In a county with an almost complete lack of natural lakes, it is surprising to find that two of Derbyshire’s top visitor destinations are based around large expanses of water.
The area surrounding three vast reservoirs in the Upper Derwent Valley has become so popular that traffic management schemes are in force during summer weekends; and Carsington Water, a reservoir completed in 1992 on 741 acres of land near Ashbourne, now attracts over one million annual visits.
These artificial ‘lakelands’ have made contrasting impressions on the countryside.
With the drowning of the old villages of Derwent and Ashopton and the planting of conifers around the shores of the Derwent reservoirs, a large tract of the High Peak has mutated into a ‘Little Switzerland’, whereas the area around Carsington Water has been left largely undisturbed as a piece of green and pleasant England, where unspoilt hamlets shelter in the folds of a gently undulating landscape.
Of course, Severn Trent Water’s vast new lake has changed the wider context of the local hamlets, but the water board has made amends by creating a watery playground for all ages. On the shores of the reservoir, there are footpaths, cycle tracks and hides for watching wildlife.
A visitor centre provides information and refreshment facilities, while the lake is a venue for all manner of water sports, including windsurfing, sailing, kayaking and bell-boating.
Invented by David Train, an Olympic canoeing coach, bell-boating involves using two long canoes linked by a robust platform that provides reassuring stability.
As well as offering a safe activity for the many school parties that come to the reservoir, this novel form of paddling is even being advertised as a sport that can be enjoyed by end-of-term revellers as part of their school ‘prom’.
Dave Horner is one of the many people who revel in sailing on Carsington Water. He says: ‘Given favourable weather conditions, I try to make trips every week to the reservoir from my home in Langwith. It is the perfect place for me to enjoy sailing my Merlin Rocket, which I have spent many hours restoring.’
Close to the shores of the reservoir, there is a popular pub called the Knockerdown. With its panoramic views over the lake and its indoor and outdoor dining areas, together with a play area and an adjacent caravan and camping park, the Knockerdown is a particular favourite with families.
Another pub that has benefited greatly from the influx of visitors to the area is the Miners’ Arms in the village of Carsington. After taking multiple orders for food and drink from members of a coach party, Debbie Moorhouse found a few minutes to expand on the pub’s appeal. She said, ‘We serve great food, with a carvery on Sundays, a Steak Night on Wednesdays and a Fish and Chip Night on Fridays, and our beers include local ales from microbreweries. We even have a cycle-hire scheme.’
The Miners’ Arms has the additional advantage of being located at the heart of a delightful hamlet which nestles cosily at the foot of a steep wooded hillside that rises to the heights of Carsington Pastures, an area once extensively exploited for lead and now labelled on the village information board as ‘a spiritual place for reflection and a place to make you feel as if you are top of the world.’
Another spiritual place is to be found squeezed right up against the hillside, as if reaching up to the heavenly pastures above.
This is St Margaret’s Church, described by Nikolaus Pevsner as ‘a nave and chancel in one’. Despite its simple geometry, the church features an impressive west gallery and several stained glass windows dedicated to the memory of various members of the Gell family.
Since 1995, when the last of the Gells left Hopton Hall, their ancestral seat on the edge of the village, Carsington has seen lots of changes, not least the conversion of several cottages and farm buildings into holiday lets, thereby halting the likely deterioration of much of the village’s fabric and helping to preserve its old-world charm.
Another recent development has seen a &50,000 enhancement of the village green, thanks to contributions from the Carsington Reservoir Fund and the Exton Trust.
The green now features delightful sculptures of three animals madly chasing each other around a tree.
Carsington and Hopton C of E Primary School is located just beyond the green. As a grammatically suspect inscription testifies, ‘The school was built and given by Temperance Gell of Hopton for twenty poor children of Hopton and Carsington to read, write and other proper works, AD 1726.’
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