Quite possibly the wildest and remotest of the fully written up SWC walks, this route leads from a remote bus stop on the famous Derwent Reservoirs through woods onto a grassy boggy ridge past Alport Castles, Britain’s largest inland landslip area with its fascinating rock formations and piles of rocky debris, to one of England’s few great, untamed wildernesses: Bleaklow. Bleak by name, bleak by nature, it is famed for its extensive, wild moorland and is home to two of the three highest points in the Peak District. Despite its reputation as an endless, featureless mass of peat bogs, Bleaklow is quite magnificent though. Its contours are more rounded than Kinder's, but it is less accessible and more remote with fewer paths and features aiding navigation, basically an often-pathless wilderness – rough, boggy, quiet, wild and lonely. But it also has some picturesque gritstone rock formations, worn into shapes by wind and water and plenty of scenic river valleys running off it.
The route across Bleaklow follows the Pennine watershed across the heart of the unforgiving plateau, with wide vistas across the Dark Peak area and to the North, before descending through the very pretty Upper Derwent Valley past Howden and Derwent Reservoirs back to the start.
Note: The stretch along the large – and partly pathless – peatland plateau requires excellent navigational skills and very good stamina, as any divergence from the best line requires much higher levels of energy, due to the deep peaty groughs, some watery holes and boggy ground either side of (and sometimes on) the best route.
Ladybower Reservoir is a large Y-shaped reservoir, the lowest of three in the Upper Derwent Valley. The River Ashop flows into the reservoir from the west; the River Derwent flows south, initially through Howden Reservoir, then Derwent Reservoir, and finally through Ladybower Reservoir. The area is now a tourist attraction, with the Fairholmes visitors' centre located at the northern tip of Ladybower. The east arm of the reservoir, fed by the Ladybower Brook, is overlooked by Hordron Edge stone circle.
Ladybower was built between 1935 and 1943 by the Derwent Valley Water Board to supplement the other two reservoirs in supplying the water needs of the East Midlands. It took a further two years to fill (1945). The dam differs from the Howden Reservoir and Derwent Reservoir in that it is a clay-cored earth embankment, and not a solid masonry dam. Below the dam is a cut-off trench 55m deep and 1.8m wide filled with concrete, stretching 150m into the hills each side, to stop water leaking round the dam. During the 1990s the wall was raised and strengthened to reduce the risk of over-topping in a major flood.
Drinking water must be pumped to treatment works rather than using gravity flow as in the other two reservoirs, increasing costs. It is treated at Bamford water treatment works and then flows south down the 45 km long Derwent Valley Aqueduct to supply clean water to the cities of Nottingham, Derby and Leicester. The aqueduct passes through the park of Chatsworth House. A tunnel carries some of the water from the Derwent Valley eastwards through the hill and into the lower of the two Rivelin Dams to supply Sheffield.
The building of the reservoir resulted in the submergence of the villages of Ashopton and Derwent, including Derwent Woodlands church and Derwent Hall. Ashopton stood roughly where the road to the Snake Pass met the Woodlands Valley. The narrow stone Packhorse Bridge over the Derwent was removed and rebuilt at the head of the Howden reservoir. In 1976, 1995 and 2018, dry conditions caused the water level to drop and the village of Derwent to once again be exposed.
The Peak District (National Park)
The Peak District is an upland area at the southernmost end of the Pennines.
The Peak District National Park is one of the UK’s most popular and is located within the boundaries of five counties (Derbys., Ches., Staffs., Yorks. and Greater Manchester). Founded in 1951, it was the first national Park in England. The Park spans an area of around 1,440 km2 (550 mi2) and – despite its name – its terrain consists mainly of rolling hills, farmland, moorland and some gritstone escarpments (the "edges"). It is however significantly higher than much of the terrain in the surrounding area.
The Peak District is formed almost exclusively from sedimentary rocks dating from the Carboniferous period. They comprise the Carboniferous Limestone, the overlying Gritstone and finally the Coal Measures, though the latter occur only on the extreme margins of the area. In addition, there are infrequent outcrops of igneous rocks including lavas, tuffs and volcanic vent agglomerates.
The northern Dark Peak (whose geology is gritstone) is one of the most famous landmarks in the Peak District National Park, known for its exposed and isolated tracts of moorland, as well as its expansive rolling plateau which is covered by cotton grass bogs and heather moorlands. The soil of the area is composed of moorland peat which provides the perfect environment for the plant life in the area. The areas to the flanks of the high moorland host numerous copses which are composed of Oak and Birch.
The southern White Peak (whose geology is mainly limestone) is another distinctive area within the park due to its gently sloping Limestone plateau, crisscrossed by the Limestone Dales. The Dales provide the areas’ drainage and vary in steepness throughout the area.
In 1899, the Derwent Valley Water Board was set up to supply water to Derby, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield, and the two Gothic-style dams were built across the River Derwent to create Howden Reservoir (1912) and Derwent Reservoir (1916). West of the Derwent a large village known as Birchinlee, locally known as 'Tin Town', was created for the 'navvies' – the workers who built the dams – and their families, many of whom came from the Elan Valley Reservoirs in Wales.
Over the decades, demand for water increased. Piped intakes were constructed from the rivers Ashop and Alport to the west to feed directly into the Derwent reservoir, but soon demand increased further to the point where another reservoir was required. The larger Ladybower Reservoir, built largely during World War II, necessitated the flooding of the villages of Derwent and Ashopton, with the occupants being relocated to the Yorkshire Bridge estate, just downstream of Ladybower dam. A packhorse bridge with a preservation order on it also had to be moved, and was rebuilt at Slippery Stones, north of Howden Reservoir.
The boundary between Derbyshire and Sheffield/South Yorkshire follows the River Derwent in its upper reaches and therefore runs through Howden Reservoir.
The topographical similarity between the Upper Derwent Valley and the Ruhr Valley of Germany led to the dams being used as a practice environment for the Lancaster bombers of 617 Squadron (Dam Busters) in 1943 before their attack on the Ruhr dams. The Dam Busters film was subsequently filmed at the Derwent Dams.
The Alport Castles are a landslip feature in the Peak District National Park on the eastern side of Alport Dale, in the National Trust's High Peak Estate, north of the Snake Pass and north-west of Ladybower Reservoir.
At almost a km long, it is thought to be the largest inland landslide in the UK. The name "castles" comes from the debris from the landslide, which has produced several gritstone mounds that tower over the valley and appear from the distance to look like castles, with the largest of these, the "Tower", resembling a full-scale motte and bailey castle.
The exact cause of the landslide is unknown, but similar if less dramatic landslips occur all around the Dark Peak, notably on Mam Tor, where softer lower layers of shale give way under the heavy gritstone above.
The rock faces and cliffs are unstable and unsuitable for climbing and scrambling but the site is accessible along some well-trodden public rights of way and is a popular site for walkers and birdwatchers, as ravens and peregrine falcons have been known to nest on the crags.
Bleaklow is a high, largely peat-covered, gritstone moorland, just north of Kinder Scout across the Snake Pass, in the High Peak near the town of Glossop. Much of it is more than 600m above sea level and the shallow bowl of Swains Greave on its eastern side is the source of the River Derwent.
Bleaklow Head (633m), marked by a huge stone cairn and crossed by the Pennine Way, is the second-highest point in Derbyshire and the high point at the western side of the moor. It is one of three summits on this plateau above 2,000 ft, the others being Bleaklow Stones, some 3 km to the east along an indefinite ridge, and Higher Shelf Stones, 1.5 km south of Bleaklow Head.
Much of the main plateau of Bleaklow is a boggy peat moorland, seamed by 'groughs' (deep water-eroded channels in the peat), and lacking strong changes in elevation – in poor conditions its traverse is probably the most navigationally challenging in the Peak District.
Bleaklow is part of the National Trust's High Peak Estate and in recent years there has been considerable investment of resources to block many of the eroded peat gullies as part of major schemes to re-wet the peat and restore healthy sphagnum moss communities which are essential for peat formation, carbon-capture, and reduction in dissolved carbon which contaminates water supplies. See: moorsforthefuture.org.uk/our-work/our-projects/moorlife/moorlife-project-sites/bleaklow
The Derwent is a Derbyshire river of 106 km/66 mi length and is a tributary of the River Trent, which it joins south of Derby. Its waters ultimately reach the North Sea via the Humber Estuary. For half its course the river flows through the Peak District and for most of the first 10 km it forms the border to South Yorkshire. In the lower reaches between Matlock and Derby it was one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution, providing power to the first industrial scale cotton mills. Today it provides a water supply to several surrounding cities, and its steeply sided valley is an important communications corridor through the uplands of the Peak District.
Peak Horsepower – Kinder Loop
Peak Horsepower has been created to extend and improve the Peak District bridleway network. Their Kinder Loop is an 88 km (55 mi) circular waymarked route through the dramatic scenery around Kinder Scout and provides an iconic, challenging long-distance riding route in the centre of the country. It starts from the head of the Ladybower reservoir and draws on existing bridleways, the Pennine Bridleway and the Trans-Pennine Trail. See peakhorsepower.co.uk