Along the way
A long-distance walking trail through the Peak District that takes in stunning landscapes, geological wonders and picturesque villages
The Limestone Way is a long-distance walking route, stretching 46 miles from Castleton in the north to Rocester in the south. Weaving through some of the most spectacular scenery in the UK, it's an ideal introduction to the Peak District's delightful hills and dales.
Devised by the Rotary Club of Matlock to celebrate the beauty of the White Peak, the way-marked trail was officially opened in the summer of 1986. As well as fabulous scenery, the route is peppered with fascinating things to discover – from historical oddities and picturesque villages, to geological wonders and landscapes steeped with legend.
But you don't need to commit to the full 46 miles to take advantage of all that the Limestone Way has to offer. The Peak District's extensive network of public footpaths, bridleways and quiet country lanes makes it easy to navigate short circular walks that encompass part of the long-distance route – and many points of interest are easily accessible.
Castles, caverns and caves
Setting out from Castleton, it's impossible to miss Peveril Castle. The imposing ruins, sitting high above the village, date from the 11th century and were mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. The keep, built by Henry II in 1176, is the best-preserved part of the castle – look out for the garderobe (medieval toilet).
It's a steep climb up to the castle, but worth it for the stunning views of the Peak District hills, including Mam Tor, Lose Hill and Win Hill.
The first dale you come to along the Limestone Way, just south of Castleton, is Cave Dale. More than three million years ago, this dale was underwater and part of a limestone reef. The valley was created by glacial meltwater, then the river found its way underground to form caverns and caves. You can take a tour of the Peak Cavern cave system – also fondly known as 'The Devil's Arse' – from the visitors' centre in Castleton. It boasts the largest natural cave entrance in the British Isles.
History and nature
At Miller's Dale look out for the old meal mill wheel. There have been water-powered mills on this stretch of the River Wye for some 900 years, providing the power to produce flour, textiles, timber and other goods. This one was created around 1860, and was used to grind grains for animal fodder.
It's worth the short detour from Miller's Dale into beautiful Monk's Dale – follow the path alongside the hamlet's diminutive church. Monk's Dale is one of five dales that make up the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve, and in spring and summer the area is filled with birdsong and wildflowers. Look out for carpets of early-purple orchids, and butterflies galore.
Just beyond Taddington, the Limestone Way passes close to Five Wells Neolithic Chambered Cairn – a protected Scheduled Monument, which can be found along a short section of permissive path off nearby Pillwell Lane.
This barrow would have been in use around 3400 – 2400 BC, and consists of a circular burial mound, with two stone chambers. The eastern chamber is well-preserved with upright stones, large stone slabs and a paved floor. The cairn was robbed of much of its stone in the 18th century – it was once much bigger than it is today.
The site was excavated in the late 19th century by various antiquarians, who between them found human skeletons, pottery, flint arrowheads and a flint knife.
Dip your ghosts
At the beginning of the riverside stretch along Bradford Dale, keen-eyed walkers will spot a curious arrangement of stone books built into the wall. The words on the spines form a poem: In late May or June; to wash their fleeces; the farmers brought their sheep; in this deep pool… Dip your ghosts… burbling, bumbling, bleating…
These evocative words refer to the practice of sheep washing. The nearby collection of pools and drystone gathering pens was used by farmers until the 1950s to dip their 'ghosts' – the cleaner the fleece, the higher the price that could be demanded at market.
The walk alongside the River Bradford is pleasant and tree-shaded, with an opportunity to spot dippers, herons and all sorts of other water birds along the way.
As the river reaches Youlgrave, it's crossed by means of a clapper bridge: these ancient stone footbridges, consisting of piles of stones sunk into the river bed and topped by one or two large stone slabs, can be found all over the Peak District.
If at this stage you're feeling a little overheated, walk a little further along the river to find a wild swimming spot next to a grassy bank – a great spot for a picnic.
Just north of the village of Elton, you'll notice a distinct rock formation on the horizon. This is Robin Hood's Stride, a gritstone tor topped with two tall pillars of rock that are clearly visible for miles around.
Legend has it that Robin Hood once stepped from one pillar to the other – despite this being physically impossible, as the towers are at least 15 metres apart. Another local name for the outcrop is Mock Beggar's Hall – at twilight, its silhouette could be mistaken for a grand mansion or a castle.
If this landscape of giant boulders and craggy outcrops seems familiar, it's perhaps because it was used as a location for cult 1980s film The Princess Bride. There's a good view from here of Nine Stones Close, an ancient stone circle in a field below – although only four stones now remain.
A short detour from the Limestone Way brings you to the Hermit's Cave at the foot of Cratcliffe Rocks. The small cave is fenced off but if you peer through the gate you should be able to make out a crucifix, believed to have been created in the 13th century, carved into the stone wall.
At Winster, the best-preserved ore house in the Peak sits on the roadside at the top of the village, near The Miner's Standard inn. This squat, square building dates from around 1800, and was used by local miners for keeping valuable lead ore safe overnight.
Another little snippet of history can be found in the centre of the village. Winster Market House was the first property in the Peak District to be purchased by the National Trust. It's believed the two-storey building was built in the 16th century. When it was first built, the arched lower floor would have been open on all sides; the arches were bricked up around 200 years later when the market went into decline.
Winster itself is worth exploring. The steep, twisting lanes and alleyways wind through pretty, historic cottages, with grand houses lining the main street. In July, the Winster Secret Gardens weekend sees many residents opening up their gardens for the public to enjoy.
The Limestone Way once ended at the market town of Matlock, but in 1992 the route was extended to continue all the way to Rocester and link up with the Staffordshire Way.
The old way-marked route into Matlock still exists though, and many long-distance walkers break their journey in the town. With a wealth of hotels, shops, restaurants, pubs and cafés, it's an ideal stopping-off point.
As well as resting and refuelling, visitors can catch the steam train from Matlock to Rowsley. Here, you can watch flour being ground using a water-powered wheel at Caudwells Mill. There are tearooms, craft workshops and a gift shop too.
Robin Hood's Stride
Rocks at Robin Hood's Stride
Southwest of Matlock, the route meanders through a succession of attractive villages. Parwich and Tissington are particularly appealing, and it's easy to combine the two on a straightforward four-mile circular walk which includes a stretch of the Limestone Way.
Walking through these small settlements is like stepping back in time, with ancient stone cottages, babbling brooks and idyllic pastures full of cows and sheep.
The duck pond at Tissington is a good place to rest weary legs, before exploring the village and seeking out the six wells. These include the intriguingly named 'Hands Well', which is actually registered as a Grade II listed building. In summer, starting on Ascension Day (26 May in 2022) and lasting for a week, the wells are decorated with well dressings – intricate designs made by pushing petals and other natural materials into clay – created by local people.
The focal point of the village is magnificent Tissington Hall – built in 1609, it's still inhabited by descendants of the original builder.
Robin… of Staffordshire?
Further south, a quick detour into gorgeous Dovedale, via the summit of Thorpe Cloud, is a must. Thorpe Cloud is a distinctive, isolated limestone hill – it's a steep climb to the top, but worth it for the impressive views over the surrounding countryside.
Dovedale is a delight, with woodland, wildflowers and a rushing, crystal-clear river. A highlight of the dale is the series of stepping stones spanning the river, created during the mid 1800s to allow Victorian tourists to cross from one side of the Dove to the other. Izaak Walton loved this part of the Peak District – fishing in the River Dove inspired him to write his celebration of the sport, The Compleat Angler, first published in 1653. Angling is still a popular pastime along the dale.
At Dovedale you cross the border into Staffordshire – and if you're tackling the entire route of the Limestone Way, you're now on the final leg of the journey. Some argue that Robin Hood was actually from Staffordshire, rather than Nottinghamshire. A ballad about the legendary figure was set at Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire, and it's believed that the boundaries of Sherwood Forest may once have reached the county.
Perhaps that's why Dovedale was chosen as one of the filming locations for the 2010 film Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe – closing scenes from the film were shot around Thorpe Pastures and Lindale.
Now it's just a hop, skip and a jump to the finishing point at Rocester. If you've completed the entire route, congratulations! But remember, the Limestone Way is just a tiny slice of all that the Peak District has to offer – wherever you go in the region, you'll find wonderful walks, glorious views, and fascinating things to discover.
Green Adventures February 2023
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