Ashford-in-the-Water and Monsal Dale

Explore John Ruskin's 'Vale of Tempe' returned to glory.




6 miles (9.7kms)

1100ft (335m)
3hrs 30min

About the walk

The Wye is a chameleon among rivers. Rising as a peaty stream from Axe Edge, it rushes downhill, only to be confined by the concrete and tarmac of Buxton, a spa town and the quarries to the east. Beyond Chee Dale it gets renewed vigour and cuts a deep gorge through beds of limestone, finally to calm down again among the gentle fields and hillslopes of Bakewell. The finest stretch of the river valley must be around Monsal Head, and the best approach is that from Ashford-in-the-Water, one of Derbyshire's prettiest villages found just off the busy A6.

Monsal Dale

Leaving Ashford's streets behind the route climbs to high pastures that give no clue as to the whereabouts of Monsal Dale. But suddenly you reach the last wall and the ground falls away into a deep wooded gorge. John Ruskin was so taken with this beauty that he likened it to the Vale of Tempe: 'you might have seen the Gods there morning and evening - Apollo and the sweet Muses of light - walking in fair procession on the lawns of it and to and fro among the pinnacles of its crags'.

The Midland Railway

It's just a short walk along the rim to reach one of Derbyshire's best-known viewpoints, where the Monsal Viaduct spans the gorge. Built in 1867 as part of the Midland Railway's line to Buxton, the five-arched, stone-built viaduct is nearly 80ft (26m) high. But the building of this railway angered Ruskin. He continued, 'you blasted its rocks away, heaped thousands of tons of shale into its lovely stream. The valley is gone and the Gods with it'. The line closed in 1968 and the rails were ripped out, leaving only the trackbed and the bridges. Ironically, today's conservationists believe that those are worth saving and have slapped a conservation order on the viaduct. The trackbed is used as a recreational route for walkers and cyclists the Monsal Trail. The walk continues over the viaduct, giving bird's-eye views of the river and the lawn-like surrounding pastures. It then descends to the river bank, following it westwards under the viaduct and beneath the prominent peak of Fin Cop. The valley curves like a sickle, while the path weaves in and out of thickets, and by wetlands where tall reed mace and irises grow. After crossing the A6 the route takes you into the mouth of Deep Dale, then the shade of Great Shacklow Wood. Just past some pools filled with trout there's an entrance to the Magpie Mine Sough. The tunnel was built in 1873 to drain the Magpie Lead Mines at nearby Sheldon. Magpie was worked intermittently for over 300 years before finally closing in the 1960s. It's believed to be haunted by the ghosts of miners from the neighbouring Redsoil Mine who tragically died underground in a dispute with the Magpie men. Looking back on the beauty of the day's walk it's hard to believe that the gods haven't returned, or at least given the place a second look.

Walk directions

From the car park, leave Corner Cottage on your left then turn right along Vicarage Lane. By a yellow grit bin, a footpath doubles back left, then swings sharp right to climb behind housing. Beyond a narrow gate the path enters a field.

Head uphill, curving to a stile in the distant right corner that leads onto a walled stony track (Pennyunk Lane) which winds among high pastures. At the end, go left uphill along a field edge. Go through a gate at the top, turn right past a dew pond and carry on as the track then resumes. Emerging above the rim of Monsal Dale, fork right along a path to the short-stay car park at Monsal Head.

After admiring the view, take the continuing path signed 'Monsal Trail and Viaduct', descending steeply on steps. Fork left at a junction towards 'Viaduct and Monsal Trail', descending to the trail at the western portal of the Headstone Tunnel. Cross the viaduct, then fork right through a gate towards 'Monsal Head via Netherdale' at a junction of bridleways. Turn right along the valley, go underneath the viaduct and through a squeeze stile.

The onward path heads downriver, more or less beside the Wye. Eventually, at a path junction continue towards 'A6 and White Lodge', crossing a stream and stile, then up to the A6.

Cross this busy road and enter the White Lodge car park. By the pay station, take a path signed 'Deep Dale Nature Reserve Ashford'. Beyond a gate, ignore a path to Taddington. Bend right on worn limestone pavement, and briefly up a mossy rough limestone section beside a wall to cross a stile into the Deep Dale Nature Reserve. Rise up a rough track, then fork left at a junction towards 'Ashford and Sheldon' rising steeply to a junction at the edge of woodland.

Go through the gate towards 'Ashford', continuing more easily across then gently descending the steep slopes of Great Shacklow Wood. Disregard a later crossing path from Sheldon, but then watch for the sough outflow from the Magpie Mine. Beyond a derelict bone mill, leave the wood and carry on ahead along a broader track, shortly passing the foot of a side dale. Bend left through a gate, then follow the river, ultimately passing through two gates to meet a lane at the bottom of Kirk Dale.

Turn left down to the A6 and then right along the pavement towards Ashford. Cross tbe busy road then fork left over Sheepwash Bridge. Continue up Fennel St then right to return to the car park.

Additional information

Well-defined paths and tracks throughout, a few short rougher sections in DeepDale/Great Shacklow Wood, a few stiles

Limestone dales and high pasture

Under close control and on lead near livestock (unless threatened by cattle –may be present in Monsal Dale).

AA Walker's Map 1 Central Peak District

Ashford-in-the-Water car park (small charge)

At Ashford car park (small charge) and White Lodge

Waymarked path follows a very short section of rough and mossy limestone valley base near Deep Dale. In unusually wet conditions this may be rather wet and slippery underfoot!

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About the area

Discover Derbyshire

The natural features of this central English county range from the modest heights of the Peak District National Park, where Kinder Scout stands at 2,088 ft (636 m), to the depths of its remarkable underground caverns, floodlit to reveal exquisite Blue John stone. Walkers and cyclists will enjoy the High Peak Trail which extends from the Derwent Valley to the limestone plateau near Buxton, and for many, the spectacular scenery is what draws them to the area.

The county is well endowed with stately homes – most notably Chatsworth, the palatial home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, with its outstanding collections of paintings, statuary and art. Other gems include the well preserved medieval Haddon Hall, the Elizabethan Hardwick Hall, and Kedleston Hall, whose entrance front has been described as the grandest Palladian façade in Britain.

The spa town of Matlock is the county’s administrative centre and other major towns of interest include Derby and the old coal mining town of Chesterfield, with its crooked spire. Around the villages of Derbyshire, look out for the ancient tradition of well dressing, the decorating of springs and wells – the precious sources of life-sustaining water – with pictures formed from flowers.