Peak District Walk - Ashford-in-the-Water
PUBLISHED: 00:00 22 November 2016 | UPDATED: 16:03 17 February 2018
A viaduct and far-reaching views play a prominent part in this scenic ramble with Sally Mosley, which begins in one of Derbyshire's prettiest villages
DESCRIPTION: This classic walk features a picture-postcard village and Monsal Head, which must surely rate as being the Peak District’s most popular viewpoint. Between these the route passes across fields, over stiles, along old walled paths as well as through a long, lit tunnel on the famous Monsal Trail, providing an impressive approach into a stunningly beautiful Derbyshire Dale.
DISTANCE: 5.5 miles
PARKING: Public car park off Fennel Street, Ashford DE45 1QG (Grid Ref 195698)
TERRAIN: 10+ gates and stiles. Moderately strenuous walk. Woodland paths with trip hazards, slippery stones and steep drops. Livestock grazing. Roadway without pavement. Long tunnel with lights that go off at dusk. Close proximity to deep water in the river.
REFRESHMENTS: Aisseford Tea Room and Ashford Hotel on Church Street. Tea Room and Stables Bar, Monsal Head
TOILETS: Public toilets in the car parks at Ashford and Monsal Head
MAP: O.S. Explorer OL24 (White Peak)
WALK HIGHLIGHT: Emerging from Headstone Tunnel onto the viaduct
1 From the small car park go through the narrow stile next to a metal gate and enter Hall Orchard playing fields. The football pitch is located on the site once occupied by Ashford Castle, thought to have been a 15th century fortified house belonging to the Neville family. Follow the footpath straight ahead emerging onto a steep road known as Hill Cross.
2 Turn left and walk up to Vicarage Lane, passing a three-storeyed house on the right with a long row of windows on the top floor which signifies that it was probably used at one time for a cottage industry such as weaving.
3 Turn right and walk past Highfield Farm and then go over a stile following the footpath sign for Monsal Head – Monsal Trail. Carefully cross the road and continue on the footpath which heads to the rear of some new commercial buildings where you may smell hops brewing as this is the home to Peak Ales Brewery.
4 Cross over Longstone Lane to continue on the well-defined path passing through several fields and to the right of a long fence as you ascend gently to join the Monsal Trail.
5 Arriving at the trackbed of the former Midland Railway line, turn left. The Monsal Trail is an 8.5 mile traffic-free route for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and wheelchair users between Blackwell Mill and Bakewell, passing through spectacular Peak District National Park countryside.
6 As you arrive at Headstone Tunnel through a deep cutting, notice on either side the tall, supporting buttress pillars that brace bands of limestone laid down during the Carboniferous era over 300 million years ago. The fencing and metal arches on the approach to the tunnel are to protect visitors from falling debris. See how the lights within the tunnel disappear around a bend into a dark abyss ahead, drawing you to enter on an exciting 471 metre-long walk at the end of which you emerge from the hillside onto the famous Monsal Dale viaduct.
7 Walk to the end of the viaduct and go through a bridlegate on the left. Immediately descend to a riverside path and follow the Wye downstream passing a wide expanse of water backed up from a weir and waterfall. Up to the left a natural craggy outcrop of stones is known as Hob Hurst’s House, whilst above is Fin Cop, site of an Iron Age hill fort. During excavations a few years ago, a mass burial from thousands of years ago was unearthed here which unusually contained only women and children.
8 Cross over a footbridge beyond the weir and follow the narrow woodland path as it ascends gradually to Monsal Head. After passing through a gate and approximately 25 yards before emerging onto the road, notice on the right a small fingerpost sign for Ashford. Return to this point after visiting Monsal Head to begin the instructions in paragraph 9.
Eliza Cook, a famous Victorian poet, summed up the beauty of Monsal Dale in the following stanza:
And Monsal, thou mine of Arcadian treasure
Need we seek for Greek islands and spice-laden gales
While a temple like thine of enchantment and pleasure
May be found in our own native Derbyshire Dales.
9 Follow the fingerpost sign for Ashford, initially heading uphill to a viewing point where you can look across to cottages and houses on the hilltop at Cressbrook. After passing two benches on the crest of the hill, continue along the path which for the most part is walled, leading between fields mainly used as pasture for herds of beef cattle. Look for distant landmarks such as Curbar Gap in the string of Edges to the east. Also visible on a clear day is the Elizabethan hunting tower above Chatsworth.
10 After passing a large dew pond the path heads downhill on the right-hand side of a long field before returning to being a walled path beyond a tall narrow stile. Continue ahead as the path then passes between high blackthorn hedges. After several bends the path becomes Pennyunk Lane, passing a remote bungalow on its final stretch to Ashford.
11 Arriving back at Highfields, turn right and walk down Vicarage Lane. By the little roundabout, notice a carved stone cavalier’s head above the door of the old school house on your right. Before returning to your car you may wish to continue ahead down Fennel Street to see the Sheepwash Bridge with its walled enclosure on the far bank.
12 A shortcut back to the car park is through the churchyard. The Church of the Holy Trinity was rebuilt around 1870 although Norman features can still be found, including the base of the tower and the main doorway. Above the latter is a tympanum carved with the tree of life with animals on each side. Inside, on the south wall, is a tablet of black marble in memory of Henry Watson of Bakewell who in 1748 opened the quarries near Ashford where stone was extracted. He invented a machine for cutting and polishing this into marble which was then often decorated with colourful inlaid stones similar to Italian pietra dura.
Also in the church are rare and old examples of virgin crants, also known as maidens garlands, suspended from the ceiling in glass domes. The tradition of making these delicate paper garlands dates back hundreds of years and acknowledged the death of an unmarried young woman from the congregation. Other examples can be found in Ilam Church and St Giles at Matlock.