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Wolfscote Dale and a Railway Trail

Wolfscote Dale and Biggin Dale wind through the heart of the upland limestone country.

Distance 7.4 miles (12km)

Minimum time 5hrs

Ascent/gradient 557ft (170m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Generally well-defined paths, limestone dale sides can be slippery after rain, quite a few stiles

Landscape Partially wooded limestone dales and high pasture

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 24 White Peak

Start/finish SK 156549

Dog friendliness Can run free on much of walk

Parking Tissington Trail pay car park (by Stonepit Plantation)

Public toilets None on route

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1 From the car park by Stonepit Plantation, cross the busy A515 road and follow the Milldale road immediately opposite. After a short way you are offered a parallel footpath, keeping you safe from the traffic.

2 On reaching the bottom of the dale by Lode Mill, turn right along the footpath, tracing the river's east bank through a winding, partially wooded valley.

3 Ignore the footpath on the right at Coldeaton Bridge, but instead stay with Wolfscote Dale beneath thickly wooded slopes on the right. Beyond a stile the woods cease and the dale becomes bare and rock-fringed, with a cave on the right and the bold pinnacles of Peaseland Rocks ahead. Here the valley sides open out into the dry valley of Biggin Dale, where this route goes next.

4 The unsignposted path into Biggin Dale begins beyond a stile in a cross-wall and climbs by that wall. It continues through scrub woodland and beneath limestone screes. Beyond a gate you enter a nature reserve.

5 There's another gate at the far end of the nature reserve. Beyond it the dale curves left, then right, before dividing again beneath the hill pastures of Biggin Grange. We divert left here, over a stile to follow the footpath, signposted to Hartington. On the other side of the wall there's a concrete dewpond.

6 After 200yds (183m) there's another junction of paths. This time ignore the one signposted to Hartington and keep walking straight on, following the path to Biggin. It stays with the valley round to the right, passing a small sewage works (on the left) before climbing out of the dale to reach the road at Dale End.

7 Turn right along the road for a few paces then left, following a road past the Waterloo Inn and through Biggin village.

8 Turn right again 500yds (457m) from the village centre on a short path that climbs to the Tissington Trail bridleway. Follow this old railway trackbed southwards across the pastures of Biggin and Alport moors. After 2 miles (3.2km) you will reach the car park at Stonepit Plantation.

From its source, on Axe Edge, to Hartington the River Dove is little more than a stream, flowing almost apologetically past the dragon's back at Chrome Hill, and in an attractive but shallow valley south of Crowdecote. But once through the pretty woodlands of Beresford Dale it gets more confident and cuts a deep limestone canyon with cliffs and tors almost equal to those of the more celebrated Dovedale. This canyon is Wolfscote Dale, and it's wilder and more unspoiled than Dovedale, with narrower, less populated paths, and less woodland to hide the crags. Weirs have been constructed to create calm pools that attract trout and grayling to linger.

The river here was a great joy to Charles Cotton, a 17th-century poet born in nearby Beresford Hall. Cotton, an enthusiastic young angler, introduced his great friend, Izaac Walton, to the area and taught him the art of fly-fishing. Together they built a fishing temple in the nearby woods of Beresford Dale (in private grounds). They wrote The Compleat Angler, a classical collection of fishing stories, which was published in 1651. Unfortunately Cotton's precarious financial position forced him to sell the hall in 1681, and it now lies in a ruinous state.

The path up Wolfscote Dale begins at Lode Mill, which still has its waterwheel intact. The river, verged by lush vegetation, has cut a deep and twisting valley through the limestone. The slopes are thickly wooded with ash, sycamore and alder. Further north this woodland thins out to reveal more of the crags, and a ravine opens out to the right of Coldeaton Bridge. The dale, like so many in Derbyshire, is rich in wildlife. Dipper, pied wagtails and grey wagtails often forage along the limestone banks, and if you're quick enough you may see the blue flash of a kingfisher diving for a fish. The dale divides again beneath the magnificent Peaseland Rocks. It's a shame to leave the Dove but Biggin Dale is a pleasing contrast. For most of the year it's a dry valley, but in winter the rocky path may be jostling for room with a newly surfaced stream. It's a narrow dale with limestone screes and scrub gorse. What looks like a natural cave on the right is in fact the entrance to an old lead mine. Through a gate you enter a National Nature Reserve, known for its many species of limestone-loving plants and its butterflies. At the top of the dale you come to Biggin, a straggling village, from where the return route is an easy-paced one, using the Tissington Trail, which ambles over the high plains of Alport Moor.

Where to eat and drink

The Waterloo Inn at Biggin is an ideal place for a refreshment break before heading back to Stonepit Plantation. If you're looking for a delicious bar meal at the end of the day, drive a couple of miles south along the A515 to try the Blue Bell at Tissington Gate.

While you're there

Why not have a look around Fenny Bentley, an attractive village 3 miles (4.8km) north of Ashbourne. Inside St Edmund's Church are the shrouded effigies to Sir Thomas Beresford, his wife and twenty-one children, who lived in nearby Bentley Hall.

What to look for

In Biggin Dale, besides the rampantly prickly gorse bushes you, should see many limestone loving plants including the purple-flowered meadow cranesbill, patches of delicate harebells, early purple orchids with their dark-spotted stems and leaves and orangy-yellow cowslips.

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