A mdern military helicopter flies over Derwent Dam which became famous as the training site for the Dambuster Squadron in the Second World War

“The conical Win Hill stands proudly over the flooded villages of Ashopton and Derwent. The man-made lakes terminate at the impressive dams, which capture the headwaters of the River Derwent. The water is at its most picturesque as we view it from the hill tops.”

Ashopton to Hope via Derwent Dam and Win Hill: Circular Walk - Map and Directions : Google Earth Tour for this Walk

The writers on the Heroes route:

Erasmas Darwin - Guy Gibson - Ebenezer Elliott

With short abridged extracts from The Literary Way, written by Terry Goble and published by The Creative Peak

Derwent Valley

Heroes come in different forms. On this walk we will deal with two very differing ones. Both men made their marks on society, one through his actions, which helped to defend this country from threatened invasion. The other by the persistent championing of the poor and working class. Even though the latter personally made enough money for a comfortable life, he never deserted his cause. They both wrote about what they did. One was a lover of this countryside, and even as a child, had found solace in nature. He expressed his experiences through poetry. Our war hero wrote a book describing his role in the conflict. Another person who found his poetic talents directed towards nature in this area is one of the friends of The Literary Way and that is Erasmus Darwin.

We have in front of us Ladybower Reservoir, which was created in the 1930s and 1940s. It involved the flooding of two villages, Ashopton and Derwent. Ashopton was at the bottom of the valley we have just come down and so the village would have been directly in front of us. The path along its east side takes us up the old river valley along which route we can clearly see what was the upper Derwent valley. The village of Derwent was halfway between the road bridge over Ladybower and the Derwent Dam. The flooding of the village, also included Derwent Hall, which was owned by the Duke of Norfolk. It is easy to imagine how the streams flowed down the joining valleys and created the River Derwent as it wound down the steep-sided main valley. When the reservoir is low the outline of some of the buildings from the old village are visible.

Ode to the Derwent

The Derwent River, which we have crossed several times, has its source on the peat bogs above this valley. Let’s return to Erasmus Darwin for his perception of the river before it was dammed. This ode was dedicated to a patient of Dr Darwin’s, who he fell in love with and would later marry. The offspring of this marriage was the intrepid traveller that lived at Sydnope Hall, Dr Francis Sacheverel Darwin. Erasmus called the poem, Ode to the River Derwent and added that it was written in a romantic valley near its source.
Derwent, what scenes thy wandering waves behold,
As bursting from thine hundred springs they stray,
And down these vales, in founding torrents roll’d,
Seek to the shining East their mazy Way!

Ode to the River Derwent – Erasmus Darwin

Our footpath takes us past some of the old buildings of Derwent village that are above the reservoir level, and eventually brings us to the Derwent Dam. The steps near to the right tower of the dam allow us to reach the platform, which is close to the dam wall. The massive structure, topped by an edge between two turreted square towers spans the valley. If you are lucky you might arrive at the dam on one of the days on which it is overflowing. When the dam is full, the water cascades over the edge and runs down the steep slope of the front of the dam. By standing on the platform you can be a few feet away from the pouring water. The front of the dam wall is not smooth, and the protrusions create streaming white water and a superb rushing noise just in front of us.


It is not only for the wonderful spectacle of this dam, which has a sister of the same construction further up the valley, that we have come to see. The Derwent Dam played a significant role in the twentieth century history of the United Kingdom. There were many heroes during the Second World War, but very few captured the nation as much as Captain Guy Gibson. Britain wanted to attack German dams at the heart of their industrial production areas. The military concluded that conventional bombing would not work and a new method of attack was needed. Scientists led by Barnes Wallis first conceived the idea, and then built a new type of bomb. It was called a bouncing bomb. It would be dropped from a very low attitude on the water behind the dam and would bounce towards the wall and slide down it. The full force of the explosion could then be applied to the dam wall and cause the breach.

There were two major problems. First, there was the altitude at which the bombers had to fly to release the bomb. It was too low for the instruments of the day to be accurate, and for obvious reasons, the raid needed to take place at night. Second, in order for the bouncing bomb to detonate exactly in the right place, which was crucial, it had to be dropped at a very specific distance from the dam. Because of the necessary changes to normal operations, a special squadron was formed. The 617 Squadron was nicknamed the Dambusters and Captain Guy Gibson, an experienced war pilot, was appointed to lead the group.

A characteristic of the dams, which were being attacked, is that they had towers. We think you can probably see where this is going. A method of manual sighting was used to determine the distance from the dam wall. When the two sights were covering the towers, the bomb was to be dropped. The correct altitude was determined by shining two angled lights to the surface of the water, when they met in a single spot of light the plane was at the correct height. The new flying and bombing methods would need practice and this is where Derwent Dam would help the squadron. The dams were used as the practice for the Lancaster bombers.

Guy Gibson wrote about his war time experiences in a book, Enemy Coast Ahead. As many will know it became a famous film in 1950, starring Richard Todd as Guy Gibson. Guy survived the Dambuster raids, but was killed in action later on in the war.

Let us cross in front of the dam and take one of the concessionary paths up through the woods. We will clear the woods and reach a track. We turn left. In between the trees we can still get fine views across the valley and down to the reservoirs. Our track leads a winding route down and then across the road. We are at Haggwater Bridge, which was a watering-place for the old packhorse trails that would have come from Edale on their way to Penistone. We take the old track up through the woods.

It is worth pausing when we reach Hope Cross, which is a square topped monolith at the junction of several important route ways. One road came from the Roman settlement at Brough, the valley in front of us, to the fort, over the moors, at Glossop. Even today it is a harsh route to walk, but it does show the determination of the Romans, who with their slaves, laid down such paths. In summer, the hillsides here are the vibrant purple of the heather, and the path which leads to the top of Win Hill Pike cuts across a wide expanse of this luxuriantly covered countryside. This almost circular conical hill, with a small pike on its summit, can be easily recognised from miles across the peakland.

The Corn Law Rhymer

Let us introduce ‘The Corn Law Rhymer’, Ebenezer Elliott. He gained this title and a hero status for his campaigning against the Corn Laws of the nineteenth century. The Corn Laws were import tariffs on grain, which led to the price of corn being kept high. John Bright, the industrialist, who was a friend of Joseph Whitworth, and a descendant of John Gratton, was an Member of Parliament who opposed the Corn Laws. But the approach, for the same aim, of Ebenezer and John, was very different.

Ebenezer had a life of ups and downs. He was born to radical Calvinist family and was labelled a dunce at school. He sought solace away from his ten brothers and sisters by walking in the woods and fields. Poetry gradually came to him, when immersed in nature, through such works as Milton’s. In his teens he went to work in his father’s iron foundry. It was in a poor state and, after his father’s death, combined with the economic problems of the time, Ebenezer became bankrupt. Until this trauma in his life, poetry had been a recreation to do with nature. He used much of the topography around the west of Sheffield, and the Peak District, for the setting of his poems. In the extract that follows, Loxley is named, and we know that from Robin Hood. Rivelin is a nearby valley partially wooded and one of the original centres of the iron and steel making in the town.
Look on the clouds, the streams, the earth, the sky,
Lo! All is interchange and harmony
Where is the gorgeous pomp which yestermorn
Curtained yon orb with amber, fold on fold?
Behold it in the blue of Rivilin borne,
The Ranter
– Ebenezer Elliott

He would blame the Corn Laws for his bankruptcy and began his own campaign for their repeal. After his personal struggles, he turned his poetry to support his anti-Corn Law stance. His first poem was a long one that he called The Ranter. He nearly lost his money again, and joined various working class protest groups, in defence of the poor. He was never poor again, because of his merchant business, but at the same time he never forgot his roots. He was a tireless man, with a large family and a business. His health was frequently affected by the smallpox he had as a child. He would die aged 68 in 1849, but his health had been failing for a number of years.

He believed that his poetry had developed over the years. As a young man he wrote to the Poet Laureate, Robert Southey, to ask how he could get his work published. Their correspondence lasted many years and Elliott attributed his poetic development to Southey’s help. One of his topographical poems for which he was well known is Win Hill. This is an extract from the lengthy work. He specifically refers to the Derwent and Ashop. These two rivers previously joined each other near the village of Ashopton and just south of the village of Derwent, all of which is now under the waters of Ladybower.
To bathe with married waves their monarch’s feet,
See, where the Ashop and the Derwent haste;

Win Hill – Ebenezer Elliott

Ebenezer Elliott was always radical and passionate about the poor and the working class. One of his last works was a poem that was set to the music, Commonwealth. It was called the People’s Anthem. Many years after his death it led to the suggestion that he should be named the Poet Laureate for The League of Nations.

We leave Win Hill by retracing our steps slightly and then taking the descent into the village of Hope. This is a extremely old village with a parish that used to be one of the biggest in Derbyshire. On the edge of the village, close to the hamlet of Brough, there is evidence of Roman occupation, and there is also evidence of a settlement before the Domesday Book. The main road through the valley passes through Hope, which also has many houses along the road into Edale. In the centre is St Peter’s Church. Across the road is the Old Hall pub which was built by local gentry in 1723. The market place, now with modern housing, is outside the Old Hall and opposite the church.

Let’s rest awhile at Hope

Ebenezer Elliott became a much respected poet in Sheffield, which is the nearest town to Win Hill. The town was in the grip of the rapid expansion of industry and he became one of the new breed that merged industry and literature. Up to that time, in the town, many of the main literary figures came from the middle class or scholarly routes. Despite the set backs Ebenezer faced, he proved to be a shrewd business man, and despite the ups and downs of the time he succeeded in a comfortable retirement. With the same determination, and with total bravery, Guy Gibson and his crews made some of the most daring raids during the Second World War. He was never content to rest and in the end his death came from always volunteering to be at the forefront of the fighting.

The lost villages are a stark reminder of the demand of the cities for water, but although man-made, they do create a wonderful countryside with the idyllic mixture of hills, winding valleys and the open stretches of blue water.