This is a very adaptable route, as it works really well as either a leisurely walk around beautifully scenic reservoirs and dams, as a kid-friendly family bike ride, or as a quick blast on a mountain bike. I've tried all three versions and loved them all. It's a fantastic route on which to soak up some very special history within beautiful, forested valleys. Stories of daring air-raids, tin towns and lost villages all lend a special atmosphere.
So, the basic information is as follows:-
Starting Point: A57 Snake Pass at Ashopton, near the junction of A6013 from Bamford
Parking: There is ample free road side parking available
Accommodation: The Ladybower Inn is ideally situated. Book here.
Distance: 16 miles (shorter loops and routes are available)
Time required: 1.5 hours by mountain bike, 5 hours on foot
Elevation Gain: 1,288 feet
Food/Drink: There is a cafe hut serving hot drinks and food on picnic tables at the visitor centre
Terrain: Mixture of tarmac roads and gravel paths, one or two steep hills but nothing too difficult
The route begins from the lay-by on the A57, near the bridge over Ladybower Reservoir, known as the Ashopton Viaduct.
We are in the Upper Derwent Valley and the route will take us around three reservoirs, Ladybower, Derwent and Howden, all of which are surrounded by forest, farmland and beautiful moorland. Most of the surrounding hill farms are used for sheep farming, so be prepared to meet some curious, woolly friends on the way round.
The River Ashop flows into the reservoir from the west, whilst the River Derwent flows south, initially through Howden Reservoir, then down into Derwent Reservoir and finally to Ladybower.
Ashopton Viaduct was built to carry the Snake Road to Glossop and the nearby Ladybower Viaduct was built to carry the road from Bamford and Yorkshire Bridge to the Snake. Ladybower is the largest and youngest of the reservoirs, being opened by King George VI in 1945, with the building having been delayed by the scarcity of materials during World War II.
Crossing the road before the bridge, follow the road uphill and through a gate, with the reservoir on your left. Walkers and riders can quickly descend into peace and tranquility as the sound of the traffic on the Snake Pass fades into the distance and the forested path stretches out towards the horizon. You might pass fishermen perched by the side of the reservoir, sheltering from the elements, or silently bobbing around on small boats.
Years ago, this scene would have looked very different. The building of the reservoir resulted in the flooding of two villages, Ashopton and Derwent, which had been idyllically situated in the beautiful valley. Nowadays, the reservoir provides clean water to the cities of Derby and Leicester in the East Midlands, as well as Sheffield.
Ashopton was totally demolished before the reservoir was filled, with residents being re-located. Derwent, however, was a different story. Much of the structure of Derwent village remained visible during dry summers. The clock tower of the church had been left standing and the upper part of it was visible above the water until 1947, when it was demolished with explosives. But the bell from the church can still be heard in Derbyshire. Don't panic, though, this isn't some sort of ghostly apparition. The bell was re-hung in St Philip's church in Chaddesden.
The site of the village hasn't been visible since the water levels dropped in 2003.
The road follows the side of Ladybower reservoir before dropping down towards the Derwent Dam.
If you're lucky, you might see the dam in full flow, as I did.
The dam holds a particular place in history as, during the second world war, the reservoir was used by pilots of the 617 Squadron for practising the low level flights needed for Operation Chastise. This was the operation that would become known as the Dam Busters raids, using the famous bouncing bomb.
The dam was ideal due to its similarity to the German dams on the Eder, Mohne and Rohr Rivers.
After following the road past the dam and down to the visitor centre, the road heads off the roundabout to climb alongside the dam to reach the Derwent Reservoir.
At the top of the ramp, visitors can enter one of the towers on the dam, which houses the Derwent Valley Museum. It tells the tale of 617 Squadron and the lost villages. There is also a commemorative plaque to 617 Squadron on the dam.
The road is relatively flat for the next few miles, as it meanders along the forested shores of Derwent Reservoir, offering beautiful views across the valley.
Derwent Reservoir is much older than Ladybower, having been completed during World War I, with the dam having been begun in 1902.
The huge stones required to build the dam were carried along on a narrow gauge railway from the quarries at Grindleford. Over 1000 workers lived alongside the road in a specially constructed, self- contained town called Birchinlee. Also known as Tin Town. A plaque marks the spot today.
It's hard to imagine now, as you stand beside the reservoir, but the infrastructure included hospitals, school, pub, post office, police station, public bath house, railway station, various shops and, of course, huts to house the inhabitants. The footpath now follows the old railway track.
Only the foundations remain today but, if you want to see one of the original tin huts, head for the nearby village of Hope, where one of the original huts was preserved and is now a hairdressing salon!
There's another interesting memorial along this stretch, and that is a headstone in commemoration of Tip, the sheepdog.
The story goes that Derbyshire shepherd, Joseph Tagg, known locally as Old Joe, lived with his niece in Yorkshire Bridge. He had earned a reputation as a sheepdog breeder and was still active in later life. He was 86 years old when he set off with Tip to tend some sheep in the Upper Derwent Valley on a winter's day in 1953.
By the next morning, Old Joe and Tip had failed to return home and mountain rescue, gamekeepers and shepherds were sent out to search for them.
They weren't found until March 1954 when two men who were rounding up sheep high on Ronksley Moor discovered the frozen corpse of Old Joe lying in a ditch, with a very weak Tip a few feet away. 11 year old Tip had survived 105 days by her master's body, during one of Derbyshire's harshest winters.
She was taken home to Old Joe's niece and was nursed back to health. She was presented with the Bronze Medal of the Canine Defence League, which is the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
Unfortunately, she only lived one more year, but her memorial will ensure that she is remembered.
Eventually, the road leads to a turning area for vehicles and the path continues through a wooden gate, heading for Slippery Stones. The path is now gravelled and the next few miles are tarmac free. This part of the route offers fantastic views back along the reservoirs, looking very different depending on the water levels.
After a short, but steep climb, that my son calls the "lung-buster" when he attempts it on his bike, we arrive at the turning point for the whole route, which is the bridge at Slippery Stones.
This is a beautiful spot and is a favoured picnic area, as betrayed by the tame ducks and sheep who wander around looking to share a sandwich. Apart from the wildlife, the only sound is the trickle of the stream making its way under the bridge.
And this is no ordinary bridge. This bridge was re-located and rebuilt from one of the lost villages we passed earlier. It is the old pack horse bridge from the sunken village of Derwent.
To the north, the stream leads up onto the open moorlands and expansive views, whilst, on the other side of the bridge, it heads into the top of Howden Reservoir, the route that the path follows on the way back down.
Bidding farewell to the bridge, there is a sharp right turn and a steady climb to undertake, as the path becomes a little more stony. This is the most exposed part of the route so there is little by way of shelter if things turn a little wet. Not that they would in beautiful Derbyshire, but it has been known.
After the initial climb, it's generally downhill all the way as the path follows the other side of the reservoirs and makes its way back to the dams.
The path will eventually rejoin the tarmac road near Derwent Dam and you can retrace your steps, or your pedals, back to the starting point. Then I would recommend popping in to the wonderful Angler's Rest in nearby Bamford which is a terrific pub.
In 2013 it became the first community pub in Derbyshire when it was purchased by over 300 local people and it is now run for the benefit of the community.
So as well as the pub, it also houses the Rest cafe and even the village post office.
Each time we have visited, the place has been full and is clearly thriving. We have always been given a friendly welcome and the best bit is, by popping in and sampling a pint, a coffee or a postage stamp, you are also helping to sustain a community.
Now that's a win-win.