Whether you’re a piston-thighed roadie, a pannier-laden tourer, fancy the occasional recreational pedal or just going out for a spin with the family, the Peak District is now the go-to destination for cyclists in the UK.
With its natural geography, the Peak District really does complement European cycling destinations; the iconic cols of the Tour de France such as the Tourmalet, Galibier and Alpe D’Huez should now share a podium with Winnats Pass, Snake Pass and, well, Curbar Gap. Not convinced yet? Read on to find out what you need to consider when planning a cycling holiday.
You need great routes with a good balance of tough climbs, gentler lanes and byways, snug cafes with belly-filling fodder and helpful bike shops. And it helps if there’s also lots to do for the non-cyclists in your party.
Let’s look at each of these essentials in turn...
Great routes, tough climbs
The Peak District, covering parts of Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Cheshire and Staffordshire, is almost entirely a National Park, the first in the UK in fact, created in 1951. It’s been a top destination for holiday-makers from home and abroad a long time before that.
The high hills of the Dark Peak in the North, the gritstone edges of the eastern Peak, and the gentler dales and valleys of the White Peak make a stunning backdrop for cycling.
There’s a long history of cycling in the Peak District too of course. The old Milk Race, now superseded by the Tour of Britain, was a regular visitor and made climbs like Holme Moss famous. And when the Tour de France came to the UK in 2014 and included Holme Moss on Stage 2, it was on every cyclist’s tick list. It’s a great climb but there’s lots more to enjoy for anyone with a road bike.
We asked our pals Julian Woolford and Marita Oury, both keen amateur cyclists who’ve been pedalling the hills of our majestic local landscape for over 10 years, to share their favourite routes, both long and mid-range. These three (and some extras) topped the bill.
1. NORTHERN GRIT
Distance: approx 50 Miles
You can base yourself pretty much anywhere in the Peak District and have a multitude of routes to choose from. A good starting point is Bamford, a small village about 12 miles from Sheffield, just off the A57. From here head north, after a short climb on the A57 back towards Sheffield, turn left and follow the famous Strines road, one of the toughest but most beautiful routes in the Peak District.
Stage 3 of the 2013 Tour de France reversed this route on its way to the finish line in Sheffield but heading north to south is probably harder and includes a 24% pitch on the infamous ‘Col de Midhopestones’ or Ewden Bank. Get a granny plate on your rear axle and spin up this before heading across the moors to Holmfirth and Holme Moss.
Holme Moss is a challenge. A tough start from the town itself leaves you tired by the time you reach the hardest section, helpfully marked out on the road from 1¼ miles out. There’s a 13% section for a hundred metres or so that takes you into the red zone.
None of this will be too frightening for the hardened club cyclists (you can just ignore the pain by remembering the vast hoards thronging the hill sides in 2014 and imagining they are cheering for you) but beware…If you hit the top section when a big westerly is blowing, you’ll never forget it. Tough, ice-in-the-veins-types have been literally blown off bikes and, cowering and beaten, staggered in cleats to the summit.
A very fast decent, a tricky crossing of the A628, and a traverse by Woodhead reservoir, takes you back across the moors towards Glossop. You have two options here. You can take in two tough climbs to Chapel-en-le-Frith, via Little Hayfield, before adding in the killer Peaslows climb above Chapel-en-le-Frith and heading back east down Winnats Pass to Bamford.
Or, you can take on one of the longest climbs in the UK: Snake Pass. At 3.2 miles, it’s a cracking climb, never too steep at around 7% but, well, long. And, if you can zone out from the cars and motorbikes screaming passed, and race your pals and Strava up, you’ll be punching the air by the time you reach the summit (assuming the roads not closed by snow, a reasonably frequent occurrence in winter: we’ve experienced heavy hail in early May.
2. FOUR COLS ON THE EASTERN MOOR
Distance: Approx 40 miles
The eastern side of the Peak District is riddled with steep climbs and fast, jagging descents. You can shape a route as your lungs and legs allow. A fun game is to ‘stitch’ a route from valley to summit, collecting as many mini-cols as you fancy.
One option is to base yourself in the pretty market town of Bakewell – home to Bakewell pudding, or any of the villages nearby. Spin up the valley for 12 miles to warm up, via Baslow, Calver, Grindleford, Hathersage and on beyond Bamford, where you take a sharp right hander just before the Yorkshire Bridge Inn.
A tough but gloriously handsome climb takes you up through the trees, the pain offset by the views down the Hope Valley opening up in front of you. Keep going up and over Bamford Edge, turn left at the next two T-junctions and follow the ups and downs under the stunning Stanage Edge which reaches above you on your left. At a final T-junction high on the moors, just after a car park, take a right and descend an increasingly fast and steep lane into Hathersage.
Turn left when you hit the A6187 and don’t enter the village proper. Climb once again up towards Sheffield but half way up to what’s known locally as Surprise View, hang a left and climb one of the most aesthetically pleasing hills in the Peak District. We call it the Ringinglow climb but on Strava it’s Fiddler’s Elbow. It’s like a sort of miniature Alpine pass and simply sublime: never too hard, but very tough if you go off too fast.
Trend across the moors before descending towards Sheffield and just when you think you’ve gone wrong (keep your eyes out) take a sharp right opposite the Norfolk Arms and contour across the hillside until you pick up the main road from Sheffield and head back up the hill to the top of Totley Moor. Continue on down past the Fox House pub on your right before immediately turning left down towards Grindleford again. This is a wild decent. Get down on the drops and soar.
From Grindleford spin towards Calver (reversing your morning’s route for a mile or so) before turning left down a steep lane into Froggatt, over the old bridge and up crossing the main Sheffield Road before heading towards Curbar.
Your next target is a little beauty of a climb: Curbar Gap. It’s about a mile long with some very steep pitches. This climb has been used in the Universities Hill Climbing competition in the past and winning times have been in range of six minutes. Best time we’ve managed is about 10 minutes. You need to turn right to get down to the Bridge Inn, before turning left and starting the ascent (if you miss the right to the Bridge Inn down Dukes Drive, you’ll hit Curbar village by a gentler climb and only have to ascend two thirds of the full Curbar Gap Hill climb).
There are three steep sections to the climb: immediately up from the Bridge Inn to the village; the first left hander after you leave the village and the following right hander. There’s a final pull at the end. Go for it, but hold something back, you’ll need it!
At the top, enjoy the view back down and ahead and spin down to the junction with the main Sheffield road. Take a sharp right at the crossroads and enjoy the fine decent to Baslow. From Baslow, head towards Bakewell, but don’t take the main road: stay on the road to Matlock for another 100 meters and turn right up the lane to Pilsley. In Pilsley, turn right and then left after 150 metres off the main road. This is your last climb. The lane ramps up in steep sections to a summit in a mile just before a farm on the right.
Stop there and look over your shoulder. You can see the hills you’ve conquered stretching away to the East. This is absolutely, one-of-the-best views in the Peak, especially on a summer’s evening.
Descend back to Bakewell and a well-earned café stop.
3. WESTWARD HO
Distance: approx 30 miles
The White Peak and across into the Staffordshire Peak District provides some of the less well known but beautiful and tough climbs in the Peak.
An ideal base for exploring the White Peak, and the west and south-western Peak District is the village of Longnor. The village sits in a fold of the hills and is the perfect junction for routes in any direction (try Crowdecote Hill!). This part of the Peak has seen the Tour of Britain and Sir Bradley whizz through in recent years.
A favourite route of ours is to head out of Longnor towards Brierlow Bar, before turning second left at Glutton Bridge. This is a really lovely back road, and a great climb. You wind your way up a tiny lane between the Peak District’s Matterhorn, a jagged pyramid called Chrome Hill, and Parkhouse Hill, before climbing up across the moors until you hit Axe Edge and the A53.
At the head of the climb, you can either turn left on the A53, and loop back down Hollinsclough to Longnor for a short ride, or butch up and turn right to Buxton. Buxton’s worth a stop but if it’s too early in your day, climb steeply out of Buxton to the summit of Longhill on the A5004, and turn left down a small lane at the top down into Goyt Valley and Errwood Reservoir. Cross the dam and turn left.
You’re entering a mini-paradise. We absolutely love the climb back up on a one-way road in this stunning valley which is more like Scotland than England. It’s a one way road, with traffic only ever going up which means it’s safe to glance at the gorgeous gorge (gettit?) on your left. Pine trees cling to its side and at one point there’s an old bridge cross the torrent, just inviting you to stop, wander down and have a picnic. But keep going for another mile and you’re on top of the moors.
From here you ziz-zag across both the A537 and the A54 in the space of a couple of hundred metres. Then turn right up a moorland road which takes you high onto Axe Edge once again. From here, admire another breathtaking view and then you’re best to spin down the shorter route, via Hollinsclough, to Longnor.
OTHER NOTABLE ROUTES TO EXPLORE:
Edale Circuit - A good route from any point in the Hope Valley from Bakewell north is the Edale Circuit. You can do it either anti-clockwise or clockwise, and each way you’ll traverse the beautiful Edale Valley and have to conquer either Winnats Pass, which rises for about a mile maxing out around 24% (nothing harder in the Peak District) or Mam Nick, which is not so tough but longer and more spectacular in terms of views. Take care if you’re descending Winnats!
The Roaches - If you’re in the south-west of the Peak District, an alternative to Axe Edge and the Goyt Valley is a circuit of the Roaches. Head up and over from Longnor, via Flash, and follow your nose to do a great circuit of the Roaches and Hen Cloud before climbing back up to Mermaid’s Pool!
Relaxing rural rides in the heart of Derbyshire
If you have a young family in tow and fancy a more leisurely approach to cycling, then the Peak District, perhaps counter-intuitively, has an amazing network of flat trails which follow the old railway lines. All of these were closed in the 1960s in the Beeching cuts, and for many years were simply the preserve of walkers and a few cyclists.
But thanks to significant investment by the Peak District National Park Authority backed by the Department of Transport, the routes have been opened up. It’s now possible to travel from Bakewell north-west to the borders of Buxton. Or from north of the hamlet Sparklow down to Ashbourne, or if you prefer, branch left and follow the trail all the way to Matlock.
Each ‘branch line’ has its own attractions but, with the exception of the end of the route to Matlock, the one thing they have in common is that they are pretty much plain flat. The only problem is that you can’t really link them together without some serious hill climbing so take note!
Base yourself in any of the main towns or villages and pick out whichever sections you want, but if you need a helping hand, here are a couple of our favourites, which we’ve cycled with our own kids when they were on - and off - stabilisers.
Route: Hassop to Miller’s Dale – return.
Distance: Approx 10 miles
This is probably the pick of the disused railway routes. It must have been a breath-taking train journey for passengers en route from London to Manchester as for several miles it carves its way down the gorged and wooded limestone Wye Valley through three tunnels, and across a majestic viaduct.
Park up at Hassop Café in the public car park area of the old station. You’re right next to the cycle route which follows the old railway and trends north-west away from the station.
The route is, of course, open to pedestrians, runners, horse-riders and dogs, not to mention other cyclists (some of whom might be better on the road!) so be warned. Other than that, you won’t find a more peaceful and pleasurable ride anywhere in England.
First stop for a breather is Thornbridge Hall Station. This was once a dedicated stop for Thornbridge Hall and it’s not hard to imagine severe looking ladies and top hatted men stepping on and off the platform.
Jump back on your bikes and pedal on towards the first of three tunnels in quick succession. As the rock faces close in on either side, you’ll find yourself channelled into the black mouth of Headstone Tunnel. The sunlight vanishes and the temperature drops but the surface is smooth and the tunnel’s lit with enough overhead lights to show the way. A favourite game to play with children is to shout as loud as you can as you pedal through and listen to the echo. Watch out for the dripping ceiling!
As you flash back into daylight, you’re met by the Monsal Head viaduct, deep set in the Wye Valley. There’s nowhere quite like it, with spectacular views up and down the wooded valley and up to the grassy, craggy hillside above. This is a lovely place to stop if you have time, and wonder down to the river far below for a picnic.
The route continues through two more tunnels, each with picturesque views in to the depth of the Wye Valley, until you reach Millers’ Dale. Cross a final high bridge and you’re at the old Miller’s Dale Station where, with luck, you’ll find a refreshment van and a welcome ice cream (and toilets!). Enjoy the slow pace, and then return home the same way. Of course, you can stop and return along the route at any point if little legs are tiring and still enjoy amazing views.
Route: Hurdlow to Tissington – return.
Distance: approx 24 miles
An alternative to the Wye Valley is to take the Tissington Trail from Sparklow to Tissington in the south. If you prefer wide open, White Peak landscapes, and don’t mind a buffeting from the wind, then this is your country.
Park up by the bridge at Sparklow, next to the Royal Oak pub and head south. The old railway track rips away quickly towards Parsley Hay with wonderful views out across the limestone countryside all around you. Stop for a break at Parsley Hay, where bikes can be hired if you’re starting there, and where there’s also a car park. Then head on south towards Tissington.
It’s hard to conceive how the engineers found a route for the railway in this section as it cuts between hills, using natural contours and embankments, on its way through some of the Peak’s best country. Somehow the railway manages to avoid the deep valley of Wolfscote Dale, before swinging down to the village of Tissington.
Tissington is the most famous of the Derbyshire villages which have well-dressing extravaganzas in summer. If you’re there in May, you’ll see the village’s wells decked out in beautiful floral designs
Legend has it that Tissington escaped the Black Death in the 14th Century and villagers, believing it was because of the purity of the water from their wells, vowed ever after to give thanks by decorating the wells annually. Some 35,000 people visit to see the wells before the village returns to its 110 residents and peace once again reigns.
But it’s worth visiting at any time of year: a step back into England’s bucolic past. Sit by the pond and relax. Once you’re rested, head back up the trail the way you came
Only the hardiest cyclists prefer an energy bar to a decent sarnie, a slice of cake and cuppa, so all good cycling country needs great cafes where you can rest, relax and keep an eye on your bikes. The Peak District is packed with cafes to suit everyone’s taste.
Here are some of our favourites, but there are many others to discover:
Upper Padley, Grindleford S32 2JA
Open: Monday to Friday 9am - 3:30pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am - 4:30pm
Off the main Sheffield road, down a hill, by Grindleford Station, this is a well-known favourite for local walkers and cyclists. You’ll get a top plate of hot nosh at a good price in convivial if basic surroundings. The old signs that used to – ironically – warn against pretty much anyone entering the café unless you were a naked Trappist monk travelling solo have gone but the café retains its unique atmosphere. We love the steamy fug on a damp winter’s day! The ultimate greasy spoon.
Hassop Station, Hassop Rd, Bakewell DE45 1NW
Open: 7 days a week 9am - 5pm
This is a cracking café, perfectly situation by Hassop Station on the Monsal Trail. The perfect place to hire a bike or start you’re ride towards Buxton, with an excellent menu. Kids love the burgers here, but there are all sorts of dishes, pastries and cakes. And plenty of room to sit and enjoy other cyclists and walkers getting ready for an outing, both inside and out. The café has its own car park, beside the pay car park for the Trail. Never not found a table even at busy times.
Lime Lounge Café - Bakewell
Bridge St, Bakewell DE45 1DS
Open: Monday to Saturday 8:30am - 4pm, Sunday 9:30am - 4pm
There’s something of London in the Lime Lounge: drop in for an early morning coffee and there seems to be an upmarket feel. Well used by locals from all walks of life, the cyclists always look like they are sporting Assos rather than Decathlon, and look that bit leaner, meaner and more refined (pastels rather than primaries!). The coffee and cakes are excellent. Seating a bit more limited than other venues but definitely worth a visit if you’re returning to Bakewell after a long day out.
The Square, Eyam, Hope Valley S32 5RB
Open: 7 days a week 9:15am - 4pm
If time is limited, and you’re coming down from high up by Abney and travelling down into the Hope Valley, you’ll almost definitely visit Eyam, the Plague Village. At its heart, there are more than one café, but a favorite of ours is Village Green. Excellent coffee and cake, and perfect at the end of an early Sunday morning ride before you drop down back to the valley.
Sit outside and enjoy a summer throng of visitors to the village. The café also has a well curated range of cards and gifts. And if you have time, it’s worth locking up and heading to the other end of the village to visit the museum which will give you the story of how this heroic little village sacrificed so much when the Black Death struck in the 14th Century.
Station Road, Hathersage, Hope Valley S32 1DD
Open: Monday to Saturday 7:30am - 3pm
Well known by locals, climbers and cyclists, the Hathersage Bakery is on the main road into Hathersage from Grindleford. This is the place for basic but very hearty bacon sarnies, sausage rolls and solid cakes: we have often used it to pack in the carbs after a long ride. The only risk is that you won’t actually be able to make a single pedal stroke afterwards! Go check it out. Not for the meat-shy.
18 Castleton Road, Hope, Hope Valley S33 6RD
Open: Friday thru Tuesday 9:30am - 4pm
A great place to stop if you need a refuel before hitting Winnats Pass. No frills but excellent sandwiches. We recommend the cheese and caramelised onion toasted sandwich and the mashed avocado on sourdough. Nice coffee and friendly service too.
Cobbles Coffee Shop
Bank House, Market Place, Longnor, Buxton SK17 0NT
Open: Monday to Friday 9:30am - 4pm
Saturday and Sunday 8:30am - 4pm
A nice cosy cafe with friendly staff and cracking breakfasts at reasonable prices. A favourite with cyclists, it is worth a visit if you’re over Longnor way.
No matter how well prepared you are for a sportive, holiday or trip, inevitably something goes wrong at the last minute – even if it’s only a puncture. Knowing where the nearest bike shop is can save time and get you back on the road again quickly. There are a good number of bikes shops scattered around the Peak District and in the towns and cities that border it, and this list is by no means definitive.
2 Smithy Fold, Glossop SK13 8DD
I was always be grateful to the guys in Glossop. They rescued me on a long, rainy ride coming off the back of Holme Moss, miles from home, when my spoke broke. Good service, even when they’re busy, with a good selection of bikes and parts.
Open: Monday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm, but closed Sundays.
Calver S32 3XH
01433 639 853
Another High Peak Cycles is situated just past the Calver cross roads. This new-ish arrival in Calver stocks a good supply of bikes and parts, offers bike services and should be able to offer advice on pretty much anything-bike related. Good reports from friends that have used it to get their bike services and I can vouch for a friendly smile when buying last minute essentials.
Open: Monday to Saturday, 9.30 to 5.30pm and Sunday, 10.30am to 4.30pm.
Hope Valley Garden Centre, Hope Road, Bamford S33 0AL
A good local shop, just south of the village of Bamford on the Hope Road. Offers all the essentials, can help with servicing and hire out bikes too.
Open: everyday except Thursdays, 9.30am to 5pm.
Unit 3, 8 Castleton Road, Hope S33 6RD
Another good local shop in Hope. A good place to stop if you’re heading up Edale way and attempting the infamous Winnats Pass.
Open: everyday except Thursdays, times vary so check website.
Bakewell Bikes – Bakewell
Coombs Road, Bakewell DE45 1AQ
Bike hire, sales and repair services within easy reach of the Monsal Trail. There’s a large pay and display car park right next door.
Open: 7 days a week 9am to 5pm
Hassop Station, Hassop, Bakewell DE45 1NW
You can hire bikes, including electric bikes here, and you have the benefit of being right next to the café and the Monsal Trail. Should be able to handle your needs at short notice.
Open: 9am to 5pm 7 days a week.
Parsley Hay, near Buxton SK17 ODG
The cycle hire and shop are usually open between March and November. Another great location as you’re on the Tissington Trail with the benefit of a café outside. Can get busy in summer but a great location with a friendly smile.
19 Bakewell Rd, Matlock DE4 3AU
Stanley Fearns in Matlock is in my opinion the best bike store around. I’ve had my bikes serviced there for several years and they have set up me for all sorts of sportives both in the UK and abroad. They can get busy so if you’re in need of a service bear this in mind, but they should be able to help you out in an emergency.
Open: Monday to Saturday, 9am to 5.30pm, except Saturdays when they close at 5pm.
416 Chatsworth Road, Chesterfield S40 3BQ near the Morrisons' roundabout
A small bike shop on Chatsworth Road in Chesterfield. Friendly with excellent service. Should be able to sort you out, but don’t bank on a bike fix at weekends as they will be busy.
Open: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Closed Wednesday
Published on September 9, 2021 in peak district