Peak District walk - Ilam
PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 December 2018 | UPDATED: 15:57 03 May 2020
1. From the car park make your way past Ilam Hall to the Church of the Holy Cross which contains many interesting features. In the South Chapel is the 13th century altar tomb known as the Shrine of St Bertram. There are various references in the area to St Bertram who was a medieval holy hermit known for his healing powers.
In the North Chapel is a large 19th century memorial worked by leading sculptor Sir Francis Chantrey. This fine example of a Victorian funeral sculpture is of David Pike Watts on his death bed being visited by his daughter and her three children. Chantrey (1781-1841), was a native of Norton (then in Derbyshire, although now part of Sheffield) and constructed his own tomb in the churchyard there.
2. Continue along the path past mature specimen trees to the estate village of Ilam where many of the characterful houses are built in an alpine style.
Turn right at the beginning of the drive to the Hall and walk to the monument in the centre of a road junction by the river bridge. It was erected in 1841 to the memory of Mary Watts Russell by her devoted husband Jesse. In 2011 Ilam Cross, as it is known, won a grant for restoration by the English Heritage Angel Awards to replace eroded stonework and to top the monument with a new golden cross. Look closely near one of the stone angels and you might catch a glimpse of the famous Ilam Imp!
3. Turn left to leave the village and then just beyond the last house go through a gate on the left and head up steps on the footpath to Dovedale, crossing a series of fields with the impressive Thorpe Cloud directly ahead and Bunster Hill to your left. Between them flows the River Dove which is the county boundary between Staffordshire and Derbyshire. Shortly after emerging from its race through rugged Dovedale, its waters unite with those of the Manifold that flowed past Ilam, both rivers having been born on the moorland slopes of Axe Edge to the north.
4. Pass to the left of the Izaak Walton hotel, a converted 17th century country house hostelry. On reaching the stepping stones car park turn left and follow the River Dove a short distance upstream to a footbridge.
5. After crossing the river, follow a concessionary footpath uphill on the lower flank of Thorpe Cloud, keeping a wall to your right.
6. Go through a kissing gate which provides access onto Thorpe Pasture. Diagonally cross this open expanse of grazing land and head into the far right corner where a gate leads into a small short-stay car park. Notice a colourful and informative village map by local artist Sue Prince, which is attached to the wall of the bus shelter.
7. Cross over the road and follow Digmire Lane to the Church of St Leonard’s which dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries. The Norman tower is probably its ‘pièce de résistance’ and is topped with a battlemented parapet. In the churchyard is a sundial of 1767 by Whitehurst of Derby, whilst within is a fine Elizabethan communion rail and a Norman font.
8. Continue along Church Street and then go through a gate. Descend steeply to Coldwall Bridge on the old turnpike road to Cheadle – see a milestone near the bottom of the hill followed by one of the longest bridges in the area. Constructed in 1726 it is 100 yards long.
9. Head up the grassy track towards Coldwall Farm and then, using stiles, cross a field to the right of the farm. Emerging onto a road, turn right and walk into the tiny village of Blore. Blore Hall is now part of the Holiday Property Bond group. Its extensive site of buildings contains part of the 14th century Manor built by Sir John Bassett, although most of his great house, said to have been one of the largest houses in Staffordshire at the time, was lost in a fire around 1600.
You may wish to detour slightly to visit the nearby church of St Bartholomew at Blore Ray which dates back in part to 1100 and contains some beautiful box pews. In a side chapel is a massive monument from the early 17th century known as the Bassett Tomb.
10. At the crossroads where there is an old black and white signpost, follow the road indicated to Ilam (Dovedale).
11. Enter and walk through Blore Pastures car park and then Blore Pastures Wood beyond to take advantage of fabulous far-reaching views.
Emerging onto open ground, walk below two massive ash trees, initially aiming towards Ilam School as a landmark in the far distance that is fronted by two doors and topped by a little spire. Continue straight ahead when this disappears from view.
12. Reaching a footpath sign by a bend in the road, head straight across to follow a grassy track which long ago was part of a gated drive to Ilam Hall. You will pass an old lodge building and then walk down beside the River Manifold to cross over St Bertram’s Bridge. Be sure to explore the riverside paths and terraced gardens of Ilam Hall before returning to your car.
Distance: 5 miles
Parking: Ilam Hall (NT pay & display – members free), DE6 2AZ Grid Ref: 132509
Terrain: 10+ gates and stiles. This undulating walk with uneven terrain mainly follows field and stile footpaths where livestock grazes. Some roadway without pavement.
Refreshments: NT tearoom & YHA at Ilam Hall. Mobile kiosk and Izaak Walton Hotel, Dovedale.
Toilets: NT public toilets, Ilam Hall Public toilets, Stepping stones car park
Map: O.S. Explorer OL24 – White Peak O.S. Explorer 250 – Derby
Walk highlight: Trio of ancient churches
Description: This moderately strenuous hike circles around the marriage of the rivers Manifold and Dove whilst ambling at the base of reef knoll hills. The route passes through quaint little villages steeped in history that are snuggled into hills once described as looking somewhat like a miniature Switzerland.