A White Peak Way
Part 7 of the End-to-End Walk from Lad's End to John O'Groats


In his guide to the Pennine Way the writer and fellwalker Alfred Wainwright comments: "A true Pennine Way would lie along the full length of the Pennine Range and would have been better suited to the name had it been confined between these extremities, taking in the lovely Derbyshire Dales and ending with the minor foothills east of Carlisle... Better that the Pennine Way had been given the glorious entry to the hills provided by charming Dovedale as its starting point".

It was this statement, born of Wainwright's desire for geographical exactitude, that inspired me to work out a route that would extend the Pennine Way southwards as far as the jaws of Dovedale. It took but two or three hours with a map to work out a theoretical route, and my subsequent exploration of the area has led me to keep every step of that route intact. This is an area of great scenic interest - it lies, after all, wholly within the Peak District National Park - and is well served by walking routes. So much so, in fact, that many official and semi-official long distance paths already exist. Several times I found waymarks, direction posts and information boards telling me that I was following the Limestone Way, the Monsal Trail or the White Peak Walk. For this reason you are encouraged, more so than usual, to seek out alternatives that might better suit your own interests or whims. There are, for example, several disused railway tracks that are eminently suitable for walking.

The White Peak is so called, and differentiated from the Dark Peak immediately to the north, on account of its geology. Limestone predominates, giving rise to some delightful country of shallow gorges, isolated steep hillocks, moorland plateaux and lush grasslands and meadows. We start at the village of Ilam, not much over a mile from the southern end of Dovedale; it's a convenient statring point, being the nearest habitation and also the site of a youth hostel, though the town of Ashbourne is less than four miles away for those who feel like a longer walk. You cross the stepping stones to the east (Derbyshire) bank of the Dove; the river itself forms the county boundary with Staffordshire. Dovedale is something of a tourist honeypot, graded and paved for the infirm and those with pushchairs; it tends, unfortnately, to attract rather too many of the sort of people that shouldn't be allowed out until they've learned both manners and common sense. Avoid the place at weekends and on public holidays, or you'll spend the first two and a half hours trying to shake off the crowds of noisy, ill-behaved day trippers.

"Tourist" Dovedale runs as far north as the National Trust hamlet of Milldale, passing rock formations named by someone whose imagination obviously far exceeded his love of good scenery - Tissington Spires, Lovers' Leap, Twelve Apostles, and the inevitable Jacob's Ladder. The more open aspect and lack of tarmac north of Milldale make the second half of Dovedale more palatable. Four miles further on is Hartington, another tourist honeypot beloved of coach parties.; however, another youth hostel and several good public transport links makes Hartington a natural place to end the first day's walk.

From Hartington the route leaves the Dove valley to the east and climbs gradually to the flat, grassy plateau of pastureland that is Hartington Moor. The route turns sharp right for Vincent House and then Moscar Farm, crossing the busy A515 Buxton to Ashbourne road before merging with the lane into Monyash. Another path heads smartly north and then northeast across a succession of pastures, eventually descending through Deepdale to reach a confluence of limestone dales just eastwards of Taddington.

The limestone dale scenery continues for some miles now, as the route makes use of a succession of them to push northwestwards. You cross the A6 trunk road (Derby-Bakewell-Buxton-Manchester) to follow the delightfully wooded Monsal Dale as far as the railway viaduct at Monsal Head, then turn left to follow the valley of the Wye, using either the riverside path or the trackbed of the old railway. This is the Monsal Trail. It comes out in Litton Mill and neighbouring Millers Dale, another good public transport link, while Ravens Tor youth hostel is nearby. A further succession of limestone dales pushes northwestwards, following the course of a dry valley; Monks Dale is followed by Peter Dale, Hay Dale and Dam Dale, the path emerging at the lonely upland hamlet of Peak Forest on the A623 Chesterfield-New Mills road. From here you turn northeast again, following Oxlow Rake up to the wide open expanses of Old Moor, with the gritstone edges and peat moors of the Dark Peak filling the skyline ahead. If you follow the map carefully you'll find the slight pathless depression that leads into the spectacular Cave Dale, which will deposit you quite suddenly into the centre of the village of Castleton at the foot of Peveril castle. Castleton, enclosed by hills on three sides, is a caving centre and has no less than four show caves open to the public. The route takes in each of these in turn; Peak Cavern, directly below the castle and reached by a charming riverside path from the village; Speedwell, reached along a lane to the west at the foot of the spectacular Winnat's Pass; Treak Cliff, reached along a track above the disused A625 road, and finally Blue John, standing beside the other end of this severed road immediately below the bulk of Mam Tor.

Mam Tor, at 1695 ft, is a worthwhile climb. The direct route up the southern spur is officially discouraged but it far preferable to the official route, a "granny" path of fenced flagstones leading up the ridge from a car park half a mile to the west. The summit is a favourite spot for hang-gliders and affords a superb view across the Hope valley to the bulk of Kinder Scout to the north. Look carefully and you'll spot the line of the Pennine Way snaking into the hills from its base in Edale, just below.

Follow the ridge route (more flagstones) to the col at Hollins Cross, then turn sharp left for the local footpath down into Edale. If time permits by all means follow the ridge as far as Lose Hill before returning to Hollins Cross.


The route could conceivably be done in two days but you'd really be pushing it and would miss savouring all the good bits. If you want to take in all the sights such as Castleton's show caves and the spur walk to Lose Hill, allow four days. The route is eminently suitable for backpackers but think of youth hostels or B&B's rather than tents. The area is lived-in and farmed - there is very little rough pasture and opportunities for wild camping are very limited. There are too few official campsites close to the route. If you prefer to walk with just a day pack then base yourself in a nearby town - the elegant spa town of Buxton is the obvious choice, as public transport links are excellent. Multiple-hop transport links make the walk viable as a series of day trips from many nearby cities such as Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.

The various one-day walks that make up the White Peak Way:

(Click the links for the individual walk indexes and photo galleries)
1 Thorpe to Hartington 9.3 miles
2 Hartington to Millers Dale 13.2 miles
3 Millers Dale to Castleton 8.22 miles
4 Castleton to Edale 4.16 miles


  The Peak District National Park
  Derbyshire County Council's Peak District website

Staffordshire Link Back to main index Pennine Way

This page last updated 8th January 2005