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Derwent Dam & Reservoir Walk (Circular – With a Killer View)

Derwent Dam & Reservoir Walk (Circular – With a Killer View)

Nestled in Derbyshire’s Upper Derwent Valley, Derwent Dam offers a rich blend of history and scenic beauty. 

Built during the early 1900s, it still stands as a testament to engineering prowess, drawing visitors for both its historical significance and breathtaking landscapes.

Join me as we explore, the area and find out what you need to know before your visit.

Getting to Derwent Dam

If visit Derwent Dam by car, park at the Fairholmes Visitor Centre or use the free roadside layby parking on Upper Derwent Valley Road if the main car park is full. Ensure layby spots have no restrictions like double yellow lines.

Alternatively, a direct bus (257 Hulleys of Baslow) runs from Sheffield to the visitor centre for those opting for public transport.

Parking at Derwent Reservoir

The primary parking location for Derwent Dam is the Fairholmes Visitor Centre, situated directly at the base of the dam wall and offering numerous facilities. However, this car park operates on a pay-and-display system and can become full during peak times. As an alternative, there is lay-by parking available on the road leading up to the centre.

Fairholmes Visitor Centre (Paid)

Fairholmes Visitor Centre car park
heatherdene car park pricing at machine sep 2023

Unless you’re only planning to see the dam and its immediate vicinity, most visitors should consider paying for all-day parking.

Severn Trent Water oversees the paid car park, which is equipped with toilets, picnic benches, and an on-site café for refreshments. There’s also a visitor centre available to assist with any queries, and cycle hire is provided on the premises.

Upper Derwent Valley Road Road Side Parking (Free)

If the car park at the Fairholmes Visitor Centre is full, there are several locations on the road leading up to the centre where you can park without any charges.

Just ensure there are no restrictions, such as double yellow lines. Naturally, the drawback of these parking spots is that they can be a considerable distance from the visitor centre, so it’s advisable to find one as close as possible.

Derwent by Public Transport

Surprisingly, the Dam boasts excellent public transport connections, with a bus service running directly from Sheffield along Snake Road, terminating at the visitor centre.

The service is the ‘257 Hulleys of Baslow’. You can view the timetable here.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any direct public transport links from Manchester or Leeds to Upper Derwent.

Derwent Reservoir Walk Map & Route

Download file for GPS

The walk begins at the visitor centre, crosses in front of the dam wall, and continues along the edge of the reservoir. You’ll then ascend into the hills over the Moorland before descending and walking alongside Ladybower Reservoir back to the car park.

View Full OS Map

If you’re seeking a shorter route, consider the walk around Ladybower Reservoir, located to the south of Derwent Dam. Alternatively, you might choose not to venture into the nearby hills of Win Hill and Bamford Edge.

Derwent Step by Step – 7.1km (4.44mi) ~ 2hr

1. Head out from Fairholmes Visitor Centre and follow the road. This will lead you over the bridge, and, soon after, you will be in front of the magnificent dam wall.

bridge on the way over to derwent dam

2. Proceed across the field and ascend the staircase to your right. After this initial set of stairs, you’ll be treated to a splendid side view of the dam wall.

stairs on the side of derwent dam wall

Note: When rain and water levels are high, water cascades from the top of the dam wall, offering a breathtaking spectacle. Sort of like a waterfall!

derwent dam overflowing

3. Keep climbing the stairs. Upon reaching the top, turn left and follow the track, which gently winds along the water’s edge towards Howden Reservoir.

path along side derwent reservoir

4. After a brief stretch, take the footpath on the right, which leads you into the forested expanse of Hancock Woodland.

footpath just up from the reservoir

5. Shortly, you’ll step out from the treeline. Continue uphill until the path intersects with another; here, turn right.

hollin clough above derwent dam

6. Continue along the path across the Moorland, where you’ll be graced with panoramic views of the reservoirs beneath. A great viewpoint to take pictures.

looking south from the hills down over ladybower reservoir

7. In time, the path will descend back to the water at Ladybower Reservoir. Upon reaching the road, turn right.

Small woodland pool, alongside the bridleway along ladybower reservoir

8. Tracing this road will take you past the dam wall and guide you back into Fairholmes Visitor Centre, concluding your walk.

Amenities & Facilities

Fairholmes Visitor Centre offers most of the amenities you might require:

fairholmes visitor centre facilities

Should you fancy a more hearty meal or need a convenience store, Bamford is the nearest village, situated just a 10-15 minute drive away.

Please note, that there are limited rubbish and water facilities around the walk. Therefore, it’s advised to bring everything you might need with you and be prepared to take it all away with you.

Yorkshire Bridge Inn

A quintessential country pub and dog-friendly hotel, the Yorkshire Bridge Inn is just a brief stroll from Ladybower Dam along the River Derwent.

Savour their traditional pub fare, and on sunnier days, take pleasure in their expansive beer garden.

For those seeking supplementary provisions, the closest establishment is the Texaco petrol station near the train station. Though its selection may be limited, it should be the essential items needed for your visit.

History & Significance of Derwent Dam and Reservoir

derwent dam from the back with towers and hills in the background

The Derwent Dam and Reservoir in Derbyshire’s Peak District National Park were constructed between 1902 and 1916 to address the increasing water demand spurred by the Industrial Revolution in nearby cities like Sheffield and Derby. Engineered by Edward Sandeman, the project involved over 1,000 workers residing in a specially built town called Birchinlee, or “Tin Town”, and utilized a custom railway for transporting materials from local quarries. Once completed, the dam began supplying fresh water by January 1916, but additional river diversions into the reservoir were carried out between 1920 and 1931 to meet the growing needs of the surrounding population.

Derwent Dam war memorial of the dambusters

During the Second World War, the reservoir became a training ground for the RAF’s 617 Squadron, known as the “Dambusters”, practising low-level flights for Operation Chastise due to the reservoir’s resemblance to targeted German dams. The dam hosts a plaque commemorating the squadron, and occasional flypasts by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight continue to honour wartime events. Additionally, the reservoir’s filling led to the submersion of the village of Derwent by 1946, marking a poignant chapter in the reservoir’s history, as it transformed from a quaint village to a vital industrial water supply, connecting the past with the present.

 Derwent Dam – FAQs 

Why is Derwent Dam famous?

Derwent Dam is notable for its historical significance during the Industrial Revolution, which saw a surge in water demand in the East Midlands and South Yorkshire areas due to urbanization.

It also gained fame as a practice site for the RAF’s 617 Squadron, which conducted training sorties with ‘bouncing bombs’ during World War II.

The reservoirs formed by Derwent Dam, along with Howden and Ladybower Reservoirs, are known as the Peak District’s Lake District due to their size and scenic beauty.

Who built Derwent Dam?

The construction of Derwent Dam began in 1902 under the supervision of Chief Engineer Edward Sandeman, who was also awarded the Telford Medal in 1918 for his work on the Derwent Valley Waterworks.

How deep is Derwent Dam?

The information on the exact depth of Derwent Dam was not readily available. However, the dam supports a total of 9.64 million cubic meters (340 million cubic feet) of water.

When was Derwent Dam built?

The construction commenced in 1902, and the reservoir began filling in November 1914. It overflowed for the first time in January 1916, marking its completion.

Can you swim in Derwent Dam?

No, you can not swim directly in the reservoir. However, further up the valley, there is a popular peak district swimming spot called Slippery Stones.

Can you walk across Derwent Dam?

While you might not walk across the dam itself, there are several circular walks and trails around Derwent Dam that cross over Ladybower Reservoir bridge and at the top of Howden Reservoir.

When does Derwent Dam overflow?

Derwent Dam typically overflows during winter months if there has been wet or snowy weather in the nearby hills. Overflow events, especially after periods of heavy rain and strong winds, are quite spectacular, attracting many visitors.