It’s probably an apocryphal fact but I’ve heard it said that 20 million people live within an hour’s drive of the Peak District national park and that they all probably visit once a year. Which is another way of saying “a lot of people visit the Peak District each year”. On a sunny summer Sunday it can sometimes feel like all 20 million have turned up at once - particularly if you are waiting to cross the stepping stones in Dovedale. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ilam-park-dovedale-and-the-white-peak/features/visiting-dovedale
But just a short walk away from this ever-popular spot is a delightful place where you can follow a river course in a landscaped park and feel as if it is your very own domain.
Ilam Hall and Park is now owned by the National Trust and the Youth Hostel Association operates a youth hostel situated in the old hall. Regular walkers in the park know about the charming tearoom run by the Trust and it is a busy place on sunny days, but for those who are prepared to walk a couple of hundred metres from the visitor centre a haven of tranquility awaits.
You may stumble across “Congreve’s seat” - a rocky shelter where the 18th century playwright is supposed to have written some his work. The path down to the river brings you out at a spot where the river manifold appears to ‘boil’ up from a series of underground tunnels - called, unsurprisingly ‘the boil holes’. Intrepid underwater cave explorers have mapped this underground river system, which is a common feature of limestone landscapes. For a large part of the year sections of the manifold valley are dry, with the river water running underground for miles, emerging in the park at the boil holes.
On the far side of the river from the hall there is a steep, short walk through a lime wood. This is seldom a busy place and the sights, sounds and smells of the woodland will stay with you for a long time (in a good way!).
Return across the bridge and make your way back up to the buildings for a well earned afternoon tea (or a bowl of soup if it’s been a chilly day).
Stand on the terrace next to the hall and look out towards the entrance to Dovedale with Thorpe Cloud (a limestone ‘reef knoll’ that was once an atoll reef in an ocean over 300 million years ago) directly in front of you. One of the great views of the south peak.
A few people arrive here by accident - thinking they are coming to the ‘plague village’ - only to find that they are at Ilam not Eyam. An easy mistake to make but a happy accident of discovery nonetheless.
More on the history of Ilam Hall at https://houseandheritage.org/2016/05/11/ilam-hall/