April is a beautiful month- as we finally start to believe that Winter has in fact ended, the Peak District scenery starts to change and so it’s the perfect time to take a walk and enjoy this wonderful time of year!
The White Peak area of the Peak District is famous for its deep limestone gorges, and Lathkill Dale is one of the most impressive. Not only is there stunning scenery to be enjoyed, but there is also the most amazing geology plus fascinating history and stories associated with the dale. It’s a great walk to do in late spring because of the wealth of wild flowers such as cowslips and early purple orchids.
The best places to start a walk down Lathkill Dale are either Over Haddon at the eastern end of the dale, or Monyash at the western end. You can simply stroll along the path in the bottom of the valley with the steep sides and limestone cliffs towering above you in places. Alternatively, for the more adventurous, why not take the path from Ricklow Quarry up the side of the dale to the high point of Parson’s Tor for panoramic views (see pictured below). You could even extend the walk by returning along part of the long distance Limestone Way path that passes through the countryside to the south of the dale.
The limestone rock that forms the dale started its life around 350 million years ago when the area was just south of the equator and at the bottom of a shallow, tropical lagoon. It’s common to find the fossils of sea creatures embedded in the rocks. Following the Lathkill Geology Trail leaflet can help you to identify some of the amazing geological features.
Whether you venture up to the top of Parson’s Tor or simply gaze up at the crag from the path in the valley, you might wonder how it got its name. A local story, dating back to 1776 is that the vicar of Monyash was returning from Bakewell on his horse somewhat the worse for wear from alcohol, and tragically fell to his death after falling from the top of Parson’s Tor. The story goes that his parishioners knew nothing of his accident until someone saw his ghost in the village, and a party was sent out to search for his body.
Mandale Mine, reputed to be one of the oldest lead mines in Derbyshire, towards the eastern end of the dale near to Over Haddon is also well worth a visit. It only involves a short detour off the main path. An information board next to the ruins of the engine house tells you its history.
The River Lathkill that flows through the valley attracts a lot of water birds including the usual ducks, coots and moorhens, but also commonly seen are dippers, a small bird that often perches on rocks at the side of the river and comically bobs up and down. The river itself offers some surprises, as the point that it rises in the valley depends upon how much rain there’s been. After heavy rain it can be found gushing out of a cave at the western end of the dale. In dryer conditions it gradually bubbles up to the surface about half way down.
To enjoy a walk down Lathkill Dale you should wear proper walking boots or trekking shoes that provide good grip, as the limestone rocks can be very slippery, particularly after rain. The path at the Monyash end of the dale in particular is quite rough and stony in places.
This blog was written by professional walking guide, Cath Lee of Peak Walking Adventures