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A High Ridge and Lost Villages at Ladybower

Beneath the beauty of the Ladybower Reservoir lie the remains of the old village of Ashopton.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 4hrs

Ascent/gradient 1,200ft (365m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Well-defined moorland paths and a reservoir road

Landscape High gritstone moorland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 1 Dark Peak

Start/finish SK 195864

Dog friendliness Keep on lead on access agreement land, could run free by reservoir shores

Parking Ladybower Reservoir pay car park

Public toilets None on route

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1 Turn left out of the car park and follow the road beneath Rough Wood and across the Ashopton Viaduct.

2 On the other side, take the first track on the left, a private road that zig-zags past a few of Ashopton's remaining cottages.

3 Where the road ends at a turning point, double back left on a forestry track climbing through pines and larches. This track can be a little muddy after periods of heavy rain. The track emerges from the shade of the forest out onto Lead Hill, where Ladybower Reservoir and the sombre sprawl of Bleaklow come into view.

4 The path keeps the intake wall to the left as it rakes up the bracken slopes of Lead Hill. However, the zig-zag path to Whinstone Lee Tor shown on OS maps has been replaced by a well-worn path that diverts from the wall to climb directly to the summit rocks.

5 The path continues along the peaty ridge past the Hurkling Stones to an unnamed summit. Beyond this it meets a signposted path heading from Ladybower over to Moscar. Descend left until you reach a gate at the edge of the open hillside.

6 Through the gate the path descends westwards and alongside the top wall of a conifer plantation. It fords Grindle Clough's stream beyond another gate and turns left over a stile to pass several stone-built barns. The path, now paved, descends further to join the track running along the east shores of Ladybower Reservoir.

7 It is worth doing a detour here to see the remains of Derwent village, which lies 400yds (366m) north east along the track at the foot of the Mill Brook clough. When you've seen the old village, retrace your steps along the well-graded track, heading southwards along the shores of the reservoir. After rounding Grainfoot Clough the track passes beneath woodlands with the rocks of Whinstone Lee Tor crowning the hilltop.

8 It meets the outward route at a gate above the Ashopton viaduct. Turn right along the road over the viaduct and back to the car park.

In the north east corner of Derbyshire, the heather ridges and gritstone tors of Derwent Edge make one last stand before declining to the plains of Yorkshire. It's always been a sparsely populated corner of the country with few references in the history books. Hereabouts, the stories lie beneath the water.

Before the Second World War Ashopton, which lay at the confluence of the rivers Derwent and Ashop, was a huddle of stone-built cottages, a small inn and a blacksmith's shop. A little lane ambled from Ashopton northwards to its neighbouring village, Derwent, which enjoyed an even quieter location in the Upper Derwent valley. But the building of a huge reservoir, the third in the region, shattered the locals' lives. After the completion of its dam in 1943 Ladybower Reservoir gradually filled up, and by 1946 the water level had risen above the rooftops.

Almost as soon as you've left the car park you're crossing a huge concrete viaduct over the reservoir. Wherever you look there is water. You take a winding track up the next hill, now shaded by a sombre plantation of spruce. The cottages you see here are all that remain of the village of Ashopston.

Soon you're through the woods and heading across open moor to the weathered gritstone tors that top the ridge. The rocks of Whinstone Lee Tor are set into a thick carpet of heather. Though the highest hills in the region lie to the north, this is one of the best viewpoints, as the ridge is at its narrowest here. In the west, Kinder Scout's expansive flat top peeps over Crook Hill's rocky crest. In the valley below the dark waters of the reservoir still keep their secrets.

After passing the Hurkling Stones, the route descends towards the lakeshore in search of Derwent village. The old gateposts of Derwent Hall still survive by the roadside. A notice board shows the positions of the hall itself, along with the post office, school, church and some of the old cottages. After a dry spell the water level can sometimes fall sufficiently for you to see the crumbling walls and foundations of the village surrounded by the crazed drying mud. One small bridge is almost intact, but the villagers dismantled the main twin-arched packhorse bridge for rebuilding beyond the reach of the rising water at Slippery Stones, higher up the valley.

Leaving the old village behind you return by the shores of the reservoir. Nature has readjusted. The landscape, though more regimented now, is still beautiful; kestrels still scour the hillside for prey, and dippers frequent the streams as they always have done.

Where to eat and drink

None en route. The nearest pub is the Ladybower Inn, a short way east along the A57. Slightly further afield you could relax in the Castle at Castleton, a 17th-century coaching inn with a no smoking area, oak beams and open fires. It serves Bass beer and tempting bar meals.

What to look for

The mountain hare is quite common on the moortops. This is a striking reminder of the upland nature of this landscape. In winter it's coat changes to a dirty white, to blend with the snow. When there is no snow, it appears faintly ridiculous. You may also be lucky enough to spot a fox, if it doesn't see you first.

While you're here

Visit the spectacular Derwent and Howden Reservoir dams. You can drive to Fairholmes car park (where there's often a refreshment kiosk), just south of the Derwent dam. The dams, built between 1912 and 1916, were used in training forays by the dambusters of 617 Squadron in preparation for their attack on the Moehne and Eder dams in 1943.

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