Ilam and the River Manifold

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




5.2 miles (8.4kms)

820ft (250m)
2hrs 45min

About the walk

The Manifold and Dove Rivers were both fished by Izaak Walton, known as 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, Izaak 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.’

Shrewd operator

The view we have of Walton from his book is of a genial older man strolling along river banks in pastoral England. But nothing could be further from the truth. Walton lived during a period of 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 among the supporters of Charles II after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Following the battle he 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 the king. If Walton had been caught, he would have been executed. Just two years after ‘the only known adventure’ in his life he published his famous book.

The Compleat Angler is the story of three sportsmen – Viator, a huntsman, Auceps, a fowler, and Piscator, the fisherman – who walk the River Lea on May Day, debating the finer points of their sport. The fifth edition in 1676 contained an addition by Walton’s friend, Charles Cotton, who lived at Beresford Hall near Hartington. Cotton built a 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’.

Walk directions

Leave the car park from the corner by the information panel (pedestrian exit) and turn right through a black iron gate. Follow the ‘Circular Walk’ on a faint track through the park around to the right. Cross a stile and turn left on to the road out of Ilam village. Go uphill, then turn left on to the Castern and Throwley Road. Fork left with the road towards The Orchards, then across Rushley Bridge.

Go through Rushley Farm, then turn right through an easily missed walkers’ gate. It’s beside sheep pens and before the drive up to Musden Grange. A second gate leads into hilly pasture. Bend left into a valley bottom, continuing through woodland then several fields.

Go over a series of stiles and gates and, at the final one, turn left on to a country lane. At the crossroads turn left towards Ashbourne. Go left through a gate at the next public footpath sign, and cross the field diagonally to a double stile. Maintain your direction diagonally across six fields, passing just to the left of a farm and crossing a tall and wide stile through a holly hedge.

At a gate in the hedge to the right of Fieldhead Farm turn left on to the gravel track. Follow this round the boundary of the farm then, at the second bend left, take the easily missed second footpath on the right (just to the right of a metal gate).

Follow the field-edge path uphill. In the next field, pass a small depression in the ground then follow the left wall down the field. Join a farm road, pass a derelict farmstead, then veer right of the track. Head beside the field wall then through a gap stile in the far corner.

Follow the direction pointer past a redundant gap stile to a fallen down waymarker where fields to your right come to a corner at a tumbledown section of wall. Go right and follow the new wall on your right at the top of a sloping field. Go through a collapsed gap and veer diagonally left downhill, aiming just to the left of the pointed hill (Thorpe Cloud) ahead. After crossing both a clear then a faint vehicle track, the path through the grass becomes clearer.

Go across two fields, a stile and then a bridge and into Ilam Park. Turn right on to a track then at a gate fork left and uphill on a broad track that crosses the grounds back to the car park. Note that where the track fades, you should stay left of an apparent waymarker – it’s just an orienteering post

Additional information

Tarmac roads, parkland, open hillside and and shady woodland (may be muddy), many stiles

Parkland, woodland and hillside

Keep on lead unless threatened by cattle

OS Explorer OL24 Peak District – White Peak Area

At Ilam Hall National Trust pay car park

At Ilam Hall

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About the area

Discover Staffordshire

It was Staffordshire that bore the brunt of the largest non-nuclear explosion of World War II, when a munitions dump at RAF Fauld went up in 1944. It was also the county’s regiment that once boasted within its ranks the most decorated NCO of World War I, in the person of William Coltman (1891-1974). Going back a little further, George Handel penned his world-famous masterpiece The Messiah on Staffordshire soil. During another chapter of Staffordshire history, the county was home to the first canals and the first factory in Britain, and it had front-row seats for the drama surrounding one of the most notorious murder trials of the 19th century, that of Doctor William Palmer.

In outline, Staffordshire looks not unlike the profile of a man giving Leicestershire a big kiss. The man’s forehead is arguably the best region for hillwalking, as it comprises a significant chunk of the Peak District. This area is characterised by lofty moors, deep dales and tremendous views of both. Further south are the six sprawling towns that make up Stoke-on-Trent, which historically have had such an impact on Staffordshire’s fortunes, not to mention its culture and countryside. This is pottery country, formerly at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution and the driving force behind a network of canals that still criss-cross the county.

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