Home Walks Walk Derbyshire – Howden & Derwent Reservoir Walk

Walk Derbyshire – Howden & Derwent Reservoir Walk

Walk Derbyshire – Howden & Derwent Reservoir Walk

Distance: 10.3 miles of easy road walking, mostly through woodland followed by a gravel track above Howden and Derwent Reservoirs.

Recommended Map: Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure Series Sheet1; The Peak District, Dark Peak Area

Public Transport: Hulleys and TM Travel 273, 274 & 275 Two Hour Service from Bakewell and Sheffield via Castleton and Bamford.

Car Parking: Fairholmes Visitor Centre.  N.B. Please note that the valley road is open to walkers, cyclists and horse riders, but it is closed to cars and motor cycles on Sundays and Bank Holidays from Easter to end October.  Bus service from Bakewell, Sheffield via Castleton and Bamford (railway station).

Refreshments: Fairholmes Visitor Centre.

Although man-made, the flooded section of the Derwent Valley can vie with most of the English Lake District.  Three reservoirs built over fifty years during the early to mid-twentieth century, have mellowed into an attractive amenity for all users. Trees planted at the same time as the reservoirs were built, have now matured and generally being of mixed varieties, make a perfect foil to a remote scene composed of water backed by wild moorland.

Starting with Howden at the upper section of the valley, each dam and ancillary features such as culverts and filter beds, were built individually, one after the other gradually moving downstream.  In order to accommodate the over a thousand-strong workforce, a village of corrugated iron huts was erected, catering for every need from groceries, to a doctor’s surgery and a barber’s shop.  The village was known officially as Birchinlee, but soon found its way into the vernacular as ‘Tin Town’. The walk passes the site of Tin Town.  Nothing remains of the actual buildings, but overgrown terraced ledges still mark the street pattern.  A roadside plaque tells the story of a village that disappeared once its purpose was fulfilled.  However, one of the corrugated iron buildings managed to survive, not above the reservoirs, but in Hope village where it serves as a ladies’ hairdresser’s salon.

Another feature part of which can be traced on the ground, is the track bed of a light railway built to carry massive blocks of stone each weighing several tons, and destined to become part of the reservoir dam walls.  It ran from a quarry near Bamford. 

During World War 2, because of its resemblance to the Mohne and Eder reservoirs in Germany’s industrial Ruhr, crews from the R.A.F’s 617 Squadron used Howden dam to hone their skills in dropping Barnes Wallace’s ‘bouncing bomb’.  To do this the Lancaster bombers, based in Lincolnshire had to fly under cover of darkness in order to reach Howden.  Using the twin towers of the dam as aiming points, the cylindrical bombs were skimmed along the water up to the dam, and then rolled down to it before exploding near its foot. In Germany the exploding bombs created pressure waves that destroyed the dam’s structure, releasing billions of tons of water to flood a vast part of the Ruhr industrial belt.  There is a small museum commemorating the exploits of 617 Squadron, the ‘Dam Buster Squadron’, in the western tower of Derwent Dam.

Ladybower, the largest and most southerly and last of the reservoir threesome was completed around 1945.  The whole complex was officially opened by HRH King George VI who planted an oak tree now officially known as the King’s Tree.  Growing steadily for seventy-five years near the end of the valley road, it has developed into a sturdy young memento of the king’s visit.  This walk passes the tree on the final leg of the section above the west bank of both reservoirs.

The track no longer has to cross the Derwent by hopping over a series of stepping stones, well known as Slippery Stones.  The crossing is now done dry-shod, by way of the narrow pack-horse bridge that once stood near Ashopton village.  When Ladybower reservoir was built, the village together with its hall and church had to be demolished (along with the dozen or so farms flooded by it and Derwent and Howden).  To re-house families displaced by flooding the valley, a new village, Yorkshire Bridge, was built below Ladybower dam.  At one time during droughts, the spire of Ashopton church appeared once more, but as it was considered a danger to anyone trying to get close, it was demolished.  All that is left of the village are the twin gate stones standing at what was once the entrance drive to the hall, and the memorial plaque to Tip a faithful sheep dog who kept vigil over his master’s body when they were lost in a blizzard.

The walk starts and finishes at the Peak District National Park Fairholmes Visitor Centre car park, close to the head of Derwent Reservoir. There are public toilets and a refreshments cabin available throughout the year.  Please note that the valley road is closed to visiting cars and motor cycles on Sundays and Bank Holidays from Easter to the end of October.  A bus service (Hulleys and TM Travel 273,274 & 275) runs from Bakewell and Sheffield, both via Castleton and Bamford every two hours.


From Fairholmes car park, turn right on to the valley road, and start to follow it past the dam wall of Derwent Reservoir.

Follow the road.  Although traffic is light even during times when it is open to cars, please take care to be on the lookout for oncoming cars.

As you walk beneath the mature trees on either side of the road, look for a series of terraces, the road layout of ‘Tin Town’, once the home of over a thousand navies and their families when they built the three reservoirs. There is a roadside plaque which tells the story of this long abandoned village.

Passing the dam of Howden Reservoir, continue along the road and bear left, then right with it around the western arm of one of Howden’s feeder streams (Westend River).

Continue along the road for a couple more miles until it reaches the King’s Tree where the surfaced road ends.

Go forwards and through a gate, soon climbing out of the trees and on to a wide gravel track.

Follow the track, bearing right with it when it drops down to the river at Slippery Stones.  A narrow pack horse bridge that once crossed the Derwent at Ashopton village which now lies  beneath the waters of Ladybower Reservoir, avoids the awkward stepping stones once used by travellers on their way to and from Langsett by way of Cut Gate.

Once over the bridge turn right and follow the track climbing a little way above the east bank of Howden Reservoir.

Go past Howden’s dam and start to follow a woodland path all the way to the twin towers of Derwent Dam.

Reaching the dam, drop down with a side track and cross over the stream below the dam wall.  Join a minor road in order to reach Fairholmes Visitor Centre and perhaps a warm cup of coffee.

During spells of particularly wet weather, water spills over the dam wall, making a huge waterfall.  If it freezes over in winter, then it can look even more spectacular.


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