Derbyshire - Lathkill Dale


Lathkill Dale walk - By Alan Garner

My favourite walk – The Lovely, lively, Lathkill River.

The Lathkill river, with its twin the Bradford, were my first introduction to walking the Derbyshire Dales in 1971, when I first moved form Lancashire to the Derwent Valley in Derbyshire – an area so different form my birthplace and one I fell in love with instantly.

The walk described here, is part of a series of walks around the area bounded by Bakewell, Rowsley and Chatsworth, Youlgrave. And the small hill village of Elton. This area is much quieter than its busy neighbours, Dovedale. Manifold Dale and Wye Dale, but it has a beauty all its own.

The true source of the river Lathkill is said to be around the Knotlow area between Flagg and Monyash, but the river does not appear above ground until it reaches the amazing Lathkill Head Cave about half a mile down the valley from Monyash.

The river Lathkill is a very secretive and shy watercourse as it disappears and hides in places, allowing sections of the riverbed to become dried out in summer or during drought conditions. This is because of the abundance of old lead mining shafts and workings which draw and entice the water underground. However, after heavy rain or during winter months there are areas where the river is prone to flooding!

A particularly attractive area of Lathkill Dale is the section below Over Haddon where crystal clear water bubbles up from swallet holes to flow into deep pools known locally as The Blue Waters. The colour could be attributed to the purity and clarity of the water but also to the rich mineral content as the water flowed through limestone bedrock.

There is a succession of some 12 weirs beyond The Blue Waters which were constructed to encourage trout to breed and as fishing pools in the 19th century (fishing rights on the river are strictly private). Here the river Lathkill becomes tranquil and serene, its calm surface being perfect for ducks, moorhen and coot.

What’s in a name - First recorded in 1280, the name "Lathkill" possibly has Scandinavian roots, the old Norse hlada-kill translating as "narrow valley with a barn".

We start our walk in the lead mining and stone quarrying village of Youlgrave- or Youlgreave- by the large Anglican church. Proceed through the village towards Ashbourne and Middleton, for 200 metres, past the YHA and take the left turn downhill past the village hall- toilets opposite – and to the valley of the River Bradford – owned by the Haddon Hall estate. Turn left again, along the river with its fishing pools and at the road proceed onto a broad tarmac path which eventually bends left.

The river here is clear, and you may spot trout. When the road bends right -carry on through the gate along grassy paths – look left in the bank on the opposite side and see lead mine entrances. After 400 metres reach the main Youlgrave- Bakewell road- the rushing River Lathkill flows underneath to join the Bradford here.

Take a short diversion here – turn right, then immediately right into the hamlet of Alport, lovely houses and a spectacular stone bridge with the local mill beyond, now a private house.

At the bridge take a moment to reflect on all that is superb about our beautiful countryside, then left back to the main road and left again back to the bridge over the Lathkill. Across the road is a path signed Conkesbury Bridge.

Take this and wander along a flat path through several fields, passing Raper Lodge- where a right turn track goes over the river and the hill to Haddon Hall.

The river is a little way off, but you can see man made fishing weirs. You reach Conkesbury Bridge, where the fishing pools have created larger calm pools where trout bask.

Just beyond the bridge – turn left and a vista opens – of clear pools and many weirs bouncing upwards into the distance- if the sun is shining, take many photos. After 400 metres the path rises slightly with the weirs down to your left.

The path then runs through dense undergrowth in the summer and autumn, and the river may be lost- eventually you reach a stone bridge on the left and a road to Over Haddon on your right. You proceed slightly right then straight on.

This section of the walk is deep in trees, with the river on your left.

Here on your right – you can wander to see – the remains of Mandale lead mine.

An interesting diversion is a building covered the shaft, known as Batemans House- preserved now and you can scale the ladder to the bottom, where a hand operated light will illuminate the shaft and watercourse below.
This was a measure to prevent industrial espionage it is said, which was converted in 1835 to a dwelling known as Bateman’s House where the mine agent lived. New shafts were sunk at the mine in the 1830s and the leat was widened to accommodate a larger waterwheel upriver from Bateman’s House, said to be ‘the largest except one in the Kingdom’. Several buildings were constructed close to the waterwheel including an ore dressing coe, a smithy and a workshop and, to the west, a powder house. Water management problems continued, however, and Lathkill Dale Mine ceased large-scale extraction in 1841-2; the wheel was offered for sale in 1847 and removed by 1861.

Beyond Batemans House – the path – wide here- eventually exits the wood and you walk alongside the river – sometimes with it lapping by your feet. Here are a couple of waterfalls – quite small but superb for a snack by them.

Underfoot gets somewhat stony now, as the scree form the hill above has drifted to the river side.

Eventually you reach a bridge into Cales Dale on your left.

A short diversion to the right – you would find the source of the river at Lathkill Cave- but in drier weather there will be no flow. In wetter weather – a tremendous sight.

Take the path slightly upwards and in trees, until you reach the left turn up steep steps to the moor above. You are on the Limestone Way now.

Take your time on the steps here particularly when wet, though going up is preferable to coming down here!

Follow the Limestone Way signs now over Calling Low moor, passing calcite workings and reach a lane – many stone Derbyshire high stiles here along the way – take your time- right for 50 metres then again following the Limestone Way, reach another quiet lane leading into Youlgrave – a short cut here if you need it. Across the road and through a couple of fields to yet another lane. Bear right, and soon see a stone stile inset into the wall on your left, this leads you to the Bradford River again.

Sharply down hill amongst trees then alongside the river, transferring to its far bank. Here are large fishing pools designed for the guests at Haddon Hall, as sport.

Follow the river until you reach the point where you entered the Bradford Valley- up hill to the village of Youlgrave where you will find three pubs a couple of cafes and two food shops, now time to rest enjoy a drink, and remember on a fantastic walk.

Youlgrave - An interesting village between the rivers Lathkill and Bradford surrounded by some stunning scenery.

Midway between Bakewell and Matlock, Youlgreave makes a good base for exploring the area. It is one of the larger villages in the Derbyshire Dales district and its' narrow streets and assortment of old buildings give it much character. Once a centre for lead mining for over 200 years, its' magnificent church with splendid tower reflect the prosperity of those days. Now a thriving working community with a strong social scene, until quite recently it had a unique private water supply.

Strike off along any of the lanes and paths leading from the Main Street and you will soon find yourself in splendid scenery. Below the village the river Bradford runs through a very attractive dale with fishing weirs and sparklingly clear water. Downstream is the pretty little hamlet of Alport with its' quaint bridge and millponds. A short walk to the north is the lower end of Lathkill Dale and beautiful Conkesbury Bridge. The Limestone Way footpath runs through Youlgreave and on either side of the village it traverses some outstandingly scenic countryside. The village enjoys good facilities with shops, a café and three pubs. Well Dressings are held annually in June.

It also has four Methodist chapels, testimony to its important place in religious affairs in the past.