The cool, clear waters of Ladybower Reservoir have been nurturing life for over 75 years. The reservoir was built between 1935 and 1943, and at that time it was the largest reservoir in Britain. It was built to supply the growing water demands of the East Midlands, and the reservoirs of the Upper Derwent Valley still provide life-giving water to this part of England; they have a staggering combined capacity of 464 billion litres.
Ladybower Reservoir also enriches life in less obvious ways. The open moorland, towering forests and shady banks that surround the reservoirs are home to shy mountain hares, birds and butterflies. Trout, perch, roach and pike hide in the depths of the calm waters.
It is a peaceful haven for people too. Over a million visitors come to this part of the Peak District every year, to hike, run, cycle and ride. They come to breathe in the clean air, listen to the sounds of nature all around, and escape from the hustle and bustle of their busy lives.
“They come to breathe in the clean air, listen to the sounds of nature all around, and escape from the hustle and bustle of their busy lives.”
Cast Your Troubles Away
But hiking, running, cycling and riding is only part of the story at Ladybower Reservoir. The fly-fishing here is among the best in England, and there has been a fishery here since the reservoir was first opened.
For nearly 10 years the fish stocks of beautiful rainbow and blue trout have been cared for and managed by the friendly team at Ladybower Fisheries, many of whom are volunteers. They monitor bankside angling along the 13 miles of banks, as well as hiring out their 15 boats and float tubes for those who want to experience the freedom of fly-fishing in the open water. If you’ve never tried fly-fishing before, or want to improve your skills, Ladybower Fisheries have a number of qualified 1st 4 Sport Level 2 Angling Coaches who are always available to help. All equipment is provided.
And it is the tranquil pursuit of fly-fishing that provides another kind of life-enhancing experience at Ladybower Reservoir. For a number of years the therapeutic benefits of this gentle, meditative sport have been well researched and proven, particularly in people with a physical, learning, sensory or mental health disability, as well as in wounded or traumatised military personnel. The angler is out in the open air, miles away from the troubles of daily life – often literally – and it is an activity that focuses the mind wholly on one pursuit. The only sounds are the water lapping gently against the boat or shore, the casting of the line, the wind rustling through the grasses on the bank, and the birds calling in the trees.
“The angler is out in the open air, miles away from the troubles of daily life – often literally.”
Fly-fishing provides a sense of community and belonging, too. There is a natural camaraderie among anglers; they are a friendly, helpful bunch who will happily chat for hours about their techniques, catches and surroundings, in a way that puts at ease even those who find social interaction difficult.
Since 2015 Ladybower Fisheries have used the therapeutic benefits of fly-fishing and the beautiful surroundings of Ladybower Reservoir to improve the lives of countless numbers of disabled and disadvantaged people. They work with many charities, including Fishing for Heroes and Blesma (both of which support military veterans), as well as organisations that work with disadvantaged children.
A Ray of Sunshine
In 2016 Ladybower Fisheries went even further and, in conjunction with The Wheelyboat Trust and Accessible Derbyshire, they purchased their very own Coulam 16 Wheelyboat, a specially-adapted accessible boat that enables disabled people the chance to experience freedom and independence on the water.
Aptly named ‘Ray of Sunshine’, the Wheelyboat cost £24,000, almost all of which was raised through charity events and donations. It took years of dedication and tireless hard work from the team at Ladybower Fisheries. But it is priceless to those who use it.
The Wheelyboat is a remarkable beast. It is wider, higher and more buoyant than the average boat, with grab rails around the edges. It has a hydraulic platform that raises to provide level access for wheelchair-users straight from a floating pontoon. Once on board, the wheelchair can be tethered safely on to the boat, providing stability and reassurance. There is room on board for the helmsman and two passengers, along with their equipment and wheelchairs if needed. Specially adapted fishing equipment can also be provided. All activities are fully risk-assessed.
Very importantly, Ladybower Fisheries also have an on-site registered general nurse, Troy. Troy has a background in working with stroke patients, dementia patients and people with learning disabilities, and he is there to assist anyone who needs extra help with their fly fishing experiences.
The team at Ladybower Fisheries have seen great results at first hand from being able to offer this unique experience to people who have had their lives devastated by injury or trauma. They have seen people who were so traumatised that they couldn’t speak, open up and smile and come alive again. They have seen injured service personnel with very little mobility regain their independence and pride. And they have seen disabled young people gain a sense of satisfaction and delight at their achievements. The Wheelyboat has literally been life-changing.
“The Wheelyboat has literally been life-changing.”
A Unique View
And the team at Ladybower Fisheries don’t want to stop there. They are currently raising a further £30,000 for a bigger, faster, 8-seater Coulam V17 Wheelyboat that will allow groups to go out together. They are also working to improve the accessibility of their parking facilities and jetties. It is their ambition to become a leader in the field of therapeutic fly-fishing.
This is a labour of love for the team at Ladybower Fisheries. Many of those who volunteer here have themselves been helped by the organisation, and want to give something back. Some travel for great distances every day to work here.
Equally, the people who fish here travel from all across the world, drawn by the iconic scenery of Ladybower Reservoir. Being out on a boat provides an absolutely unique perspective on these stunning views, not from the side of the bank but from the very heart of the water. It gives you the chance to explore the hidden backwaters and to glide right under the arches of that famous viaduct.
“Being out on a boat provides an absolutely unique perspective on these stunning views, not from the side of the bank but from the very heart of the water.”
And the great news is, even if fly-fishing doesn’t appeal to you, Ladybower Fisheries are now opening up their Wheelyboat for guided boat trips, wildlife spotting and photography trips out on the reservoir. The price for this unique experience is only £35 per hour for two people. The money raised will help fund Ladybower Fisheries’ endeavours to buy a second Wheelyboat to continue their invaluable work, and to allow even more people to benefit.
The team at Ladybower Fisheries are an inspirational lot, as are the people they help every single day. The clear waters of Ladybower Reservoir have life-enhancing qualities in so many ways, and there is no doubt that the Wheelyboat has changed lives for the better too, allowing disabled and disadvantaged people the freedom to experience the beauty and peace of this magnificent place fully for themselves.
For more information about bankside fishing or hiring a boat or float tube, contact Ladybower Fisheries on 01433 659712, or via email at [email protected].
For information about the use of the Wheelyboat and the guided boat trips, contact Troy Chadwick (Ladybower Fisheries Accessibility Coordinator) on 07585 335143.
If you would like to make a donation to the Ladybower Fisheries’ V17 Wheelyboat Fundraising Appeal, please visit https://cafdonate.cafonline.org/9835. All donations are very gratefully received.
Let’s Go Peak District would like to thank Mark Butterley, Troy Chadwick and Brian Frith for their time and patience (and trout!), and for answering our endless questions for the writing of this article.