A Day Trip to Ilam: the Prettiest Village in Staffordshire

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Ilam (pronounced ‘eye-lamb’), in England’s county of Staffordshire, is a picturesque village in the most southerly part of the Peak District National Park. It’s most famous for the incredibly stunning Neo-Gothic Ilam Hall (now a youth hostel owned by the National Trust but managed by the YHA) with its large grounds and parkland, as well as Ilam’s interesting cottages from the 1800s, which are Swiss-inspired.

The village of Ilam is set in the Dove Valley with breath-taking hill views surrounding the entire sleepy village. The area is a natural beauty spot attracting walkers and admirers of nature all year round.

Having lived on the edge of the Peak District for a few months and spent time visiting all of the main ‘tourist’ villages, Ilam (along with Castleton,) was absolutely my favourite. The grand Hansel and Gretel-esque village of Ilam is undoubtedly one of the prettiest and unique villages in Staffordshire (and indeed the Peaks).

Ilam is an absolute jewel of the Peak District. I left feeling filled with a child-like sense of awe and magic after simply one day and will absolutely be visiting again soon.

A day trip to Ilam is certainly enough time to explore the village itself, but if you’re a keen walker, then you’ll no doubt want to come back to check out some of the many surrounding footpaths to the scenic landscapes of Dovedale.

Here’s an insight into how you can spend a wonderful day trip to Ilam.

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how to get to Ilam

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Golden hour at Dovedale, on the way to Ilam, and where you can walk to from the village via a footpath

Ilam lies towards the south of the Peak District National Park on the river Manifold. It’s just under 20 miles east of Stoke-on-Trent, 34 miles west of Nottingham and 35 miles southwest of Sheffield. 

The best way to get to Ilam is undoubtedly by car as unfortunately there are no direct public transport links.

There are a few options for car parking in Ilam. There’s a small amount of free streetside parking along the road opposite the swiss-style houses (if you’re lucky), but the main car park is at Ilam Hall, which is free for National Trust members, or costs non-members £4.50 for up to four hours.

Down the road in Dovedale, car parking is also free for National Trust members. For non-members it’s £3.50 for up to four hours, or £5 all day. Be aware that the car park closes at night with automatic bollards, and overnight parking at Dovedale car park is not allowed.

The best things to do in Ilam:

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Everything on your day trip to Ilam can (and should) be accessed by foot. The village has only around 400 residents and it’s small and easily walkable. Dovedale is also less than a mile away from Ilam.

To be honest, there’s nothing majorly adrenaline-inducing or thrilling about Ilam. But it’s not boring in the same stroke. It’s a quaint country village ideal for slowing down, enjoying relaxed strolls through the tranquil landscapes and admiring just how damn pretty everything is.

So here are the best things (albeit a fairly limited list) to do on your day trip to Ilam in Staffordshire.

Visit the Church of the Holy Cross

Church Of The Holy Cross in Ilam

I am not a religious woman, but the WOW stunning setting of this church was almost enough to convert me!

Positioned on the manicured lawns of Ilam Park, against a backdrop of the grassy hills of Dovedale, including the intriguing flat-topped pyramid-like hill of Thorpe Cloud, the Church of the Holy Cross in Ilam is like admiring the subject of a famous painting. It really is one of the most picturesque and worship-worthy settings of a church I have seen!

Originally Saxon, the church has been restored over the centuries, and so now it’s primarily 17th and 19th century.

Inside the church is a shrine and the remains of St Bertram, the son of an 8th century Mercian king who dedicated his life to prayer and meditation in grief after the death of his wife and newborn child by wolves.

Walk around Ilam Park

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After a visit to the church, a walk around Ilam Park to visit the small formal Italian Gardens, admire the grandiose of Ilam Hall and enjoy the vast parkland is a must. 

Ilam Hall is a 17th century gothic manor built by the Port family who owned it for over 250 years, which sits in 84 acres of National Trust Woodland. 

After various owners over the centuries, the vast mansion was eventually sold, rather incredibly, for demolition in the 1930s. Despite being half demolished, it was purchased by Sir Robert McDougal for the National Trust on the understanding the remaining parts would be turned into a youth hostel, which it is to this day.

Although you cannot go into Ilam Hall as a visitor, there is a second hand bookshop in the stables area, and you can spend a good hour or so wandering along the Manifold river, or taking a longer walk from the grounds, such as the 10 mile Ilam Park to Wetton circular walk.

Dogs on a lead are welcome throughout Ilam Park.

– Have lunch (or tea and cake) at the Manifold Tea Room

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Whether you want to try the famous Derbyshire Oat Cake, grab a coffee or ice cream to-go or enjoy a sit down hot or cold lunch, the Manifold Tea Room located in the stables of Ilam Park, is a great place to get some food and drink.

Well, technically it’s the only place in Ilam to eat, but the food is good quality and the setting pleasant and generally what you’d expect from a National Trust cafe. 

Manifold Tea Room also has plenty of outdoor seating for when the weather is a little warmer.

– Admire the swiss-style architecture

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Walking out Ilam Park, you’ll approach a cluster of residential alpine-style houses to your left, and further up the hill, an attractively striking schoolhouse. They were built in 1840 by Jesse Russell, a former owner of Ilam Hall who had inherited a fortune from his father, a soap manufacturer. 

Jesse commissioned architect Sir George Gilbert Scott to create a ‘cottage ornee’ estate village because the surrounding countryside reminded him of the Swiss Alps. 

Today these fairy-tale buildings are an iconic part of Ilam, drawing tourists from all over the area to see them.

– Check out Ilam Cross

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Just next to the houses is a prominent grade II gothic obelisk in the middle of a small roundabout as you enter Ilam village.

Ilam Cross was also built in 1840 by Jesse Russell, but as a memorial to his wife, Mary, and was restored in 2011 by the Ilam Cross Trust. Take a moment to read the plaque about its history and look for the angels and imp carved out from the limestone. 

– Walk through Dovedale (and across the Stepping Stones)

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Dovedale is a well renowned National Trust beauty spot with an abundance of hills, caves, limestone ravines, rock formations and riverside footpaths to enjoy. Though Dovedale is probably most famous for its stepping stones across the River Dove, which if you look closely, are packed with little fossils. 

However if crossing slippery stepping stones on a gushing river doesn’t appeal (or in case of high river levels) luckily there’s also a bridge shortly after the Dovedale car park which you can take to cross over instead.

Make sure you leave a couple of hours to explore Dovedale as the scenery is epic and with so many natural wonders to see along the footpath, you’ll want to take your time.

To get there from Ilam, either walk back to your car and drive to the National Trust Dovedale car park, or walk along the footpath from Ilam just off Thorpe Road (opposite side to the river). You can do an out and back walk or make it into a circular route, such as the easy-moderate 6.4km Ilam to Dovedale Circular which will take around 1.5 hours to complete.

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Where else to visit near Ilam

If you have longer than a day in the area, or happen to have taken in the sights of Ilam a little on the fast side and want to see more, then I would recommend driving 4 miles (10 minutes) to the nearby town of Tissington.

Tissington is slightly more pristine and posher village than Ilam (as the whole village including the shops are managed by the private estate, Tissington Hall). However it’s another very attractive and popular village to stop at and have a look around, including at the church, candle shop, butchers, craft shop and more.

Tissington is said to be the place where the English tradition Well Dressing originates from. The practice was first recorded in 1753 and involved decorating wells and springs with flower petals and ribbons as a thanks to God for fresh water. It’s still an annual tradition in Tissington to this day, as well as many other villages across the Peak District of Derbyshire and Staffordshire.

That being said, there are six different wells to find throughout Tissington.

A day trip to Ilam is a wonderful way to spend a full day in the Peak District for anyone whose interests include admiring pretty architecture and walking through the English countryside. Ilam almost feels like a frozen-in-time lived-in model village (but with personality and quirkiness!).

Have you been on a day trip to Ilam or visited before? Would you visit on a trip to the Peak District? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

More posts on the Peak District:

Heading to The UK Soon? Don’t forget these essentials!

Flights: compare and search using Skyscanner

Accommodation: hotels to hostels, glamping to apartments I always use Booking.com

Tours: to search and compare the best group tours and activities worldwide (with up to 20% off), use Viator

Visa: don’t forget to check the entry requirements for the passport you are travelling with

Inspiration: Lonely Planet’s guide to Great Britain or Lonely Planet’s guide to England

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3 thoughts on “A Day Trip to Ilam: the Prettiest Village in Staffordshire”

  1. I love the Peak District! It is such a beautiful part of the UK (with fab pubs!) I am ashamed to say, although I have been to Ilam, I was pronouncing it wrongly. Oops!

  2. Ilam is so charming and beautiful! We loved our day trips to The Cotswolds and South Downs last fall. Will have to add this village to our itinerary when we return to England.


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