Derbyshire - Lady Bower and Derwent Edge

Lady Bower and Derwent Edge Walk - By Keith Oxby

Being a born and bred Nottingham man, I was raised on trips into the Derbyshire Peak District, with its memorable places like Monsal Dale and Thorpe Cloud. Most weekends would find the Oxby’s family car loaded with picnic chairs, sandwiches and blankets, heading for one favourite spot or another. It must have had a big influence on me, because years later I dragged my own children to the same spots.  They too must have been inspired, because we still have chats about picnics on the edge of the River Dove, alongside a favourite lake, or building dams on some remote mountain stream.

One particular area has always brought me back time and again; it's the area around Lady Bower reservoir and it provides access to some of my favourite scenery. This is a walk I can repeat time after time, always seeing new aspects because it encompasses a little bit of everything.

Lady Bower and Derwent Edge route map

This walk can begin from a number of places, depending on what you want for lunch! If you begin at the Fairholmes visitors centre below Derwent Dam, you can steadily climb up onto Derwent Edge, follow its clearly marked path, and have a roughly mid-point lunch at the wonderful Lady Bower Inn on the Snake Pass road. If free parking and sandwiches are your choice then the start would be from one of the parking spots on the Snake Pass road near where the road passes over Lady Bower. This route will take you via Fairholmes and an ice cream, then up onto Derwent Edge and sandwiches eaten while sitting and admiring from one of the iconic gritstone features, like Cakes of Bread or Salt Cellar.

The one I’ve decided to tell you about begins at Fairholmes, where you will need a few pound coins to feed the parking meter, and toilets are available. Leaving the parking area, we walk northwest over the River Derwent and passed Derwent Dam which was used during WW2 as a practice dam for the famous Dam Busters before their raid on the dams of Germany’s Ruhr valley. While you're there, take a walk across and admire the work that went into building the dam which was opened in 1916 by King George V. The gothic towers were used by the Dam Buster's as reference points as the made their bombing run. After heavy rain, you may be lucky enough to see water cascading over the lip.

Following the road, we wind round to a side road that cuts back to the left, which we follow for a few hundred yards.  Look for a footpath sign on your right and a path climbing up the bank to a stile in the stone wall.  Follow the track up the grassy bank which will take you through another wall and slowly angle right towards the upper end of a grove of pine trees, where you will find an old farm track.  Turn left on this track and follow it to the top, stopping occasionally to admire the view over Derwent Dam and the reservoir. Further to your right and out of sight, is Howden Dam which is the third in a chain of three.

Once up on the top, you're aiming for the landmark, Lost Lad, which has a Trig Point and a story. Lost Lad is the name of the cairn at the top, and the name refers to a local legend about a shepherd boy from the drowned village of Derwent who became lost on the moors in a blizzard and died. His body was found the following spring by a passing shepherd and nearby were the words "Lost Lad" written on a rock.

To reach Lost Lad, you will head NW and turn right at a FP signpost to follow a reasonable track to the high point. Once you reach Lost Lad, spend a few moments admiring the views, and checking out the Trig Point which is one of a group of vanishing assets to us walkers. Many of them are now disappearing from the countryside as their function has largely been superseded by aerial photography and digital mapping using lasers and GPS.

You will now turn east and join the main path following Derwent Edge towards Lady Bower and the Snake Pass road. The path is paved with limestone blocks, and keep your eye open for crinoid fossils in the pavement blocks. To your north is Yorkshire and the city of Sheffield, to the south you will be able to see Win Hill and even Mam Tor.

It's worth mentioning that there are some 172 crashed aircraft in the Peak District ranging from 1918 until 2008.  A great many of the wrecks of from World War II and include Lancaster's, Halifax and Wellington bombers but also American Liberator planes and Super Fortress bombers and a Thunderbolt.  There are also some jet aircraft from the 50s and 60s. There is evidence of plane wrecks at Ashop Moor, Shelf Moor, Higher Shelf Stones and Mill HIll , but there are also lots more sightings all around the area, particularly on the moors of Kinder Scout.

Along the way, you will pass various strange shapes that stand-out on the otherwise bleak landscape. These are gritstone Tors, and Derwent Edge has several wonderful examples of unusual shape, which have been formed by the actions of wind, rain and frost over many centuries.  These strange shapes have been named over the years by local residents and officially titled on OS maps.  Names include the Cakes of Bread, the Coach and Horses and the Salt Cellar.  The Coach and Horses, also known as the Wheel Stones, resembles a coach and horses on the horizon when viewed from the A57 road to the south.  Gritstone is coarse sandstone, porous, but strongly cemented and resistant to erosion.  The gritstone edges of the Peak District are an important climbing area and the rock is much relished by English climbers, among whom it has almost cult status and is often referred to as "God's own rock".  The rough surface provides outstanding friction, enabling climbers to stand on, or grip the subtlest of features in the rock.

Continue along the path and after passing the Wheel Stones you will encounter a main footpath sign with paths marked in four or five directions. Turn right and drop down heading down the slope rather than contouring to the right. The path will drift left and parallel a wall into woodland, and eventually reach a gate and a road beyond. Having passed through the gate, turn left and follow the track towards the Snake Pass Road and the small community of Ashopton. After entering the woods, passing through a stile, you should look for a path to the right, heading down and back. Follow this till you reach the road, and the Lady Bower Inn where walkers have always received a friendly welcome.

After a hearty lunch and maybe a beer, return the way you came, but continue passed the gate where we joined the road, and down to another service access road. Turn right through the gate, and follow this partially paved road alongside Lady Bower reservoir to Fairholmes. Enjoy the walk through a beech forest and the views of sunlight on the waters. Along the way, check out the information sign, telling of the two villages drowned by the construction of Lady Bower reservoir. When the reservoir was built (between 1935 and 1943) the villages of Derwent and Ashopton were completely submerged, and remains are often seen in severe drought periods.

After a cuppa or an ice-cream at Fairholmes, you can reflect on this wonderful 10.5 mile walk with views over some of the best the Peak District can offer. Oh, and don't feed the ducks, they are almost too fat to float as it is!