Lonely Villages of Derwent

Lonely Villages of Derwent

The Derwent Valley is a truly beautiful place. A stunning deep sided valley with imposing dark brown reservoirs in its base. Beyond that are tree lined hillsides, rough peaty moorland and raspy gritstone. Features which add a brooding intensity. It is a jewel in the crown of the Peak District National Park, but at one time the Lonely Villages of Derwent were the key feature.

There are great mountain bike routes that rise out of and drop into the valley. We also regularly use the moorland above the valley for navigation courses and the circuit around the reservoirs is a regular route for evening runs. A few people live in the the valley, but for most it is a place to visit. Many come to sit and ponder, walk dogs or enjoy the flora and fauna.  It is a valley for everyone.

All these opportunities mean that, at certain times, it is very busy.  This is inevitable given the easy road access from Sheffield and Glossop combined with nearby public transport.  On some days it is difficult to park and at others trails of cars will be entering or leaving.  This isn’t a problem if you choose your visit times, but certainly something to be aware of.

The Derwent Valley is also steeped in human history.  Before the dams were built there was a community living in the valley base villages of Derwent and Ashopton.  If you search online you’ll see fascinating photos of the vibrant community. The fine 17th century hall, steepled church, toll cottage, coaching inn and rows of cottages.

The decision to flood the valley was very controversial. Eventually, however, any objections from locals were ultimately overridden. The argument that more water was needed to serve the Midlands won the day. The lonely villages of Derwent were soon to be no more.

The dam was constructed between 1935 and 43 and the reservoir waters soon began to rise slowly (it took a further 2 years for the reservoir to fill).  By then the villagers had been relocated. A many challenge in every way. Bodies exhumed from the graveyard the remains reburied in Bamford and many buildings demolished.  It is hard to imagine the feelings of the villagers as they saw their precious homes succumb to the rising water.

As you explore the valley nowadays there is a tranquil and yet poignant feel to the place.  If you know the history you can’t help but reflect on the lives of the villagers.  

The waters have dropped low enough to see the remains of the village on a few rare occasions since.  The long dry summer of 2018 drained the reservoirs to the point where many Derwent village remnants were exposed.  In particular, the foundations of the church and hall along with some walls and the remains of some houses.  It could be seen from the reservoir sides and just a short walk across from the shore. This meant anyone could wander freely in and amongst the debris.

As a regular visitor to the valley I watched as the buildings gradually revealed themselves. It was fascinating to see its reappearance. Fascinating, yet sad.  I have always seen the villages as part of the valley’s history and prefer the mystery of them sitting serenely in the murky waters. To have them accessible to anyone with a desire to walk to them seems disrespectful to me.  

I did visit them once during a ride through the valley and immediately felt ashamed of myself. I was careful and walked quietly in between the building foundations. Even so, it somehow felt as though I was disturbing the memories of those who had gone before.

Of course I wasn’t alone in wanting to see the remains and visit the site.  The reappearance was widely reported by both local and national news outlets and the valley was busier than ever over the summer. I have absolutely nothing against people visiting. Infact, I support anything that draws people to the Peak District.  However,  the influx of visitors isn’t without its problems.

On several occasions local mountain rescue teams had to assist people stuck in the soft mud lining the reservoir base. The large numbers of cars parked along the access road caused traffic jams.

This wasn’t helped by cars which sometimes parked so far into the road. Access for emergency vehicles became very difficult which was not ideal when the dry moorland created a significant fire risk.

But larger visitor volume was always going to cause such hiccups and luckily no harm was caused. I was reassured that darkness each evening brought a welcome respite for the village remains.  Unfortunately, there was more sinister signs left by some visitors.  One day I had a rather heated discussion with a family whose children were pulling stones from the walls of the derelict buildings and reports surfaced of graffiti left scratched into the decorative stonework of Derwent Hall. People were also said to be taking stones as souvenirs.  

So, as much as I enjoyed that special summer, I also found myself longing for the waters to submerge the village once more. It seemed the only way that a respectfulness would be returned to the lonely villages of Derwent.

The 1947 video below gives a fascinating insight into what the village was like…..