Sunday, 12 September 2010

Monks Dale from Millers Dale

We are currently saving our spare cash for spending money on our honeymoon in a few weeks to Australia so any walks we do at the moment have to involve as little cost as possible. This means we either don't go or I go on my own as Nicky isn't a big fan of what the local area has to offer, she prefers the more impressive mountainous areas of the Lakes and Snowdonia. However I can sometimes tempt her with a trip to the White Peak as despite still being the Peak District it certainly take on a different look and feel compared with the dark gloomy Dark Peak that she grew up around. There was one walk in particular I thought of that for a while I had wanted to show her. Monks Dale is a lesser frequented National Nature Reserve known for its wildflowers, natural woodlands and stunning rugged limestone scenery.

Monks Dale

Monks Dale is typical of so many Limestone Dales in Derbyshire's White Peak area. It has an abundance of wild flowers and wildlife and changes with the seasons. It cuts deep like a ravine through the landscape showing scars of rock on the cliffs that flank its rich valley. One of the best things about Monks Dale is its solitude, it is by far one of the quietest of the Derbyshire Dales as most walkers tend to head along the main valley from Millers Dale up Chee Dale and Millers Dale itself following the lovely Wye Valley. We started our walk from the car park in Millers Dale. We turned left out of the car park up the road and then went over the concrete stile to the right in front of the small farm. As we crossed the stile we realised one of the young calves in the field next to the stone wall was making its way towards us bouncing along like a huge puppy. Nicky soon made acquittance with the beast and it took many a rub on the nose before sliding out its big wet tongue and giving Nicky the sloppy kiss she'd been waiting for all morning.

Nicky's gets some loving from a local

We headed into the Dale and down a very muddy path to the wooden footbridge that crosses the stream through the Dale. The last time I was here the stream was beautiful and had Mallards floating along its calm waters. I remember too having a lovely bobbing Dipper keeping me company for the walk. Today however the stream was completely gone! I was slightly gutted really as I love my rivers and streams and the joys of the distraction they give me. I stood and stared in amazement at the difference between then and now and remembered how last time I had sat watching the stream, now however there was just Nicky mocking me about how shocked I was and pretending to wash her face in the dried up river bed. We crossed the footbridge, despite there being no water to cross and made our way into the dale along the muddy and sometimes rocky path.

Nicky washing her face in the dried out river bed

As you enter the middle section of Monks Dale the valley opens up wide with the odd birch and rowan tree scattered among limestone scars and scree on the path side of the valley and a thick wood on the opposite side. At a point just after the scree we scrambled up an ascent to the right side of the valley to pick a spot amongst the limestone rocks for lunch. As we ascended we watched dozens of rabbits scarper, their little white backsides bobbing up and down left and right as they ran away from an unfamiliar shape. We found a great spot on warm rocks facing south down the dale with fabulous views. A noisy helicopter spoiled the silence for a while but landed in Millers Dale moments later. The spot we chose had an abundance of Blackberry bushes so we gathered a handful and devoured the natural tasty treats. After the wide section of the Dale it narrows out and the footpath heads down through the trees in to the very bottom of the valley floor and into the fascinating Monks Dale woods.

Monks Dale woodland footpath

The woods of Monks Dale are made up mostly of Ash, Willow, Beech, Sycamore and Birch trees, it is a completely natural woodland and deep in the sheltered valley floor has created a unique and to some an unforgiving environment. Even in the driest of seasons and hottest of days the woods take on their own climate. The damp temperate atmosphere creates an almost rain forest like climate. The trees are plentiful and covered in colourful lichens and thick mosses. The woodland floor is carpeted with wonderful wild flowers. The floors of the woodland here is home to the likes of Herb Paris, Moschatel, Dog’s Mercury, Marsh Marigold, Brooklime, Blue Water Speedwell, Wood Anemones, Bird Cherry, Dogwood, Water Aven, Orchids, Campions, Cowslips, Butterbur, Wild Garlic, Harebells and Jack in the Pulpit whose berries we got a great macro shot of. There is a lovely moss and lichen covered stone wall that completely dissects the valley floor and follows the line of the stream all the way to the head of the Dale. The path through the woods is very tasking and a quick look of the map shows a green valley with a stream going through it which is very deceiving, your progress through the woodland path is slowed down quite dramatically by its rough rocky nature, fallen trees, damp undergrowth and various other natural obstacles. We kept stopping every so often just to create silence  and admire the mesmerising atmosphere of the wood, there was a constant buzz in the canopy above of Hoverflies and every now and then a Tit, Robin or Blackbird would rustle the leaves around us. We also spotted one of my favourite birds a Nuthatch making its way up a tree trunk next to us. The sun barely reaches the bottom of the narrow valley but on the odd occasion that it does the rays beaming down through the trees were stunning at one point catching a huge spiders web with its maker sat in the middle.

Monksdale House

Eventually the woodland path ends at a wooden gate through a stone wall and then after rounding a rocky outcrop you open out in to a wide meadow, so typical of the head of so many Limestone Dales. A road crosses the meadow, we sat on the roadside bench for while and then headed to the right and east ascending the steep road up to Monksdale House. At Monksdale House we followed the signs for the Limestone Way along a tractor track through the fields opposite the house heading south. We headed along the track, thankful of its stone walls as they keep us out of what was quite a chilly wind. We reached a standing stone in the fields on the left and had a closer look at it. The standing stone was typical ancient Carboniferous Limestone rich in Crinoid fossils. When the track headed back down towards Monks Dale and Millers Dale there was a large bank on the right covered in rabbit holes so leaned against the stone wall stood and watched as dozens of them ran around playing in the sun. We followed the track all the way back to Monksdale Farm on the opposite side of Monks Dale to the one we started the walk from. We walked through Monksdale Farm then through the gate and headed down the footpath to the valley floor again switching back on ourselves just before the bottom to cross the stepping stones which also seemed a little daft with no water. A short ascent back towards the road and we were back at the Millers Dale car park where toilets and an ice cream van awaited.

I have uploaded the photos from the walk here here.

Route Map...