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A short walk, predominantly easy with a strenuous roadside ascent back into Alton at the end.
This part of the Churnet Valley is most attractive and walker friendly, with the added interest of Alton Castle, and Alton Towers, both designed, in part, by the early 19th century architect, A.W.N. Pugin.
Pugin is also famous for his design, in collaboration with Charles Barry, of the Houses of Parliament. The Ramblers Retreat is a very well known all purpose catering establishment, much frequented by walkers, at the entrance to Dimmingsdale, part of the Forest Enterprises land in East Staffordshire. The former Churnet Valley railway line provides an excellent return route to Alton, a pleasant large village, with inns and shops.
From the car park behind the Village Hall go down a few steps to join the road and walk down the roadside for a little more than 100 yards to road junctions by the circular stone 18th century lockup.
Pass this structure and turn left into Knight Lane, downhill to reach another junction by the Royal Oak Inn. Go across the road and take the waymarked track to the right of the inn, part of the Staffordshire Way.
1. Go downhill initially, before rising along a broad, unsurfaced roadway. Pass a house, still rising above the woods of the Churnet Valley. Keep to the left of the buildings of Toothill Farm, now with striking views back to the castle. The path becomes a narrow walled lane, leading to a junction by a signpost. For a viewpoint turn sharp right for about 40 yards to the National Trust Toothill Wood, on the top of a vertical cliff face. Keep hold of children!
2. From the viewpoint return to the junction, ignore the Staffordshire Way sign, and go ahead to follow a ‘foot-path’ signpost, along a walled lane, bearing slightly right. Join a broader access drive, continuing down the side of Rakes Dale. Pass stable buildings, then rake back sharply to the right to carry on along another descending access drive. In a little more than 100 yards go over a way-marked stile on the left to pass in front of a house. After the house, go ahead to walk over close cropped grass along the valley bottom to reach a stile and a short track leading to a surfaced roadway, by the entrance gates to Rakes Dale House. Turn right, pass a house set back on the left, and join the public road at a tight bend.
3. Turn left and, in 20 yards, fork left along a broad rising track, signposted ‘footpath to Smelting Mill and Dimmingsdale’. We are now back with the Staffordshire Way. Stay with this track through woodland for about 300 yards, going straight on at a junction then, as the main track rises, fork right to descend along a deep cut path leading directly to the celebrated Ramblers’ Retreat, where refreshments are available.
4. From the Retreat, return to the road and go through a gate opposite, leading to the obvious Lord’s Bridge spanning the River Churnet, followed by another bridge which crosses the trackbed of the former Churnet Valley railway line. Turn left immediately after the latter to descend across a plank bridge to the trackbed. Turn left to walk easily back to the former Alton station, where the buildings have been well maintained. Noteworthy is the length of the platforms, presumably intended to cope with excursion trains which brought thousands of visitors to the adjacent Alton Towers Amusement Park.
5. Go up the steps on the right to join the public road. Turn right, cross the river and plod along the roadside, passing the Alton Bridge, the Talbot and the Wild Duck Hotels, on the steep rise to the village; from the bottom section the views of Alton Castle are superb. At a road junction in the village, bear right to stay with the main road as far as the lock-up. Bear left here to retrace the outward route along Lime Kiln Lane and return to the car park.
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