Recently, on a beautiful sunny morning we decided to set ourselves the challenge of cycling round all three of the famous reservoirs: Ladybower, Howden and Derwent (off the A57 “Snake Pass” road) in the Upper Derwent Valley.
We parked the car near The Yorkshire Bridge pub on the A6013, near to the Ladybower dam wall and began riding along the easy cycle track on the east side of the reservoir above the perfectly still, dark blue water. We knew that this was going to be the easy part and sure enough, within ten minutes, we crossed over the Snake Pass road and headed up the track continuing along the east side of Ladybower. The views were amazing and best of all, we had the whole place to ourselves. Despite the lack of rain during the summer, the reservoir was pretty full so we had no sightings of the village of Derwent, demolished and flooded between 1935 and 1943, when the reservoirs were constructed. Years ago, probably during the drought of 1976, we both remember being taken to the reservoir to see the remains of the old village church peeping out of the water, but there was no sign of its existence today.
Continuing our way up the east side, we climbed up above the Derwent dam wall and for several miles were able to admire the stunning scenery surrounding the dark stillness of the water itself. It was on Derwent Reservoir that 617 Squadron practised dropping the bouncing bomb prior to the famous dambusters raid,and there is a small museum commemorating the events of 1943 in one of the towers of the wall. This autumn, the world’s two remaining airworthy Lancaster bombers flew over the dam in a commemorative flight.
The track up to the top end of Howden Reservoir is much tougher going – narrower and rougher! There was also much less water in this reservoir and in one place we saw some sheep grazing in an area that is normally flooded.
The old packhorse bridge up at Slippery Stones marked our turning point and we then headed south along the western side of the valley. We very quickly came to the tarmac road and our speed picked up considerably. Most of the way to the Fairholmes visitor and cycle hire centre, we were riding under a canopy of fir trees and still we had seen no one.
Meeting the A57 at Ashopton Bridge we agreed that we had enough stamina to take the long way back to the car and so we set off up the A57 towards the Snake Inn for a couple of miles. This was the only busy part of the ride. At the end of this long finger, we took a small road off to the left which looked like a well worn track used by the forestry commission. The road quickly turned into a lovely undulating track, perfect for off road cycling with a couple of steep climbs. If we had wanted to stop, there were plenty of places to sit either by the water or up in the trees, but we pressed on back to the car across the top of the Ladybower dam wall, feeling we’d earned a hearty breakfast!