Upper Derwent Valley

The first time I drove along Derwent Lane up to Fairholmes was in autumn and to me it felt like driving in to the Yellowstone National Park in America. The leaves had not fallen yet so the trees on either side of the narrow road were like spikes towering into the sky with hues of gold and lime. It lifts me still.

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Derwent Dam, Upper Derwent Valley, Peak District National Park

I have just finished the section for the Upper Derwent Valley in the guidebook I am writing. It is a section I have laboured over with much love as it is where I spend a great deal of my time as a Ranger for the Peak District National Park and as a solo explorer.

The first time I drove along Derwent Lane up to Fairholmes was in autumn and to me it felt like driving in to the Yellowstone National Park in America.  The leaves had not fallen yet so the trees on either side of the narrow road were like spikes towering into the sky with hues of gold and lime. It lifts me still.

I always look across to Derwent edge and the Wheelstones  then down to the reservoir to see how much if any of the old village is showing through the surface. The reasons I chose the area as my Ranger station, the scenery, the geology, the history and the valley does not disappoint on any of these. If you want to explore, discover history then this is the place.

The more time I have spent the narrower my focus has become. Somedays it is a single clough, deep, incised, generally wet but full of hidden nooks and crannies teaming with wildlife and history. I recently spent time in a clough and sat having tea in an old sheepfold now derelict. Near to it was a small ford I had crossed and a flat piece of land, enough for a shepherd to drive sheep out of the fold and onto the flat plain before heading down the valley and into the village, or up on to the high moorland. I sat and imagined the scene in my mind, a shepherd in old worn beige clothing, string around the coat to keep it closed. A Collie keeping the sheep in line stopping them from running away. The noise of the sheep and the sound of the shepherds voice as he gave the dog commands. A real hive of activity now quiet and forgotten.

The sheepfold is on the map and true to OS is there on the ground.

 

Boundary Posts

Derwent Valley Waterboard Post
Derwent Valley Waterboard Post

A couple of Sundays ago on Ranger Patrol I went along the East Track towards Howden Reservoir and took the footpath up Howden Clough on to Penistone Stile.

Close to the tiny reservoir I noticed this beautiful cast post placed on the northern side of the stream. The letters DVWB stand for Derwent Valley Water Board, the original builders and owners of the reservoirs in the Upper Derwent Valley.

I ran my hand over the surface, it was cool and smooth, I could imagine the foundry worker doing the same after it had come out of its sand cast and been polished. An unusual object to find in that location, the thing that struck me about it was the care that had gone in to the design and manufacture of something as mundane as a marker post. It reflects the design ethos of the dams and associated works down the valley. It was important to some one this looked right.

I guess it marks a boundary but I have no evidence for that. Perhaps it is the limit of the water company land or marks the reservoir as belonging to the company. Back at the Ranger Center we could find no reference to it.

Spring

Towards Whinstone Lee Tor and the Derwent Edge
Towards Whinstone Lee Tor and the Derwent Edge

I attended my first Peak District National Park Ranger day since Christmas recently.  It was an easy day with some maintenance work in the morning, scraping leaves off double yellow lines on the approach roads up the Derwent Valley.  It felt good to be back with the shift.  I’ve missed the lads, the work and the camaraderie.

After lunch we all went out on individual patrols.  I like this part of being a Ranger the best.  Talking to the public, helping them, educating them on what the landscape is doing this time of year in the valley.  It was a nice day and I wanted to visit a small secluded valley, not often frequented as it is off the main trails.  Walking down the old Derwent Valley road to what is now left of the village the sun warmed me up, the first time this year that has happened.

I reached my turn off and heading up a vehicle track, stopping off to view an old barn, now used for storage, that sits opposite a derelict farm-house.  What life was like here I don’t know but I managed to conjour up an image in my mind of shepherds working with their flocks.

I continued up an old holloway, the ground still a bit muddy from all the rain we have had.  About halfway up there is an old oak tree, all knarled curling branches.  It sits on top of the holloway banking and looks out over a small dale.  Clambering up I was pleased to see the roots formed a natural seat with the trunk forming a  back rest.  I took out my map and leaning back into the tree settled in to look at the landscape.

There were old lines where once field boundaries had been, these were long removed to facilitate larger fields.  Some had the odd tree still standing in line with its neighbours, and looking at these markers in the land I could reconstruct the way the land used to be.  How long back I could go I guess would have been a hundred years or more.  The farm above is well over 300 years old and judging by some of the field boundaries I would say the landscape was at least 7 – 800 years old.

I sat there for an hour or more, taking in the sun and the landscape.  It is one of the nicest hours I have spent this year.

Hidden Valleys

Upper Derwent Valley
Upper Derwent Valley

I find myself in the Upper Derwent Valley most weeks of the year, it helps being a Ranger in that area for the Peak District National Park, which gives me a reason to be there, other than loving the beauty of the place.  I first came across the area back in the 70’s when Mick Dyson and I cycled from his home at the side of Tinsley viaduct to the summit of the Snake Pass.  Some feat for a couple of kids and even bigger feat for me, Mick had a 10 speed bike with go faster handle bars, I had a cast off sit up and beg Raleigh with no gears and a saddle that cut you in half.  We cycled up the A57 stopping off at Philips little garden shed where he sold bacon butties and mugs of tea at the side of the road.  We didn’t know it then but we were in the presence of a legend, the hut being Philips precursor to his cafe at Grindleford station.  I don’t recall any scrawled signs giving strict instruction not to ask for mushrooms, because he doesn’t do them and how many more times do people need telling that, but there probably were some.  Dropping down from Moscar Top and crossing the Ashopton Viaduct with the road entrance into the valley on the right I was awestruck by what I saw.  I had never imagined there could be such a wild place, the moors seemed brooding, oppressive and menacing, especially to a skinny lad from Rotherham who had only ever seen the woods at the bottom of the street and, once a year, Blackpool Tower.  It would be a long time before I ever ventured up that road but when I did eventually drive up to the Ranger centre I was captivated by what I saw and experienced.  The first impression of that drive was one of grandeur, majestic trees and towering ridges.  It was, for me, an epiphany, I had come home.

The valley is conjoined by a series of cloughs, miniature secluded valleys, the joy of which is their isolation from the outside world.  You never know quite what you will find or indeed if you will ever emerge once you have stepped down from the rim off the moorland that sits above the clough.  This action is often the first part of the adventure for there is rarely a path down and you have to find the best way, often a scramble over greasy, moss encrusted gritstone.  A frisson of fear shivers through the body as you hold on as tight as can be done with cold fingers and an unsure step.  Grabbing at clumps of grass and fern probably isn’t the most sensible way to achieve descent but then who ever said walking had to be sensible?  Reaching ground a decision has to be made where to go for there are no human signs to guide you.  The clough is thick with bracken, waist high and smelling fresh and green.  It makes walking difficult, your feet cannot be seen so you trust in touch, judgement and luck and the bracken wraps around your feet so every so often you need to stop and force your legs through the tangle.  Working along the sides I start to gradually descend until my eye is caught with some feature that looks interesting.

Best are the old quarry workings now engulfed by nature they fascinate me.  Man was here before I was and he wasn’t having fun he was hewing stone from these ancient rocks.  How did he arrive in this isolated place, did he walk, was there a form of transport.  In winter was he drenched in sweat and rain or snow, cold hands working colder tools to break rock and for what, what was so special about this place that it needed to become an industrial site, where did the rock go to, what was it used for.

You can stop and sit here for hours; no one will disturb you it’s yours for as long as you want.  Find a rock or a grassy shelf and just take it in.  Once the clough has got used to you being here it goes back to its normal life.  Birds flit about eating, collecting, and the odd rustle in the bracken indicates some creature going about its business.  At times I think I can here voices and steel hitting gritstone and fancy I see men working away whilst in the background a stream bubbles away running along the floor.

One day for whatever reason the men left and no longer was the stone required.  Why is lost now, no one thought to document these places and so they slipped back to nature who re-claimed them and continued on the process of millions of years.