The River Dove rises on the Eastern side of Axe Edge and flows almost southwards to the boundary of the Peak, forming the boundary between Derbyshire and Staffordshire for the whole of its length.
The river is renowned as one of the most beautiful in the area, if not in the country, and is a famous trout-fishing river, immortalised by Izaak Walton in his book 'The Compleat Angler' - written when visiting his friend Charles Cotton at Beresford Hall near Hartington.
Axe Edge View
The scene where the river rises seems a far cry from the famous lower valley of the Dove. Axe Edge is a high gritstone moor, and the river plunges steeply down through a deeply-cut valley before it arrives at the limestone rock near Hollinsclough. Now the valley widens out somewhat, but the hills seem to rear up around it in weird shapes - those on the left bank of the river are the remains of ancient coral reefs, which tower with sheer sides and fluted ridges above the upper Dove valley. Chrome and Parkhouse hills are both magnificent cock's-comb ridges, while High Wheeldon is only marginally less spectacular.
The Dove flows on with a limestone ridge on its left bank and a gritstone one on its right, through the tiny hamlet of Crowdecote and past Pilsbury and Sheen. This part of the valley has twice been threatened with plans for a reservoir, which have fortunately been resisted. In 1946 the House of Lords threw out a plan by Leicester Corporation, and in 1970 a scheme by the Trent Water Authority was also abandoned due to local opposition.
The river then reaches Hartington to begin the section which has made it famous. Hartington actually lies just off the river itself, but a path leads out of the village across the fields to reach the Dove at the start of Beresford Dale, where the river enters the narrow gorge where Walton and Cotton fished. Though Beresford
Hall has long since gone, the fishing house Charles Cotton built alongside the river in 1674 can just be glimpsed amongst the trees, and just downstream lies the pool where the character 'Viator' in The Compleat Angler marvelled at the spike of rock which leaps out of the river here. Beresford Dale is the most intimate stretch of the Dove, with the river hemmed in by steep cliffs and heavily wooded slopes which tower over it, while the stream glides lazily through turbid pools.
The river winds on, the gorge widening slightly and the hills on either side rising ever higher, the scene becoming ever more impressive. At the two cliffs known as the Celestial Twins you enter Wolfscote Dale, which continues down to Lode Mill, about four kilometres distant. All the way you are in a fine deep valley, often flanked by steep cliffs and accompanied always by the river.
Viators Bridge at Milldale
At Lode Mill you meet the first road bridge since Hartington, and the path takes a small road to the charming hamlet of Milldale, before crossing Viator's bridge to enter Dovedale itself. This is the most magnificent and most popular stretch of the river. First you pass Raven's Crag on the right bank, further down you come to the caves Dove Holes (named from the Saxon word 'Dubh', meaning black), and then to the leaning pinnacle of Ilam Rock. It seems hard to believe that the rock is regularly climbed by rock climbers, even on the overhanging side!
The valley here is heavily wooded and the ash woods of the Dove are one of the few surviving woodlands of their type in the country - so they have been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. They are home to many plants and animals, while the river itself is host to numerous trout, wagtails, dippers and ducks.
Below Ilam Rock the valley narrows, and the path even has a short stretch where duck-boards have been erected to save walkers from having to wade the river. Then it opens out again and high on the left lies Reynard's Cave, a large cave with a natural arch in front. From the cave you have a fine view of the Dale. Below here there are more crags - Tissington Spires - which are almost like blades or fins of rock alongside the river. The next stretch of the river is again narrow and
craggy, so the path climbs up the hillside above Lover's Leap to pass Sharplow Point and then down to emerge at the famous stepping-stones where Dovedale meets Lindale, overlooked by the conical mass of Thorpe Cloud, which is well worth climbing for the view it gives of the area. This is the end of the gorge, and the Dove is joined here by the Manifold for the combined river to meander through gentler but less exciting countryside to eventually meet the Trent near Burton.