Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Cycling & Cake in the Peak District

Having just taken a well deserved and much needed holiday, after nearly 3 years without a proper break away previously, I decided now was a good time to take my bike with me and enjoy some slightly more picturesque rides over my latest Cambridge ambles. 

Having taken the estate car with us, myself and my partner in lycra-clad crime were able to get both bikes safely inside the car for the week and it helped teach me a thing or two on packing lightly... Well, lighter than I usually do anyway haha. (Not much room left in a car when full of mountain bikes!)

I'm so glad we did take the bikes, there was some absolutely stunning scenery to explore in the Peak District and with the help of some very helpful bloggers and some enthusiasm for rides from my friends and family members, we managed to pick some fantastic routes to help keep us on track for weight loss in between tasty food stops on my mini cake tour of the midlands (I'm aware cake stops & weight loss do not equal a good combination, but I was fairly good, honestly ; )

The first bike ride we did was easy and not too long, taking us back down memory lane of walking part of the trail one Xmas a few years previously. 
We did The Monsal Trail, which follows an old steam train line through the Wye Valley and heads from Topley Pike (just east of Buxton) to 
Bakewell, which is a very cute little town with a pretty riverside, lots of nice pubs and hotels, coffee shops and tea rooms (most of which were closing as we arrived on this sleepy Sunday afternoon - oops). We settled for a lovely little deli, picking up some pesto and Italian breads for a light picnic before setting off again back down the trail. 

The Monsal Trail is very easy to follow, pretty much flat all the way and taking you through lots of old train tunnels and viaducts which are great fun to cycle through, with most of them being a good few hundred yards through the foot of the steep limestone hills above you. Some are fairly dark, even with the dim overhead lights, so if you have bike lights, they may come in useful to you one grey day. 
It's a perfect ride for anybody, especially families as the tunnels are exciting for the kids (big AND small!) and there are lots of old train stations, outbuildings and platforms along the way, it can be walked or cycled, it's very popular indeed with dog walkers. 
This particular trail is approx 9 miles each way (just over 18 miles in total) with lots of panoramic views along the trail, minding the path edges as you go, as some very steep hills below you... Not sure the grazing sheep and cows would appreciate being disturbed by unannounced offroading ; ) 

You can hire bikes from either end of the trail and parking in the Topley Pike (opposite a large quarry) car park was around £2 for a few hours, although a fairly small one, so can see this being fairly busy in peak periods. 
Take a picnic and enjoy a stop along many of the points of interest along this route, or stop at Bakewell and enjoy something from there many different places to eat. 

There is also a very nice bike hire place and tea room at Hassop Station along the trail which looked to serve very good food at a reasonable price as I wandered inside to use the loo on the way back, however, having a picnic with us, we decided not to stop on this occasion. 
Not forgetting Bakewell is also home to the infamous Bakewell Pudding. It's similar to the more famous Bakewell Tart, however it's much more dense and buttery, too fatty & stodgy even for a queen of the sweet stuff. I tried some the last time I was in the area and it wasn't as nice as I had imagined, but maybe I just ate too much at that time.. More than likely! 

The next bike ride we did was the Upper Derwent Valley Reservoirs Circuit, starting in Fairholmes which is where the RAF's Dambusters practiced their low level flying techniques during 1943. It was a very interesting place to ride and I enjoyed learning a thing or two about this historic British landmark. 

Fairholmes offers bike hire facilities and car parking for £2.50 for a couple of hours or £4.50 all day, however there are various free car parks along the way to this car park, but as we were there for the first time and didn't want to get lost, we paid for this visit to ensure we got a map and some advice from the hire shop, who were very friendly and helpful in directing the best route. 
 The loop is 14 miles, give or take, with a real mix of terrain to keep it exciting and energetic throughout. It is a circular and starts off along a road, so must be wary of cars as you go, although it is closed off to traffic during peak times I believe. You start the ride along the dam, up hills to the top of the walls and you can get some pretty dramatic views straight down this huge feature (careful not to drop your camera in the water whilst stopping for the obligatory photos ; ) before heading off around the upper reservoirs, enjoying some ups and downs along the road as you go. You can't help but smile at the scenery, it's stunning, especially at this time of year, autumnal colours in the forests and woodland surrounding you, mini waterfalls with clear water, it's simply gorgeous. 

Once around to the opposite side, you cycle along a traffic-free (and National Trust owned) section which is made up of a steep and sometimes narrowing gravel path and some very fun bridges to cross over the water and head back down the other side, back towards the dam. We cycled through a lot of head winds and it made even the downhill cycle a little difficult at times, but it was a lot of fun and would recommend to anybody. 
 You can even extend the ride with Ladybower, should you wish, however as we got back towards the car park, the heavens opened and we decided to call it a day, heading back to our cottage and dried out under blankets with a roast dinner (Sirloin from the butcher a few doors down from our cottage) to warm the cockles. 

The third and final big ride we did was The Tissington Trail, having read a little on this before we headed there, we parked up in Ashbourne and cycled to the peak of the ride at Parsley Hay, before coming back. There is logic to this way around, of which we learnt very early on. This being, that the 27 miles this route covers is steadily uphill from Ashbourne, giving you a much more fun downhill from Parsley Hay. And when I say uphill, it truly is uphill all the way, although not too tough, it didn't have any drastic ups and downs, its incline certainly was felt in the old thighs and a couple of stops on the way up helped to break it down a little, but it wasn't too hard once you got into a steady motion and speed, in fact it was great fun.

Following another old steam train line, we passed through and over old bridges and tunnels, past an old signal box at Hartington which was kept and restored beautifully and even allowed us a very quick break to stretch our legs and explore, giving us an amazing view of the hills and fields below us from this point. 
 The further you go, the higher the inclines on either side of you, so be sure to be careful and although it's highly rated to keep your eyes on the scenery around you as you pedal, our must keep your wits about you when passing other cyclists, walkers and horses as the landscape looks fairly dangerous should you take a fall. It's common sense really ; )

The stop at Parsley Hay is not very nice I have to say, there was a lady stood frying off some dirty looking sausages and chips, so we passed, took shelter for ten minutes to get out of the rain of the one black cloud above us and nibbled on some ham sandwiches I had made and stuck in the backpack to fuel us for the return trip. There were toilets, however, as they were at the start of the trail too, very clean, but no hand wash in either one... Obviously us ladies can't be trusted with such luxuries on our journey : s
 On returning to Ashbourne, you will come back on yourself all the way if sticking to The Tissington Trail (downhill most of the way, which is great fun on the steeper parts ; ) however, you can also branch off if feeling more adventurous on to The High Peak Trails... I fancied that part another day! 

We were told this was an easy route, family friendly of which it would be if kids were in tow, however, even with a summer full of rides to prepare us a little for the Peaks, we still found this one a slight challenge on our fitness levels on the uphill. The tracks are fairly sandy/muddy, so with a bit of rain, these are soft and can slow you down a little. I think we averaged at around 7/8 miles per hour on the inclines and I loved every minute of this one, with Ashbourne being a great market town to explore after your ride if you fancy a nosey. Just head down the old train tunnel in the car park here and turn left over the bridge for the main market and high street, which has a few nice looking pubs and cafes to grab a bite should you fancy it. 

The car park we parked in at The Ashbourne end of the trail (which is Brown signed and takes you down to Mapleton Lane) cost £3 for a few hours, assuming Parsley Hay end is about the same and you can gain cycle hire at both ends of the trail if you need this. 

It has to be said, although I was hopping on my bike before The Hairy Bikers were dieting and showing us a thing or two on their very own pedals of power, they still became the inspiration of our rides each day, wondering where exactly they had cycled when getting filming and getting slim, or was it just for the benefit of the TV show they recently produced? 
We settled on the fact that Newcastle and surrounding areas must have pretty bike rides, as all locations north of Birmingham seem to ; )

One thing I would advise of in this area, as being used to Cambridge and our flat and less energetic/elevated rides, the weather is very changeable in the Peaks. I am no expert, but one thing we did notice a lot of was one minute it's very sunny and warm, the next it's freezing cold, grey/black and very wet and windy. So layer up and be prepared for quicker changes in weather. 
Most importantly, be safe and as organised as possible with your rides, especially with winter on the way.

We thoroughly enjoyed cycling in the Peak District, but where to next?.....

Miss Sue Flay 


PS - You can see where we stayed and visited at this blog post HERE.


  1. Wow, what a great adventure you guys had. I just can't imagine the sites and sounds you were able to witness on that trip. I'm pretty sure your next destination would be awesome too.

  2. Thanks Devon... Looking forward to the next adventure : )

  3. Have you tried Castleton and Bradwell in the Hope Valley? Amazing views and scenery