We took a tip from the excellent website peakwalking.co.uk and printed off a few directions for walks in the Ashbourne area. The one we selected was a 6 mile hike from the former Alsop railway station and through the villages of Alstonefield and Milldale, and into the stunning Dovedale area of the Peak District.
The route initially follows an old packhorse trail where traders used to transport goods by animal from village to village for generations. It takes you down past a dramatic limestone valley and then back up the hill towards Alstonefield.
Alstonefield is a pretty village now inhabited by the retired wealthy and commuters as well as the original farming community. Sitting outside the pub, The George, shows locals displaying a lot of formal and posh "country wear" – Barbour must do very well from this village. The George itself is a very small bar with perhaps a dozen tables available for rather top end meals. There are quite a few tables outside also; meaning the place doubles or trebles in size in summer months, and the view is over the village green with further opportunity to sit with a drink. The beer is good – Jennings or Marsden’s both reasonable traditional brews. A party of 11 turned up without food reservations on New Year's Eve and were astounded to be told there were no tables for them – take a tip and book ahead if you fancy a splurge meal here.
We held out appetite for the smaller village of Milldale, which we got to by walking past the pretty church of Alstonefield before taking a hike down a very narrow metalled road to the River Dove. I loved the moss covered dry stone walls on the way down the hill.
At Milldale is a wonderful little sandwich shop selling sandwiches, cakes and pasties from a hatch in the side of the cottage. A fine tuna sandwich can be had for £1.80, and the place to eat it is just round the corner by the river where you can share the bread with the hopeful ducks that mill around your feet.
Unfortunately, Milldale isn't an undiscovered haven and you will be most unlikely to have the experience to yourself. The trip across the narrow packhorse stone bridge and wander along the river valley bottom is likewise popular, but the final trip back up the hill through a heavily mossy wooded cleft soon sorts out the walkers from the day trippers.
Considering the walk is a mere 6 miles, it covers a huge diversity of dales landscape, from rocky limestone escarpments where sheep cling to the steep valley sides above you, through pretty villages where beer and food is available, and then to the beautiful and gentle dovedale, and a final climb through woods and across farmland.
The start of the walk is only 8 miles from Ashbourne; if you only manage one walk during your stay in the area, make sure it is this one.