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Ilam and the Compleat Angler

Explore the countryside once walked by Izaak Walton, often regarded as the 'Father of Angling'.

Distance 4.8 miles (7.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 607ft (185m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Metalled roads, parkland, open hillside, meadows and forest tracks, boggy in wet weather

Landscape Parkland, woodland and hillside

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL24 White Peak

Start/finish SK 131507

Dog friendliness Keep on a lead near livestock

Parking At Ilam Hall (National Trust)

Public toilets At Ilam Hall


© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 Exit the car park from the top, turn right then right again through a gate and follow the track through the park. Cross a stile and turn left on to the road through Ilam village. Go uphill, turn left at Park Cottage on to the Castern to Throwley road. At a Y-junction go left, following the road across Rushley Bridge.

2 Go through Rushley Farm steading then turn right, over a ladder stile on to the public footpath. Cross another ladder stile, walk along the side of a fence and cross a gate on the left. Continue following the waymarked path beside a stone wall and then a fence. At the next ladder stile keep ahead.

3 Go over another four stiles then, when you get to the fifth, turn left on to the road. At the crossroads turn left towards Ashbourne. Go left through a gap stile at the next public footpath sign and cross the field. Cross a stile, go through another field to a stile to the left of a farm then head diagonally left across the next field.

4 Cross the wall by stone steps, head diagonally right to a gap stile to the right of some buildings. Continue on this line to another stile in the hedge to the right of Fieldhead farm and turn left on to the road. Follow this round the boundary of the farm and go over a stile on the right.

5 Follow the well-defined path uphill past a derelict building. Cross a stile, cross the field to where two walls meet at a corner and follow the wall to the right. Join a farm road, pass a derelict steading, then turn diagonally right across a field and through a gap stile in the wall at the far corner.

6 Follow the direction pointer past two marker stones to the next public footpath sign. Go right, through a gap in the wall and follow the sign for Ilam. Follow the wall on your right, go through a gap, follow the waymarker downhill, through a gap stile and into the park. Continue downhill and through another gap stile.

7 Go across a field, a stile then a bridge and another stile, cross a path and head uphill to the left of the path. At the top of the hill turn right, cross to the caravan park and retrace your steps to the car park.

The Manifold and Dove rivers join just beyond Ilam near the Izaak Walton Hotel. Both rivers were fished by Izaak Walton, the man considered to be the 'Father of Angling' and the author of The Compleat Angler, or The Contemplative Man's Recreation. Since the first edition appeared in 1653 it has never been out of print.

Born in Stafford in 1593, Walton moved to London as an apprentice ironmonger, becoming a craftsman and guild member when he was 25 years old. For most of his working life he owned an ironmongers shop in Fleet Street and lived in a house in Chancery Lane. A keen angler he spent much of his spare time fishing on the Thames but it was not until retirement that he was able to devote himself to his hobby completely. 'I have laid aside business, and gone a-fishing.'

The view we have of Izaak Walton from his book is of a genial old buffer strolling along river banks in a peaceful pastoral England. But nothing could be further from the truth. Walton lived during a period of great political upheaval and unrest. In 1649 he saw the execution of Charles I and left London for Staffordshire where he stayed during the Civil War. A staunch Royalist he is mentioned amongst the supporters of Charles II after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Following the battle Walton visited a friend who had been imprisoned in Stafford. From this friend Walton received the King's ring, which he delivered to Colonel Blague, then a prisoner in the Tower of London. The Colonel escaped, made his way to France and returned the ring to its rightful owner. If Walton had been caught, he would have been executed. Just two years after 'the only known adventure' in his life he published his most famous book.

The Compleat Angler is the story of three sportsmen, Venator, a huntsman, Auceps, a fowler and Piscator, the fisherman, walking the River Lea on May Day debating the finer points of their chosen sport. The fifth edition in 1676 contained an addition by Walton's friend and fishing companion, Charles Cotton, who lived at Beresford Hall near Hartington. Cotton built a little fishing house on the banks of the Dove near his home, which still stands today. This 'holy shrine for all anglers' has the interlacing initials of both men and the inscription 'Piscatoribus Scarum 1674'.

Following the restoration of the monarchy and Charles II, Walton moved to Winchester as the guest of his friend George Morley, Bishop of Winchester and lived there until he died, aged 90 on 15 December 1683. He was buried in the floor of the Chapel of St John the Evangelist and the Fisherman Apostles.

While you're there

Visit the church that stands in the grounds of Ilam Hall. Originally of Norman origin it was rebuilt in the 19th century but retains some of its original features. Inside is an elaborate and striking monument depicting the deathbed scene of David Pike Watts with his only daughter and her children.

What to look for

As you cross Ilam Park try and pick out the well-preserved remains of medieval ridge and furrow fields on the right-hand side. Look for the track that runs across them. It was once used by local tradesmen and servants at Ilam Hall who were forbidden to use the main drive.

Where to eat and drink

The Izaak Walton Hotel just outside Ilam is the natural choice for refreshment. This former 17th-century farmhouse stands close to the banks of the River Dove and still retains some of its original features such as oak beams. Ramblers are particularly welcome and will find an enjoyable, traditional lunch in the Dovedale Bar. It can be reached by road or by footpath from Ilam village.


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