Derwent Edge is popular with hikers of all ages and inclinations, and the reasons are obvious enough. In addition to some of the best views – on a clear day – that can be found in the Peak District, Derwent Edge is also the showcase for the region to flaunt its collection of wizened stone outcrops.
This is the Dark Peak, pitted with surreally shaped and strikingly named boulders, such as the Salt Cellar, Back Tor, the Cakes of Bread, and Wheel Stones, all formed by erosion of the strata of these sedimentary rocks.
Derwent Edge is the most northerly of the gritstone escarpments that flank the national park, yet despite its bleak appearance the influence of man is clear: in the land managed for red grouse shoots, and in the reservoirs far below that hide drowned villages.
This walk combines both elements. There is a rugged climb and some phenomenally boggy land to negotiate, but the effort is more than repaid. May is also a good month to visit because it features a change of shift in much of the wildlife and flora that can be found hereabouts.
The walk starts from the car park at Fairholmes by the Ladybower Reservoir. Follow the path north to pick up a track that passes in front of the dam wall and then, after the road bends to the right, bear left along a path up through the conifers to reach a gate by the east tower of the dam. Here, keep straight ahead along the road by the water's edge for about 1,200m by Hancock Wood, a mixture of pine, larch, beech and oak and home to several pairs of crossbills. You then reach a footpath signed for Bradfield and Strines, up Walkers Clough.
Follow the path as it meanders up the side of the flank of the hill, occasionally following yellow waymarkers past bilberry and heather and broken stone walls. You'll probably startle too many red grouse to count: the birds are managed for shooting but they are also crucial to how this part of the Peak District looks, nesting around the heather plants.
As the path finally levels off you come to a crossroads, where you keep ahead, again following the signpost for Strines. As you come to another broken wall, the path bears right and you make for a signpost and gate in the distance. Here, you keep ahead, once more following signs for Strines. Ignore a path coming in from the right, and bear left on the main track when a path branches off to the right.
The path then turns sharp right by the grouse butts to climb up a stepped and paved path through shoots of heather to Lost Lad Hillend, and a couple of hundred metres later, the cairn that marks Lost Lad. The mournful name recalls a shepherd boy who is said to have died here from exposure, but not before he had scrawled "lost lad" into the stone.
From here the path dips and climbs up to Back Tor, the first of the strangely shaped rock formations on Derwent Edge. In fine weather, there are few better views; when I made it here, visibility was down to 10 metres. This was no less atmospheric, with the unworldly boulders looming out of the mist and, thanks to the paved path, no need even for a compass. The occasional raven, kestrel, or peregrine falcon adds a thrilling dimension to the experience.
The path is clear, drilling along Derwent Edge for around two miles (3.5km), punctuated by rock formations. Down to the west are deep cloughs full of silver birch and upland oak. Also look out for mountain hare here. The Peak District is the most southerly location, and the only place in England, inhabited by mountain hares and they can often be spotted among the heather on the west flank of the hill that drops away from Dovestone Tor. Between Salt Cellar and White Tor you may see the first cotton grass of the season, thriving on the peaty flanks of Derwent Edge.
Finally, after passing Wheel Stones, the path continues to a junction and a signpost for Moscar and Derwent. Keep ahead and later gently descend to a junction of several paths. You need to take the second path on the right, down a steep, stony and rough trail. This then sweeps to the left to follow a drystone wall, and passes through forest and boggy ground to a gate. Here, turn right down the path and through another gate past a mill and bear left to the A57. Turn right and cross Ladybower Reservoir viaduct and then turn right, now following the road up the west side of the reservoir.
Keep on this road, or the waterside paths, for two miles to return to Fairholmes car park, and look out for buzzards above the woodlands of Hagg Side. Just before you reach the car park, you'll pass the remains of Fairholmes Farm, which survived here for 500 years before being demolished in 1945 to make way for the reservoir.
Distance: 10 miles
Time: 4-5 hours
OS Map: OL 1 G The Peak District Dark Peak Area
Mark Rowe stayed at the Yorkshire Bridge Inn, Bamford (01433 651361; yorkshire-bridge.co.uk), which offers double rooms from £90 per night, including breakfast.
How to get there
Cross Country Trains (crosscountry trains.co.uk) runs regular services to Chesterfield and Sheffield, from where bus and train services link to Bamford, Yorkshire Bridge, and Fairholmes.
For more details about the area, go to visitpeakdistrict.com.