The Peak District’s wild moorlands, tranquil dales and famous hills are perfect to explore on two wheels, whatever your level of fitness…
The Peak District spans around 555 square miles and is one of the most visited national parks in the United Kingdom. That’s hardly surprising as, though it’s mostly in Derbyshire, it stretches out to Cheshire, Staffordshire, West and South Yorkshire, and the highly populated ceremonial county of Greater Manchester.
The spectacular countryside, bridleways, quiet country roads, gravel trails and singletracks make this a cyclist’s paradise, whether you’re a budding professional aiming for the Tour de France or a parent seeking safe, traffic-free routes for the kids. Hybrid bikes are fine for the majority of these adventures though mountain bikes, road bikes or gravel bikes might be preferable for a few. Right, on with pedalling around the Peaks…
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Distance: Up to 17-mile round trip
The Monsal Trail near Bakewell's is similar to many accessible bike rides around the UK in that it used to be a railway line. It runs along the former Midland Railway line for around eight-and-a-half miles between Chee and Bakewell, and features an ever-so subtle incline toward Chee Dale. Any semblance of exertion will soon be tempered by cruising through a series of long tunnels that are up to 400m long and are operated by light sensors. The kids will love it. As will the kid in you! The piece-de-resistance is the five-span Monsal Viaduct that stands 70 feet tall and 100 feet long.
Upper Derwent Adventure
Distance: 12 miles
Fairholmes Visitor Centre is the start and finish of this perfect family ride around Upper Derwent reservoirs. (You can hire bikes at Fairholmes, too.) It’s a mix of gravelly trails and smooth tarmac that’ll take up to 90 minutes for adults; if you have children in tow, you’re looking to make a day of it over four or five hours. There’s the occasional light ascent to crank up effort levels… and descent to crank up adrenaline levels. There are also a couple pubs along the route for a wee refreshment with The Yorkshire Bridge Inn a particular highlight.
Distance: Up to 15.8-mile round trip
This stunning ride through the ever-green Manifold Valley, starting at Hulme End, is a quieter option than the popular Monsal Trial, though note that while the majority’s upon another former railway, there’s a stretch from the tunnel just south of Ecton, past Wetton Mill, that’s along a road. Still, it’s relatively untouched by traffic and worth the effort to absorb wonders like Thor’s Cave, where it’s believed that humans lived 10,000 years ago. Wetton Mill Tea Rooms is a delectable stop for cake and coffee. It’s also a safe spot for the youngsters to paddle in the summer months.
Distance: 12.5 miles
This isn’t too far from the Manchester madding crowd and is the perfect antidote to the stresses of urban life. It’s a mix of traffic-free trails and mostly quiet roads on the edge of the Peak District that starts and finishes in Middlewood Way. A long, essential section cuts through the gates of Lyme, a National Trust property that’s Grade-I listed and features a 1,400-acre deer park. It’s free to access by bike but only open certain hours (usually 9am to 4.30pm or 8pm depending on time of year). Outside of these hours, the route can’t be ridden in full. So, time it right and you’ll be in for a relaxed, mainly flat sojourn against a beautiful rustic backdrop.
Distance: 15.5 miles
No self-respecting mountain biker will leave the Peak District without riding rough shod over the trails that shadow the Ladybower and Derwent reservoirs. It’s an out-and-back route from Heatherdene Car Park that will test your strength and courage. After getting your heart pumping on the ascent to Hope Cross, it’ll pump even harder on the demanding and technical descent they call the ‘Beast’. The next stretch isn’t as taxing but is every bit as exhilarating as you enjoy a fast and liberating downhill to Cutthroat Bridge, rather gruesomely named after a man was discovered here 400 years ago. It’s a great route whatever the weather.
Distance: 198 miles (long!)
Okay, this one’s arguably for the sadistic road cyclists amongst you; in fact, it’s so tough that we’re not featuring it as a section of route but a standalone climb. Winnats Pass is featured in Simon Warren’s classic ‘100 Greatest Cycling Climbs’ and numbers 33. Starting from the village of Castleton, it’s only 198m long but it averages an Alpine 12% gradient and, in places, peaks at 20%. That’s crampon stuff! So vertiginous is Winnats Pass that it’s held the national cycling climb championships 10 times. A report in a cycling magazine from 1977 summed up the ascent – and sadists – perfectly. “They are a strange breed these men of the mountains. For minutes after they lay moaning and groaning like extras from a film battle, they were asking where next year’s championship will be held.”
Distance: 45 miles
This route for the regular road or e-road cyclist starts north west of Sheffield at the start of Loxley Road. The loop takes you out to the stunning Loxley Valley and deeper into the Peak District National Park towards the mesmeric landscape of Strines moor. You pass the idyllic villages of Bradfield, Bamford, Bradwell and Eyam, known for cutting itself off to protect others during the Black Death of 1665 and 1666, before the long climb of Froggat. What goes up… and you’re soon descending back towards the city. This is one for the mountain goat and there’s very little flat riding as it racks up over 4,300 feet of ascending.
Peak District Gravel Epic
Distance: 58 to 136km
Difficulty: Intermediate to expert
We’ve diverted to the competitive amphitheatre for this final one as the Peak District Gravel Epic is an annual September-held event over 58, 100 or 136km. The parcours is a mix of on- and off-road with all distance options taking in parts of the area’s classic trails like Monsal, Tissington and High Peak as well as some “secret local spots”. Entry is from £49. Included in the price are checkpoints with “proper” grub, rider-support vans and, perhaps more important than anything else, mechanics stationed at the rider village and selected feed stops. For adults only; you will have to train for this one.
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