Italianate Garden

Italianate Garden

Ilam Park is a 158-acre (0.64 km2) country park situated in Ilam, on both banks of the River Manifold five miles (8 km) north west of Ashbourne, England, and in the ownership of the National Trust. The property is managed as part of the Trust's White Peak Estate. The property consists of Ilam Hall and remnants of its gardens, an ancient semi-natural woodland — Hinkley Wood — designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), noted for its small-leaved and large-leaved limes and their hybrids.

The estate was owned from the 16th century, for over 250 years, by the Port family. It was sold to David Pike Watts in 1809. On his death in 1816, the old hall was inherited by his daughter who had married Jesse Russell. Russell (as Jesse Watts-Russell, High Sheriff of Staffordshire in 1819 and Conservative MP for the rotten borough of Gatton) commissioned James Trubshaw to build a new Hall to designs by John Shaw; the Hall, now a Grade II* listed building, was built between 1821 and 1826.

By the early 1930s it had been sold for demolition. The demolition was well advanced when Sir Robert McDougal bought it for the Trust, on the understanding that the remaining parts (the entrance porch and hall, the Great Hall and the service wing) be used as an International Youth Hostel. Today Ilam Hall is leased to the Youth Hostels Association (England & Wales) (YHA).

** – Dovedale – **

Dovedale is a valley in the Peak District of England. The land is owned by the National Trust, and annually attracts a million visitors. The valley was cut by the River Dove and runs for just over 3 miles (5 km) between Milldale in the north and a wooded ravine near Thorpe Cloud and Bunster Hill in the south. In the wooded ravine, a set of stepping stones cross the river, and there are two caves known as the Dove Holes. Dovedale's other attractions include rock pillars such as Ilam Rock, Viator's Bridge, and the limestone features Lovers' Leap and Reynard's Cave.

The limestone rock that forms the geology of Dovedale is the fossilised remains of sea creatures that lived in a shallow sea over the area during the Carboniferous period, about 350 million years ago. During the two ice ages, the limestone rock (known as reef limestone) was cut into craggy shapes by glacial meltwater, and dry caves such as Dove Holes and Reynard's Kitchen Cave were eventually formed.

The caves were used as shelters by hunters around 13,000 BCE, and Dovedale has seen continuous human activity since. Around 4,500 years ago Neolithic farmers used the caves as tombs. There is evidence from Reynard's Cave of Bronze Age activity, and artifacts found there are displayed at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.

Vikings settled in the area around 800 CE. Local place names such as Thorpe are of Scandinavian origin. These settlements became permanent, and Thorpe is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. Viator's Bridge, a packhorse bridge in Milldale has been in use since the medieval period when silks and flax were transported from nearby Wetton and Alstonefield. Tourism started in the 18th century, and Dovedale is now one of the most visited natural tourist sites in Britain.

In July 2014 it was announced that a hoard of Late Iron Age and Roman coins has been discovered in Reynard's Kitchen Cave. The 26 coins discovered, which have been declared as "treasure", included three Roman coins that pre-date the Roman invasion of Britain, and 20 other gold and silver pieces of Late Iron Age date and thought to derive from the Corieltavi tribe. National Trust archaeologist Rachael Hall said: "The coins would suggest a serious amount of wealth and power of the individual who owned them."

The River Dove is a famous trout stream. Charles Cotton's Fishing House, the inspiration for Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler, stands in the woods by the river. From Hartington to its confluence with the River Manifold at Ilam the River Dove flows through the scenic limestone valley known as Dove Valley, or Dovedale. From Hartington south to Ilam, a distance of eight miles (13 km), the Dove flows through Beresford Dale, Wolfscote Dale, Milldale, and then Dovedale. Much of the dale is in the ownership of the National Trust's South Peak Estate. Dovedale was acquired in 1934, with successive properties added until 1938, and Wolfscote Dale in 1948.

Dovedale became a National Nature Reserve in 2006 in recognition that it is "one of England's finest wildlife sites" with diverse plant life and interesting rock formations. The National Trust became embroiled in controversy in 2010, when in conjunction with Derbyshire County Council it oversaw the renovation of Dovedale's iconic stepping stones. It involved topping all but one of the stones with layers of mortar and limestone slabs.

At the southern end of Dovedale, between the villages of Thorpe and Ilam, stands Thorpe Cloud, 942 ft (287 m), an isolated limestone hill known as a reef knoll. It provides a viewpoint north up the dale and south across the Midlands plain. Its name "cloud" is a derivation of the Old English word clud which means "hill". On the opposite bank is the higher but less isolated Bunster Hill, 1,079 ft (329 m), which is also a reef knoll. They were acquired by the National Trust in 1934 for the South Peak Estate.

Milldale is a village of stone cottages at the northern end of Dovedale and the main access point to the dale from the north. A corn mill existed until the mid-19th century, its stables are now used as an information hut by the National Trust. The ancient, narrow packhorse bridge at Milldale originally had no side walls so that horses with panniers could cross the bridge without being impeded. Izaak Walton, who refers to himself as "Viator", which is Latin for "traveller", wrote about it in The Compleat Angler:

  • "What’s here, the sign of a bridge? Do you travel in wheelbarrows in this country? This bridge was made for nothing else – why a mouse can hardly go over it, tis not two fingers broad!"
  • From this the bridge acquired the name Viator's Bridge. The bridge has been in use since the medieval period, for packhorses transporting silks and flax from nearby Wetton and Alstonefield. It is listed as an ancient monument.

    Dovedale is notable for its numerous limestone formations. The most southerly named formation, Dovedale Castle, is a short distance along the river from the stepping stones at Thorpe Cloud. A set of steps accesses the limestone promontory called Lover's Leap. The steps were built by Italian prisoners of war captured in the Second World War and are now maintained by the National Trust and the National Park Authority.

    At Lover's Leap, a young woman who believed her lover had been killed in the Napoleonic Wars threw herself from the promontory. Her skirt caught in the branches of a tree as she fell and saved her life. When she got home, she heard her lover was alive. There are other similar legends about Lover's Leap, including one that places the same story in World War II. Opposite Lover's Leap is a limestone formation called the Twelve Apostles. The rock spires have been created from hard reef limestone; they protrude from the valley side, and the river has eroded the rock and soil around them. The National Trust clears plant life to ensure the rock formations are visible.

    The Dovedale Dash is an annual 4 3⁄4 miles (7.6 km) cross-country race along the banks of the River Dove, along Dovedale, and between the villages of Ilam and Thorpe. First organised in 1953, the race takes place on the first Sunday of November, although previously it was held on the closest Sunday to Guy Fawkes Night. The race has been cancelled on four occasions, most recently in 1998, 2000 and 2004, as a result of bad weather.

    ** – Ilam Park to the Stepping Stones Walk – **

    Discover the limestone countryside of the southern Peak District, famed for its wildlife and geology. This is a popular 1.5 mile walk for families and dog walkers all year round. You can choose to extend your walk by continuing along the valley to Milldale, to see more of the limestone valley. Classified as Moderate, the walk is one and a half miles long and should take less than one hour. It Is dog friendly.

    There is plenty to see as you walk through Ilam village, across open fields and into the narrow limestone valley. The walk starts at Ilam Park, where you'll find a National Trust car park, tea-room, shop and toilets. Some parts of the walk can be muddy so suitable footwear is advised. You'll pass farm animals along the way so please ensure your dog is under control at all times. To avoid cattle, please look out for the 'alternative route' sign to avoid the fields with cattle, and also avoids stiles. The route is not suitable for pushchair and prams due to the uneven ground and width of stiles and gates.

    Start: Ilam Park.

  • 1. Start at Ilam Park and walk away from the hall and towards the surfaced footpath by Ilam church. Look out for the shafts of two 1,000-year-old Saxon crosses in the churchyard. Continue on the path into the village. In the distance you will see Thorpe Cloud, the large flat topped hill.
  • Ilam Park. Designed in the 19th century as an idyllic setting for Ilam Hall, the Manifold and Hamps rivers re-emerge here after several miles flowing underground. The places where they rise are known as boil holes, as the water appears to bubble and boil at the surface. A Tudor mansion once stood in Ilam Park, but in the 1820s local industrialist, Jesse Watts-Russell, built the current Ilam Hall. The hall fell into ruin in the 1930s and two-thirds of it was demolished before Sir Robert McDougall, a member of the flour-milling family, bought what remained for us. It's now run by the YHA as a youth hostel.
  • 2. Follow the surfaced path past the Church into Ilam village. Here you'll find alpine-style houses and a school, provided for locals by Jesse Watts-Russell. Walk along the pavement until you reach the Mary Watts-Russell Memorial Cross, built in 1840 in memory of Jesse Watts-Russell's wife. Cross over the road before the stone bridge and walk past the postbox on your right.
  • Ilam village. The historic estate village of Ilam was mostly demolished and replaced by these unusual alpine-style cottages in the 1830s. They were almost certainly designed by George Gilbert Scott, who is most famous for his imposing Gothic cathedrals and workhouses, plus the Midlands Grand Hotel at St Pancras Railway Station.
  • 3. On leaving Ilam village, after the last house, cross the road and go through a small wooden gate. There is a short steep slope to the footpath. Turn right onto the stone track and continue along the base of Bunster Hill, grazed by sheep and lambs.
  • Take the lead. Sheep graze Bunster Hill throughout the year, so please keep your dog on a lead to minimise disturbance.
  • 4. At the first squeeze stile on the path there are two route options for you to choose from. You can continue through the squeeze stile and across the fields towards Thorpe Cloud, which will include further step stiles and passes through fields of cows and sheep. Alternatively, turn left before the squeeze stile and walk beside the drystone wall. This route avoids cows and stiles but will take 10 minutes longer. This is the recommended route for walkers with dogs and those wanting to avoid stiles.
  • 5. The route across the fields passes behind the Izaak Walton Hotel, named after the author of the book The Compleat Angler. He fished the River Dove in the mid 17th century. Bunster Hill is on your left and Thorpe Cloud is ahead of you, with the flat top.
  • Grazing animals. Please keep your dog on a lead when walking through fields of grazing animals. Avoid approaching farm animals as they are not pets and don't want to be stroked. If cows do approach you with your dog, let go of the lead and get to safety.
  • 6. The path will go downhill to join the surfaced track by Dovedale car park (not National Trust) and the public toilets (20p charge, not National Trust). Turn left and walk along the track into the valley, passing a small wooden bridge on your right. Welcome to Dovedale. The River Dove is on your right, at the base of Thorpe Cloud. The river marks the boundary between Derbyshire and Staffordshire. Dovedale became a National Nature Reserve in 2006, because of the vast range of rare habitats and wildlife found here. The river is an important habitat for fish, invertebrates and birds. Look out for dipper, heron and ducks on the river bank as you walk along. The steep valley slopes have woodlands and grassland meadows with wildflowers, fungi and ferns.
  • Dovedale Barn. A mobile National Trust barn is located by the wooden bridge every day between Easter and the end of September. At the barn you'll meet their friendly National Trust volunteers who are happy to give recommendations on walking routes and the local area. A range of maps, souvenirs, postcards and guides are available to buy too. Proceeds go towards caring for Dovedale and Ilam Park.
  • 7. Congratulations, you have reached the Stepping Stones - take a moment to look around and absorb the scenery. Put in place in the middle of the 19th century, the stones have long been a magnet for visitors to the area. There are lots of fossils in the stones, you can spot them as you cross them. Many visitors choose to stop near the stones for a picnic or paddle before walking back to Ilam Park.
  • If you want to explore further in Dovedale before returning to Ilam Park, there are lots of things to spot further along the valley. After crossing the stones, you can continue along the surfaced path beside the river to spot the money trees, the fossil filled Lover's Leap steps, and several limestone caves and pinnacles.

    River Dove, Dovedale

    River Dove, Dovedale

    ** – Visiting – **

    Ilam Park is ideal for families and dog walkers, with gentle riverside walks and a popular tea-room garden with far reaching views across the Italian Gardens towards Dovedale. Open all year round. Ilam Park is open all year for walks, picnics, wildlife spotting and family adventures outdoors. Whatever the season or weather, you'll find plenty to discover at Ilam Park. Please note: following a landslip near the Boil Holes part of the riverside path in Ilam Park is closed for safety reasons. There are alternative paths that you can continue to use to see the park.

  • •There is a 1 mile circular walk in Ilam Park across the parkland, beside the River Manifold and past Ilam Hall. Pick up a free leaflet when you arrive for the route map inside. The route is dog friendly and includes slopes, gates, uneven paths and can be muddy in places.
  • •Ilam Hall is now used as a YHA youth hostel, offering accommodation all year round. The surrounding gardens and parkland are maintained by a team of National Trust volunteers and rangers, with much of the open parkland grazed year round by sheep.
  • •Dogs on leads are always welcome to visit Ilam Park, you'll find water bowls and parking hooks by the stableyard and the tea-room.
  • •There are family trails available every school holiday and there is a permanent orienteering course available all year round.
  • •Lunches are available in the Manifold Tea-room including seasonal dishes and local favourites such as Derbyshire oatcakes and Derbyshire tealoaf. Alternatively, get your picnic blanket and enjoy a picnic by the River Manifold.
  • •The village church (not National Trust) is beside Ilam Park and is open daily - inside you'll find information on the village history and St. Bertram.
  • •Many visitors choose to walk from Ilam Park to Dovedale, which is just over a mile away, across the fields. This route can become muddy and includes uneven ground so please ensure you wear suitable footwear for this walk. Please note, the houses in the village are privately owned and are not available to visit. Please respect the community by not entering their gardens.
  • •The shop in the stableyard stocks a wide range of local walking guides and maps, and the shop team are always happy to advise on local walking routes, just ask.
  • •Please note, barbecues and fires are not allowed at Ilam Park or Dovedale, to protect the landscape and the wildlife.
  • ** – Visiting Dovedale– **

    Dovedale is a National Nature Reserve with internationally important ancient ash woodland, wildflower-rich grassland and a river full of wildlife. Thousands of people visit each year to enjoy the sense of wilderness in this special area of countryside.Many visitors choose to enjoy Dovedale with gentle activities such as picnics by the river or watching wildlife. The more adventurous can choose to climb Thorpe Cloud or walk along the valley from the famous stepping stones to Milldale. There are a great number of activities available at both Ilam Park and Dovedale, please click here for a comprehensive list.

    Summer highlights at Dovedale.

    Don't forget your camera to capture the wooded valley sides and you may spot birds such as dipper, heron and ducks on the River Dove. The valley is grazed by sheep and you'll see lambs with them all summer. This is one reason why we request that dogs remain on a lead, to avoid disturbance and attacks on livestock.

    There are plenty of quiet places to stop with a picnic and listen to the birds and the sounds of the river. Please take your litter home with you, to keep the countryside clean and safe for other visitors and wildlife. BBQs and fires are not permitted due to the risk of wildfire. Whatever the season, you can tick off some of the 50 Things list on a family visit to Dovedale. Their favourites are spotting fossils at Lover's Leap, birdwatching, catching a falling leaf and exploring a cave.

    Dovedale is open countryside and there are no facilities beyond the entrances. You can help them to look after this special place, ensure your safety, and make sure everyone can enjoy their visit.

  • •To help care for this countryside site, please take all your litter home with you.
  • •Avoid climbing on scree slopes (loose rock) and be aware of the chance of rockfall.
  • •Barbeques and open fires are not allowed, to reduce the risk of wildfires.
  • •Please keep your dog on a lead to avoid disturbance to grazing livestock and other visitors in Dovedale.
  • •Consider whether you’re equipped for the route you choose – Thorpe Cloud is steep with uneven ground, and we recommend walking boots.
  • •The flying of drones is not permitted, to ensure the safety of all visitors to Dovedale.
  • •The walking route between the Stepping Stones and Milldale includes steps, boardwalks and uneven ground as the footpath follows the River Dove for 3 miles.
  • •The walking route between the Stepping Stones and Milldale includes steps, boardwalks and uneven ground as the footpath follows the River Dove for 3 miles.
  • Stepping Stones.

    Dovedale’s famous stepping stones are less than half a mile from the main car park. Please be aware that this path leads to the stepping stones but they are the only way across the river beyond this point. Alternatively, you can cross the river by the bridge here but the route alongside the river is rough and sometimes floods. Whatever the season, after heavy rainfall the river level may rise and flood the stepping stones and some parts of the footpaths. There are alternative walking routes in the area, on higher ground, please refer to a map to choose a different walk if you need to. A useful website to check the latest river level is available here.

    Dovedale Barn.

    Their team of friendly volunteers and mobile information barn stands near the bridge in Dovedale between Easter and October each year. In the barn you'll find a range of useful walking guides and maps to purchase, as well as toys, postcards and gifts. The volunteer team are happy to recommend walking routes if you fancy exploring further.

    Wildlife. Dovedale is a popular spot for photographers and dippers, heron, buzzards and ducks are often spotted along the River Dove.

    ** – Facilities – **

    Car parking.

    There is a car park at Dovedale open daily throughout the year. This is not a National Trust car park and the parking charge applies to all visitors using the car park. The nearest National Trust car park to Dovedale is located 1 mile along the road at Ilam Park. National Trust members can park at Ilam Park for free, non members can use the pay and display machine. There are also toilets, a tea-room and National Trust shop at Ilam Park. It is a 1.5 mile walk across farmland between Ilam Park and Dovedale, which is unsuitable for buggies and wheelchairs due to gates, stiles and uneven ground. You can use the trail to find your way between the two places.


    There are toilets located beside Dovedale car park, managed by Peak District National Park Authority. There is a 20p charge to use these. There are also free public toilets at Milldale.


  • • Refreshments and lunches available at the Manifold Tea-room in Ilam Park.
  • • Shop at Ilam Park - sells local maps, walk guides and gifts.
  • • Ilam Park car park is free for National Trust members. Otherwise, the charge is £3.50 for upto 4 hours parking, £5 for over 4 hours. Members must scan membership card at the car park machine to print out a free parking ticket for dashboard.
  • • Dogs on leads are always welcome at Ilam Park and Dovedale .
  • • Large YHA youth hostel within Ilam Hall - open all year.
  • • Dovedale car park and toilets open daily (not National Trust so members need to pay) - 20p charge for toilet and £3 charge for car park.
  • • Picnics welcome however barbeques not permitted due to nature of landscape and fire risk.
  • • To avoid cattle on your walk, use the alternative walking route between Ilam and Dovedale, shown on the free leaflet.
  • • No overnight parking for motorhomes or caravans available at Ilam Park car park.
  • • The flying of drones is not permitted on National Trust land, for the safety of visitors, grazing animals and buildings.
  • • Houses and gardens in the village are privately owned and not open to the public.
  • Family:-

  • • Baby-changing facilities at Ilam Park.
  • • Highchairs available in Manifold Tea-room at Ilam Park.
  • • Childrens' lunch boxes available at Ilam Park.
  • • Family trails available in school holidays at Ilam Park.
  • • School groups welcome.
  • • Toilets at Dovedale (not NT) with 20p charge.
  • Access:-

  • • Parking at Ilam Park - designated parking in main car park. Drop-off point in stableyard to rear of hall and in front of shop with some parking possible by arrangement.
  • • Building at Ilam Park - access to visitor centre, shop and toilets over flagstones. Whilst there is not wheelchair access to the tea-room, orders may be placed in the shop and refreshments served to you in the visitor centre or stableyard.
  • • Adapted toilets at Ilam Park - in stableyard at Ilam Park.
  • • Grounds at Ilam Park - undulating terrain, steep slopes and some steps. Areas of the park are accessible on hard surfaces. Upgrading of access is ongoing.
  • • Motorhomes can access the car park.
  • • Dovedale - level path from private car park to the Stepping Stones.


    Location : Ilam, Ashbourne, Derbyshire, DE6 2AZ

    Transport: Matlock (National Rail) OR Buxton (National Rail) then bus. Bus routes: for Ilam and Dovedale: services from Buxton train station to Ashbourne, daily, alight Thorpe, 2 miles (Monday to Saturday, Ilam village Sunday and Bank Holidays). For Winster Market House from Bakewell to Matlock train station, daily.

    Opening Times Ilam Park: Dawn till Dusk.

    Opening Times Shop / Tea Room: Daily 10:30 to 17:00 (summer), October to March until 16:00

    Tickets : Car Park see above, otherwise Free.

    Tel: 01335 350503