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  • Writer's pictureHeather Moll

Dovedale and Thorpe Cloud


I went to Derbyshire in the summer of 2019 and no trip to the Peak is complete without a visit to Dovedale. I loved it so much I had Elizabeth and Darcy have to visit it in my Derbyshire-set murder mystery An Appearance of Goodness.


The Peak District covers much of Derbyshire and parts of Staffordshire, Cheshire and Yorkshire. Dovedale is a 3 mile section of the Dove valley–between the village of Milldale at the northern end and a hill called Thorpe Cloud at the south–that contains spectacular limestone gorge scenery.


The River Dove is a popular trout stream and has been for centuries. Dovedale became famous among fishermen following the publication of The Compleat Angler in 1653, an immediate success that celebrated the joys of fishing. William Gilpin’s Observations of Picturesque Beauty furthered interest in the area as he raves about Dovedale’s composition and beauty. He goes on about the beautiful views, the rock scenery, the river. Gilpin wrote in 1792:


On the whole Dove dale is perhaps one of the most pleasing pieces of scenery of the kind we any where meet with. It has something in it peculiarly characteristic. Its detached perpendicular rocks stamp it with an image entirely its own and for that reason it affords the greater pleasure.

Although tourism to Dovedale exploded with the Victorians (they were the ones who put in the famous stepping stones seen here) it was already a popular place with the Georgians. Tour guides of the era are filled with descriptions and details about what to see and where to stay.


When the Gardiners visit Derbyshire in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth and Darcy persevere through awkward conversation about the beauties of Matlock and Dovedale.


Upstream from the stepping stones are large limestone formations with names like Dovedale Castle, Lover’s Leap, Tissington Spires, and Reynards cave. The caves have had human activity since 13000 BCE, and there’s evidence across Dovedale of Bronze age activity and even Roman coins have been found.


You get the classic view of the lower section of Dovedale from Thorpe Cloud. A pivotal scene in the An Appearance of Goodness takes place when Darcy and Elizabeth decide to climb it. In this excerpt, Darcy is taking some of his guests and his sister to Dovedale. There’s been terrible flooding at Pemberley and everyone has finally convinced Darcy it’s not the end of the world if he takes one afternoon off and has some fun with his guests. The excerpt also explains how the hill got its name.

The road through the small village of Thorpe was along open pastures winding around the base of a mount that seemed to guard the entrance to Dovedale. Elizabeth raised her eyes to the perpendicular rocks across its summit. That would give a fine view of the Dove through the dale below.


“I was in hopes the road would be passable, but they tell me we cannot ford the river near Bunster Hill,” Darcy said by way of apology when they alighted. “The late flood carried away the bridge over which we were to drive and left a great hole in the bank in its place.”


Everyone declared that they had nothing to say against walking the last mile. They fell into pairs to walk along the margin of the river, with the Darcys insisting that she and Hester take the lead. The valley left room for little more than a channel of the river with a footpath along its banks. The wet season had caused the water to rise, nearly flooding the Staffordshire side and leaving only a small space to walk on the Derbyshire side.


The character of Elizabeth’s first view of Dovedale was pure grandeur. The hills swelled boldly from both sides of the river and their majestic summits seemed to be amongst the clouds. The river was still high, and they walked past a few intrepid anglers. It was a splendid scene, with water breaking over fragments of stone, and trees framing the river.


Near the same high hill she had seen from the carriage, they found themselves enclosed in a narrow and deep dale where the river bent sharply. Elizabeth and Hester stopped and raised their eyes to observe on one side many craggy rocks above one another to a vast height, and on the other an almost perpendicular ascent covered with grass and a few sheep.


“What do you think?” Miss Darcy asked her and Hester. “The area is celebrated for its wild and fantastic appearance.”


“Derbyshire is beautiful,” Hester said, breathlessly, turning to look to the other side of the Dove.


Elizabeth saw Darcy hiding a smile. Colonel Fitzwilliam laughed and stepped nearer to Hester. “It certainly is”–he took her by the shoulders and turned her to face the other side–“but that is Staffordshire. This is the Derbyshire side of the river.”


They all laughed, even Hester, and Elizabeth noticed that she did not shrug off Colonel Fitzwilliam’s hands or step away after he removed them.


The others talked of the rock formations farther upstream that they must see, but Elizabeth’s attention returned to the grand limestone hill.


“That is Thorpe Cloud,” Darcy said, coming away from the river to stand near her.


“Is it so named because it seems high enough to touch the clouds?”


He smiled. “No, sadly. Your reason would be more fitting for such a location. Cloud is simply a corruption of clud, an Anglo-Saxon word for a large rock or hill.”


“That is dull,” she said, turning to face him, “but we cannot blame it for its name.” She craned her neck to take it in again. “How high is it?”


“’Tis a moderate-sized hill.” He shrugged, looking at it with her. “Nearly a thousand feet?”


“For those of us from Hertfordshire, I would call that a mountain,” she cried.


Darcy laughed. “Then it is a shame you do not live in Derbyshire.”


He turned from looking at Thorpe Cloud to look at her, still with a smile on his face. Elizabeth thought of the unintended meaning behind his words. “Yes,” she said, looking into his eyes, “it is.” Comprehension seemed to strike him, and his amused expression turned tender. “I think,” she added softly so no one else could hear, “I could enjoy living here very much.”

Most of the land is in the National Trust. Dovedale was included within Peak District National Park when it became Britain's first National Park in 1951.


Do you like it when real places feature in fiction? Have you been to this area of the Peak District? I would go back in a heartbeat if the opportunity came.

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