This week in The Draft, we head north for a cycling holiday in the Peak District. While it may not have the velvet-smooth roads of Mallorca, the endless sunshine of Tenerife or the hour-long climbs of the Alps, there’s one thing that the Peak District, the UK’s first national park, has in spades: convenience. Perfectly located slap bang in the centre of the country, the Peaks offer great riding, beautiful scenery, plentiful cakes, quirky local pubs and great cycling culture without having to go anywhere near an airport.
The Derbyshire spa town of Buxton, though technically not within the park, makes a great base for a weekend stay. It’s easily reached by road and rail, has all the pubs, hotels and eateries you could need and is ideally placed for exploring the region by bike, with the rugged Dark Peak to the northeast, home to infamous climbs such as Winnats Pass and Mam Tor, and the more gently rolling White Peak to the south.
Riding, roads & road rage 3.5/5
The Peak District became Britain’s first national park in 1951 and, located between the cities of Manchester, Sheffield, Derby and Stoke-on-Trent, it attracts millions of visitors every year. With this in mind, you can expect to encounter a fair bit of traffic on the main arteries, especially in the summer months. It’s a good idea, therefore, to try to ride on the smaller lanes and B-roads as much as possible.
From Buxton there are numerous route options, though local riders will give you this piece of advice: avoid the A6 and the A515. Both truck-infested horror shows, they serve their purpose however – almost every other road is mercifully free of heavy traffic, though the closer you get to the bigger towns and tourist hotspots within the park, such as Bakewell, Hope Valley and Chatsworth House, it always pays to keep your wits about you.
There is almost an embarrassment of cycling riches in these parts, ones that attract some of the best cyclists in the UK. Local Strava leaderboards are littered with names such as Adam Blythe, Ian Stannard and current national champion Ben Swift, as well as a selection of lesser-known homegrown hitters.
Head south from Buxton through the gentle dales towards Hartington, Ilam Hall and its wonderful tearoom stuffed full of tempting cakes, and further on to Ashbourne and you’ll see a part of the Peak District most visitors miss. Rolling, green and peaceful, for many locals this is the place to ride.
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To the east and north you’ll encounter a more craggy landscape. Ride out through Miller’s Dale and on to Tideswell (home to the ‘Cathedral of the Peak’), then further through the village of Eyam (it has some history, to say the least…) and no matter which way you return you can expect a serious dose of climbing for your day out.
This is perhaps the time to drop in a word to the wise – the Peaks are hilly. Very hilly. It’s not difficult to rack up 1,000m of climbing in 20 miles, so plan your routes judiciously.
All this is without even looking into the MTB and gravel options on Buxton’s doorstep. Former railway lines nearby have been repurposed into cycle and walking tracks, providing mile after mile of family-friendly, car-free riding with expansive views and village pubs galore.
If you’re looking for some local knowledge, the friendly Buxton Cycling Club hold their club run every Sunday at 9am (meet at the Edinburgh Woolshop in the town centre) and they warmly welcome visitors. Their rides are advertised on Facebook, classed from leisurely ‘D’ and ‘C’ no drop rides, ideal if you’re from a flatter part of the country or just fancy an easy day, up to the faster ‘B’ and the stare-at-your-stem ‘A’ rides where opportunities to take in the scenery are markedly few…!
If you know your cycling heritage, you’ll no doubt want to explore some of the climbs in the area made famous from their use as national hill climb courses and back in the illustrious days of the Milk Race, when all you needed to be a good rider was a pint of full cream. Long Hill, Monsal Head, the Cat & Fiddle, Mam Tor, Peaslows, Rushup Edge and Winnats Pass are just some of the names that are a lot easier to say than ride, especially all in one go.
Bike Hire 2/5
Bike hire in the Peaks is a little hit and miss. Mainly miss, if we’re honest. It’s simple enough to bring along your own steed in the car or on the train, and as a result road bike hire in particular is almost totally absent. For mountain bikes the Buxton-based mtb&b has a good selection. They recently suffered a break-in, though they are aiming to re-open and offer both bike hire and guiding services from September 2019.
For the more leisure-based market there area number of options well located for the nearby car-free trails such as the Tissington Trail and Monsal Trail.
Buxton has everything from grand old Victorian hotels – such as the Palace Hotel and Spa, right beside the train station, the Old Hall Hotel and its soon to open neighbour, the five-star Buxton Crescent – right through to quirky B&Bs. It’s been welcoming visitors since way back in Roman times and was popular with wealthy Victorians who came to experience the restorative spring water and clean air of the town.
The Leewood Hotel is particularly cyclist-friendly, with a locked room for storing bikes and handily placed at the bottom of Long Hill so you can get in a quick loosener around the Goyt Loop before breakfast.
We’ve got to hedge our bets a bit and admit that, around 50% of the time the weather can be less than ideal. Being around 1,000 feet above sea level, Buxton is well placed to catch any local clouds. If you are unlucky and visit on a wet weekend, local advice is to head south into the White Peak, where the limestone drains away the water with unerring efficiency. When the sun shines however there really isn’t anywhere better.
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Getting there 5/5
As easy as it gets. Buxton is well placed on the A6, which connects the M62, M60, Stockport and Manchester to the north with Derby and the M1 further south. The train service is good, though you’ll need to connect through Manchester or Stockport. The half-hourly services have plenty of bike storage available.
The aforementioned Monsal Trail, High Peak Trail and Tissington Trail and the plentiful quiet lanes make riding there a viable option too.
Food & drink 3.5/5
You’re spoilt for choice with village pubs and café choices across the Peak District. Particularly popular with cyclists are Café Adventure in Hope, Hassop Station Café near Bakewell and The Old Smithy in Monyash, and no visit to the area would be complete without a trip to the original Bakewell pudding shop for a plate of sugary goodness.
A reminder that you’re not in a big city will arrive at dinnertime. As with most small towns the choices for an evening meal are limited to pubs (The Old Sun Inn is a local favourite) and the usual Indian and Chinese options. The Taj Mahal (right next door to The Old Sun Inn) won’t disappoint, though be careful climbing out of town the next day after your vindaloo.
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Family friendly 5/5
For your little monkeys, a day out at the local Go Ape should burn off plenty of energy, and the walking in the nearby dales and hills is nothing short of spectacular. The heady delights of Manchester are an hour away by train.
The Peak District is home to a huge network of caverns carved from the rock over millions of years. Buxton’s own Poole’s Cavern is handy, and a little further afield in the spectacular Hope Valley are the better known (and therefore busier) Speedwell Cavern, the interestingly-named Devil’s Arse and Blue John Cavern, as well as Peveril Castle, a ruined (and probably haunted) 11th century castle.
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This isn’t Milan, but there is decent coffee available at most of the cafés you’ll come across. Local café owners are well used to tired cyclists turning up and many have dedicated cycle storage available. The Eyam Tea Rooms offer free filter coffee refills and a 10% discount to cyclists, or at least to anyone who turns up in lycra.
You can’t put a value on time, that most precious of commodities. By missing out on the hours travelling, and potential delays, associated with trips to more far-flung cycling meccas, a weekend in the Peak District can get you a lot more time riding your bike and a lot less spent sitting around thinking about it.
If you are thinking of embarking on a long weekend on the bike further afield then click here to check out our article on a Long Weekend in Nice.
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