable ideas.
Ilam Park, Ilam, nr Ashbourne, DE6 2AZNational Trusts Ilam Bunkhouse is the 18th century stable block of Ilam Hall in the Peak District, close to Dove Dale. It provides quality self catering group accommodation in a privileged location. Explore Ilam Park and the limestone hills, dales, rivers and woodland of the picturesque White Peak.
Pindale Road, Hope, Hope Valley, Derbyshire, S33 6RNPindale Farm Outdoor Centre is a mile from Castleton in the heart of the Peak District. The ideal base for walking, climbing, caving, horse riding etc. Instruction is available if required. With a range of accommodation including B&B, self-catering units and camping barn.
The Old Playhouse, Great Hucklow, Derbyshire, SK17 8RFFoundry Adventure Centre at Great Hucklow in the Peak District has an ideal location for outdoor activities. It provides self catering accommodation for a wide range of groups. An extensive network of paths give access to the countryside. Adventure activities & team building courses are available.