The Ladybower Short Circuit
Time – 3 hours
Length – 11 kms
The Derwent valley has some great mountain biking and this short circuit above Ladybower is certainly one of my top five Peak District rides. Its strength is that it’s a great option for just about anyone and it would be a perfect introduction to Peak biking for first time visitors to the area. Having said that it does cross some open moorland that can be very exposed in poor weather and care also needs to be taken after prolonged heavy rain as some of the tracks become very slippy.
The ride starts at Fairholmes carpark (SK 173893). This makes a great starting point for visitors without their own bike, as there is a bike hire centre costing £11 for half-day rental or £14 for a full day (the hire centre can be contacted on 01433 651261). There is also a café and toilets with drinking water as well as that essential Peak riding facility…a bike wash! You will have to pay for parking in the car park but the lay-bys just up the road are free.
The ride leaves the car park by the track just next to the bike hire centre and takes the access road under Derwent Dam. This impressive structure was built (along with Howden Dam) between 1901 and 1916. So much labour was needed that a small village called Birchinlee (or ‘tintown’ as it was affectionately known) was built to house the workforce and a narrow gauge railway was even constructed to bring stone to the site.
The dam is also very famous for being the practice ground of the Lancaster bombers that went on to drop Barnes Wallis’s amazing ‘bouncing bombs’ during the Second World War. To deliver the bombs accurately the Lancaster’s had to fly 60ft above the water at a speed of 222mph. They practiced for 6 weeks and apparently the poor locals were continually deafened by the noise of the planes. Milk and egg yields were also said to have plummeted during this time! A small but comprehensive museum is housed in the dam’s west tower.
The road soon doubles back and you follow the lovely winding track along the top edge of Ladybower Reservoir for about 1.5 miles until it terminates at a gate with a road bend beyond. To identify this gate look for the bright blue box on the right-hand side of the track that is labelled ‘catch return box’.
Once through the gate go left and follow the upper road that climbs past some houses (go left of the house with the white garage set back from the road), past Ding Bank Farm and on until you come to a gate at the end of the road. There is a signpost here for Cutthroat Bridge and a bridleway sign. This is the start of more exciting terrain and the bridleway immediately climbs through rocky (but rideable) terrain until it goes over the hillcrest and descends steeply (with a few fun drop offs) to another gate.
Once through this gate there is a really nice track to follow. You will pass a path fork but keep going straight on and soon you come to a very substantial metal gate with an information sign just beyond saying ‘Ladybower Wood’. The track now rises very steeply over technical bouldery terrain until the top of the hill. This section is great fun and rideable but you may need a few attempts to work out a line on a couple of the upper sections.
At the top of this path there is easy riding until you come to a path junction. Take the right fork (essentially straight on) and enjoy pleasant riding to a stream crossing (good luck if you ride across the stream!) and through the gate.
You then start to cross the open moorland on a great easy track that eventually brings you to a point overlooking Cutthroat Bridge. This takes its name from a 400-year-old murder documented in local records. Local man Robert Ridge came across a dying man with a deep wound in his throat. With the help of other locals he carried the man to Bamford Hall but he died a few days later. When the bridge was built many years later the construction team named it after this gruesome event. In a further twist a few years ago another headless body was found at the bridge and 2 Sheffield men were convicted of murder!
You don’t drop down to the bridge. Instead you need to follow the track which curves back leftwards. The ride now winds its way across more open moorland offering interesting riding among the peat channels and gritstone boulders. If the weather is good you will enjoy fine views but on a day of poor weather this is a very exposed section and care needs to be taken. Eventually, this steady climb brings you to the high point of the ride (450metres) at a five-way path junction.
The track you want is straight ahead (signposted ‘bridleway’ and ‘Whinstone Lee Fields’) leading you back towards the reservoirs. Initially you need to take care as there is a steep drop on the left but soon the track becomes walled in and you now have a long section of great riding. Take care on this bit if it’s been raining heavily as some of the puddles will be much deeper than they look!
After about a mile you will come to a turn off on your left (the signpost says Derwent and Moscar). Go through the gate and the descent through the fields that follows is great fun but can be very slippy if it’s been raining a lot. Sooner than you would like you will come to another gate with a signpost for High House Farm. The descent continues (steep at the bottom) until you come to a stream across the path.
Go through the stream, up the short track and to the farm buildings. Go through the gate (shelter on the right) then turn left and to another gate with a very steep field descent beyond. This steep cobbled path is fast and fun but can be slippy when wet. Get going and you’ll love it! Soon it curves right and down to a gate at the junction with another track.
This is the track you cycled along to start with and straight ahead of you is Ladybower Reservoir again. Ladybower Dam was completed in 1945 and the valley that now forms the reservoir took a further 2 years to fill. It’s construction caused a lot of controversy as it required the flooding of 2 villages (Ashopton and Derwent). New houses were built for the villagers at Yorkshire Bridge and the graves in Derwent church were exhumed and reburied in an extension to nearby Bamford churchyard. For a few years the Derwent church tower was left but it stood above the water level and was seen as a hazard so was demolished with explosives in 1947.
All that remains of our ride is to turn right and enjoy the easy ride back along the track to Fairholmes. Now, how good was that?!