We have just spent four days in the Peak District in the north of England, pootling about and enjoying the views. And, of course, sampling some excellent cake.
Last year we “raced” through the Peaks up and over the hills and down into and up out of the valleys. This part of the world is rather lumpy and we did endure a few 1:4 (25%) hills. So, this time, we decided we needed to take it easy and enjoy the views, cake stops and the rail trails.
It is not really that well-known that there are (off the top of my head) four disused railway lines which have been turned into simply excellent shared cycle, walking and sometimes horse-riding paths. They cut out the steep hills and busy roads, since trains are not really known to climb hills.
Some of these trails have a low cake-to-miles ratio, so expect to cycle some distances, though we’re not talking huge mileage. And when you do find a cake stop, you will be spoilt for choice and treated to some very yummy local delicacies, including bakewell tarts, eccles cakes, as well as the usual Victoria sponges, lemon meringue pies and date & walnut breads.
Just remember even some of these trails have hills, even at 1 in 303 as I saw one sign proclaim, it can be a bit hard at the end of the day. After 15 miles with the wind at your back and downhill, climbing back up into the wind to the place where you rented your bicycle can be a bit hard for the untrained. So do bring enough water and some snacks if you’re not an experienced cyclist, since there are some distances between refreshment stops.
Manifold Trail: Around 15 miles in all running between Waterhouses and Hulme End, where you shouldn’t miss out the great cake stop called The Tea Junction. You can rent bicycles at Waterhouses, which is a great place to start since it will be downhill back to where you started. This trail is nice and sheltered from the wind, and its attractions include a glut of fascinating fossils at the side of the track, three cake stops and Thor’s cave in the hillside.
Most of this trail is on tarmac and at times on a shared road, though very quiet. It’s quite narrow and a little bit bumpy in places.
High Peaks Trail: Running from Parsley Hay (Tissington trail) to High Peak Junction where you can get on the canal to Cromford Wharf not far from Matlock. You can rent bikes at Parsley Hay and at Middleton Top. The stretch from Parsley Hay to just before Middleton Top is nice and flat. Then you reach the first of three hills: the first one is not so bad. Even back in the train days they didn’t need the help they’d needed on the other two hills. They are rather steep: I’m glad that we were going down them as I’m sure that we would be well knackered going up them. One of them had a 1 in 9 sign next to it, a bit of a shock compared to the normal three digits inclines I spotted before.
Tissington Trail: Starts north of Parsley Hay and goes all the way past Mapleton Lane, where you can rent bicycles, on to Ashbourne. At Tissington there is a little refreshments kiosk, which unfortunately was out of jacket potatoes when we came past, but had some good pasties and some delicious-looking cake. Like the High Peak trail the Tissington trail is exposed at times so the wind and the rain will get you if the weather is so inclined. But you will be spoilt with some great views over the Peak District.
The Tissington trail and High Peaks Trail cross their ways just south of Parsley Hay. But to get to the Manifold trail you need to use the road. If you plan your route, I’m sure that you can avoid the busiest parts of the A roads and even avoid some of the nastiest hills.
Then there is the Monsal trail which we haven’t cycled yet, I also spotted the National Cycle Route number 54 crossing our way as we pootle along. And along with the Pennine bridleway I know that you will be spoilt with cake, great views and a good time on your bike.
As for places to stay in the Peaks, I saw plenty of campsites and pubs that had places to camp, like the Royal Oak near Hurdlow where we stayed. There are probably more B&Bs than you can shake a stick at up there along with a YHA like the one in Hartington. I even found a few places that would be great for a spot of wild camping.
Then there is the food, as I said before there are a few cafes along the trails. But nearly every village and town will have at least a few cafes to keep your calorie intake at the optimum level when cycling.
And there are the the pub lunches (and dinners), we have now eaten a few times in two of the pubs up there. And all I can say is “burp!”. At first you might think the prices are a bit steep for a main meal (approx. £10 for a vegetarian meal, and £9-15 for a non-veggie meal). But, when you get get your dish – say, fish and chips – the fish is falling over edge of the large plate and the potato chips are more like potato logs. You’ll then realise that the price is just spot on, with the quality and quantity that suits a hungry cyclist or rambler after a whole day outside. You might have to rethink if you want pudding, since the portions are plentiful! These were simply divine (we tried banoffee pie, white chocolate cheesecake, sticky toffee pudding and chocolate fudge cake) so it will be hard to say no. We haven’t had any problems with finding any vegetarian food either.
One final note – these railway trails are even suitable for the less-mobile cyclist. At Parsley Hay, for example, you can hire all manner of bikes: tricycles, tandems, and even hand-powered cycles. I’m surprised these trails are not better-known. These rail trails are a gem of a find, and I highly recommend them.
Here are a few links I found after a quick search:
Derbyshire – Peak District Tissington trail
Trans Pennine Trail
Pennine cycleway (54)
National trail Pennine bridleway
Visit Peak District cycle routes
Peak District cycling near you
The Peak District – cycling