Church of the Holy Cross, Ilam, The Manifold Valley, Staffordshire
Most visitors to this part of middle England head for the famous Dovedale, it certainly is beautiful. A Limestone dale through which over the millennia the River Dove has cut its way. The River itself was made famous by the Angler Izaak Walton, his writing ” The Complete Angler” of 1653 is still a fisherman’s read. But the Dove also creates the boundary between Derbyshire and Staffordshire. So if the traveller continues on into Staffordshire they will enter an equally beautiful but very different valley – The Manifold Valley.
Pass through the Swiss style village of Ilam and enter the Ilam Estate. The Neo Gothic Hall stands on a rise above a sweep in the River Manifold and overlooks The Church of the Holy Cross with its distinctive saddleback roof to the bell tower.
Holy Cross is built upon Saxon foundations but the building you see today dates mainly to the 17th & 19th centuries. An ancient tomb to St. Bertram stand is a chapel to the south side of the Church.
The story or legend that surrounds St. Bertram is too long to recount here but a search on the web search will tell you all (..oodegr.com/english/biographies/arxaioi/Bertram_Mercia.htm )
In a Chapel on the north side of the church is a memorial to one of the Watt – Russell family who at one time owned the Hall and indeed had the village built in Swiss style. This rather moving memorial was installed into the new chapel in 1831. The work of Sculptor Sir Francis Chantrey it depicts David Pike-Watts (d 1831) with his daughter Mary and her 3 children…a dramatic sculpture in a dramatic setting…
The Hall today is a Youth Hostel and what a great location for exploring the Beech tree clad Manifold Valley and its surrounds of Staffordshire and Derbyshire. The Hall has an Italian style gardens currently being restored by the National Trust and gives great views towards Bunster Hill, Thorpe Cloud and Dovedale. But explore the immediate estate along the river is itself well worth while. Note that at time the River will disappear and run below the surface. The limestone here is so porous that underground water channels and springs are common…. it all depends upon the weather! Look and you will find the famous 12c Battle Stone and discover for yourself the Springs and Wells. The river bank during the summer months has an abundance of wild flowers….
As this is now a National Trust Property you can refresh yourselves with a Cream Tea and a laze in the garden… and just enjoy the view
Bypassing the honey spot of Dovedale is no hardship, takes you to a very different valley and one just a little more peaceful.
(C) David Oakes 2019