Places to see birds

Lathkill Dale

Male blackcap in hawthorn bush
Blackcap Photo: RSPB

A description of Lathkill Dale and its birds is best given by following the path from the parking area on the B5055 near Monyash to its confluence with the River Bradford at Alport.

After crossing pasture in a shallow dry valley, Lathkill Dale descends to become a shady wooded gorge - a section that can be good for redstart. At the bottom of this, the dale opens out - although it is still dry, at least as far as Lathkill Head Cave. This more open area can be a good for wheatear, raven, buzzard and peregrine and is also known for its abundance (in early summer) of Jacobs ladder - an otherwise scarce flower.

In all but the driest weather there should be some water in the river by Sheepwash Bridge. This area can be good for grey wagtail and water vole. Further downstream, the river cascades over a mossy rock step where dippers often nest in summer - although these can be prone to disturbance by people (including bird photographers!) and dogs. All these species, along with moorhen and mallard, can also be seen on the millpond of Carters Mill, a little further downstream.

The path continues through Palmerston Wood. This section of river is particularly prone to disappearing in dry conditions. This natural tendency of a limestone river is exacerbated by the abundance of old lead mining shafts which draw the water underground. Although the woods on the north side of the valley are either plantations or have regrown since the cessation of industrial activity, those on the steep far side are ancient and very undisturbed. The interest in this section is therefore mainly in the woodland birds which include blackcap, chiffchaff, willow and garden warblers, great spotted woodpecker, spotted flycatcher and tawny owl.

Below Over Haddon, the path continues past the pool known as 'The Blue Waters' where water previously underground has been forced to the surface by an impervious layer of basalt. From here onwards, flow is therefore much more guaranteed. Beyond the Blue Waters is a succession of weirs constructed to encourage trout to breed and for use as fishing pools. Here, the calm surface and deeper waters are perfect for ducks, kingfisher, moorhen and coot. At Conksbury Bridge, the path switches to the opposite side of the river and, having become a fully fledged river flowing beside rich pasture, the Lathkill finally reaches Alport where it joins the River Bradford.

Lathkill Dale lies about two miles south-west of Bakewell. There is a pay and display car park at Over Haddon, from where a steep lane descends into the dale, as well as roadside parking on the B5055 near Monyash, at Conksbury Bridge (on the minor road between Bakewell and Newhaven) and at Alport.

Some parts of the route described above can be tricky, especially around Ricklow Quarry near the top of the dale where smooth, often wet limestone needs to be traversed. The easiest access is along the track from Over Haddon as far as Bateman's House. However, this and its continuation to Carters Mill is concessionary and may be closed on Wednesdays during the pheasant shooting season. After heavy rain, sections of it may also become flooded - although there is usually a way round.

In Over Haddon, there are public toilets at the car park as well as a tea garden and the Lathkil Hotel. There is also the Old Smithy cafe and the Bulls Head pub in Monyash as well as pubs and shops in Youlgreave - not too far from Alport.