Digested read: lured by Smiley Selfie Queen, went in search of the underwater village ruins at Ladybower reservoir. Found them. It was epic! Go see for yourself before the waters rise again.
Honestly, I’m really torn. I mean I do get the general point about literal jumps into the unknown being potentially perilous, but then again, it’s the metaphorical leaps into the unknown that make life interesting. If we only ever keep hanging on to what we know already we’ll never learn anything new, and if we only do what we’ve always done then nothing will ever evolve. So I note the signage at the Ladybower Reservoir, and totally endorse not risking paralysis by dive bombing into possibly shallow waters, whilst simultaneously believing a bit of exploration and adventure is fine and dandy, recommended even – but maybe just do your risk assessments properly at the outset.
And on the subject of signs, did you see this BBC news story on an Edinburgh initiative to improve road signage? It’s quite marvellous! Bringing joy to a joyless world…
Anyway, the purpose of this post is not to talk about signage, lovely as that would be, it is to tell you about my adventures with Smiley Selfie Queen, exploring the exposed bottom of Ladybower Reservoir. Generally speaking, one shouldn’t explore exposed bottoms with such public abandon, but in this case it’s OK because it’s a rare treat and not of a living thing. No dear reader, rather it is a consequence of the extreme heat of the summer of 2018, which has led to the dropping of the water levels of Ladybower and the associated reservoirs so low, that you can see once again the remnants of the villages that were flooded when the dams were constructed and the reservoirs filled. I’ve been meaning to go for ages in a vague ‘really must go and do that sometime‘ sort of way, ‘before it’s too late‘ much as I did with intending to visit the millennium dome. I never did get to see that, and it is most definitely too late now, but with the viewing of Sheffield’s Atlantis it was a different matter altogether. I was prompted to take the proverbial plunge into the waters of Ladybower by Smiley Selfie Queen who proposed an excursion. ‘Fab idea, why not?’ So that is what we agreed to do. I knew the water level was really low, but I’d actually thought part of it was because some had been pumped to facilitate some sort of maintenance work, but it seems I must have made that up, because there was no evidence of it, and no reference to it when I googled, so there you go.
The day dawned, and rain fell. No worries, we can still have an adventure in the rain. She scooped me up, and we drove over to the lay by just a few hundred metres (if that) ahead of the Fairholmes visitor centre so we could park for free. (More about the visitors’ centre here). On a rainy Wednesday morning there was no-one much about, so we had the place to ourselves. I was astonished at how beautiful the autumn colours were. The rain cleared and gave way to sunshine, and get a load of this, magnificent!
It was crazily beautiful, the pictures nowhere near do it justice. I had a faff about what to wear, I took my hat in the end as you can see, though for a lot of the time it was in my coat pocket rather than on my head. You might think therefore dear reader that I’d come to regret having taken it with me, but dear reader, you would be wrong! This fetching hat, which I’ve had for a great many years, and which rather pretentiously I bought from a vendor on a floating island on Lake Titicaca in Peru, who had knitted it himself today had its moment of glory. It has done me many quiet years of service, nearly 20 years I think, and I am grateful for that, but today it also came into its own as an indispensable aid to our progress – more of that later. Yes, it does have a llama on it, but no need to be allarmared by that!
Meantime more views, look:
Sigh, it really was glorious, you should have been there, the photos don’t do it justice.
We followed the signs to the dam, there is a well-marked path that take you up, so we had a little explore. No time to walk the entire circumference of the water today, so we just had a squint at the dam and accompanying points of interest which included, a monument to a dog that stayed by its dead master for 15 weeks. Fifteen weeks! Seriously, that’s extraordinary, but also somewhat unlikely, how did it survive, what happened there? There were also some tributes for remembrance day which is coming up, info panels about the testing of the bouncing bombs, and interesting man-made constructions peeking out from the water. I don’t know enough about civil engineering in general or dam construction in particular to know what we were looking at exactly, but it was all quite intriguing and made me wish I’d concentrated more in school. We probably covered this kind of thing in human geography at some point. That’s the trouble with education, wasted on the young…
Tempting as it was to march round the top reservoir, which is apparently Derwent, with Howden beyond, our focus was to get to the bottom(ish) of Ladybower, where the sunken village of Ashopton is currently in view, well, what’s left of it.
We paused to look at the Dam from below, and then followed some inviting looking steps that took us up and above the water. All good exploring territory, though I’ve realised a limitation of me relying on Smiley Selfie Queen to take all the photos is that it gives the impression I am forever scurrying along behind her. This may be an accurate representation of how it was of course, but I don’t really like it being immortalised in jpegs. Oh well. The truth will out.
After much scurrying around and posing in various locations, my Smiley Buddy started having flash backs of having been there before. This very place was, it turned out, an early date with her partner when she presumes they were trying to impress one another by agreeing to do something outdoorsy and cultural together which ironically wasn’t really either of their things a decade or so ago though it most definitely is now. How the wheels of time and fortune turn full circle eh? I found that entertaining, but then again, I am on record as being easily amused.
We back tracked, then and searching for a way down to the water line, once we’d crossed over, followed a little detour which turned out to be the sweetest little nature trail with signs identifying trees and wooden sculptures including ginormous moles and teeny tiny locomotives – perfect posing opportunity for me and my training buddy!
See what I did there – with us on the train…. genius!
We had to clamber our way up and out of this nature reserve, alongside a fence, and emerged on a wide tarmac path. We were just ahead of some dog walkers with boisterous dogs that kept charging up alongside and between us. They weren’t aggressive but they were very annoying. We’d passed a sign earlier saying dogs should be on leads, but I’m not sure if that rule applied on this part or not. In fairness to these owners I don’t think it was clear either way. Even so, I do wish dog owners would understand however much they may love their ‘adorable hounds’, others don’t necessarily appreciate these slobbering, bounding canines invading their personal space. It got tense. I am getting less and less tolerant of dogs these days. Dogs in general that is. Particularly out of control, off lead ones, I don’t care if you say they are friendly, keep them away from me unless invited thank you very much. Individual dogs I know are lovely of course, and Tilly is the loveliest of them all. Actually, I like Skip too, although he just ignores me, it’s a bit one-sided there. Harry and Barry are all right as well. Basically, well behaved dogs where we’ve been introduced, or those who are adoring are fine, but random slobbering ones are not. I think that’s pretty clear…
We got jumped as we were admiring a somewhat incongruously placed but beauteous telephone box. We inadvertently went full circle and as swamp creatures emerging from the mud came back to here later on.
We tried to walk briskly ahead to keep out-of-the-way of the bloody dogs. Trouble is, we were obviously all heading for the same boggy bottom. Now, I know you have to be careful out there because it’s incredibly tempting to venture out too far and then you get stuck in the mud and have to be rescued. Only last week Edale Mountain Rescue had to haul someone out that’s awful and everything of course, though it did give me a little flash of an idea and a spark of embittered hope…
Incident 101 – Saturday 3rd November 2018 12.10hrs
The duty team leader received a call from Derbyshire police regarding a gentleman who had, given the low water level, walked out across Ladybower reservoir to take a closer look at the currently exposed ruins. The mud is however extremely thick in places and he got himself completely stuck. Due to concern for his temperature and general welfare his partner ran round to the rangers station at Fairholmes to summon assistance.
The team was able to access the casualty with a variety of specialist equipment designed to spread an individual’s weight over a muddy surface and after approximately 30 minutes of digging was able to free the gentleman and walk him back to solid ground. Team members then returned to base to start a long session of equipment cleaning!
I just was thinking, nay secretly hoping that these wayward canines might go out to explore a bit too far and soon find themselves sinking in the mud sufficiently that their owners would rush to rescue them*, only for the hounds to break free and the owners to be entombed and slowly sucked under by the clogging mud. Obviously I’d rush to get assistance, but who knows whether I’d make it back in time, and despite what you may have been led to believe from watching Lassie films or even the monument to the loyal sheep dog from earlier, not all canines are of practical assistance in a crisis. It’s often what happens though isn’t it? Dogs in peril escape from the watery peril of the sea or outrun stampeding cattle, or extricate themselves from bogs or whatever and their hapless concerned owners perish whilst misguidedly trying to save them. I know I sound mean, but you weren’t there. And anyway, I don’t believe you have never experienced Schadenfreude, even if you choose not to admit it even to yourself. Also, my fantasy mud-sucking scenario didn’t occur, so no harm done on this occasion,
*No dogs were injured in the conjuring of this fantasy rage scenario, so don’t judge!
Apart from nursing gnawing resentment about being hounded by the bloody dogs, we were partially distracted by the increasingly amazing views.
After a bit, we found a way to scramble down to the water’s edge, and it was instantly amazing and distracting, and oh, so very tempting to walk out much further than you ought. The exposed reservoir base looked like an alien planet or something. Just the mud alone looked like a lifeless lunar landscape, perfect film location for next Dr who say and a striking contrast to the Park Hill Flats. Then it was set off by the frame of autumnal gold on the banks. It was extraordinary.
We’d been tipped off about what we might be able to see, so that gave us a bit of tenacity in exploring. At first, we couldn’t really make out much at all. There was an exposed bridge, and some generic bricks that might have been from the old church but it was hard to be sure. However, emboldened by the sight of other people further out, we ventured further. I am pretty risk averse, so was cautious about stepping out, but if you were sensible and careful, you could pick a route over to a great heap of stones which contained within them an actual fire-place! It is weird-looking at it, and imagining others sitting by a lit fire, you can still see the soot stains in the hearth and within the shattered breast of a collapsed red-brick chimney. Then there was the grand pillar and the outline of rooms that you could sort of move through. Very eerie, and compelling too.
Turns out that in this context, I was a bit more of a trail blazer than Selfie Queen. I had the advantage of better footwear partly. I was wearing walking boots, she was in trail shoes. The muddy clay just gripped and infilled the tread of her running shoes so she might as well have been trying to get around on greased skis by the end of it. Still, between us we were intrepid, within the bounds of reason.
We saw a fair bit, but decided against venturing out beyond the collapsed hall to another bit of projecting stone work a bit further out. We were mindful of the mountain rescue exploits of others and didn’t really want to add to those stats. It was a good call actually, because when we started back across the mud flats it was harder to retrace our steps than it had been to find a path heading out. Oh well, we lived to try another day.
As we exited, a very jolly pair of men with cameras were swapping places with us. They have visited the reservoir bottom over the years and were full of information about what was there and how it had changed. The arched structure I couldn’t identify was actually an old pumping station from when the series of dams was being built for example. They also were able to tell us that where we were standing was originally the main village/ manor hall, but had also been a chapel and a school too at various points, most educational. We took photos of each other, which amuses me, here they are. Being informative and convivial!
They were joking about taking away some of the abandoned masonry, I say good luck to them, if they think they can carry away a door mantle on their shoulders without being squelched down into the mud then why not! We left then sliding about, holding their cameras aloft to keep them safe.
We opted to find a route back from the waterside. We did achieve this, but there was a flaw in our plan in that of course normally the water level is never this low (it is actually at only 35% capacity at present according to signs in the visitors centre), therefore, there aren’t obvious entry points or footpaths leading back to where we were. Oops.
In theory, we could have retraced our steps, but that seemed like an awfully long way round and surely there’d be a short cut. Plus we were running out of time due to other commitments for the day. We skirted the edge, alongside us was quite a determined looking and unbreachable fence. I was pretty confident there’d be a get out at some point, and sure enough, eventually, just as I was losing faith a bit, we saw an old gateway and road, passed through and… hit a dead-end. Oh.
We walked on a bit, still the wrong side of the fence, though above the waterline and tantalizingly, could see the ‘proper path’ up the hillside above us, with two fences in between. After some consultation, we decided there was nothing for it but to clamber out. Well I decided that. Selfie Queen was a bit more dubious about the realism of this plan. However, I’ve clambered a great many gates and fences in my time, and even done Endurer Events (tough mudder light) for goodness sake, it takes more than a strand of wire to defeat me! The upshot was I would lead by example, but she wasn’t having the barbed wire hamper her progress. Well, this dear reader is where my hat had its day! I got my fine Peruvian beret and used it to wrap round the barbs of the wire so we wouldn’t get them caught up on our leggings. Finding the strongest post to steady us, it was a simple matter of quick leap over and voila, ’twas done!
That was progress, but then I was a bit paranoid (which I didn’t share) that we were probably now trespassing and I didn’t want to find out the hard way we’d encroached on a field of cows, and probably a pack of dogs too. Fortunately, we were both distracted by heavy rain which was short-lived but stinging and the presence of a fenceless gateway, which is one of our very favourite things to find on walks. We did what we had to do:
Also, to be honest, I was fairly confident I knew the field was empty as we’d passed it earlier, but even so, I was relieved when we eventually found a path, which became a track, which led to a gate which led us out to the phone box aforementioned above! Hurrah! Job done.
Then just a little matter of a scurry back to the car, via the loos at the visitors’ centre and a quick peak in their shop. They sell a book of walks I might be tempted to get next time, only £2, bargain.
And that was that. Another adventure with Smiley Selfie Queen done and dusted, and a very fine and unexpected one too.
Of course, there was plenty we didn’t get round to see – low water has also revealed dwellings from Birchinlee Village under Derwent too, and the plug holes of course, need to go back for them one day soon. Could be a long day out given how long it took us just to amble 5 miles or so this morning. This is where we went by the way, Strava never lies.
Although the water levels were low today, Sheffield has not always been so depleted of the wet stuff. I’ve googled so you don’t have to, about previous times in history when Sheffield flooded. I had a vague sense there was a catastrophic flood when a dam burst a hundred years or so ago, and Wikipedia confirms this. The Great Sheffield Flood:
was a flood that devastated parts of Sheffield, England, on 11 March 1864, when the Dale Dyke Dam broke as its reservoir was being filled for the first time. At least 240 people died and more than 600 houses were damaged or destroyed by the flood. The immediate cause was a crack in the embankment, but the source of the crack was never determined. The dam’s failure led to reforms in engineering practice, setting standards on specifics that needed to be met when constructing such large-scale structures. The dam was rebuilt in 1875.
The account is worth reading actually, it seems the rush of water wiped out whole sections of Malin bridge and Hillsborough. Completely devastating. I even found a little YouTube account of the flood, but I think we can safely assume it wasn’t made contemporaneously! Then there were more floods in 2007, from shere deluge of rain causing the River Don to burst its banks. No wonder there is a whole list of Sheffield Floods to refer to. For the first time in ages, I’m quite relieved I live at the top of a hill. Something I rarely feel pleasure about as head down I climb up it carrying shopping on the way home. The Star did a Retro feature about the 2007 floods, it was before I moved here. Quite astonishing to see the photos though. Anyone would think it was part of our emergent Sheffield Atlantis discovery at the base of Ladybower reservoir rather than a snap shot on the way to complete submergence…
So there you go, well worth the trip out. It always is. I feel really blessed to live in such a beautiful part of the world, I don’t care what the posters say, sometimes it is worth taking a dive into the unknown – metaphorically at least.
Look, we saw this:
What’s not to like?
More about the sunken ruins here: BBC Ladybower Reservoir’s low water levels reveal abandoned village