Discover picturesque hamlets and abundant wildlife at one of England's largest reservoirs.
Minimum time 3h30
Distance 8 miles (12.9km)
Suggested map OS Explorer OL24 White Peak
Start/finish Carsington Reservoir Visitor Centre, grid ref SK241515
Trails/tracks largely compacted gravel, sand and earth tracks, with some back lanes
Landscape woodland and waterside
Public toilets at the start and the Millfields parking area at Point 6 of the route
Tourist information Ashbourne, tel 01335 343666
Bike hire The Watersports Centre, Carsington Water, tel 01629 540478
Recommended pub Red Lion Inn, Main Street, Hognaston, see Directions to the pub page 143
Notes Some short, steep climbs and a couple of longer ascents through woodland
© Automobile Association 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
Carsington Water is signed from the B5035 between Ashbourne and Wirksworth. The route starts at the visitor centre on the western shore of the reservoir
1 From the car park at the visitor centre look for the fingerposts pointing the way to the wildlife centre; this will bring you to the start of a sandy, compacted track just below the coach park. These initial stages are an easy settling in section, with a few short hills and descents, largely between hedges and offering occasional glimpses of the reservoir. The track is partly shared with walkers and partly designated as a horse and cycle route, so be prepared to stop and obey any instruction signs.
2 The track joins a tarred farm access road, shortly passing by the Sheepwash car park. Take extra care here as you join the car park access road before arriving at the main road. The way is diagonally across to the left and along the minor road for Carsington.
3 There's a steady climb before the lane descends into Carsington, a picturesque village of old limestone cottages and houses. The local inn, the Miners Arms, recalls that the area was once a thriving mining community - lead ore was the staple raw material extracted hereabouts. The lane undulates gently through the village and the neighbouring hamlet of Hopton. Pass beside the remarkable wall surrounding the Hopton Hall Estate, a wavy barrier of bricks with square towers and rounded bays. At the far end of Hopton, pass by Henmore Grange before looking right for the waymarked, fenced path that drops steeply down to a gate on to the B5035.
4 Cross carefully here, go left signed for Millfields, and turn right along the track beyond a further safety gate. You're at the extremity of the reservoir here, with views down the length of the lake. The first of a long series of hills is soon encountered, leading to a gate into woodlands with a wealth of wild flowers, and many short descents and longer inclines. You rise high above the waterline here before cresting a final summit to reveal views towards the dam and valve tower, and a steep hill down, passing by a wooden carving, just one of the sculptures dotted around the reservoir. When you eventually reach a short section of tarred farm lane, turn up along this to a waymarked gate, right, back on to the track.
5 Further ups and downs bring you past a stone shelter; take a peek inside to find some inventive wooden carvings. Just past here turn up the old lane. Pass by the farmhouse before looking right for the waymarked gateway back on to the cycle track. From here you're once again on a dedicated cycle/horse track that brings you to a gateway on to a wide grass verge by the main road. Turn right down the verge and right again into Millfields.
6 The waymarking is confusing here. Take the marked cycle path past the entry barriers and then go sharp left along a track. Go round a bend and along a short straight section, then dogleg left then right along a sandy track to reach the dam. At the far end head back to the visitor centre.
Carsington Water, at the heart of the route, was opened in 1992 and is one of the largest reservoirs in England. The visitor centre tells the story of the reservoir and the surrounding area in a display aimed largely at children who visit on school trips. The reservoir covers an area of 741 acres (300ha) and is just over 100ft (30m) at its deepest. Its location, high up above major river catchments and close to limestone uplands (although the site itself is on impermeable sandstones and shales), means that most of its water is pumped up from the River Derwent at Ambergate, which is over 6 miles (9.7km) away and is 430ft (131m) lower than the average water level in the reservoir.
It is part of a complex, interlinked series of reservoirs and aqueducts that include the massive series of lakes in the upper Derwent Valley to the west of Sheffield, supplying water to domestic and industrial consumers in places as far apart as Derby, Nottingham and Leicester. There are rowing boats for hire and, a short walk from the visitor centre, there is a Wildlife Centre with a well-equipped bird hide and displays explaining the conservation measures adopted here.
This is an enjoyable circuit with a mix of level tracks, a section of road cycling on back lanes through the picturesque hamlets of Carsington and Hopton, and with more challenging ascents and descents on the eastern side of the reservoir.