The Derwent Watershed
The Derwent Watershed is exactly that. It takes the highest ground around the Upper Derwent Valley reservoirs, passing the sources of various brooks and rivers that feed into them. The walk starts with Win Hill and takes in The Great Ridge, Kinder Scout, Bleaklow, and Howden Edge before returning along Derwent Edge and Stanage Edge
Length: 40 miles
Start: Yorkshire Bridge
Area: Peak District – Dark Peak
GPX File: Download
Win Hill – (Height: 463m, Drop: 145m)
Lose Hill – (Height: 476m, Drop: 85m)
Mam Tor – (Height: 517m, Drop: 62m)
Lord’s Seat – (Height: 550m, Drop: 62m)
Brown Knoll – (Height: 569m, Drop: 36m)
Mill Hill – (Height: 544m, Drop: 32m)
Bleaklow Head – (Height: 633m, Drop: 128m)
Hoar Stones (Howden Edge) – (Height: 514m, Drop: 7m)
Outer Edge – (Height: 541m, Drop: 23m)
Margery Hill – (Height: 546m, Drop: 19m)
Back Tor – (Height: 538m, Drop: 67m)
High Neb – (Height: 458m, Drop: 107m)
Other POI: Yorkshire Bridge, Parkin Clough, Twitchill Farm, Hope, Lose Hill Farm, Back Tor, Hollins Cross, Rushup Edge, Pennine Way, Edale Rocks, Kinder Low, Red Brook, Kinder Downfall, Moss Castle, Glead Hill, Bleaklow Stones, Swains Head, Featherbed Moss, Howden Edge, Cartledge Brook, Dukes Road, Cartledge Stones Ridge, Derwent Edge, Dovestone Tor, The Salt Cellar, White Tor, Wheel Stones, Stanage Edge
This was one of my main challenges for this year. The Derwent Watershed is exactly how it sounds. It follows the highest points around the reservoirs of Derwent Valley in a complete circuit. It’s around 40 miles in length and covers some pretty arduous terrain, especially in the northern half of the circuit. The original idea was that it was going to serve as a warm up to the 50 mile Pendle Way walk I’m doing 10 days after – a walk that, at the time of writing, I haven’t yet attempted.
I was originally going to do this challenging walk on Wednesday the 21st June – the Summer Solstice. On the Monday, I had a final check of the weather forecasts and discovered that Wednesday was forecasting the possibility of thundery showers, however the day before was forecast to be dry and relatively cool compared to how hot and sticky it had been recently. I changed my plans with the unfortunate consequence of suddenly leaving myself very little time to prepare. My plan of an early night before the walk went up in smoke as I spent the whole night faffing around trying to make preparations. I ended up going to sleep around 11.30pm.
At 2.30am, my alarm went off. My eyes snapped open and I pondered the usual questions ‘What’s going on?, Where am I?, Who am I?’ for a few seconds before my memories and intellect slowly returned. I stumbled out of bed, wondering why the hell I was doing this. Stupid idea. I seriously contemplated going back to bed.
I eventually arrived in Bamford around 4.30am. I downed a bottle of water mixed with Grenade pre-workout formula in order to wake my mind and body up before starting the walk. Grenade is basically a potent mix of stimulants, herbs, and amino acids. I was armed with 3 litres of water and a bottle of lucozade, a large sandwich, and a selection of flapjacks and biscuits. What could possibly go wrong? I’d also purchased a pair of Granger G20 insoles in an attempt to keep my feet comfortable and supported.
The Great Ridge:
I set off walking, feeling recharged after my Grenade drink, and headed over Yorkshire Bridge and up Parkin Clough. I’d read elsewhere how unremittingly steep this was, and they weren’t joking! 15 minutes after setting off and already I felt like dropping. I wondered what would get me first. Asthma attack or heart attack? Maybe both at the same time! Eventually I arrived at the summit, wheezing like a horse with a progressive lung disease and struggling to come to terms with the fact I was only 30 minutes into an 18 hour journey. Who’s stupid idea was all this anyway? I found a resting spot and had a quick 5 minutes to get my breath back, whilst fitting my knee braces ready for the long journey ahead. I’m sure there are hardcore fell runners reading this and already thinking how pathetic I am. Well, you know what? They’d be right of course… but what this man lacks in fitness, he has in perseverance and sheer bloody minded stupidity. I was not in the least bit worried that I wouldn’t make it.
From the summit, I followed the ridge for a little while before veering off south-west down the hill towards Twitchill Farm. There’s a nice row of holiday cottages here that always look quite appealing for a getaway location. I passed these and continued downhill, eventually walking under the railways bridge, across the River Noe, and to the road. The footpath carries on more or less directly across the road and is signposted Lose Hill. Now feeling a bit more with it, I continued at a good pace up towards the summit.
One thing I noticed between here and Mam Tor were how fearless some of the sheep were compared to normal. Normally they’re so scared that they’re perfectly willing to leap off the edge of a cliff to their death, rather than suffer the even worse fate of being passed by a rambler. On this occasion, they were frequently standing their ground, and I swear they were seriously contemplating having a go at me. Even one of the lambs didn’t budge and started pawing with it’s forefoot like a bull, as if it was preparing to charge at me. Bless it’s little cotton socks. I have to admit that I was impressed by it’s bolshie behaviour.
As you would expect, the views from The Great Ridge were amazing and, for the first time ever, I was up here all alone. I made my way along the ridge, past Back Tor and Hollins Cross, until I reached a mist shrouded Mam Tor. The sun was threatening to break through but wasn’t quite strong enough yet. So far, so good.
Rushup Edge, Brown Knoll, and Kinder Scout:
I headed on to Rushup Edge and Lords’s Seat before veering north along the paved path towards Brown Knoll. The sun finally broke through, the morning mists disappeared, and all of a sudden it was a beautiful day with a clear blue sky. The moorland between here and the Brown Knoll summit was full of fluffy cotton grass in full bloom, and looked like the moors had been sprinkled liberally with tufts of cotton wool. From Brown Knoll, I headed up to the Kinder Plateau, meeting the Pennine Way footpath on the way. The distinctive landmark of Edale Rocks were up above, and looking quite splendid surrounded by a perfectly uniform blue sky. I chose to stop for a brief rest on the rocks, refuelling with a bite to eat and some water. I also slapped a bit of sunscreen onto my arms and back of the neck. I was wearing a legionnaires cap that I had bought the week before, with the idea that it would protect my neck. It was part of my grand masterplan to protect myself from the sun. Unfortunately, it turned out that the flap on the back of the cap was only useful in 0mph winds. Anything more and it just flapped about, exposing my neck.
I headed on northwards past the Kinder Low trig point, and along the western edges of the Kinder plateau, enjoying the views over Hayfield and Kinder Reservoir. I had a brief stop just beyond Kinder Downfall where I had a little search for a hidden geocache – another little pastime that I’ve taken up recently. After finding it, I returned to the downfall to fill up my new Water-to-Go drinks bottle. There were some bold claims on the back of the packaging of this, claiming that the filter inside removes 99.9% of all bacteria, virus’s, and parasites from water, as well as a whole host of heavy metals and other contaminants. I was praying that the claims would be substantiated as I examined the brown peaty water inside the bottle. A sip confirmed that it tasted OK, and so I drunk 500ml on the spot before filling it again to take with me. Another walker – the first one I’d encountered so far – walked by me as I was doing this. My competitive streak kicked in and I upped the pace so that I could overtake him again a little further along the edge.
Eventually, I arrived at the north-west corner of Kinder where I descended, still following the Pennine Way, and made my way to the A57 Snake Pass via Mill Hill and one of many sections of moorland in the Dark Peak labelled Featherbed Moss. It was all very easy walking with much of the route paved and, so far, I was making good time on the walk. It was barely lunch-time and I still had a good 10 hours of daylight left yet.
I continued following the Pennine Way up towards Bleaklow. The path initially follows the line of the Devil’s Dike drain, which itself roughly follows the line of Crooked Clough a short distance to the north-west. I stopped halfway to Bleaklow Head to scoop up more dubious looking water from Hern Clough – a clough that heads down into the basin known as ‘The Swamp’ before feeding into Alport Dale and the River Alport. Before I knew it, I was at Bleaklow Head. I was originally going to stop for lunch here, however the sun was still out and very hot and so I thought I’d be better off continuing onto Bleaklow Stones for some better shade. Bleaklow Head marked the end of the nice paved footpaths, and the beginning of much more rugged, grough scarred terrain.
I navigated my way towards Bleaklow Stones, occasionally making out some kind of track, but then just as quickly losing it again. By the time I arrived at the distinctive weathered gritstone formations, the sun had vanished, the temperature had dropped a little, and the cloud had dramatically lowered meaning that the surrounding hills and landscapes were no longer visible in the distance. I made an awkward attempt at eating the sandwich I’d made out of half a loaf of tiger bread. It was a lot thicker than my mouth would open; something I didn’t consider when I made it.
From Bleaklow Stones, it’s a case of following the stakes towards Howden Edge. The last time I did the Derwent Valley Skyline, I became a little disorientated here, and it was no different on this day either. Most of the stakes are painted white which, amongst all the white blobs of Cotton Grass, were not easy to pick out. I lost my sense of direction on numerous occasions after all the navigating in and out of deep groughs. From Bleaklow Stones, the route basically skirts around Far Black Clough on it’s eastern side, heading north between the clough and the basin of Swains Greave. Once this is passed, the path takes a turn to the east and basically heads between the heads of the various cloughs that drain either to Langsett Reservoir on the north, or Howden Reservoir on the South.
The path on Howden Edge, from Featherbed Moss to Harden Moss, became a lot more distinct – as in I could actually see it! This section can be extremely arduous after a lot of rain, however I moved across it at a decent pace after all the recent hot weather had dried up much of the boggy ground. Judging by the sound, Golden Plover were at their greatest number around this area, and I heard little else other than their distinctive abrupt monotone call for the next hour. The route eventually veers in a more southerly direction as it heads up to the Outer Edge trig point where the views are usually outstanding, but not today as the cloud appeared to be dropping lower and lower. I hadn’t seen a single person since the Snake Pass, and it was beginning to feel quite lonely and more than a little eerie up here on the moors, especially with the added soundtrack of the Golden Plovers haunting calls.
From Outer Edge, I continued south-east to the Margery Hill trig point and beyond, until I was around halfway between Margery Hill and High Stones. Next on the agenda was a lonely and potentially daunting trek away from the edge and across the open moors towards Cartledge Brook. Good navigation skills are essential here, or at least they are if you don’t use Viewranger GPS on a smartphone. The last time I did this, I had a real challenge getting across some of the enormous groughs that are at the head of Cartledge Brook. This time, I had a little more success working out the logistics and found my way across them with little difficulty. Once by the side of the brook, I followed the visible track for a short while before veering away across the heather moorland, eventually meeting up with the large and well defined Dukes Road path. And that was pretty much the difficult section over.
The remainder of the route was along well defined paths and should have been easy walking, however…. At some point crossing the moors of Howden Edge, I had started to develop butt-crack chafe, sometimes known as ‘monkey butt’ or ‘chef’s arse’ (I’ve done my research). And the longer I walked, the worse it got. Every step resulted in the most awful bum sting. So sensitive! It felt like an open wound with salt thrown over it. No, worse than that. It felt like an open wound that had been smeared with an ointment made from hot chilli powder and a highly corrosive acid. As I progressed up Cartledge Stones Ridge towards Back Tor and Derwent Edge, my pace slowed as I kept trying to find different amusing ways to walk that would result in less pain. None of them worked. On top of this, both my feet were killing me. A step onto something hard like a paving stone resulted in pain. Soft ground was OK, but unfortunately there was going to be little of that left between this point and the finish. I wished I’d have packed my Sorbothane Double Strike insoles as I reckon they’d have helped somewhat. I also wish I’d have packed nappy cream. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, my guts were rotten. It felt like a microbrewery had started up in there, and I was as flatulent as a competitive bean eater. It’s lucky I was on my own because I could have killed someone. Whether this was a result of dehydration, or poor nutrition, or dodgy brown peaty water, I don’t know.
Derwent Edge, Stanage Edge, and The End:
Once on Derwent Edge, I had pretty much hit the point of delirium. I knew this as I caught myself loudly singing the song ‘There’s a worm at the bottom of the garden, and his name is Wiggly Woo’. Thank goodness there was nobody else around. I looked insane. I plodded on, telling myself that there was not long to go now. Just after the Wheel Stones, before the path curved around towards Whitstone Lee Tor, I took a left and headed east downhill in the direction of Moscar House. A couple of Lapwings were circling me above for the whole way, swooping down over my head. Maybe I strayed too close to their nesting area and they were acting defensively.
I eventually emerged onto the A57. This was it. One more final section to go. I headed up the road for a short distance until I reached the path that would take me up onto Stanage Edge, which I slowly plodded along – not really taking notice of anything. It wasn’t about the scenery anymore, or any other kind of pleasantness. It was about sheer willpower and the stubborn determination to finish. I couldn’t really see much in the way of scenery anyway as wispy bits of cloud drifted by my legs. I shuffled as far as the High Neb trig point before retracing my steps a little and making my way down to the Dennis Knoll Car Park.
This was it, I’d finished. I really did not want to walk back to Bamford via the Bole Hill road. I had nothing left. I prayed that I’d find someone in the car park who I could beg for a lift back. There was nobody. Heartbroken, I shuffled back towards Bamford, moving about as fast as a one-legged zombie. An occasional car passed and I mentally cursed them as they didn’t stop to offer me a lift. Couldn’t they see the state I was in? Maybe they could and that’s why they didn’t stop! I arrived back at the car around 10pm, just over 18 hours after I’d started. I started shaking so bad that I almost vomited. I’m not sure why… possibly the stress? or hypoglycemia? Maybe dehydration although I find that unlikely after going through 10 pints of fluid. I did feel quite dehydrated though. I got in the car and ate a couple of biscuits and pondered whether I’d be OK to drive home or not. I quickly started to feel a little better after eating the snack and so I made the decision to at least drive to the shop in Bamford to grab a large can of Red Bull. This would give me the much needed triple shot of fluid, sugar, and caffeine. After drinking this, I decided that I’d be OK to drive home – and so I did, where I celebrated by slapping a bit of nappy cream onto my very sore cheeks, eating a meat feast pizza, and collapsing into bed.
Walk completed on 20th June, 2017
Map and Elevation Data: