Cycling in the Peak District - day & multi day cycle routes
Cycling in the Peak District
21 routes in and around the National Park by Chiz Dakin
Guidebook to cycling in the Peak District National Park, on road or trail bike. 20 day routes and one multi-day cycle tour. Easily accessible from Sheffield and Manchester. Routes right across the park on quiet roads and off-road trails. All graded by distance, gradient, terrain and ascent from Easy to Hard. More...
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Cycling around a bend on a narrow moorland lane above Hathersage, I stopped briefly at a wider space on the lane to write up some notes from the route I was recceing. I'd only written a few words when the friend I was cycling with whispered quietly ‘Chiz, look over there – there's a curlew on the ground!’ Quietly I dropped my pen and paper, shuffled over to the drystone wall, hoping that any movement I made was hidden by the wall, and peeked over. Not only was there one curlew, but three, and they seemed to be in some sort of dispute – perhaps two males vying for the attention of a female!
They were much larger than I'd imagined – previously having only ever heard them in the sky above – and by staying low by the drystone wall we were treated to a display of low-flying acrobatics for several minutes. Eventually one flew away over the fields below, one landed on the moorland nearby and one disappeared into long grass at the far end of the field. Such encounters are not common, but when they happen are all the more special for their rarity – had we been in a car, we'd have whizzed past so fast we'd never have even seen the first curlew; walking, we'd probably have disturbed them with our movement before we got close.
But cycling is the perfect way to experience the countryside – fast enough to cover a good distance over the ground, yet slow enough to really enjoy the sights, sounds and (mostly!) the smells of the countryside: from the pungent aroma of wild garlic, the swathes of bluebells that carpet the floor of many woodlands in spring, the haunting cry of the curlew or joyful tweet of the skylark to the purple blush of vetch in summer or flowering moorland heather in early autumn: on a bicycle the variety of the landscape can be appreciated in both detail and grander scale.
The Peak District needs no introduction to many – it has a string of firsts and mosts in England and the UK to its credit. It was the first National Park to be created in 1959, it's the most central National Park and the nearest wild outdoor space to the largest percentage of the population. Its 'Wonders' were first eulogised over by William Camden in the 16th century in Britannia, the first topographical and historical survey of Britain, and it is now the most popular National Park in the UK.
While the honeypots of Castleton, Bakewell and Dovedale can get very busy at the height of summer they can soon be left behind on the quiet lanes and tracks that criss-cross this wonderfully varied region. This guidebook aims to introduce the reader to some of these wonderful routes, covering between 15km (10 miles) and 65km (40 miles) in a day, and leading up to a finale – the multi-day Tour de Peak District – a new five-day route running roughly around the edge of this fantastic region and within the grasp of anyone of average fitness.
The Peak District was once a shallow tropical sea, and cyclists may find it hard to believe that 350 million years ago, the land they are riding over was once close to the Equator, completely underwater (perhaps that’ll be more believable to those visiting on a dull wet day!). Fringed by coral reefs and with sea lilies (crinoids) and shellfish swimming around, the calcium carbonate of their remains went on to form limestone.
Later on (325–300 million years ago) the tropical sea slowly drained away when a huge river delta to the north advanced slowly southwards. This river delta dropped first mud, then coarser layers of sand and grits, today known as gritstone.
These two types of rock – limestone and gritstone – are the constituents of the Peak District. The differences in colour and the distinctive separation of the two types of rock – roughly gritstone to the north and western and eastern fringes, and limestone in the central and southern areas – lead to the popular names of 'White Peak' and 'Dark Peak' for the southern limestone and northern gritstone regions respectively. Gritstone is sometimes also called millstone grit due its long-standing use for millstones.
There is also a third, lesser known type of rock – an area of shale, formed from the early mud layers deposited by the encroaching river delta, is often exposed on the boundary between the older limestone and more recent gritstone – the ‘shivering mountain’ of Mam Tor (Route 17) is a good example of this intermediate layer.
More recently (geologically speaking) the region was lifted and folded to form a gentle dome. Overlying deposits of coal were worn away (eroded), followed by some of the gritstone and shales, revealing the weaker limestone beneath the higher parts of the region. Being weaker, this limestone has eroded more quickly, leaving behind gritstone edges such as Froggatt, Stanage (Route 16) and Windgather Rocks (Route 18).