If you have ever researched the Peak District, you are sure to have heard of the stepping stones at Dovedale. They are an iconic beauty spot, which are a highlight of Dovedale. Sadly, because of how beautiful the area is, it does get very busy. Parking is popular and in the summer time, everybody and their mother are fighting for a space. Why not try Milldale to Dovedale, a cave exploring route in the Peak District.
As lockdown eased, we wanted to start at a different spot, work our way backwards and explore the other side of the stepping stones. We decided to start at Milldale and search out the caves along the side of the river.
Parking is plentiful, but do get there early as it was filling up quickly when we arrived. We typed in Milldale Car Park and it pops straight up on Google Maps. Parking is free, which is a massive bonus for a day out.
Walk left out of the car park and towards the houses. There are lambs and sheep in the gardens of quaint little houses. At the bottom is Polly’s Cottage, which serves drinks, ice creams, maps and even necessities like toiletries and plasters. A very handy little shop. Just after the cottage is the toilets and a footbridge to the right. Cross the footbridge and start on your exploration!
A gravel footpath takes you down along the river, with hills to the left. After a while, the footpath opens up to a small grass clearing which would be perfect for a paddle in the summer months, and to avoid the busier parts. Sheep and lambs are dotted around so please make sure dogs are well behaved.
To carry on down to the caves, follow the path through several gates, which are all very accessible. The terrain is fairly flat, with loose gravel and rocks underfoot. Bird song and the river flowing gently is beautiful to the ears, with overhanging foliage to truly capture you in nature. The kids wander up and down the bank to the left, getting lost in their surroundings.
The First Cave
A worn footpath offers entry up to Baley Hill, which seems a bit steep and rocky. Carry on past the signpost for Alsop en le Dale and you will hit the first cave. Dove Holes. The first hollow is smaller and is immediately followed by a large cavernous chamber. A likeness to ear canals was noted by the kids! Sadly, there is evidence of fires and human use. The caves are very impressive and you can see why people would camp here, but we must take care of our environment. It spoils it slightly when people are ignorant. Even in the dry weather, the climb up is slippy, so please be careful if it is wet. The kids loved climbing up and around Dove Holes, with the boys racing to see who could get up the quickest.
The Second Cave.
After Dove Holes, there is a footbridge to the right, over the river. This takes you immediately to Ilam rock and a cave underneath. You will need a torch for this one, and on a hot day, will be grateful for the coolness that ensues. This cave is a small one, but pretty cool to see.
Jump back over the footbridge and carry on down with the river on your right. A scramble up at the next clearing is home to cave number 3 which is perfect for a snack stop.
Cave number 4 is a small hollow just before the path turns into a wooden track. A small inlet in which the kids can try to clear the water and jump in and out of.
Just after here is the entrance to Reynards cave. Hidden away to the left, up a steep slope, you can make out the famous archway. A favourite with climbers, Reynards cave is great for a scramble for younger ones. It is quite steep, but worth the little climb.
Heading on after Reynards cave, the footpath starts inclining and gets a little rocky. This may not be so accessible with wheelchairs or pushchairs unless you have help. Steps lead the way up to a perfect picnic stop at Lovers Leap. A rocky outcrop that a young woman is said to have thrown herself off of, when she learned of her lovers demise. Amazingly she survived the fall, and the rock is now a photo opportunists dream.
If you carry on from here, it’s not far to the stepping stones. You will probably notice the density of people increasing (more so in hot weather) and there may be a queue to cross the stones. Don’t let this deter you too much, as Dovedale is beautiful, but also rather big. There will be a space for you by the stream somewhere! The water is cold but superbly refreshing after a long walk.
From here, you can absolutely carry on and explore more. At the head of the stepping stones is a footpath to Thorpe Cloud. A wonderful little hill that offers views over Ilam and beyond.
I think this walk is best done as a linear walk, especially with kids, as you can revisit the caves on the way back if they get busy. The whole walk from Milldale to Dovedale is 2.5 miles, so 5 altogether if you do the whole thing. It’s also no fuss, easy to navigate and enjoyable to follow the river. There are a few shady spots, but most of it is open. Sun protection is advised if it is a nice day! Wear good footwear as the caves are slippy, and the gravel underfoot is loose in parts.
Milldale to Dovedale, a cave exploring route in the Peak District.
I would love to know if you attempt this route, and if you have any more caves to recommend! Have you tried Thors’ Cave? A great one to inspire the kids and get the imagination going.