A guide to Derwent Dam, Derbyshire

by Jan

Derwent Dam is an incredible landmark located in Derbyshire, in the heart of the Peak District.  It’s a beautiful area, which is popular with nature-lovers and walkers.  Once used as the test site for the Dambusters raids, Derwent Dam is also a place of significant historical importance.  We loved seeing this popular attraction during our recent stay in the Peak District.

Derwent is one of three large dams, which cover an enormous area in the Derwent Valley.  As this can be confusing for first-timers to this tourist spot, we’ve put together a handy guide to help.

So, if you’re looking for information on how to visit the Derwent Dam, keep reading this post!

Here’s a complete visitor guide for Derwent Dam, with how to get there, where to park, places to eat, and the best things to see and do.  We’ll also share a few historical facts, so that you appreciate the significance of this historic dam.

The Derwent Dam and Howden Dams

Derwent Dam, Peak District

Derwent Dam is one of two identical dams, built between 1901 and 1916 by the Derwent Valley Water Board to improve water supplies to the area.  The water board needed to meet the demands of the growing populations in the local cities.

The two dams created large artificial lakes, Howden and Derwent Reservoir, using water flowing from the River Derwent.  A third reservoir, Ladybower, was later created in 1945.

At 1110 feet long and 114 feet hight, Derwent Dam is an impressive structure, especially when the water is overflowing.  The wall is flanked by two Gothic style towers, which hold the pipework and valves.  Its twin dam, Howden Dam, is further up the lake.

A guide to visiting Derwent Dam

How to get to Derwent Dam

The easiest way to get to Derwent Dam is by car.

If you’re using public transport, the nearest train station is Bamford, which is 5 miles (8 km) away.  The nearest city is Sheffield, which is 13.6 miles away (21.9km).  Local buses (line 257) run to Ladybower Inn.

Parking for Derwent Dam

Upper Derwent (Fairholmes) Visitor Centre

  • Parking: Fairholmes Car Park, Bamford, Hope Valley, S33 0AQ
  • No of spaces: 100 spaces
  • Cost: up to 2 hours £3.50 and all day £6.00
  • Facilities: – Visitor Centre, toilets (portaloos are currently in place during refurbishment), refreshment kiosk, shop with maps, cycle hire, picnic sites

The best place to park if you’re visiting the Derwent Dam is at the Fairholmes Visitor Centre.

Fairholmes is a decent size car park, with good facilities and maps.  From here, it is just a short walk to Derwent Dam.

There are several picnic benches and lots of ducks!

Derwent Overlook Car Park

If the Fairholmes car park is full, you’ll find additional parking at Derwent Overlook car park.   This car park is also a good starting point for the Alport Castles walk.

  • Parking: Car park, Overlook, Hope Valley, S33 0AQ
  • No of spaces: 30 spaces
  • Cost: free (please check)
  • Facilities: None – use the facilities at Fairholmes Visitor Centre

Things to do around Derwent Reservoir

Take a walk to the dams

Of course, the first thing to do at Derwent Reservoir is visit the dam.  The red route waymarkers show the route through the woods.  It’s less than 5 minutes’ walk to Derwent Dam.

It’s an amazing sight and very photo-worthy.  I’m sure you’ll want to stop for photo or two!

The best time to visit Derwent Dam is in winter or after heavy rain, as then you’ll see the water cascading over the top (overtopping).  This really is incredible, both to see and hear.

Look at the Dambusters Memorial

Views of Howden Reservoir, Peak District

Afterwards, once you’ve seen the dam, continue along the red route to see the tribute to the Dambusters aircrew.  A steep set of steps leads to the left tower, where you’ll see the memorial inside.

In 1943, Derwent Dam made history during a covert military manoeuvre, Operation Chastise.

Led by Wing Commander, Guy Gibson, the Squadron 617 Royal Air Force carried out a daring training exercise for the famous Dambusters raids in the second world war.

With its close resemblance to Germany’s Ruhr Valley, Derwent Reservoir was an ideal spot to release Barnes Wallis new bouncing bomb.  The courageous pilots flew the planes at 240 mph through the valley, so they could practise their low-level flying.  Following this practice run, the Lancaster bombers later carried out successful raids on the German dams.

Dambusters Memorial at Derwent Dam, Peak District

Après moi, le déluge (After me the flood) – The motto of Squadron 617 Royal Air Force

Today, you can see a memorial to the aircrew of the 617 squadron inside the entrance to west tower.  There is an inscribed tablet on the wall, flanked by 2 flags.

There is another memorial and information board by the side of the reservoir.

Visit the site of Tin Town

Tin Town (Birchinlee) at Derwent Dam, Peak District

If you continue up the west side of Derwent Reservoir, you’ll see the place where Birchinlee (Tin Town) once stood.

Over 1000 navvies were involved in the construction of the dams.  During this time, they needed to provide homes for the workers and their families.  So, they created the temporary village of Birchinlee.  The new accommodation in Birchinlee was functional and basic, often using corrugated iron and gained the name “Tin Town”.

Tin Town became a small community with its own school, hospital, police station, pub, and railway station.  However, after the completion of the dams, they dismantled Tin Town and relocated the residents.

A monument marks the spot where Tin Town once stood.

There is a short, waymarked Tin Town trail (2.4 km) from the Visitor Centre, to see any remains of the lost village.

Hire a bike

The area around the Derwent Reservoirs is a popular area for cycling.  If you don’t have your own, you can hire bikes from Derwent Cycle Hire at the Fairholmes Visitor Centre.

See the Plug Holes at Ladybower Reservoir

Plugholes at Ladybower Reservoir, Peak District

One of the most popular things to do near Derwent Dam is visit the Ladybower Reservoir.  This is the third of the three lakes and was built later in 1935.

It is an extremely popular tourist attraction, partly due to its unusual plug holes, which look amazing when the water is overflowing.  It is a stunning location and worth visiting.

You can walk from Derwent Dam to Ladybower Reservoir.  Alternatively, the closest car park is Heatherdene, which is a 5-minute drive.

Hike up to Howden Reservoir

Howden Dam and Reservoir, Peak District

Howden Dam is a nearly identical, though slightly smaller dam than Derwent.  You can get to it by following the path of the reservoir.  It takes about 40 minutes to walk from one dam to another.

If you want to do a more challenging route, follow the orange waymarkers for the “Derwent, Howden and Slippery Stones Trail”.  This trail leads from the Visitor Centre through mature forests and follows the reservoirs.  Eventually, you’ll cross at the Slippery Stones and return on the other side.  This longer, circular trail is 10 miles (16km).

Walks near Derwent Dam

The area around Derwent Dam is a very scenic and a popular destination for walkers.  There are tonnes of brilliant walks you could do.

One of the most iconic walks in the Peak District is to Bamford Edge, an overhanging rock that has spectacular views over Ladybower reservoir.  You’ll get some fantastic photos here at sunset.

We did a circular walk from Fairholmes Visitor Centre to Alport Castles, the UK’s largest landslip.  It was a fairly challenging hike, but had uninterrupted views with breathtaking scenery.

Places to eat near Derwent Dam

Snacks, drinks and ice-creams are available at the Fairholmes Visitor Centre, just a 5-minutes’ walk from Derwent Dam.

Alternatively, if you want a meal, the Yorkshire Bridge Inn and the Anglers Rest are both traditional country pubs in Bamford, which serve good pub food.  You could also eat at the Ladybower Inn, which is on the A57, near the Ladybower Reservoir.

Where to stay near Derwent Dam

The nearest village to Derwent Dam is Bamford, a popular destination as it is so close to the reservoirs and many walking routes.

Here are some of the recommended places to stay in Bamford:

Yorkshire Bridge Inn – One of the closest accommodations to the Derwent Dam.  A top rated bed and breakfast accommodation , with a garden and bar.  Click here to book.

Bike & Boot Inns – Located on the outskirts of Bamford, this is a top-rated accommodation with a restaurant, bar and free parking.  Click here for prices.

George’s Cottage – A 2-bedroom, self-catering character cottage in a prime location.  Click here for availability.

Campsites near Derwent Dam

You’ll find plenty of campsites near Bamford.  The closest are Swallowolme Camping, Heatherhill Farm Campsite and Handhurst Farm Camping.

We'd love to hear from you!

Have you been to the Derwent Dam?  We’d love to hear your comments below.

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