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  • Writer's pictureAmber Haslam

1 Walk, 5 of the Derbyshire Dales

This 12.9 mile, but fairly easy going, walk takes in 5 of the most beautiful dales in the whole of the Derbyshire Dales and starts in a small Peak District village called Peak Forest. Starting off in the wildflower fields of Hay dale and Peter Dale, then entering into the rocky and heavily wooded track of Monks dale before opening up to reveal an expansive view of the iconic Miller’s dale and the famous Monsal trail viaduct railway bridge that runs through it. This halfway point is a perfect place to stop and take in the views whilst enjoying a spot of lunch, a cup of coffee or an ice cream. You are then ready to make your way back along a section of the limestone way which will bring you to the unique limestone terraces of Dam dale and finally back round the fields to Peak Forest village where the walk began. This post will show you my mapped recommended route (linked in the photo below) around these 5 dales and highlight some of the gems to look out for along the way below so that you can follow the route and discover the area for yourself.

Starting off the Walk

The ideal place to park is on Church Lane in Peak Forest, this is free and also one of the only parking options in the village; as this is one of the Peak District’s lesser visited areas there should be plenty of space. Then head toward the main road in Peak Forest past the church and the pub until you reach Damside lane and turn down here, past the farm towards the first of the dales, Hay dale.

Hay Dale

This first dale is fairly narrow but is mostly open green grasses and wildflowers with few trees, allowing the space to flood with sunlight. This is also probably the best of the 5 dales for spotting rare wildflowers, for example whilst I was there in May I saw common spotted orchids, which despite their name are no longer that common in England, and hundreds of the even rarer early purple orchids. As well as these, I also saw species of the common rock rose that you can look out for.

Peter Dale

You will then cross a small lane upon leaving Hay dale into Peter dale. This second dale is much more diverse and brooding, offering impressive views of limestone cliffs and inner rock strata where the no longer existent river Millers carved out a deep river channel that formed these 5 dales. Once deep in Peter dale you will be surrounded by these high limestone walls that form stunning waterfalls down to the floor below in rainier seasons. The terrain of this dale starts off similarly to the meadow like Hay dale, with plenty of grasses and wildflowers however, lower down the dale becomes more enclosed with trees that darken the rocky floor but also speckle it with pepperings of sunlight.

Exposed high limestone walls of Peter Dale

Monks dale

Moss weeping down from low hanging trees in Monks Dale

Eventually after walking for about a mile through the woodlands of Peter dale you will cross a small lane and enter into the magic of Monks dale, my personal favourite of these five dales. Here the terrain can be particularly tricky as it’s made up from large limestone rocks and boulders that are the closest you will find to the sanctuary of a footpath here in Monks dale. Furthermore, at points you will have to dip below and climb over old outreaching tree branches that barricade most of your route through Monks dale. Although this might not sound initially very attractive, the beauty of Monks dale is definitely worth it, with the sound of a calm clear stream that contrasts with the eerie drapings of moss and ivy that hang down from trees and decorate the rocks like cobwebs. It’s no wonder that Monks dale is a nature reserve and listed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, mainly due to the diverse sward of dragon flies that call this dale home. Keep following the stream down this dale and you wont go wrong; you should end up coming out on some more open grassland with a view of The Monsal trail viaduct bridge at Millers dale.

Millers Dale

Sat in this grass you can look down into the quaint village of Millers dale and it’s limestone cottages or across to the Viaduct bridge of the old Monsal railway and now Monsal Trail that crosses the river Wye ahead. The Monsal rail line used to be a key piece of infrastructure for the Derbyshire Dales and The peak District as it provided links for people and the raw materials produced by local quarries to both London, to the south, and Manchester, to the North. Now the railway has been turned into one of the Peak District’s most popular cycling and walking routes; the Monsal trail that spans between Bakewell and Buxton, two major tourist towns in the Peak District. However this spot here is much more tranquil and lesser known than the actual Monsal trail. You can sit here in peace looking down into Millers dale and the river Wye that flows through it (the river Millers that created these 5 mentioned dale would have been a tributary to the river Wye before it dried up).

The Limestone Way

On the way back from Millers dale towards Peak Forest I walked mainly along a section of the limestone way, which is a set footpath, 46 miles in total, through the White Peak. This section was very easy going as the path is fairly flat and well laid and as your high up on flat fields you get expansive views over the surrounding area. Continue along the Limestone Way until you reach the small village of Wheston where the footpath comes out alongside the farm at the old Wheston hall. This less than modest building was first owned by the Roman Catholic Alleyne family who were later arrested in 1592 for holding secret Catholic masses. Today the hall is most famous for it’s ghost stories, one being ‘The Old Woman of Wheston’ who can apparently be seen walking around the hall barefoot, crying and ripping out her golden hair after her detested husband killed her lover. Another is of soldier Dick who stands at the entrance of Wheston hall and casts bad luck on those living in the hall if they try to move him.

Dam Dale

Once you’ve walked through the tiny village of Wheston and down Wormhill the road will come to the junction between Hay dale and Peter dale that you will have crossed earlier on in the walk. At this point, turn back down Hay dale and retrace your steps to the end but this time instead of turning up the fields (the way you came) continue forwards into Dam dale. This is only a small dale that winds round the back of a farm and into Peak Forest. It has interesting, terraced sides from mini soil movements over the years and at

the time of year I went (May) this dale had exploded with a carpet of buttercups and was home to some delightful calves. Keep walking down this short dale until you come out by the Church in Peak Forest, opposite church street where you parked.

New born calves in the fields of buttercups at Dam Dale

Although this may be a long walk it’s definitely a beautiful one. Well worth doing! You get to see some of the most gorgeous areas in the Derbyshire Dales in a quiet and secluded setting that’s well off the beaten track. Its also a great area for spotting rare native wildlife as well as the Peak District’s impressive limestone geology.

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