Hartington, Milldale and Alstonefield

Walking with; Nobody
I’d not planned on going out today but my considerably better half had to be on the Stockport to London train at 6.30am and as I was already half way to the Peak District I decided to head for Hartington and I am glad I did. After the disappointment of Wednesday, this was the kind of walk that lifted the spirits and properly showcased the beauty of the British countryside.
Hartington is a picturesque English village with the name thought to be a derivation of “Stag’s Hill”. It is mentioned in the Doomsday book and found fame as one of the three main producers of Stilton. The large scale commercial cheesemaking operation has ceased but the old cheese shop has recently re-opened and there are plans to make cheese again. I parked on the village green next to the duckpond and climbed out of the village past Hartington Hall, a 17th Century manor house built by Hugh Bateman in 1611. The building is now a Youth Hostel and the grounds housed a very vocal rookery as well as snowdrops and daffodils. The route continued across the fields to Dale End before turning down into Biggin Dale, a long, dry dale that leads down to the River Dove and Wolfscote Dale. As I meandered down Biggin, a Kestrel flew across my path and a few minutes later a circling Buzzard was mobbed by a flock of Jackdaws. A little further on a Green Woodpecker flew across my path before making a slow ascent of the steep bank to my left. The River Dove is beautiful and I followed the gentle path all the way down to the hamlet of Lode Mill where lead was once smelted and corn ground. The river here forms the boundary between Derbyshire and Staffordshire and the bank had some amazing snowdrops.
From Lode Mill the path climbs very steeply up to the outcrop of Shining Tor, an ideal spot for a coffee and fantastic views back down Wolfscote Dale. The high level path continues along the ridge before dropping sharply down to the gorgeously picturesque village of Mill Dale where it crosses the Dove by way of Viator’s Bridge. The bridge was there in 1653 when Izaak Walton, author of legendary fishing tome “The Compleat Angler” (purported to be the third most reprinted book in the English language), first discovered the River Dove with his friend and fishing tutor Charles Cotton, and the name Viator comes from a character in Walton’s book. Another short, steep slog took me to the outskirts of Alstonefield and the beautiful church of St Peter’s. The graveyard is an interesting piece of social history showing the long established routes of many families in the area and with gravestones dating back to 1518. Continuing through the village and crossing the idyllic green I headed out towards Narrowdale before descending steeply all the way down to the gates of Beresford House. Half way down a streak of red flashed across the path and I followed a Weasel as he shot along the wall and up the hillside.
The route back to Hartington ran alongside the Dove through Beresford Dale (nuthatch, long tailed tits and more chaffinches) before climbing away from the river and circumventing Pennilow Hill. Looking back over my shoulder I got fleeting glimpses through the branches of Walton’s 17th Century “Fishing Temple” built by Charles Cotton and where the two of them spent many hours fishing. I arrived back in Hartington with my faith in the countryside fully restored and an appetite for a pint at The George and a goody bag full of cheese to take away with me…..
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