Milldale is a delightfully positioned hamlet at the northern end of Dovedale. It attracts walkers like few other places of its size in Britain. Most come to explore the beautiful Dove Valley, with its famous Stepping Stones and strange rock formations, but there are many other excellent walks in the area that either start, or pass through Milldale.
There was a mill in Alstonefield manor in the 13th century. It was presumably situated in the hamlet of Milldale, where records show that there was a mill to the north of Viator’s Bridge by 1775. The mill ceased to operate in the late 1870s, but 50 years later it was still standing, although derelict by that time. The buildings to the left of what used to be part of the mill have been converted into a National Trust Information Barn.
The mill processed and crushed calamine, mined at Chrome Hill and Parkhouse Hill, near Glutton, south of Buxton. Drug firms used the higher quality calamine and lower grades were used in brass making. In the 19th century, it was utilised to grind colours for paints. The remaining millstone wheel is still to be seen lying by the riverbank.
The ancient packhorse bridge, over the River Dove, crossed by hundreds of walkers on a fine day at the weekend at any time of the year, is the most famous of all in the Peak District. It is known as the Viator’s Bridge, and was made famous in the English classic The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton. In the fifth edition, published in 1676, Charles Cotton of nearby Beresford Hall wrote an addendum about fishing, introducing the reader to two travellers - Charles Cotton (Piscator) and Izaak Walton (Viator).
In the days when the two travellers would have approached the narrow bridge at Milldale, it would not have had any walls and must have looked quite frightening to cross. Bridges then were designed with low parapets to allow horses carrying panniers to cross without obstruction. Viator commented on seeing the bridge: ‘Why! A mouse can hardly go over it: ‘tis not twelve fingers broad.’ Milldale Bridge is now known as Viator’s Bridge and its name is clearly in view to all that cross.
A familiar figure by the bridge used to be Nancy Bennington who set up a stall selling mineral waters, sweets and postcards. When she saw walkers approaching the bridge, she would hurry across to open the gate and hold out her hand for a tip. In her younger days, she had operated her business from Reynard’s Cave a three-mile round trip and a steep climb away. Nancy was a great character, known by the rich and famous that had visited the valley, and in 1937, she was described by the Manchester Evening News as ‘The grand old woman of Dovedale.’
Milldale consists of only a dozen or so cottages, the oldest of which date back to the 17th century, and the others probably the 18th century. There is no public house in the village, but only a short distance away at Hopedale is the Watts Russell Inn. The other alternative for Milldale residents, in pre-car days, would be to go up Millway Lane, the old road to Alstonefield, for liquid refreshment. Things could have been different if an application in 1898 by William Hambleton for a drinks licence, had not been declined. However, all was not lost and Milldale did have its hotel, but of the temperance variety!
Mr and Mrs Bailey, who lived at Dove Mount, served refreshments to ramblers for 48 years. In 1966, about 150 members of the Manchester Ramblers Association held a special ceremony to thank them for their services. Nowadays welcome refreshments can be obtained from a small shop window at Polly’s Cottage, named after a former occupant.
The Primitive Methodist Chapel was built in 1835 and occasional services are still held there. On Christmas Eve 1998, 62 people squeezed into the tiny chapel, but in the year 2000 numbers were even greater and eighteen had to stand outside. The notice outside reads ‘Methodist Chapel – Look Around You – Come Inside – Give Thanks.’
A short distance upstream at the entry to Wolfscote Dale is Lode Mill, where a one-arch stone bridge crosses the river. The bridge is of 19th century construction. Previously the river was forded at this point and, in 1658, a woman was drowned there. The mill, built in 1814, continued in operation until 1929, grinding corn for local farmers. The miller’s son then transformed it into a joinery business. He converted the drive shaft from the mill to belt drive a circular saw using waterpower from the river. On the opposite side looking down over the Wolfscote Dale path, is Dove Cottage.
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PLACES OF INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
Tissington Hall (Tel 01335 352200) is a fine Jacobean Manor House in the heart of the village, owned by the FitzHerbert family who built most of the cottages in Tissington. Open to the public for guided tours during the summer on selected dates, tours take place Tuesdays to Friday. For full opening details please ring or visit website.
Tissington Trail following the closure of the railway line, the track was converted into a trail and ever since has been popular with walkers and cyclists. The trail links up with the High Peak Trail. You can now either walk or cycle through some of the White Peak’s finest scenery without ever seeing a car!
Ilam Park lies on the banks of the River Manifold and includes a walk along an avenue of Lime Trees known as Paradise Walk. The 158 acres of the park is managed by the National Trust and there is a National Trust shop, information centre and tearoom. Entrance to the grounds is free to walkers.
Watts Russell Inn (Tel. 01335 310126) is an attractive old pub that dates back over 250 years and is named after the wealthy businessman James Watts Russell who lived at Ilam Hall. Open lunchtimes and evenings Tuesday to Sunday; Saturday all day; closed Mondays except Bank Holidays. Meals served Tuesday to Saturday lunchtime and evenings; Sunday lunchtimes. Outside seating.
Ilam Hall Tea Rooms (Tel. 01335 350245) provide excellent views of the Italian Gardens and beyond, whether sitting inside, or in the garden. A good selection of hot meals and snacks is available. Open at weekends and normally every day during the summer. Please ring for details.
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A delightful walk with magnificent scenery and the incomparable River Dove, what more can anyone want?
Let us leave the last words with Byron, who wrote with Dovedale in mind, to his friend the Irish poet Tom Moore, ‘I can assure you there are things in Derbyshire as noble as Greece or Switzerland.’
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