The walk down Lathkill Dale is one of the finest and most popular limestone dale walks in the area and this circuit takes in that and the more discreet charms of Bradford Dale too. This is longer than most of the other limestone area walks and has both fine scenery and a chance to view the different aspects of the Lathkill valley as it proceeds from its source to its junction with the Wye.
You can start this walk from a variety of different points - from the spot described, from Monyash, Youlgreave, Over Haddon or even Middleton - and it is also possible to halve the distance by returning to the starting point across the fields from Over Haddon.
From the car park walk 150 metres to the main road and take a footpath which starts just opposite and leads across the fields a little north of west (a bearing of about 290 degrees). It heads directly for Calling Low farm, an isolated spot on a low hill overlooking Lathkill Dale, and is diverted around the rear of the farm before continuing in the same direction to reach Cales Dale, one of the tributary valleys of the Lathkill.
This narrow dale has numerous small cliffs along its edge and the descent into Cales Dale goes down some steep steps. You then climb up the other side a short way to reach a path coming down the dale. Turning right here will take you down the dale to reach Lathkill Dale quite shortly, but that would cut out the top section of the Lathkill, so turn left and climb up the other side, following the path which takes an unlikely looking line through the cliffs on the west side of the dale and then climbs a small side dale to reach One Ash Grange.
This farm is one of the oldest in the area, having been founded in mediaeval times as an outpost of Roche Abbey in Yorkshire, a Cistercian order who made a major contribution to the wool trade during this period. However the modern farm buildings, though old, are nothing like that old, but one wonders about the age of the curious cave shelter which lies alongside the path behind the farm. Note also the ancient pig stys behind the farm.
Continue along the farm track the other side of One Ash Grange, ignoring the path which branches off left. After a while the track passes through a gate and makes a 90 degree right-hand turn towards the Lathkill Valley. Follow it down to the floor of the dale, which it reaches with a long sloping descent.
If Lathkill House Cave is dry then the river usually appears at some springs just above the junction with Cales Dale and the path follows it along the unwooded north side until after about a kilometre the woods enclose both sides of the dale. It is here that the first evidence of lead mining appears and after another kilometre and half there is further evidence in the columns of an old aqueduct which once crossed the path taking water to the Mandale mine. The water was used to drive a large water wheel which in turn was used to pump water out of the mine workings - a good example of a circular argument perhaps. The mine lies in the woods on your left about 200 metres below the aqueduct columns - part of the engine house still stands and the main entrance to the mine is visible in the hillside behind. In summer it's usually very well hidden by the foliage.
Continuing down the river, you soon pass the outflow from the sough which drains Mandale mine, and the river widens into a series of ponds formed by weirs constructed at intervals down its course. This is trout-fishing country and the main purpose of the ponds is to rear fish. The valley here belongs to the Haddon Hall estate and fishing is strictly private.
A kilometre below Over Haddon is Conksbury bridge, one of the oldest bridges in the area. On a bluff overlooking it to the south there was once a village, but this was abandoned in mediaeval times, when the bridge was still new. Beyond Conksbury the path is diverted away from the river bank and you must cross the bridge and walk up the road a short distance to reach the continuation of the path which then takes you uneventfully to Alport and the junction with the Bradford river.
Cross the river here and continue up along the south side of the ponds. The dale curves around and at the head of a long bow-shaped pond there is a stone bridge across the stream (if there is one flowing). Cross here and follow the path which climbs the hillside to eventually traverse into the side dale which faces the bridge and emerge on the Middleton - Youlgreave road above.
The continuation of the dale is private, so you must turn right and walk along the road past Lomberdale Hall, the house which Thomas Bateman built for himself in the 1850s. At the next small dale a path leads off up to the left and this cuts off the corner to the next little road. It seems obvious to continues straight on up the dale opposite, but this isn't the quickest way - instead, turn left and take the next path, which climbs diagonally up the hillside past the inevitable lead mine spoil heaps back to the picnic site and the car park.