A variety of routes that enable you to make the walk as easy or hard as you want. Dove Dale with its many limestone features, river and wildlife is always a delight no matter what time of year you visit it. There is however no getting away from the fact that it is a tourist hotspot, but this route above the dale offers you the opportunity to get away from the crowds even on the busiest of days.
From the car park turn left and head back towards the hamlet of Milldale. Cross Viators Bridge to enter Dove Dale and follow the clear path along the bottom of the dale next to the river.
After passing through 5 gates (one was missing at the time of writing) you will reach the caves known as Dove Holes. You will pass them on the way back so perhaps you can wait to explore them then, a great incentive for any young walkers as their legs start to tire. Although, if you have made an early start and have them to yourself perhaps you should make the most of the peace and quiet and explore them now.
Cross the stile and follow the clear but narrow and in places rocky track down and around the gap created by the cliffs above Pickering Tor. Having briefly climbed again take the time to leave the track and head over towards the edge of the cliffs for views down into Dove Dale. On the right you should be able to make out the distinctive Ilam Rock, which you will visit later.
Return to the track and follow it alongside the wall until after a short descent your reach a gate. Go through the gate and then follow the track which will bear left, then right and then left again to take you easily back up onto the top of the cliffs above Dove Dale.
Continue following the footpath next to the wall to eventually go round the head of Sharplow Dale after which you get your first view of Thorpe Cloud. Shortly after the path goes through a gate you will pass a footpath sign on your left, ignore this sign but shortly after it take the clear path on the right. The footpath isnít signed but clearly leads down into the grassy dale below. Keeping to the left of the dale you will eventually emerge back on the main Dove Dale track at Loverís Leap.
Turn left and follow the main track along the bottom of the dale until just after a squeeze stile you meet the stepping-stones across the River Dove. You now have to pick one of three routes. Do you continue straight ahead? Do you cross the stepping-stones? Do you want to head up to the summit of Thorpe Cloud?
If you wish to continue along the bottom of the dale it doesnít matter which side of the river you walk on, if you donít fancy crossing the stepping stones there is a bridge across the river closer to the car park.
If you opt to head up to the summit of Thorpe Cloud be aware that it is a steep climb that involves some scrambling and a very steep descent on a grass slope.
To reach the summit of Thorpe Cloud take the footpath on the left keeping the fence on your left. The first part of the ascent is a short scramble up some rocks to reach the clear path to the summit. Once on the summit head down the other side of the hill, towards the car park to pick up the path around the base of the hill. Turn right along the path to cross the bridge just before the car park.
Having crossed either the bridge or the stepping-stones turn left and take the higher path on the right. At the entrance to the car park take the footpath on the right signed for Ilam and Alstonfield.
Shortly after this take another footpath on the right up some steps to reach 2 stiles. Cross these and follow the clear path across the field behind the Izaak Walton Hotel. Ahead of you is Bunster Hill, which you will be climbing shortly. If you feel this is beyond you return to Dove Dale and instead enjoy a walk following the main and clear track, alongside the River Dove, back to Milldale.
If you didnít climb Thorpe Cloud Bunster Hill is a much easier option that, despite initial appearances, has an easy and broad ridge from which there are stunning views across Dove Dale, Ilam and the surrounding area.
Having passed behind the Izaak Walton Hotel continue on the clear path across two more stiles, a gate and a squeeze stile. After the squeeze stile turn right to head up onto the ridge of Bunster Hill. There is one very easy and short bit of scrambling where there is a short gap in the ridge. If you want to avoid the scramble walk along the bottom of the hill next to the wall and only start to head up the nose of the ridge at the clear gap in the ridge. Having reached the top of the ridge pause to admire the views of Ilam and beyond.
For some stunning views across Dove Dale turn right to follow the wall crossing two stiles. After the second stile bear right along Bunster Hills other ridge. From the end of this ridge you can truly admire how steep Thorpe Cloud is and enjoy views both across and down into Dove Dale. Retrace your steps back to the top of the ridge you climbed up.
From the top of the ridge you climbed bear left, towards the farm buildings, to find a gate in the left hand corner of the field. Go through it and continue straight ahead, passing a barn on the right, to join a clear track linking Ilamtops Farm (L) and Air Cottage (R).
Turn right along the track towards Air Cottage. After crossing the cattle grid take the gate on the right and follow the clear footpath, signed for Dove Dale, around the cottage. When you reach an open grassy area take the time to look across Dove Dale for a view of the tops of Tissington Spires and a final look at Thorpe Cloud.
Take the gate into Dovedale Woods and follow the clear but narrow path through the woods. Whilst the footpath is perfectly safe it would be a good idea to keep children and dogs under close supervision here as there are some areas where the path is close to the edge which has a steep, but not exposed, drop into the dale below.
Where the path splits take the path on the right downhill through the wood to emerge by the River Dove. Turn right and take the bridge, in front of Ilam Rock, across the river.
Turn left and follow the main path back to Milldale, passing Dove Holes for a second time.