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The Upper Derwent Valley reservoirs

A long and challenging route around the stunning chain of reservoirs in the Upper Derwent Valley.


Minimum time 4h00

Distance 15 miles (24.2km)

Difficulty Medium

Suggested map  OS Explorer OL1 Dark Peak

Start/finish  Fairholmes Visitor Centre, Upper Derwent Valley, grid ref SK176894

Trails/tracks  tarred lanes and rough mountain roads

Landscape  woodland and lakes amidst moorland and craggy valleys

Public toilets  at start

Tourist information  Fairholmes, tel 01433 650953

Bike hire  Fairholmes, tel 01433 651261

Recommended pub  Yorkshire Bridge Inn, Ashopton Road, see Directions to the pub, page 115

Notes Take care at the start along a road shared by cars. There are rough tracks on the longer ride. The complete ride is suitable for older family groups using mountain or hybrid-style bikes


© Automobile Association 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

Getting to the start

Start at the Fairholmes Visitor Centre in the Upper Derwent Valley. This is signposted off the A57 Glossop to Sheffield road, immediately west of Ashopton Viaduct, which crosses the northern arm of Ladybower Reservoir. Fair-holmes is 2 miles (3.2km) along this minor road.

1 Except on summer Sundays, the initial stage of the route is shared with cars, so take care. Head north from the Fairholmes Centre, rising to the level of the dam top of Derwent Reservoir. This dam was started in 1902, a year after the dam at Howden. Easy cycling with great views takes you past the memorial to Tip, who was a sheepdog who kept vigil beside his master's body, after the master perished on Howden Moors.

2 Dipping in and out of Ouzelden Clough, the road passes close to the site of Birchinlee, or 'Tin Town'. This village was created to house the workers who constructed the dams. Most of the buildings were of corrugated iron, hence the nickname. There's little evidence of the place today. Passing beside Howden Dam, the route now circuits a long arm of Howden Reservoir to arrive at the turning circle at Kings Tree, the end of the tarred road. This is a good place to turn around (9 mile/14.5km round trip) as the next section is more challenging.

3 Beyond the gate the route becomes a rough forest road that climbs gently through the woods above the narrowing tip of Howden Reservoir. At a fork keep right to drop to the old packhorse bridge at Slippery Stones. This bridge originally spanned the River Derwent at the hamlet of Derwent, now drowned beneath the waters of Ladybower Reservoir. The structure was rebuilt at this lonely spot on the Howden Moors in the 1940s. Just above the bridge swing sharp right to climb the roughening track along the eastern shore of the reservoir.

4 The going is pretty rough for a mile (1.6km) or so before a well-graded service road heralds the approach to Howden Dam, particularly colourful in late spring and early summer when the rhododendrons are in full flower. A steep, rougher descent follows before the route comes close to the reservoir edge where steep, grassy banks drop straight into the water, so take care here. The track improves considerably as the route nears Derwent Dam. Passing close to one of the towers, the way develops into a tarred lane and passes the first of some isolated houses.

5 You can cut short the ride by turning right to pass the foot of Derwent Dam to return to Fairholmes (9.5 miles/15.2km). The main route continues south past St Henry's Chapel, becoming rougher again as it rounds an inlet to an interpretation board describing the now-lost village of Derwent which stood here until the 1940s.

6 Reaching a gateway, join the tarred lane and drop to the main road. Turn right along the wide cycle path across Ashopton Viaduct, and right again at the far end. endfarend,ollowing the lane back to Fairholmes.

Many of the high moorlands throughout the northern area of the Peak District are managed for grouse shooting, a long-established practice dating from Victorian times. In today's more conservation-minded days, the gamekeepers employed by the great estates and landowning companies are much more sympathetic to the natural predators of these game birds than were their predecessors.

Nonetheless, birds of prey such as the peregrine falcon are still targetted both by unscrupulous keepers and egg collectors, so defensive measures and management techniques are used to protect such raptors. You may see a peregrine 'stooping' (diving) at up to 150mph to kill its prey on the wing. A much more rare bird of prey is also regaining a toe-hold in the woods around the Upper Derwent reservoirs - the goshawk has recently been reintroduced, and is breeding successfully. During the nesting season (April to June), a remote-controlled camera sends back live pictures of a goshawk nest to the visitor centre at Fairholmes.

Paintings in the Yorkshire Bridge Inn are a reminder that the 617 Dambusters Squadron trained with their bouncing bombs here on Derwent and Howden reservoirs before their remarkable raid on the Ruhr dams in 1943. This was also the location of the film made in 1954 which tells the story of the raid.

Why do this bike ride?

This route takes full advantage of the contrasting landscapes of the northern part of the National Park. It's a challenging family route of two halves: a gentle, forested, tarred lane replaced by rough upland tracks.


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