On one of the many blisteringly hot days of Summer 2018 I took the advice in the Peak Pilgrimage Guidebook and walked the five or so miles from Ashbourne to the start of the pilgrimage at Ilam.
It proved to be a great decision . It got me back into the habit of walking alone away from areas with which I am familiar; it enabled me to “switch off” before the start of the pilgrimage proper and the walk in itself was delightful.
After leaving the busy streets of Ashbourne I soon joined the Tissington Trail. This is a cycleway along the line of the old Buxton to Ashbourne railway route and I would cross it and join it at various stages on my journey over the next few days. Quite quickly I entered the Ashbourne Tunnel and as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, hopped quickly out of the way of approaching cyclists.
Very soon, however, after passing a busy campsite I had my first “Ah” moment. That moment I always recognise when I am away from others and I can fully relax into my surroundings. Open countryside and the village of Mapleton were spread out in the dale ahead of me.
I met a lovely lady, cleaning brasses in advance of a forthcoming wedding in the church of St Mary’s in Mapleton. She spent sometime explaining to me the history of the Church which had been designed by James Gibbs, a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren.
The Church itself was cool and peaceful. At the edge of the field opposite I squeezed through the first of what came to be very familiar tight openings, in place of gates and stiles and wandered down to the River Dove. Further serenity awaited.
I have never walked alone in the Peak District before and this being the height of summer I had worried that it may be very busy but I didn’t pass a single soul along the two mile stretch beside the River. At one point I stopped in the cooling shade, sat down on some pebbles and simply meditated on the beauty that surrounded me.
Eventually I reached the Eighteenth Century Colwell Bridge. There is a milestone by the packhorse bridge indicating ‘Cheadle 11 miles’. Apparently that dates back to the days when this was a coach-road between Ashbourne and Cheadle. The road though was considered too steep and was eventually deserted. It was deserted also when I was there!
A few gentle ups and downs across hills and dales followed until I reached my destination of Ilam. I crossed over the bridge and just as promised by the guidebook an ice cream van was in prime position. A bench conveniently close to the river beckoned whilst I ate my reward.
The Church of the Holy Cross, Ilam was up ahead of me but before visiting that I checked into my accommodation.
I was booked to stay at Ilam Youth Hostel, which is owned by the National Trust – accommodation worthy of its own blog post!