Outdoors,  Walks & Hikes

Upper Derwent Dams And Pike Low

Today, it’s a solo walk of the Upper Derwent Dams and Pike Low. I arrived at Fairholmes Car Park shortly before dawn on a chilly January morning. Cafe was just showing signs of life and the toilets were open for business. Soon realising my NTrust membership had no value here, I read the daily car park ransom was £5!

Ironically, “five pounds..” was the maximum fine you get if prosecuted for bathing, washing etc. See the sign at the base of Derwent Dam, dated 1927. It did cross my mind? “I wonder if the car park fee included a dip?” but it was perhaps a little too chilly, so I went on my way.


Parking on the road outside, just before Fairholmes Car Park, I returned on foot. This route begins in the little picnic area outside the car park and you follow the path towards the base of Derwent Dam.

(I haven’t posted a spoiler photo, for those who’ve never visited. Suffice to say, it’s a spectacle!)

Taking the trail at the foot of the dam you climb the steep stepped path, pausing halfway to read the information boards and breeeath… When recovered, it’s onward and yep, up again!

Reaching the tarmac at the top rewards us with a beautiful 2 mile waterside wander up to Howden Dam, with an intimate view of the romantic little island resting in its shadow.

Was it a UFO?

When you reach Howden Dam spare a thought for what happened here in the cold October of 1997.

Up on Howden Moor what we know, is something very unusual took place. To this day it remains a mystery but make up your own minds. This report by Dr David Clarke is worth reading and is a walk for another day perhaps.

Time for a climb

OK I’ve devoured a snack (or two), took a few photos and I’m ready for the ascent up to Pike Low.

From here the trails are not all obvious, so please take a map, or better, a GPS with my route below loaded.

I re-trod the road from Howden Dam back to where I came from, around the hydro corner and onto the straight. Keep your eye open for a little forest trail that gently sweeps back and around the foot of the hill. Take this path.

The climb up to Pike Low is tricky to spot. I was boot deep in dead leaves to join it, but you’ll see the climb ahead and find it on the apex of the natural sweeping trail following around the foot of the hill.

This is steep! something like a 25% gradient and it carries for a way. 

After a while you come across old fallen walls and fallen cottage. Great place to take some vantage shots over towards Howden Dam and ideal to put the kettle on or crack open a flask.

Up up and away

No stopping us now! Check your path regularly, we cross several intersecting routes and it’s quite easy to go off-piste, I certainly did. Good thing is it’s never far before your reminded that your not heading towards Derwent Dam so getting truly lost here is highly unlikely, even for the most inquisitive of navigators.

Beautiful rolling fields, heather moorland and the odd stile break up the route across the top. Just keep going!

Looking ahead over Derwent Dam, in the far distance (on a clear day) you catch a glimpse of Lose Hill (481m) and behind her, in the distant distance, is the mighty Mam Tor (524m).

Behind you there are a number of peaks standing proud sweeping from far left to right, there’s Lost Lad Hillend and Lost Lad then a narrow gap to Back Tor (538m) and sweeping across you see Dovestone Tor and the unmistakable Derwent Edge (what it says on the tin).

Mind the gate

Time to come down and it’s to a 20% gradient in places, so no running kids… it’s tricky & tired ankles twist easy.

Follow the sweeping path around the edge of Pike Low and down toward a stone wall. Filled with sheep when I came through last, there’s a weighted gate about half way down. Hop through that and zig zag down the hillside to the road at the bottom. Don’t worry their shy sheep, although I did have words with a couple of gangsters 🐑

Follow the gentle meandering road all the way back to the car park. One last glimpse at the Derwent Dam wall as you pass. Quite an achievement! I hope you enjoyed it… it’s a route I fondly recall and will do again come spring.

Nearly 900ft climbed, or if like me you took a few scenic detours, probably closer to 1100ft.


Nothing seasoned feet won’t manage but pay close attention to the start of the Pike Low ascent. Look for the trail ahead rather than an obvious path. You can just make out a NT signpost and gated wall, that’s the path to take.

GPS with the following GPX came in handy for me. Given options on a trail I tend to pick the exploratory route and being able to retrace my steps and rejoin paths was greatly helped by my semi-trusty Garmin.

When you descend Pike Low and along the stone walled cattle field keep your head up and eyes open. I bent several pieces of overhanging wire away from the path but they were at head height and have no doubt collected the odd bobble hat or rucksack strap.

I can’t provide review for the cafe other than to say it appeared well stocked and busy, maybe next time.

Distance 5.5mi.
Average Pace 2.0mph
Duration Estimate 03h 00m
Total Ascent 875ft
Surface Type Tarmac & Trail
Surface Condition Variable · Some Wild
Steepest Ascent +25.6% (at 2.8mi.)
Steepest Descent -18.9% (at 4.4mi.)
Total Uphill 2.4mi. (44%)
Total Downhill 2.8mi. (52%)
Grid Reference SK 17245 89392
Start Latitude 53.401078
Start Longitude -1.7420921
Nearest Post Code S33 0AQ
Upper Derwent Dams And Pike Low GPX by Spike #spikeblogs
Upper Derwent Dams And Pike Low elevation by Spike #spikeblogs

That’s a lovely way to tick off Derwent and Howden Dams. It’s popular, for good reason, but get up on the hills and you can easily find a quiet spot to take in the beautiful panorama.

With good legs this route can easily be stretched onto wilder paths, but needless to say the correct footwear, emergency gear and map options are essential. The ground can be tricky and weather up here changes fast!

History, natural beauty, rolling scenery and grouse! Standing there, I asked myself, what more could I ask for?


This rating is subjective and out of 100, taking into account a unique set of criteria. Whether it’s a walk or ride I consider; Terrain Condition, Variety, Seclusion, Services/Pub, Exploration, Photography, Wildlife, Points of Interest,  Natural Beauty & Wild Camp Potential. I assess difficulty based on distance and elevation profile (above).