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Lathkill Dale National Nature Reserve (Derbyshire)

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It is one of the five dales which make up the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve. I

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      07.05.2009 07:53
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      A really beautiful place to spend the day.

      The Peak District has many beautiful walks across its lovely and varied terrain. Many of the best of them are in the 'White Peak' area where crystal clear streams cascade through lushly vegetated limestone valleys.

      In such an outstandingly lovely region, Lathkill Dale shines as one of the most beautiful of the White Peak's dales. The river rises above Monyash and flows down to the river Wye near Haddon Hall. The upper reaches are designated a National Nature Reserve as a recognition of the significance of its special wildlife, geological and historical significance.

      The usual way that I start my walk is to park at the car park at Monyash. Parking is free and there are toilets here, too. Another possible start is to park at Over Haddon and walk upstream. The parking here is not free and my car was subjected to vandalism here, so I avoid it.

      At Monyash, the valley is dry for the first kilometre of the walk. The valley is deep here, with the limestone walls rising high above, blocking out the morning or afternoon sun for a while. The lower slopes of the valley are carpeted in a spectacular array of wildflowers. The most special is Jacob's Ladder. This beautiful purple flower is rare in this country, but grows in profusion in Lathkill Dale. A visit in June or July will see the plant flowering in all its glory.

      The river rises, in an impressive manner, out of the mouth of Lathkill House Cave. In times of drought, this part of the river will be also dry, with the water flowing underground, but after heavy rains, the water comes thundering out of the mouth of the cave making it impassable.

      Here, the valley widens and becomes even more impressive. The carpets of flowers continue, attracting many species of butterfly including the rare northern brown argus. On a sunny day, the air will be filled with many different butterflies, creating a riotously colourful display.

      Lathkill Dale looks completely natural, but it has been modified by man. Until the 18th Century, the area was heavily mined for its lead. The workings have been absorbed into the landscape, if anything, making it look even more beautiful.

      Some remains do still exist, such as the ruins of the Mandale Mine that can be seen at the side of the river before reaching Over Haddon. The mine was in operation for a very long time, from the 13th Century until finally being abandoned in 1851.

      At this point, the valley is heavily wooded with oak and ash. Here, in the summer months, the woodlands resound with the songs of summer visitors like blackcap and willow warbler. Great spotted and green woodpeckers are found here also; you may hear the great spotted drumming on a tree, whilst the green woodpecker calls its laughing 'yaffle' call.

      The river before Over Haddon is not very wide, but is home to one our most endearing birds, the dipper. Lathkill Dale is, in fact, one of the best places in England to see this lovely chocolate brown bird living up to its name by dipping under the water looking for insect larvae.

      At Over Haddon, the river can disappear during times of low rainfall, re-emerging in 'bubble springs' out of the limestone river bed. Below Over Haddon, the river is controlled by a series of weirs. These ensure that water remains present all year round. It's here where you get the best view of the river from a vantage point about 40 metres above the water's surface.

      Isaac Walton described the Lathkill as the 'purest and most transparent stream' he had seen. Looking down, it's easy to see what he meant. The water is so clear that it almost appears invisible, with the fronds of weed seeming to be waving in a non-existent wind with brown trout flying between them!

      At the bottom of the series of weirs is Conksbury Bridge, built in medieval times. Here it's worth pausing and looking back. In my opinion, this is one of the best views in England. The river valley is heavily wooded, and with the river falling down through the weirs, the effect is almost magical.

      On a sunny day, the view is breath taking; if you've packed a picnic, the benches here are a good place to eat, whilst enjoying the view. If you've got a bit of spare bread, you can throw it into the river and watch the trout and ducks race to get to it first!

      From the lower valley, there are circular routes through farmland back to Monyash, but because the valley is so beautiful, I always elect to simply retrace my route back up the valley. The entire walk is about 9 miles, and I'm usually quite tired, but extremely content when I reach the car at the end of my walk.

      There's a rather pleasant pub called the Bull's Head in Monyash where you can get a nice meal to celebrate the end of your walk.

      Lathkill Dale, as I hope you can tell from my review, is a stunningly beautiful place, with outstanding historical and natural history interest. Despite the near two hour car drive to get here, I visit every year. If you're in the area, this is well worth a visit.

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