Monsal Head – A Circular Walk

This walk was great for introducing a seven year old to the Peak District.

Monsal Head

I had a friend and her seven year old son stay with me for a few days over half term. In the past this friend and I have enjoyed some wonderful walks in the Peak District and now her son is getting a bit older we decided it was time we got out there again and introduced him to the delights of the Peaks.

We chose a shortish walk (a bit under five miles), with lots of things to do along the way to hold a small boy’s interest, and a tasty lunch stop midway.

Ashford in the Water

We parked in Ashford in the Water, a chocolate box village in the White Peak. The White Peak is so called because it sits on a layer of limestone. The buildings and dry stone walls are built from the limestone which gives a whitish tint.

Ashford in the Water

After a quick play in playground next to the car park we explored the village. Sheepwash Bridge held our young companion’s attention for a while as he splashed in the water collecting bits of rock and slivers of old broken pottery from the riverbed.

Ashford in the Water
Sheep pen with a gap through which sheep would be pushed into the river.

There has been a bridge over the River Wye here since medieval times. Its name comes from the attached sheep pen into which sheep were herded before being dunked in the river prior to being shorn.

Ashford in the Water

The bridge is pedestrianised now and is a popular place for feeding the ducks.

Leaving the village behind we headed uphill across fields to reach a lane.


Climbing over the stile we walked up the narrow lane which wasn’t much more than a track and was bordered on both sides by dry stone walls. The seven year old found plenty of sticks to play with on this stretch.


The lane ended at a gate and became a narrower path with great views of the fields below.

Walking to Monsal Head

There were plenty of cows most of which were lying down. As this was meant to be a sign of rain and the forecast had predicted rain for later in the afternoon we weren’t too happy about this, but despite our pleading they refused to stand up.


We continued along the lane, stopping to eat blackberries, until we entered a wooded area. Soon afterwards the land to the left dropped away steeply and through the trees we got our first view of the viaduct at Monsal Head.


Not long afterwards the path popped up into the car park where there is a pub, a cafe and gift shop, an ice cream van and lots of great spots for taking photos of the viaduct.

Viaduct at Monsal

The view down Monsal Dale and up Wye Valley is gorgeous. It’s hard to believe now that when the viaduct was built in the 1870s there was a lot of objection to it as it was said to spoil the view. Now it’s recognised as adding even more photogenicity to what is already a picture postcard perfect panorama.

Trains no longer operate on this route and it has been transformed into the Monsal Trail. Walkers and cyclists can even follow the route through the disused tunnel that now forms part of the trail.

Monsal Viaduct

We stopped for lunch in the coffee shop. As it was really busy, I waited for a table whilst friend and seven year old walked down to the viaduct to explore a bit more. I’ve done this several times before so didn’t mind being the one left behind.

After lunch (which included chocolate and Guinness cake) we crossed the road and took a slightly shorter route back walking through fields and over more stiles.

Walking through fields

Along the way we found a very hollow tree which seven year old could fit inside and a very muddy ditch which he attempted to swim in.

Back in Ashford in the Water there was time for another play by the Sheepwash Bridge before driving home.

Ashford in the Water

This was a great first walk to do with a seven year old and a good introduction to the Peak District for him. As you can see there was plenty to attract his attention and we didn’t get one, ‘I’m bored, can we go home now?’

We know it was a success because he wants to come back again.

So do I.

Have you walked with young children? Share your tips in the comments below.

Author: Anne

Join me in my journey to live a life less boring, one challenge at a time. Author of the forthcoming book 'Walking the Kungsleden: One Woman's Solo Wander Through the Swedish Arctic'.

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