The first time I came across Bradford Dale it was a revelation. I hadn’t expected the view that met me as I walked along the route of the Limestone Way. Descending from the road I saw before a vista of the true English countryside, a clear gentle river threaded its way through a limestone gorge, trout jumped out of the water to secure a tasty morsel, dippers weaved up and down as the proceeded along the river gathering food and coots sat nesting awaiting a new brood.
The path down winds its way past a series of pools flanked by limestone outcrops and tree lined slopes. This is a highly managed environment, it doesn’t look like this by a fate of nature. The river is renowned for its trout fishing hence the pools which create a calm water for the fish to lay i wait for any dinner that floats by. The pools are connected by sluice gates and weirs, this regulates the flow and also introduces faster flowing water rich in oxygen.
2012 saw the complete disappearance of the water due to drought conditions and a fly fisher friend tells me the trout would have migrated down stream following the water. Lack of water is a common sight in the limestone rivers, many have seriously porous beds and a drop in flow due to drought conditions means the water finds and easier course underground, often absenting itself several miles away from where it re-emerges.
Take binoculars with you on this walk and be prepared to stop frequently and look at the play nature is laying on. Birds are in abundance as are dragonflies, newts, toads, fish, wildflowers appear in abundance. As the path and river wind their way down the dale all of this is on display.
At the bottom of the dale the landscape opens out and crossing an old stone footbridge it is possible to rise up into Youlgrave and explore the village which has lots of interest for the historian. Continuing down the dale eventually brings the walker to the village of Alport with its neat limestone houses topped with elaborate chimney pots set on a hill above a flood plain and a limestone gorge.
Lathkill Dale has an inauspicious start from its confluence with the river Bradford, you don’t realise that you have started following the Lathkill until you enter the dale further upstream. We walked across fields from the village of Alport then struck up hill to meet an unmarked lane which led us to Conksbury Village a medieval site now long deserted, you need to look hard for signs of human habitation but they are there. Further on we came to a strange set of farm buildings. Strange because they were so large, with a big farm house and had in the past obviously been a major site of farming activity. This is Meadow Place Grange, the Grange an indication of its past and for all I know present owners. Abbey’s were major land owners in the area and used the dales and pastures for extensive sheep grazing for the wool that they became justly famous for.
Dropping down into Lathkill Dale we meet one of the clearest rivers in the country. The River Lathkill is the only river in the Peak District which rises and flows entirely through limestone and as a consequence is filtered to crystal clear clarity. The river and dale is a national nature reserve, site of special scientific interest and has wildlife in abundance, this is home to some rare plants such as Jacobs Ladder, which needs special conditions to continue growing and these are only found in the dale. There are 3 major caves associated with the dale all situated slightly off the main tracks but well worth a visit.
Exiting the dale we made for Monyash, now mainly a commuter village but with a good pub and facilities, sadly the church was closed, this being a Sunday!! so we could not explore the interior nor leave a donation!! Picking up the Limestone Way we started back to the beginning of our walk and passed through One Ash Grange Farm which is a must if just for a view of the most perfect set of medieval pig sties in existence. They are exquisite, if a pig sty can be such a thing and once again the “Grange” tells us we are in the presence of an old farming operation of the Abbey’s.
This is a really good walk with lots of interest for everyone and one that requires further explorations.