Looking back on the hot dry summer of 2018 and while walking beside the Derwent Dams in the Upper Derwent Valley through the Summer and Autumn, my family and I had watched the water level of the three reservoirs change dramatically from an over topping dam, (flowing over the top of the dam wall,) to barely any water at all, a mere trickle at one point at the Howden reservoir especially, this has only happened on rare occasions, 2018 is one of those rare years where the drowned villages remains have been revealed, the previous years were in 1976, 1989, 1995, 2003.
The 3 Derwent dams consist of Howden, Derwent and Ladybower reservoirs in the Upper Derwent Valley and are owned and maintained by Severn Trent Water and supply water to Sheffield in South Yorkshire, a large part of Derbyshire, Nottingham and Leicester areas. The first dam in the series of 3 is Howden dam, which began construction in July 1901. The Howden reservoir is a Y shaped reservoir and is split by a boundary through the middle, an East, West divide, to the East is Sheffield, South Yorkshire and to the West is Derbyshire. The boundary follows through the middle where the river Derwent originally would have flowed before the construction of the dams began in order to supply water to an ever-growing population.
During 2018 the water levels in the Upper Derwent Valley changed throughout the seasons and on each of our family visits as I took photographs on our walks I kept comparing them to the previous trip, from spring time abundance of water, the Derwent dam was overtopping, but through the hot dry summer the levels fell to almost record lows and uncovered parts of the Ashopton and Derwent Villages that were “Drowned” as part of the plan to create the Ladybower reservoir. As I type the water is rising considerably and has now covered up those parts of the village that reappeared during the hot summer of 2018 including the Derwent Hall’s foundations and corner stone. The foundations of most of the other buildings that were visible as the water levels dropped incredibly low have also been reclaimed by the rising reservoir water now too.
‘A little history of the Derwent Dams; first and more background and a circular walk can be found in my previous article, A Derwent dam circular in the Peak District.’
On one particular visit with my family in mid-summer we were lucky to meet with a very lovely couple who were also visiting the Howden reservoir that sunny day, the very nice gent told us how he could remember the construction of the Ladybower dam and how life had changed as the works began, he had lived in Ashopton Village as a young lad and attended the local school there. When construction started on the Ladybower dam in 1935, his school life and day to day life changed, in fact life in general changed dramatically for all the villagers from Ashopton and Derwent villages. When the workers came to live on site to construct the Ladybower dam I was told of how his life and that of his family changed forever. His school life became very disrupted as he was needed at home more often to help out with the laundry duties, his mother and his family went to live at a relative’s farm, they took in family members, who were part of the construction team, ‘Navvies’ as they were known, as well as other workers from the dam construction team, but the extra laundry needed extra pairs of hands, his job was to turn the mangle in the yard; hard work but essential to daily life when there are extra piles of laundry to be done. Often school life had to wait when the laundry mangle needed turning, and for sure construction life was not a clean one, I imagine the laundry would have been thoroughly mucky. It was lovely to hear personal accounts about life in the area through the dam construction and his memories of watching King George Vl officially open the reservoir on September 25th1945, where he was at the front of the awaiting crowd to watch the king arrive on that momentous day.
When we’ve been to the snake pass for any reason, we often stop by to take in the views across the Ladybower reservoir, this beautiful Y shaped body of water that we take for granted on our regular trips through the area, a place to walk, a place to relax and take photographs. It’s not until you look into it’s past and speak to those who remember the demolished villages that now lay beneath the water line, that it brings home the reality of how the area would have been and how lives changed because of the construction of the reservoirs. The water from these reservoirs serve my home too, so it makes me realize how connected I am to the places that I love to visit so often.
During the summer while visiting the Upper Derwent Valley my family and I took a walk up to Alport Castles, a 15km walk that began at Ladybower reservoir where we had parked our car, a beautiful location to start from I always think. As always, I took photos of the reservoir along the way and I never tire of those views.
On a family walk in the Autumn and after parking up near Ladybower reservoir we’d walked along the track beside the shore line where the water level was clearly dipping low, our destination on that day was just a short walk up to Crook Hill, a small hill with spectacular views over Ladybower reservoir and the Snake Pass a57 and across to Win hill and beyond. The Upper Derwent Valley is a stunning place to begin any walk from and with amazing views, 2018 and its hot summer lowered the water levels to such lows only seen on a few occasions, but it is always beautiful nonetheless.
If planning a visit to the area by car I would suggest parking at either Heatherdene carpark on the a6013 Bamford road where you will also find toilet facilities, or another good place to park is at Fairholmes at the Derwent dams’ visitor centre or of course there’s limited, free roadside parking if you arrive early enough.
As I write I’m looking forward to visiting the 3 dams in the Upper Derwent Valley in Winter and with any luck I’ll see the landscape in a new light yet again, the water levels will have risen further and if I’m lucky maybe I’ll even catch a sprinkle of the white stuff! I love to walk in the snow and I always feel it makes the landscape look even more magical. The coming of the winter snow should also help to bring up the reservoir levels to where they ought to be by the end of the winter months. The Derwent dams in the Upper Derwent Valley is always the place to start a fun adventure.