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Day 33: Dove

Thorpe to Miller's Dale. 22 miles. Miles to date: 514.9.

Maybe you need days like Wednesday to appreciate the great things about LeJog. And today was the very best: two spectacular Derbyshire dales bookending easy, airy walking over the White Peak. Conclude that with a pint in a riverside inn, with Reb and Max braving the Friday night M40 to meet for a rest day and it couldn’t be topped.

I said a reluctant goodbye to Musti and Ali at my B&B and dropped from Thorpe into Dovedale. With its mighty limestone towers, its caves and the Dove drifting lazy below, this is an adventure playground on a grand scale.

You can lose hours here exploring the precipitously steep-sided ash, oak and lime woodlands to get the best views of the formations that have been drawing visitors since Victorian times: Tissington Spires, Lionshead Rock, Dovedale Church, Ilam Rock. I was content to wander along the riverside path watching dippers skip between stones and mossy fallen trees, finding sweet shade in the butterbur forests.

Along from Dovedale's famous stepping stones.

Limestone crags towering over Dovedale.

Today's winner of the knobbly trees competition.

Ilam Rock.

To Milldale, then north, leaving the Dovedale crowds to their ice lollies and cream teas, finding instead small groups of fly fisherman casting into the clear waters for trout. They're following the footsteps of original angler Izaak Walton who found inspiration for his seminal The Compleat Angler in this valley.

Then at a gorge confluence leaving the bubbling Dove behind and striking northeast along Biggin Dale, a typical limestone valley – dry – but this one with barely a soul in it. Here wildflower meadows are a haven for butterflies and rare dew ponds for newts. Little pockets of woodland show their age with lichen coats. A sparrowhawk keeps a watchful eye.

Yes, yes, I do.

Lovely old woods.

Limestone crags past Milldale.

Biggin Dale: Off the tourist trail but none the worse for that.

As the path climbed the Dale the gorge reclined into ever gentler hillsides scarred with scree and dotted with blackthorn. As I reached the watershed, views opened across miles of the rolling White Peak, breeze welcome after the languid river left behind.

At Heathcote I joined the Tissington Trail – trackbed of what was once the London and North Western Railway linking Buxton and Ashbourne. The Tissington Trail is the third disused railway I’ve used on the trail. I’ve mellowed since my early moans about the Camel Trail. In hindsight I was still in LeJog kindergarten. As I've found out since, there are worse things than quick, flat and fast walking. And though I wouldn’t walk old railway lines all the time, now and then they’re a sort of treat for the feet (a marketing line for shoes?).

It makes you wonder what fair-weather cyclists would do if Dr Beeching hadn’t taken a scythe to the railways. Maybe he was a closet weekend cyclist looking for safe, long-distance trails to explore.

White Peak meadows.

Pies + Pints.

The long and not very winding road.

Some of the farms on the White Peak feel so isolated.

Parsley Hey: Just north of where the High Peak and Tissington Trails meet.

At mile 16 a last-minute decision: a gorge on the map that piqued curiosity. Reb was still battling Friday traffic so I went off route to explore.

It was worth the effort. Chee Dale – just west from my end point of Miller's Dale – was a gem. Dovedale’s wilder, shyer sibling.

The paths on the OS had confused the hell out of me as I dropped into the steep-sided limestone cutting. It was only when I was halfway down that they made sense.

Chee Dale is a valley on three levels. First there’s the ground-level escarpment crests. Next there’s a middle level on which the Monsal Trail – yet another disused railway line – snakes a terrace round the valley, criss-crossing the Wye on towering viaducts. Finally, way down in the cool valley bottom, is a riverside path that tracks, as best it can, the busy stream alongside.

But Chee offers no Dovedale Sunday afternoon saunter. This one’s for the big kids, with stepping stones below cliff overhangs, rock scrambles up limestone stairways and passages through head-high butterbur leaves that give proceedings an Indiana Jones feel. A proper adventure playground in which rock climbers were enjoying their sport. The valley even came with its own beasts: highland cattle chomping on drooping vines and verdant ferns.

Chee rounded off a fine day's walking with an unexpected flourish of fun. My feet forgot the 18 miles they’d walked and soon got stuck into the up-and-down trail that led to the riverside Angler's Rest in Miller's Dale, my end point for the day.

A little after eight Reb and Max arrived. The kitchen stayed open late to cook for us.

It's a second rest day tomorrow. Then back on the trail for my final leg before I begin the next big stretch of my journey: the mighty Pennine Way.

Until then.

Buttercup meadows crossing the White Peak on the excellent Pennine Bridleway.

Cutting on the Monsal Trail.

Chee Dale: great fun.

Abseiling Chee Dale.



Next: Day 35 – Miller's Dale to Edale.

Previous: Day 31 – Uttoxeter to Thorpe.

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