Alpine-style cottages, a Tudor Gothic Hall, an eccentric river and a wonderful background of soft green hills make Ilam a very popular place with visitors. Many of whom come to walk in Ilam Hall’s beautiful parkland, along the aptly named Paradise Walk by the River Manifold.
The Manifold disappears for most of its four or five mile route from Wetton Mill, to flow underground before emerging at the Boil Holes, in the grounds of Ilam Hall. Only in the rainy season does it behave like an ordinary river and flow above ground.
After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, John Port acquired the estate and built a house on the site of the present Ilam Hall. In 1809, David Pike Watts became the owner and on his death, it passed to his daughter. Her husband, Jesse Watts-Russell a wealthy industrialist, had a rather grand hall built. It had battlemented towers, ornamental chimneys and a flag tower. The architect, who designed the hall, was also engaged in the building of Alton Towers and there were some similarities between the two.
The former estate village was mostly demolished and replaced by alpine style cottages, which provided a marked contrast alongside some of the older more traditional buildings. Watts-Russell built the school and provided it with an endowment. It fits in so beautifully with the other alpine style cottages in the village that one cannot imagine any child not wanting to go to school!
In the middle of the village close by the bridge is a 30-foot mock-Eleanor memorial cross, erected in memory of Jesse Watts-Russell’s wife. The cross gave Sir Gilbert Scott inspiration for the Martyrs Memorial at Oxford.
Following Watts-Russell’s death, the hall was in the hands of the Hanbury family for a time, before being tried unsuccessfully as a restaurant, then sold, and partly demolished. In 1934, Sir Robert MacDougal was persuaded to buy it for the nation and give it to the Youth Hostels Association ‘for the perpetual use of the youth of the world’. As the YHA did not have a trust body, it gave the building to the National Trust. What remains today are the old entrance hall, armoury and servants’ quarters, which have been converted into a Youth Hostel. There are tea rooms, a shop, information facilities and a car park available for the use of the general public.
Ilam Park is free for all to walk round. Paradise Walk fringed by woodland, planted as a pleasure ground for the hall, is a favourite with most people. Half way along the path is the Battlestone, thought to be the shaft of a Saxon Cross made to commemorate a battle between the Saxons and Danes. The return journey is through Ilam Park, where just before you reach the hall you pass the Pepperpot, a very ornate dovecote.
Tucked away in the gardens is the grotto where William Congreve wrote his first play while recuperating from illness. Samuel Johnson also visited Ilam and it is said that Happy Valley, in his book ‘Rasselas’ was based on Paradise Walk.
A short distance further to the east is St Bertram’s Bridge, which carried the old road across the River Manifold before the present bridge existed. Bertram, who had connections with the Royal family of Mercia, was returning from Ireland with his wife and newborn child. He left them briefly, only to find on his return that wolves had savaged them both. At once he denounced his heritage and spent the rest of his life as a hermit preaching the gospel.
In the church of the Holy Cross, the chapel of St Bertram contains a shrine that became a place of pilgrimage in the middle ages and the scene of many miraculous cures. The Chantrey Chapel holds a finely carved memorial to David Pike Watts.
Dovedale House was once the vicarage, but because of its size proved costly to run. It is now a Residential Youth Centre, accommodating groups of young people for recreational and training purposes.
Only a short walk away is Dovedale, described by Ruskin as ‘An alluring first lesson in all that is beautiful’. The building of the Midland Railway in 1863 made the Peak only three hours from London.
Many were the thousands who got off the train at Alsop-en-le-Dale Station and walked the length of Dovedale before catching a train home at Thorpe Station. The railway is no more, but cars still bring thousands of visitors to what is one of England’s most famous beauty spots. The Dovedale Sheepdog Trials attract big crowds every August.
Let us leave the last words with Byron, who wrote with Dovedale in mind, to his friend the Irish poet Tom Moore, ‘I can assure you there are things in Derbyshire as noble as Greece or Switzerland’.
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PLACES OF SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE LOCALITY
Tissington Hall (Tel. 01335 352200) a fine Jacobean Manor House in the heart of the village, owned by the FitzHerbert family who built most of the cottages in Tissington. For further information see the special feature
Tissington Trail following the closure of the railway line, the track was converted into a trail and ever since has been popular with walkers and cyclists. The trail links up with the High Peak Trail. You can now either walk or cycle through some of the White Peak’s finest scenery without ever seeing a car!
Ilam Park the 158 acres of the park is managed by the National Trust. It lies on the banks of the River Manifold and includes a walk along an avenue of Lime Trees known as Paradise Walk. There is a National Trust shop, information centre and tearoom and entrance to the grounds is free to walkers.
Ilam Hall Tea Rooms (Tel. 01335 350245) provide excellent views of the Italian Gardens and beyond whether sitting inside, or in the garden. A good selection of hot meals and snacks are available. Open at weekends and normally every day during the summer. Please ring for details.
THE DISCOVER DERBYSHIRE AND THE PEAK DISTRICT GUIDE
Provides a wide range of features with heritage trails and detailed countryside walks, through some of the most scenically attractive countryside in the UK.
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The beautiful country park at Ilam is an ideal starting point for this walk that takes you through some of the Peak District’s finest countryside.
Dovedale is one of the most treasured beauty spots not only in the Peak District but also in the country. Photographs of the stepping-stones across the Dove must have appeared on more calendars and gift boxes of all shapes and sizes than any other countryside scene in England.
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