Welcome in the New Year with a waterside wander around Ladybower enjoying reflections aplenty along the way

Great British Life: Viaduct with Bamford Edge in the distanceViaduct with Bamford Edge in the distance (Image: sally mosley)

1. Exit the car park at Fairholmes Visitor Centre and follow the roadside pavement to a lay-by parking area with bus stop opposite, then turn left by a footpath sign and information plaque.

Follow the woodland path as it twists and winds through deciduous and evergreen trees where needles and leaves fall in autumn to carpet the floor in a Monet-like pattern of amber hues, creating a mulch of goodness that enriches the soil ready for spring. Fungi flourish here as do wild flowers and small mammals.

Gaps through the trees along the way provide views over isolated farmsteads on the opposite side of the valley with Derwent Edge towering above. Look closely and you can just make out rock formations on the horizon such as the iconic Salt Cellar and Wheel Stones.

At times trees to your left stretch right down to the water's edge, some of them dipping their roots like extended toes into the brink. Their trunks and canopy of branches above often reflect on the surface of the reservoir.

Great British Life: View north from beyond the viaductView north from beyond the viaduct (Image: sally mosley)

Ladybower was officially opened by George VI in September 1945. It was a remarkable feat of engineering and continued the line of dams from Howden and Derwent to supply Sheffield and the East Midlands with water. The villages of Derwent and Ashopton were demolished in the reservoir's wake, their residents re-housed at Yorkshire Bridge. The three reservoirs hold a combined total of nearly 10 billion litres of water. Up to 200 million litres per day are supplied to Bamford water treatment works. Water overflows or is released from Ladybower to maintain the flow of the River Derwent and there is also a tunnel to Rivelin to allow water from Derwent Reservoir to supply Sheffield.

Downstream of the dams, the River Derwent continues its journey south. It is Derbyshire's main river and bisects the county, taking in water from several other rivers along the way. After a journey of almost 60 miles, the Derwent merges with the Trent on a final progression to escape into the North Sea at the Humber Estuary. For almost 25 miles of its course, the Derwent is flanked to the east by a series of dramatic Edges, remnants of the last ice age and glacial melt.

2. Eventually you will arrive at a T-junction of roads with the A57 (Snake Pass). When laid, this was said to be the most elevated turnpike road in England, rising to nearly 1,700 feet. It formed the old coaching route between Sheffield and Manchester and was constructed by the Dukes of Devonshire and Norfolk with Thomas Telford engaged as the road engineer.

Great British Life: The Salt CellarThe Salt Cellar (Image: sally mosley)

Turn left and cross the viaduct. Work was started on this steel-framed, concrete-clad construction in the 1930s by a London firm called Holloways, but its completion was delayed due to the Second World War.

Stretching away to your right is the lower part of Ladybower with the dam wall in the distance. This was built by Richard Baillie and Sons, a Scottish company. The dam wall differs from those of Howden Reservoir and Derwent Reservoir in that it is a clay-cored earth embankment, and not a solid masonry dam. One hundred thousand tons of concrete, 100,000 tons of clay and over a million tons of earth were used in its construction, with the upstream part of the dam being faced with solid stone. During the 1990s the wall was raised and strengthened to reduce the risk of over-topping in a major flood.

3. Turn left at the far end of the viaduct and go through a gate to follow a quiet track with amazing views across to Crook Hill and landscaped forestry across Hagg Side.

Great British Life: View of the viaduct and Crook HillView of the viaduct and Crook Hill (Image: sally mosley)

This side of the reservoir dips in and out to cross streams and springs that bumble, tumble, dally and dance their way from off Derwent Moor high above.

4. In one particular inlet can be seen a few surface remains of Derwent with an information plaque and photographs detailing what was lost when the village was submerged. When the water level is very low it is possible to see an outline of stones on the bank where a cottage once stood (warning: none of the ruins are accessible by foot, as what sometimes appears to be solid ground is likely to be treacherous mud). It is possible to see a section of the old road that once descended into the village but now leads nowhere and there is a pair of impressive stone gateposts in overgrown undergrowth nearby.

5. St Henry's former school and house, now a community centre and adjoining cottage, were built in 1877 and paid for by the Duke of Norfolk. Listed Grade II, its cupola bellcote at the far end still contains the school bell, whilst above the door in a round-arched niche is a statue of the Virgin Mary. This building, together with a handful of other properties, are Derwent survivors only because of their elevated positions on the side of the valley.

6. Follow the road in front of Derwent dam wall. Construction of this neo-Gothic solid masonry dam began in 1902. The huge stones were brought here on a specially laid railway line from quarries located at Bolehill near Grindleford. Derwent and Howden dams were completed in 1916 after 14 years of hard toil.

This top end of Ladybower is generally where the water appears inky black and overshadowed by trees. There are swathes of woodland in the Upper Derwent Valley containing broadleaf trees such as majestic beech and oak. Alongside and mingled in with these are plantations of conifers set in immaculate, straight and precise rows by meticulously neat and tidy forestry workers.

Follow a fenced pathway to return to the Visitor Centre and car park.


Distance: 5.25 miles

Parking: Fairholmes Visitor Centre S33 0AQ (pay and display)

Grid Ref: 172893

Terrain: Five gates. Mainly paths and tracks with some uneven terrain and steps in woodland. Livestock grazing. Some roadside without pavement. Close proximity to deep water.

Refreshments: Kiosk at the Visitor Centre sells hot and cold snacks

Toilets: Fairholmes Visitor Centre

Map: O.S. Explorer OL1 - Dark Peak

Walk highlight: Landscape and trees reflected in the surface of the reservoir.

Description: An easy-going and relatively level walk around the top section of Ladybower Reservoir, dipping into the Dark Peak for some stunning views, in an area best described as a photographer's paradise. A lap around part of Ladybower is always a heart-warming experience, but add a sprinkling of snow to the tops of hills with wall-to-wall blue sky above and this walk turns into an enchanting optical overload!