The Peak District has long been popular with road cyclists, which is no surprise given the area's magnificent scenery and accessibility. Local enthusiasts Robert Thorpe and Richard Hakes describe what’s on offer.
With the Tour de France passing through the northern part of the Peak District – the ascent of Holme Moss attracted some of the largest crowds – its profile amongst cyclists has never been higher. The most centrally located and therefore accessible of all the UK’s upland areas, facilities for cyclists are first rate: plenty of bike shops and some splendid cafés.
But of course it’s the routes themselves that attract riders. One of the great things about the area is the fact that there is so much variety – high moorland, reservoirs, deep green valleys, picturesque villages - packed into a compact area. Pretty much everywhere you go you will find gob-smackingly beautiful views and swooping descents on well-surfaced roads.
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Robert Thorpe started cycling as soon as he could walk, being the son of a founder member of the 'Rough Stuff Fellowship', which developed from a group of CTC cyclists in the 1950s. They believed that wherever you could go on foot, then you could go there on a bike.
Yorkshire based, Robert makes frequent trips south to the Peak District. Having gone over to mountain biking some years...
The Peak District is traditionally split into two very different and distinctive sections. The White Peak is located in the centre and south of the region and its name reflects the fact that this is a limestone area – limestone being a pale-coloured rock. Routes wind through gently rolling countryside passing small fields with dry-stone walls, deep limestone gorges and sharply defined hills. Further north, the Dark Peak is generally higher and more open, characterised by craggy gritstone edges and expanses of moorland cut by a few deep valleys.
The Peak District’s three classic climbs have each featured in international road racing in recent years - the Cat and Fiddle, Monsal Hill, and Holme Moss (see Top 5 Experiences, below), which will test the mettle of any cycling enthusiast. Short but steep Winnats Pass, and longer Mam Nick, are the other noteworthy ascents in the region.
The Cat and Fiddle
This is one of the most famous ascents in Britain: it’s not the steepest by any means, but the long seven-mile slope can be energy sapping. It can also be a bit busy, and motorbike riders tend to ride extremely fast, but the road is quite wide and the sightlines are good. The descent is exhilarating. The route is usually done from Macclesfield, heading east for 7 miles to reach the Cat and Fiddle pub at the summit: it’s an ascent of 1,370ft, with an average gradient of 3.7% - quite easy!
Another classic is the Monsal Hill climb, short and steep, with a section of 16%. The Monsal Head Hotel awaits at the top, a great place for refreshments and admiring the view across to the famous viaduct. It’s a lovely part of the Peak District: make it part of a loop from Hathersage, Bakewell or, for a longer ride, from Buxton or Castleton/Edale.
The most challenging climb of all. The road rises sharply from Holme Bridge, then levels out for a bit before getting steep once more: there are hairpin bends and variable – often very steep – gradients, while the exposure to the wind makes things even tougher. Once at the top (over 1,700 feet), take in the grand views to the north across Yorkshire before enjoying the speedy downhill to Woodhead Reservoir. The main part of the climb is only 3 miles long but involves an ascent of 1,120ft.
A steep ascent out of the Hope Valley west of Castleton: it’s just one mile long, but averages 11.7% gradient as you ascend 616 feet. At one point in the middle of the climb the slope is close to 30%. It's relentless: best advice is not to look up!
Another famous ascent climbs the western flank of Mam Tor. A mile-and-a-half long, the gradient averages 9.7% in a pretty even fashion - not as difficult as some, but it's a great ride and the scenery is fantastic.
Best times to go:
Cyclists are out in force at weekends throughout the year, but obviously if it's pouring with rain and windy there will be far fewer. Early spring and summer mornings are perfect, with the extra daylight and the scenery at its best, although September and October can be magnificent too. Busy roads are to be avoided at rush hours as far as possible - they are much more enjoyable at weekends. Things get busy during school holidays and weekends in the central area around Castleton and Edale.
From April through to October, the Peak District hosts over 100 events as part of it's Summer of Cycling programme.
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