Sunday, 13 May 2012


We had a plan. A good one. Then we heard the weather forecast, and the pelting rain hammering on the windows overnight, so we had a rapid re-think and the plan changed. Instead of exploring the heights of Kinder Scout we opted for a safer option - meet at the side of Ladybower and see if inspiration strikes.

It's no longer raining when we pull up in our usual car park so we're feeling hopeful. The bluebells aren't out yet (PC has a thing about walking through the bluebells) so the suggestion of doing a complete circuit of Howden and Derwent reservoirs is accepted as a good alternative to Kinder.

As we get ready Mollie decides to decamp and visit a group of walkers getting ready at the other end of the car park. Endless calls and shouts fail to bring her back so PC has to go and fetch her and although Mollie looks sheepish she is clearly unrepentant.

Finally we're ready, after a brief debate as to whether we need the umbrella today. It was such a success on the last walk that I'm persuaded to take it (rain forecast, apparently, for lunch time so we'll need the shelter) so it's fixed onto the back of my increasingly heavy rucksack. I really must empty it out sometime.

First stop is Fairholmes and we're already surprised at how many walkers and cyclists are out today. Either the poor weather hasn't deterred them or they were all planning different walks but have made the same decision as us to avoid potential problems.

Leaving Fairholmes we've decided to walk the route anti-clockwise so we make our way down towards Derwent Dam. Even from a distance we can see the foamy, white wall of water completely blanketing the dam. Wow! It's a long time since we've seen this amount of water coming over the top, and it's a sign of how much rain we've had that the reservoirs are full to brimming. Closer to the wall we can even feel the spray coming off it. Impressive, and just a bit scary too.

The steep steps at the side of the dam are familiar but no less unwelcome but we're soon at the top and on the level roadway skirting the side of the reservoir. Now it's easy walking and a familiar outlook which means we can spend our time constructively - talking about everything from Art to University.

By the time we reach Abbey Tip Plantation we've lost all the foot traffic (we will only see one more walker on this side) and only have to contend with the few cyclists who circuit the reservoirs. And here we have a swathe of late daffodils, all a bit knocked and battered from the recent heavy rain but they are a lovely, cheerful sight. The daffodils have just about ended everywhere else so these are a treat.

We cross the bridge where the Abbey Brook flows into the reservoir. It's running very fast today but the banks of gloomy rhododendrons don't make it a good photo opportunity.

 Around the next corner and we're in sight of Howden Dam, and close enough to hear the thunderous rumbling of water pouring over the edge. Yes, Howden is full to bursting and its dam wall is, like Derwent's, a solid sheet of white. We choose not to take the small side path which leads to the base of the wall instead keeping on our planned route.

We're under a sparse canopy of trees here, insufficient to shelter us from the fast approaching rain that we can see coming from the direction of Alport and Bleaklow, blocking the view with a grey mist. Luckily, though, the brolly doesn't have to come out as the shower is short-lived and hardly makes us damp. It looks as if this will be the order of the day from now on - brief showers and an overcast sky.

We round the corner at the base of Howden Clough (the water here looks particularly grim; scummy with debris floating on it) to take the slight incline before the level returns as we walk past Ronksley Wood and out into the open at Cold Side. Here we can see the River Derwent rushing down to the reservoirs, and spring lambs running around the hillsides with their mothers, managing to look unbelievably cute.

The Slippery Stones Bridge is in sight now (it takes its name from the large slabs of stone that were the only means of crossing the Derwent in the past. The bridge dates from the 17th century and was classified as an ancient monument so when the valley was flooded the bridge was dismantled, stored and rebuilt here in 1959) so we hasten down to it, cross over - admiring the fast flowing river as we do - then settle down on the western bank of the river for lunch.

First its a nip from the secret flask. We don't need it to warm us up, but we do deserve a treat! (Mollie isn't forgotten, she has her biscuits.) Then it's a cup of coffee followed by sandwiches and the bun - very light doughnuts with fresh cream and oozing jam, all patriotically wrapped in a Union Jack box! Excellent - could have eaten more than one though. After a second coffee - and a very light shower of rain - we pick up our rucksacks again. How come mine doesn't feel any lighter?

This is such a familiar section of the walk for us, but this time we haven't even made the halfway point of the walk whereas we're usually on the way back to the cars by now. Naturally there are more people about now even though the clouds seem to be gathering.

We cross over the broad bridge at the base of Linch Clough noting that the water is very high, then it's up to the gate onto the long, narrow road skirting the west of the reservoirs. There are a few cars parked here, not many, and most of the drivers and passengers are sat inside rather than getting out and enjoying the fresh air while they can.

The road is long and winding which makes this side of the reservoirs much longer than the east. Added to the distance is the number of cars driving up today, we don't think we've ever seen so many on one day, and since they aren't walkers they go to as far as the end of the road, maybe park up for a while, then drive back so we have to avoid them twice. Some are very courteous but others don't seem to notice us and drive past fast (and we are very noticeable). To add to the problems the rain has decided to make a more determined effort. It isn't prolonged but the showers are heavier and longer. Still not bad enough to use the brolly (it will stay in the car next time) but we've donned waterproof coats and hoods.

We pass  a clump of gorse bushes in full, yellow bloom and stop for a sniff. It was only back at Easter that I realised that the flowers had a wonderful coconut scent - so I shared this we PC and we stand sniffing as a couple of cars passed us giving us strange looks.

When we reach the eastern side of Howden Dam we can see the spray from the edge being blow upwards and backwards - it would be easy to imagine a whale 'blowing'. It takes a while for PC to get a good shot of it, and when we drop down to the house at the side of the dam (Beavers Croft, a holiday cottage) she takes some more pictures across the lovely gardens to the dam.

The high rainfall we've had recently is very evident from here onwards. Water pouring off the hillside is reaching the tarmac road and running in rivers along its length. Sometimes it manages to cross over where it rushes down to the reservoir, but in other places it pools into mini fords. Sporadic rainfall is adding to it.

We press on, pass the remains of Tin Town (constructed for workers building the dams then demolished afterwards) which are easy to miss, especially if you are in a car. Then it's the final haul along to Derwent again. We're tiring, the hard, solid surface of the walk is beginning to take its toll, and Mollie is seriously muddy. Glad she won't be in my car.

There are quite a few people parked at the top of Derwent Dam admiring the cascading water, but we can ignore it now as we detour down to Fairholmes for a pre-journey-home stop. It's tempting to sit on the benches, but they're wet and getting up again could be a problem anyway.

Strange how the last few hundred yards to the cars is the hardest of the lot! However, we make it and gladly remove rucksacks and walking gear. It's been a long haul today (one source says 16.7 km) and we're out of condition having missed a few walks these past weeks. Next week is going to be a miss, too, and our schedule will be erratic for a while. Exam season is on us - GCSEs and A levels - so we'll have to squeeze our walks in when we can.

We've managed to miss the worst of the weather, but only just. On the way home I drive through some torrential rain storms and consider how lucky we've been!

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