Upper Derwent Valley 10 mile walk
...a serious walk for serious walkers!
This all-day moorland walk takes in most of the series of dramatic tors and cloughs which punctuate the Upper Derwent Valley...
To see the real drama of the Upper Derwent Valley, it is necessary to head from the busy car park at Fairholmes, beneath the wall of the Derwent Dam, towards the heights of Derwent Edge, and this all-day moorland walk takes in most of the series of dramatic tors and cloughs which punctuate this high-level promenade.
Originally a farm built where Lockerbrook ran into the River Derwent, Fairholmes was used as a mason’s workyard while the Derwent and Howden Dams were under construction between 1901 and 1917. The lower car park was used as a tree nursery for the extensive forestry plantations which now cloak the valley sides.
The construction of the Derwent and Howden Dams was a major feat of civil engineering, and involved the building of a railway which brought the stone for the dams from quarries at Grindleford. The navvies lived in a workmens’ village at Birchinlee, which housed over 1,000 people for the period of construction. Known as “Tin Town” because most of the temporary, portable buildings were made of corrugated iron, Birchinlee was a self-contain community with its own school, hospital, community hall and post office. Nothing now remains but a few foundations lost in the conifers. There is a National Park visitor centre at Fairholmes which tells the story of the valley.
Take the road which leads down from Fairholmes and beneath the formidable Derwent Dam wall which, in times of high rainfall, overflows in an awesome, thunderous waterfall. From the right-hand corner of the dam wall, steps lead up through the trees to the perimeter track around the Derwent Reservoir.
The Derwent and Howden Reservoirs were built by the Derwent Valley Water Board to supply water to the thirsty cities of Derby, Nottingham, Leicester and Sheffield. The Derwent was the second to be completed in 1916, and was the scene in the Second World War of training runs by the famous 617 Squadron, “the Dambusters,” in preparation for their epic attack on the Ruhr Valley dams in 1943. The terrain of the Upper Derwent and the twin-towered dams were apparently the closest models for the Moehne and Eder Dams in Germany. A small museum telling the story of the Dambusters is in the west tower of the Derwent Dam at weekends. Regular reunions and flypasts still take place over the Derwent Dam, attracting huge crowds of people, remembering this daring and fateful raid.
The route continues along the shoreline road through the trees of Shireowlers Wood until the towers of Howden Reservoir appear ahead. The track descends towards the Abbey Brook bridge but we turn right (signpost) to enter the confines of Abbey Brook itself.
This deep clough which bites into the Howden Moors takes its name from a former “grange” of Welbeck Abbey in far-off Nottinghamshire. The daffodils which spring into life annually here are said to have been planted by these medieval monks who doubled as sheep farmers. Their convent was situated close to the Ladybower Inn on the A57, and gave its name to that area of the Derwent Valley (“Lady’s Bower”).
Follow this track which soon leaves the trees and leads into open country at a gate. This is a glorious high-level shooter’s track, narrow in places, which leads into the heart of the moors, crossing Cogman Clough and the aptly-named Wild Moor Clough on the way. Ahead, the crags of Berristers Tor seem to block the way where the clough narrows, but it is by-passed by the dog-leg around Sheepfold Clough.
Turn right here into Sheepfold Clough and climb out onto the open moor. You need to bear to the right of Howshaw Tor, heading for the prominent hill top of Lost Lad Hillend. It is a few steps now on a paved track south east from here to reach Lost Lad itself.
The name of this fine 518m/1,700ft summit comes from the tale of a young shepherd boy who was lost on these moors while gathering sheep one snowy winter’s day. Search parties were sent out, but his frozen body was not found until the following spring by a shepherd who saw the words “Lost Lad” scratched on an adjacent rock by the desparate boy. There is a memorial toposcope on the summit erected by the famous Sheffield Clarion Ramblers, showing across the deep gash of the Derwent Win Hill, the Mam Tor ridge and the eastern end of Kinder Scout.
A broad paved track, installed by the National Trust to combat erosion, now runs the short distance towards the prominent rocky summit of Back Tor, with its white trig. point cemented onto the highest point and requiring a little scrambling to reach it. It is well worth the effort, for this is one of the finest and wildest viewpoints in the entire Dark Peak.
The 538m/1,765ft summit of Back Tor may not be one of the highest points of the Dark Peak, but for sheer wildness it takes some beating. The view extends north to the wilderness of Bleaklow and the head of the Derwent Valley, and south west to the Kinder plateau. To the south there’s a glimpse of the Ladybower Reservoir and Win Hill pushes its craggy top to break the horizon at the end of the Great Ridge, while to the east across Strines can be seen the white tower blocks of Sheffield.
Go south on another flagged path through the peat and heather towards the next outcrop which is picturesquely known as the Cakes of Bread. Dovestone Tor is the next of these eroded remains of slightly harder gritstone which have survived the ravages of aeons of wind, frost and rain. Keep heading south, and the still-paved path takes you to one of the most celebrated of these weirdly-shaped tors so obvious from Derwent Lane - the anvil-shaped Salt Cellar which stands in glorious isolation in a sea of heather.
Keep on the edge path which crosses White Tor and heads towards the prominent large outcrop known on the map as the Wheel Stones but locally and much more accurately as the Coach and Horses. Viewed on the horizon from the Strines Road, this is just what they look like.
Just below the Coach and Horses at the crossroads of the edge track and the bridlepath from Moscar, turn right to reach the boundary of open country at a gate, and follow this down above a plantation wall to Grindle Clough, past a collection of ancient barns, beautifully-restored by the National Trust, one of which has a lintel dated 1647. From the barns, the path is again rather incongruously paved as it leads down to the eastern shore of Ladybower Reservoir.
The Ladybower was the last of the Derwent Reservoirs to be built, between 1935 and 1943, and it involved the depopulation of the twin villages of Ashopton and Derwent – the famous “drowned villages” of the Derwent. In times of drought, the foundations of Derwent village are sometimes revealed in the reservoir floor around here, and thousands of people, including some former inhabitants, come to wonder at them. The Ladybower Reservoir was opened by King George VI in 1945.
It is now a simple matter of turning right on the eastern perimeter track to walk the last mile back to Fairholmes, passing the gateposts to Derwent Hall and what remains of Derwent village en route, now a few farmsteads clustered around a telephone box, and eventually beneath the towers of the Derwent Dam again.
Start/finish: Severn Trent’s Fairholmes car park, Upper Derwent Valley. A minibus runs at weekends and busy times to the head of the valley at King’s Tree.
Distance: 16km/10 miles
Approximate time: Allow 5-6 hours
Highest point: Back Tor 538m/1,765ft
Maps: OS Explorer Map Sheet No. 1, The Dark Peak
Refreshments: Small kiosk at Fairholmes
Terrain: A strenuous all-day moorland walk, waterproofs and compass essential
These walks have been adapted from Roly Smith’s Rambler’s Guide to the Peak District, published by HarperCollins in 2000.
Copyright Let's Stay Peak District 2010
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015