Returning to Thorpe, we turned left by the ‘Dog and Partridge’, dipping suddenly downhill past the entrance to the ‘Peveril of the Peak’ hotel, and across the Dove to Thorpe Cloud, a village, and a hill guarding the entrance to Dovedale. Up again, then a rough, steep pitch brought us by the banks of the river again, and led us into the limestone gorge. A little farther on the road ended suddenly, where a crowd of motors was drawn up, and the hillside was thickly peopled. The real road lay across the river, and at first we feared that we should have to retrace our steps for half a mile, but Tom discovered some stepping stones, and hoisting the bikes on to our shoulders, we crossed quite easily, to the accompaniment of stares from the crowd. There, the real glories of this valley commenced, and there lay the most wonderful three and a half miles in the world.
From Thorpe Cloud to Dove Holes, the scenery is as though carried out by a giant artist from a fairy design. Everything is on so magnificent a scale, yet so exquisitely beautiful in all its detail. Trees, bushes, undergrowth, elfin dells and goblin rocks are everywhere; the path along which we walked and scrambled with the bikes, was at first on fairly open ground, though rocky and uneven, but across the river the hills were a mass of foliage, of every conceivable shade of green, even now in early Spring, when nature’s awakening is only just beginning. On the Derbyshire side the limestone had weathered into rugged cliffs and fantastic pinnacles, and a little farther on we crossed Sharplow Dale. Near here we started to spend money like water, paying 1d for the privilege of visiting the two Reynard caves, the ‘Hill’ and the ‘Kitchen’. We scrambled up a rocky slope, to the high, bare cliff and, above, the natural arch in a great rib of rock that marks the opening to the two caves.
From a precarious perch over the arch, we got a fine view of the dale. Returning to our machines, we were persuaded into buying some picture postcards, and were shown one which the old lady in charge of the stall said she wouldn’t sell. It was of the ‘Hill’ cave with Reynard inside, an effect which is caused by the shadow from the rocks, and which only appears at rare intervals. That, I believe, is how the caves got their name. Undoubtedly, if we had paid a price high enough, we could have obtained that print, for probably there were more for others! Tissington Spires, an array of needle-like pinnacles, could be seen from below the caves, and across the water, half hidden by trees, we could see the limestone spires of Dovedale Church. This of course is not a church, but just a name given such as abound in Dovedale, to the masses of limestone, and which bear a fanciful semblance to the buildings so named. A little farther on, we came to the Straits, where the river narrows between its tree-clad banks, and where we could only just scramble along the path.
On the far side of the Straits, we passed a little wood to where the cliff comes down to the river, and where the ‘Lions Head’, a rock which has weathered to a remarkably close resemblance to the head of a lion, juts out. Here we were at Pickering Tor, a great round bastion of limestone with five distinct points, the Lion’s rock being on the right, and a huge tor, with a cave at its base, being on the left. There also, we saw Ilam rock standing up like a needle out of a deep pool in the Dove. There was no doubt that that the scenery was hypnotising us. We could have scrambled and climbed along this wondrous dale for hours, but we remembered the time, 3.30pm, and the sixty odd miles before us, so with great resoluteness, we tramped, scrambled and carried the bikes onwards. Passing the big hill with its serrated and weather-worn outlines called the ‘Nabs’, we came to those two natural arched recesses in the rocky hillside called the Dove Holes. The larger arch has a span of over 50 feet and rises to a height of over 30 feet, but the other is not so majestic. From here, the dale becomes barren, and a very rough passage of half a mile took us to Milldale, a hamlet, where we gained the Alstonfield road. An easy climb through a defile to Lode Mill followed – then the road jumped up in front, and very soon we were tramping. Half a mile to Alstonfield, and a quarter mile beyond that, was walked, then down into the dumps, and up again. The hot dinner started to tell on us now, making us sleepy and knocking our pace down to a mere crawl. The road did the rest.
For the next three miles to Hulme End, we did quite a lot of ‘shanks’, but so far the scenery was good, and gave us some wild views, but from Hulme End, it went ‘flat’, but hillier! Anyway, the milestones were knocking the figures down. Leek was our objective, the mileage being 8.5, then 7.5, and then Warslow. A long descent, now, with the road before us curling up the hillside, to creep over a ridge. A fine wind was behind, but as soon as we started to climb, we came off, and then tramped uphill for 1.5 miles, cursing that hot dinner. The next milestone indicated ‘Leek, 8.5 miles’; then it dawned on us that we had taken the wrong road. A perusal of the map showed us that we were making two sides of a huge triangle, but we decided that we would carry on – it was too late to go back. Then, as we saw the road that we should have been on, we were not altogether sorry. Westwards a huge ridge bounded the view, and over the ridge we could see the road twisting, for all the world like a piece of string.
Another sharp rush down took us to Onecote, then up again walking another mile to the summit, from where we saw the road winding over another ridge. Again down and up, with again a view of the string-like road going ‘over the top’. We knew that before long we should have to branch off, but all we could see were roads that dragged over the hills – and the time was 5.15pm. Usually, the hillier the road the better, for the scenery and the views lie on the hard, high roads, but this time, we had struck a blank, and the dinner was doing its worst. Reaching the valley, we came to our branch, which proved to be a good main road, level, and with the wind dead behind us we made some amends. Another climb brought us above Leek, then dropping down into the cobbled streets, we soon left the ‘Capital of the Moorlands’ behind. The road, after running level for some miles, climbed, until we stood above Rudyard reservoirs, a huge sheet of water in a very pretty setting.
Rushton, the kicking off place for the Dane Valley, gave us a fine little tea place at 6.15, and thus fortified we started at 7pm to cover the last 38 miles home. As we sped along the glorious winding road to Bosley we could feel our form returning, so that long before Macclesfield was reached we were humming comfortably along and feeling better than we had done all day. From Macclesfield we joined the Stockport road for about two miles, leaving it in favour of the winding byways that took us to old-world Prestbury and Dean Row to the Wilmslow road at Handforth. We wasted no time until Kingsway End was reached, where, after a brief pow-wow, we parted at 9pm. The same road brought me home for 10.15.
I hardly know what to say about today – except that it has been worth it. We are introduced to a new district – and a very hilly one too – but Dovedale…. The home of Isaac Walton….. Of Charles Cotton…. And a worthy pilgrimage for all who seek to see the wonders of nature and the Open Road. Yes, it was worth it.