My pal and experienced hiker Andy surprised me on a recent walk by saying that he’d never done much walking in The Peak District – never done Kinder Scout, the Hope Valley or the Derwent Valley.
So today was the day when I would be taking him for a yomp around my usual playground.
I’d chosen the Upper Derwent Valley and Derwent Edge for this trip, promising to drag him up and around Kinder at a later stage. The main reason for avoiding Kinder is that I would actually, properly, be The Walking Dad on this trip as my eldest, Christian (I mean Chris!), would be joining us and he had only done a Kinder trek the weekend before.
Chris was around on a school day due to the curse and pain that is ‘Teacher’s Training Day’. Now, don’t get me wrong – it’s brilliant that there are regular, planned training days for the wonderful people educating my kids, but at the same time it’s a pain to have to replan your days around them. Thankfully, unencumbered by work as I currently am(translation: unemployed!), this particular training day wasn’t an issue.
Chris thought he was going to get a day of rest (like all his days aren’t restful?!) and had been winding up his little brother to that effect all week. Poor little Alex still had to go to school, although it was his last day before the Easter break.
I was surprised Chris had said ‘yes’ to my invitation to tag along (not that he really had any choice mind!) as his previous walk with me proved to be quite challenging for him. He is learning though and doesn’t blindly agree to come with me any more… I am quizzed a little bit…
‘Is it going to be another mad 16 mile walk?’ – ‘Nope, I said’. Not a lie. He seemed happy with this.
‘Is The Walking Dan coming?’. Nope, I said’. Not a lie. He seemed very happy with this.
‘Are we going to be walking in snow and in a blizzard?’ – ‘Nope, I said’. Not a lie. He seemed happy with this.
‘Is the weather forecast good’ – ‘Yup, I said’. A total lie! He seemed happy with this.
‘Are there any big climbs’ – Nope, I said’. Another lie! He seemed happy with this.
Now Chris isn’t daft. He knew the weather wasn’t going to be great as he always checks the forecast. And all our walks involve a climb of some type, so he knew I was lying about that too – but he played along… good lad.
Chris is becoming quite adept at hiking, for a 12 year old, having climbed Snowdon with me for the first time last year and completed a couple of 16 milers with me (including one in atrocious conditions a month or so ago). I do wonder if dragging him on walks will put him off the outdoors for life, like it did me. My old man was always taking me on walks as a child, the end result being I didn’t really experience the outdoors all that much from 1980-2010!!
We picked up Andy at around 8am and made our way through the rush hour traffic getting from one side of Huddersfield to the other quicker than I thought.
The trip from Huddersfield to the Derwent Valley only takes around a hour and is one I think I could possibly do in my sleep. It involves a journey along one of my favourites roads in the country. Mortimer Road is a massive time and mileage saver, as otherwise my journey to the Peak District would be a long and winding one involving driving via Sheffield City Centre. But it’s a challenge too. It’s around a 20 minute drive from where I join it in Midhopestones to where it ends at the A57 (Snake Pass), just before the Ladybower Reservoir. And it’s usually 20 minutes of pure concentration as I’m usually driving along it early on Saturday morning, in darkness, in poor conditions. So today, doing the drive in daylight, in good weather was a blessing.
I’d been extolling the virtues of Mortimer Road to Andy as we were getting close to it, talking about the awesome views, the winding bends, the steep climbs, the deep, deep potholes, the bridges, the peacocks, the castle, the pubs, the reservoirs and the long stretches of bouncing road where you can properly put your foot down – really building it up. So anyhow, of course, most of it was closed for surface repairs (hurray, at last!!!!!) and we had to head off into the wilderness hoping that the diversion signs had been placed correctly. If I remember I will stick in a link to a website that talks about Mortimer Road – it’s fascinating (not!).
Despite the diversion we still made decent time, hitting the Derwent Valley around 9am. The starting point for today’s walk was going to be Fairholmes Car Park beside the top end of Ladybower Reservoir. Well not exactly the Fairholmes Car Park, but a side parking space on the road leading to it. Parking in the car park is pretty expensive and I am a Yorkshireman after all. The car park is usually rammed too, so parking there is tricky as it is, making parking on the way there not just good for the money-conscious, but also for the pragmatist too. The car park is also, usually, rammed with ducks – or a ‘duck army’ as Chris calls it. However today, to begin with, the army must have been out for some early morning manoeuvres as there were just a smattering of them around.
The Upper Derwent Valley has a lot going for it, with something for families, beginner and experienced walkers alike. The Information Centre and the various information panels around Fairholmes Car Park is a perfect place to learn more about the valley, where you can go and what you can do.
It’s also got a rich history too as it shares geographical similarities with the Ruhr Valley in Germany, leading to the dams here being used as a practice area prior to the Dambusters attack on the Ruhr Dams. Parts of the Dambusters film was filmed here too and there are irregular memorial flybys. One of the towers of the dam holds a small museum dedicated to these famous raids, although I’ve rarely seen it open.
Our trip today tooks us north out of Fairholmes and past the imposing gothic Derwent Dam. I’m pretty sure my sister, Heather, climbed half of the way up it as a child. There’s a pic somewhere which I will post if she can find it (below). Way too late for social services to come looking for our dad anyhow – if they could find him that is. I’ve no idea where he is these days – which is one for a later blog, or the Jeremy Kyle Show, or a pull out Sunday supplement (whoever has the deepest pockets!).
We walked up the eastern side of the Derwent Reservoir, which is arguably the less interesting side – given that the remnants of ‘Birchinlee’ (Tin Town) lie on the other side, home to the navvies that built the two dams back in the early decades of the 20th century.
There’s also a ‘King’s Tree’ on that side of the Res too, and some ‘Slippery Stones’ !! – I must take a trek along there to find out how kingly and slippery they both are.
It’s probably a good time now to tell you about today’s special guest companion – Andy. He’s a lawyer by trade and incredibly spritely, despite the fact he’s only a few weeks away from starting his 7th decade with us (I’ve just realised I might be losing my low cost legal representation by pointing that bit out). He’s a published author, in his own right and soon to be under a pen name (or two) also. I’ve been privileged to read the new book and it’s great – mad as a box full of cheese, frogs and balloons – but great. Here’s a link to the book’s video promo. Andy tells me that his alter-ego sometimes take over (and his alter-ego ain’t a nice person), so I’m hoping it was Andy who was out with me and the boy.
Just before we hit the Howden Reservoir Dam, we took a right and started our ascent beside Abbey Brook. Derwent Edge is quite desceptive and has a fair number of false summits. You reckon you are there and then there’s still more to go, repeat, repeat, repeat – until you hit the skyline.
Chris made our climb a lot less painful by keeping us amused with a game of ‘Would you rather?’. The philosophical discussions included:
Would you rather have an extra leg or an extra arm? The extra leg to help get up hills would do for me. Andy went for the extra arm as he couldn’t work out where the extra leg would be located.
Would you rather be God of the Air or God of the Sea? Duh, clearly the latter for all the mermaid action!
Would you rather lived for ever and not be loved or live a normal life and be loved? Deep shit for a 12 year old eh?
We scrambled up the paved hillside leading to Low Tor and then started following the kindly placed paved path would be our easily followed route across the millstone grit escarpment (isn’t Google great!).
It’s at this point that the heaven’s open and the forecast windy weather and rain kicked in, beautifully timed to coincide with us hitting the very exposed skyline.
Now somehow I’ve got this far in the story without mentioning my new jacket, which was being christened on this walk. Everyone who knows me, knows that I’m the personification of the Yorkshire trait of being money-conscious…. ‘tight as a duck’s arse’ as it’s colloquially known. But against all the odds, I’d finally taken advice from Tony and splashed the cash on a proper windproof and waterproof jacket – as I’d gotten fed up of getting soaked to the skin this last Winter. I had, in theory, bought windproof and waterproof items before – finding them to be anything but. My new purchase was a Mammut Men’s Whymper Jacket. I won’t say how much it cost as there’s a slight chance that Debbie reads these ramblings and will kill me (twice) if she found out. The jacket is 3-layer Gore Tex Pro and proved to be just what the marketing said it would be – ‘robust, lightweight and extremely waterproof’. The 100% polyamide outer material rustles louder than a jacket-sized packet of crisps, but ‘Hey!, who cares?’ with all that windproofy waterproofness going on. And it’s also ‘red’ too and I don’t mean ‘a bit red’ either, it’s seriously and madly really, really f*cking red. I’m convinced that I’ve joined the Great Wall of China and The Walking Dan’s beard as being visible from space when I’m wearing it. It’s got storm flaps and a drop tail too – so there!
Back to the trek. We scampered down Low Tor and headed towards Back Tor – the biggest lump of rock on Derwent Edge… Andy and Chris getting all wet and wind-battered, me safely cocooned within a world of polytetraflourethylene dryness.
Back Tor is the scene of one of The Walking Dan and I’s most weird walking experiences and can be found on ‘The Walking Dad’s Weird Walking Experience’s Volume 2’ DVD. Available in good DVD stores nowhere in the world.
We were heading towards Back Tor on what was our first ever trip to Derwent’s Edge and, as you are, were a little hidden from the summit and trig point. Which is why the chap doing naked tai-chi on the top of the Tor didn’t see us until we were around 25 metres away. Both The Walking Dan and I have tried to justify this chap’s blatant advertisement of his old chap in the years since, as it has clearly scared us for life. It was early in the morning and he must have thought ‘why not? I’m going for it’. By the time we actually got to Back Tor our exhibitionist had flung on a pair of shorts and was running off down the path carrying a big pack – he must’ve been wild camping… very wild.
Thankfully, this time, Back Tor was deserted – we’d barely seen anyone on the entire walk – and we scrambled up to the difficultly located trig point. The Back Tor trig point is worth the scramble as the dial on the trig is information-rich with arrows pointing out the direction of key hills and towns in the region.
The topography of Derwent Edge is spectacular, lunar-esque (like much of the Peak District skyline) and well worth the effort required to get up there. The Salt Cellars, Wheelstones and the Cakes of Bread, in particular, are fine examples of the strange-looking and brilliantly named rocky outcrops that abound in the area.
The weather wasn’t getting any better so I decided we would cut short our walk on the exposed top and start our track downwards, though a mass of heather and bracken.
Chris, our newly-designated Activities Director, decided that we needed a motivational boost at this point – to combat the weather – and decided we were going to play a game of ’20 Questions’ with the only caveat being that whatever you were thinking of MUST be visible. Cue a good half hour’s worth of fun trying to guess the following:
Waves on Ladybower
A barbwire fence
The zip on Andy’s backpack
We’d hit the shoreline of Ladybower Res by now and Andy and Chris decided that, because they were a little bit more bedraggled than me (dry as a bone in my new kit), we’d head back towards Fairholme – going anti-clockwise around the Res, saving us a good 45 minutes of walking in the rain.
This allowed us to stop at the information panel that explains more about the history of Ladybower Res and the displacement of the village of Derwent and Ashopton Hamlet that preceded the flooding of the valley in the middle of the 20th Century. At the time it was the biggest reservoir in the country. It’s fascinating stuff and I’ll pop in a few links so you can read all about it, plus there’s some vids on YouTube too.
For people of a certain age in the area, Ladybower is well-known for the underwater village of Derwent that lurks in it’s murky depths. The top of the church tower was regularly visible in times of drought well into the 80’s, before they pressure of time and 27 million gallons of water sent it to a watery grave. However legends still tell that, on the stroke of midnight, once a month, if you listen closely enough, you can still hear the church bells ring. My grand-dad told me that last bit. Not sure I believe it, but it sounds great as I read it back to myself.
We passed back through the little hamlet of Derwent, just a few magically located houses and a church before we turned left back past Ladybower Dam to the car park at Fairholmes.
I’ve mentioned the car park at Fairholmes is expensive but all that money does provide for a cracking set of toilets and a small but perfectly formed refreshment bar. The walk finished 4 hours after we’d started, 10 miles later with a cracking cup of tea, a piece of carrot cake (thanks Andy) and what remained of our lunches.
The duck army had returned from manoeuvres, but only a greedy few came to say ‘hello’ and try and blag some cake. As if duckfaces! Make a sentence out of ‘No chance, ‘3 Yorkshiremen’, ‘expensive cakes’.
Whilst avoiding eye contact with the ducks who were trying (failing!) to look malnourished and needy, I read a poster detailing the 7 guided walking tours available across the next 6 months. Either the ‘Aircraft Wrecks of Howden Moor’ or ‘Dambuilders and Dambusters’ walk will get me back here to visit again.
All in all it was a fab walk and great weather for ducks, even though they missed out on cake this time. The ever energetic Chris even had time for his fencing lesson that evening. How good is that? The closest I got to fencing as a kid was ‘hedge-hopping’.