Three Shires Head walk (circular, 6.2 km): perfect for a paddle or dip
Three Shires Head is where the counties of Derbyshire, Cheshire and Staffordshire meet at a waterfall and collection of pools on the River Dane. It’s a stunning spot and one of our favourite Peak District wild swimming locations. Even on a cloudy day it’s perfect for a picnic and paddle; our boys spend ages walking over the boulders and dipping their toes into the icy cold waters. The waterfalls mark exactly half way around this Three Shires walk, so it makes for a perfect lunch stop.
The walk to the waterfalls and back is extremely pretty, and we rarely see other hikers until we get to Three Shires Head. It is easily one of our favourite Peak District family walks. The walk ascends gradually at the beginning and is also rocky in places, so ensure you’re wearing good hiking boots. It’s also handy packing a towel (or even swimmers) if you’re planning on having a dip.
The alternative walking route to Three Shires Head is to park at this layby off the A54 and walk down (the footpath is on the hill just up from the parking). This is a good option if you want to maximise your swim and paddle time. This route is 1.2km each way and is initially a steep descent (which means a walk up hill when you’ve finished).
Please be warned that if you are swimming at Three Shires Head the rocks are very slippy, there is no phone signal here, and it’s a 1.2km walk uphill to the nearest road. You may see people jumping into the deep section in front of the double waterfall, but this section is shallow enough for an adult to stand up in.
If you are planning a visit to the National Park, please arrive early or late in the day to avoid crowds, and respect social distancing. Please also take all litter home with you, don’t bring BBQs and park your car in designated parking areas. Also, please use these walks as a guide; access and stiles may change.
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On all Peak District family walks it’s a good idea to have an Ordnance Survey paper map with you, even if you have your phone on you. For this walk you need the OS Explorer Active Map OL24 (White Peak). It’s also a good opportunity to show young kids the map features and get them started with map reading.
PARKING: There is free parking at Gradbach Car Park. This car park gets full quickly at weekends and school holidays (it’s also popular for those visiting Lud’s Church). Aim to arrive before 9am to secure a space.
WALK HIGHLIGHTS: Very pretty views, and a chance to paddle in the water (or even have a dip!) half way round the walk at Three Shires Head.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE: Without kids, this is a 1.5 – 2 hour walk. However, with stops along the way including a paddle and picnic at Three Shires Head, allow for 3 hours with younger kids.
TOTAL ASCENT: 217 metres
PUBLIC TOILETS: There are no public toilets on this walk.
The footpath is not obvious in places, so please take an OS Map with you. The below photos and instructions should be used as a guide only. Remember that places can look very different from season to season.
1. Start your walk at the corner of the car park. Follow the footpath along the stream to the wooden footbridge and cross over. On the other side, walk diagonally across the field to the gate leading out to the road.
2. At the road, turn right and walk up the hill, around the bend. Notice the footpath sign next to a driveway on your left. Follow the footpath sign past the house and then go through this gate on the right.
3. It’s then a gradual ascent across the fields, walking with the drystone wall on your left. The views are lovely.
4. At the top of the hill, two footpaths intersect. Take the footpath to this gate on the left (below photo) and follow it across the fields.
5. When you meet this track below, continue walking along it for 100 metres. You will then see a footpath climbing up on your right.
6. Follow this footpath up to this track shown below. This then leads you all the way to Three Shires Head, 900 metres along.
7. It’s picnic time! Such a lovely spot. Take off your hiking boots and enjoy a little paddle. The rocks can be slippery in places, so take care.
8. When you’re ready to start heading back, cross over the bridges and start walking up the path on the other side of the river.
9. About 500 metres along the track on the left, you will notice a yellow footpath sign. Follow this across the fields towards the farm house. At the third wall, make sure you take the footpath on the left.
10. This then brings you out on to a lane. Cars can go down here, but you’re unlikely to see any and there are gates across the lane in places. Follow the lane to the left and continue for 1.5 km.
11. Just after Bennettshitch Farm, there is a footpath on the left. Follow this down to the road. When you reach the road you may spot the car park through the trees! You’re almost there.
12. Once you reach the road, turn left and continue for 150 metres over bridge until you meet the gate you walked through at the beginning of the walk. Retrace your footsteps through the gate, across the field to the footbridge, and back to the car park.
Hello! 'Peak District Kids' is the go-to website for parents both visiting and living in the Peak District, run by Bakewell-based mum-of-two, Jenny Lynn. Find out about the best walks, bike rides, attractions, pubs, and accommodation for families in the UK's oldest National Park.