Exploring Hay Dale

The wild flowers and butterflies of Hay Dale make for a delightful nature walk.


Hay Dale


1.25 miles (2kms)

164ft (50m)

About the walk

The Northern Brown Argus is not, at first sight, the most showy of butterflies. It’s small and dark brown in colour, with variable orange or white spots on the edges of its wings, although in flight it seems almost silvery. You can find it on sheltered limestone slopes where it feasts on the common rock rose, a low, evergreen trailing plant that flowers yellow between May and July.

The Northern Brown Argus is also dwindling in number, with the scattered colonies across the north of England becoming fewer and fewer. One place where it’s still doing well, however, is this unspoilt little valley near Tideswell, rich in limestone-loving herbs and wild flowers like the common rock rose.

Hay Dale is one of five separate limestone valleys that together make up the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve (the others are Monk’s, Cressbrook, Lathkill and Long dales). These largely untouched limestone dales are usually narrow and in places wooded, their thin grassy slopes often punctured by scree or bare rock. Hay Dale is perhaps the most delicate and certainly the smallest, easily accessible but bursting with wild flowers that carpet the dale floor and gentle eastern slopes in spring and early summer. And this profusion of flowers of course means a healthy insect and butterfly population. It’s a great place to begin identifying typical limestone plants like thyme and salad burnet, plus cowslips and early purple orchids, as well as rarities such as spring cinquefoil. 

Nature reserves

The walk begins by skirting the top of Hay Dale along field paths, offering tantalising glimpses into the shallow green valley below. Before long it drops down into the National Nature Reserve, following an old mining track along the dale bottom.

The final stage is back up a quiet country lane, and even there look out for nature. The grassy bank on the left has been designated a ‘Road Verge Reserve’ – simply a roadside location that local people and landowners have identified as being rich in wild flowers.

The Peak District National Park is keen to help species like ox-eye daisy, field scabious and meadow cranesbill, all of which have declined over the last 50 years, by encouraging mowing at appropriate times (so that the flowers are able to drop their seeds) and organising volunteers to control invasive scrub and bracken. Limestone grassland that’s ‘unimproved’ (meaning not sprayed with chemicals) is a precious and threatened habitat, which is why even Hay Dale’s 20 acres (8ha), plus its roadside verges, are so important for wildlife – especially if you are a modest little brown butterfly.

Walk directions

Go over the wall stile next to the footpath sign, a few paces from the roadside verge (parking). Walk up the short grassy bank to cross the stile next to the gate, and proceed along the level farm track with the wall on your left.

Just before the track ends at a wide metal gate, go over the wall stile on the left. Ahead is a long, narrow field. Aim for the far left corner, keeping Hay Dale below on your left. Eventually you reach a wooden stile. Cross this and enter the National Nature Reserve.

Turn right and follow a faint path slanting gradually down the hillside, among trees and rocky outcrops. It passes through a small gap in the rocks and descends to the partly wooded dale below, where you reach the clear grassy track along the dale bottom.

Turn left and follow the obvious, well-walked route southeastwards along the foot of the dale, initially through some thin tree cover. Go through a gate and out into the open dry valley, with the grassy sides rising sharply above.

After 0.5 miles (800m) cross a stile at the edge of the reserve by a noticeboard. Continue along the easy, flat path through a short but narrow walled field until you reach a stile by the road at Dale Head.

Go through the gate and turn left. Walk up the narrow, curving lane to the top of the dale to return to your car.

Additional information

Firm in dale, but potentially muddy farm track at start; several stiles

Flower-rich limestone dale and grassland

On lead around livestock

OS Explorer OL24 White Peak

Wide grass verge at top of lane

None on route

There are some small cliffs on the upper eastern slopes of Hay Dale, so keep an eye on young children

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