Cycling the Peak District - South Yorkshire and Hope Valley
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 December 2019
Burn off those mince pies with this breezy ride from the carol singers of Dungworth to the famous dam of the Dambusters, taking in stunning reservoirs, quiet back lanes, wandering bridges, and … prima donna ducks!
In the spirit of the season I hope you will allow me to stray briefly over the border into Yorkshire, to take in one of the best nights to be had over Yuletide - the annual carol singing in the Royal Hotel, Dungworth. This rousing public singalong has been going on for years. All are welcome and there are 'house songs' - well-known carols - that everyone can join in with, alongside guest slots from local folksingers. The standard is high, because since 2009 the pub has hosted a monthly folk night, 'Royal Traditions', started by Dungworth's very own famous folk couple, Fay Hield and Jon Boden, and the village is the centre for the annual Soundpost Singing Weekend. On the very popular Carol Night (21st December this year), tickets are available for a guaranteed seat, but there is always standing room for those who just want to show up. The hat is passed around, the drinks and songs flow, and a merry time is had by all!
From Dungworth it is a short, pleasant ride down to the Ladybower Inn, once more safely over the border in Derbyshire. There, a hearty Christmas meal can be procured, to fortify you for the cycle up the side of the Ladybower Reservoir to Fairholmes (alternatively you can start at Fairholmes Cycle Hire and Visitor Centre, and do a loop around two or three reservoirs: Derwent, Howden, and Ladybower - either clockwise or anticlockwise).
The car park at Fairholmes is home to a resident colony of rather well-fed ducks, who weave in and out of the traffic and visitors with a casual waddle and a quack, taking it all in their stride as they are enticed into photo-opportunities by seed and breadcrumbs. All in a day's work!
Pushing north up the west bank, you come very shortly to the 'Dambusters Dam'. During the dark days of World War II, here in this quiet backwater history was made. For six weeks prior to the attacks on the great dams of Germany, Derwent dam was used by the Lancaster bomber pilots for bombing run and target practice, due to its close resemblance to the German dams. All this was very 'hush hush', although the locals complained of the not-so-hush-hush noise of the Lancaster bombers doing their practice runs every night! After the war things were kept quiet until the Official Secrets Act allowed the story to be finally told. Thus, in 1954 filming commenced on location of The Dambusters (starring Richard Todd as Guy Gibson). In total three aircraft were used (one Lancaster and two Shackletons) over the fortnight of shooting. There is a small museum commemorating the remarkable mission, and it is impossible to pass the dam without finding yourself humming the classic Dambusters' tune.
As you leave the bouncing bombs behind, spend a moment to 'paws for reflection' at the touching memorial stone to a loyal hound… It was an icy cold day on Saturday 12th December 1953 when 86-year-old Joseph Tagg, a well-known shepherd, set off with his dog Tip to tend to some sheep in the Upper Derwent Valley. By the next morning Old Joe and Tip had failed to return home. RAF mountain rescue, gamekeepers and shepherds went out to search for them. It was not until Saturday 27th March 1954 that they were found by two Water Board men, Sam Bingham and Joe Shepherd, who were rounding up sheep high on Ronksley Moor. It was exactly 15 weeks since their disappearance when the frozen corpse of 'Old Joe' was found lying in a dip with a very weak Tip only a few feet away. The 11-year-old Tip had survived 105 days by her master's body in one of Derbyshire's harshest winters. She was taken home to Joe's niece, nursed back to health and was presented with the Bronze Medal of the Canine Defence League, equivalent to the Victoria Cross of the animal world. Unfortunately Tip lived for less than a year after this ordeal, passing away on 16th February 1955. Her remarkable feat had been reported far and wide and a campaign raised funds to erect the memorial above Derwent Reservoir.
So whether it's dogs, ducks, or dams that do it for you - or all three - the delightful Derwent Valley has something for you!
Royal Hotel, Dungworth to Ladybower Inn (7 miles)
From the pub head north through the village, past the village hall. Turn left onto Sidling Hollow, a lovely ridge road with fine views. Follow this west, as it becomes Corker Lane, curves around to Tinkers Bottom, then West Lane, Wet Shaw Lane and Sugworth Road - don't worry, these are all really the same lane, heading west along the lip of the valley, following the contour (more or less). Eventually you reach Mortimer Road where you turn left down to the A57. At the main junction take a right, and follow this A road along to Ladybower Inn, where refreshment awaits!
Ladybower Inn to Fairholmes (3.8 miles)
Turn right out of the pub, heading west along the A57 for a short scoot. Before you reach the long Ladybower Bridge head off the main road right up the little track (15 mile speed limit sign; wooden five bar gate). You are going to take the east bank up the side of Ladybower Reservoir. It's a little climb, but the views make it all worthwhile. Keep pushing north along the side of the water through pleasant beech woods. You will eventually see the dam loom into sight. Turn off left here and cross in front of it, turning left down into Fairholmes car park. Watch out for the ducks!
Fairholme Loop (11 miles)
Staying on the West bank of the reservoir, push north. To do this, head to the mini-roundabout and take the restricted track heading northwards. Stop at the Derwent dam for photo opportunities, the small museum, and the loyal sheepdog memorial. Then, onwards! Head north along the leafy back lane. This is pleasant cycling all the way to Howden dam. Take in the views at the rocky promontory, then swing round the western inlet. As you keep heading north, the reservoir will eventually peter out, becoming a brook. This can still be a considerable barrier if in spate, so ignore the first signs for 'Slippery Stones: cycle path' unless you want to get a wetting! Instead, carry on a little further until you come to a packhorse bridge. Cross here. This is a good place for a picnic. The bridge was moved from Derwent village when it was flooded to create Ladybower Reservoir. On the eastern bank take the steep track south. The short climb is worth it for the views across the water. Stunning riding awaits. Follow the east bank all the way back down to Derwent dam. Cross to Fairholmes. Mission accomplished!
- Distances: Royal Hotel Dungworth to Ladybower Inn (via Sugworth Rd): 7 miles; Ladybower Inn to Fairholmes: 3.8 miles; Ride around Derwent and Howden Reservoirs: 11 miles
- Level: Moderate
- Refreshments: Royal Hotel, Dungworth; Ladybower Inn; Fairholmes Visitor Centre
- Transport links: Buses from Sheffield
- Parking: Fairholmes Visitor Centre; Ladybower Inn (for customers).
Highlights of the route
- Christmas carols at the Royal Traditions, Dungworth
- Delicious Sunday Lunch at the Ladybower Inn
- Stunning views of Ladybower Reservoir
- The Dambusters Dam - Derwent
- Peaceful leafy lanes perfect for cycling
- Off-road excitement on the east bank
Useful links and addresses
- Map of the Trail: www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/79012/cycle-routes-in-the-upper-derwent-valley.pdf
- Visiting Derwent Valley: www.visitpeakdistrict.com/things-to-do/upper-derwent-valley-p681561
- Cycle Hire: Fairholmes Car Park, Derwent, Bamford, Sheffield S33 0AQ, Tel: (01433) 651261 Email: email@example.com; www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/visiting/cycle/cycle-hire-centres/derwent
- Royal Traditions Carol Singing: www.soundpost.org.uk/royal-traditions/
- Ladybower Inn: www.ladybower-inn.co.uk/index
- The Dambusters: www.dambusters.org.uk/reccomendations/derwent-valley-museum/