Mountain biking in the Peak District
The Peak District is a surprisingly diverse destination for mountain biking, writes local enthusiast and cycling tour organiser Christian Newsome.
Surrounded by some of England's largest cities, the Peak District is a surprisingly diverse destination for mountain biking, writes local enthusiast and cycling tour organiser Christian Newsome.
There are trails to suit all abilities. The Peak District attracts a lot of riders seeking the thrill and challenges of some of the most classic mountain bike trails (or to give them their correct name, bridleways) in the country: Jacob's Ladder, Mam Tor and Doctor's Gate, to name but a few, should be on every rider's to-do list.
Descending Jacob's Ladder
The most rewarding mountain bike routes are located on the northern side of the national park – the Dark Peak as it's known. There are four main regions to explore:
Derwent and Ladybower reservoirs
This is a great place to start mountain biking in the Peak District. From Ladybower reservoir you can ride the trails in any direction and will not be disappointed. The climbs can be range from a steep packhorse trail to a long grassy trudge or technical singletrack. The descents, by comparison are generally wide, rocky and fast.
Highlights include the splendid singletrack of Cut Gate and twisty-fast Hagg Side to the north. To the west you have Blackley Clough, which is a challenge in either direction, and the insanely rocky Beast. All brilliant!
A rocky singletrack, boggy in places and with great scenery, typifies the trails round Bleaklow. This northern fringe of the National Park is sparsely populated in terms of mountain bikers, maybe because there is only really one trail to ride – or possibly because you need to ride up the Snake Pass east to west to get to it. Or perhaps because it features one of the most technical trails in the Peaks which is also probably the best - Doctors Gate.
You need to be committed to riding round here as the trails are long with no short cuts. Once you set off you either have to keep going or turn back - so make sure you are self-sufficient and pack a good lunch.
It's possible to do two epic rides from here; Cut Gate to the east or Kinder Scout and Mam Tour to the south.
At the top of the Beast
Now we're talking! There is practically nowhere else in the UK that matches the Hope Valley for quality and quantity of mountain bike trails.
Mam Tor dominates here with an amazing ridgeline trail offering spectacular views across the Vale of Edale to the north and the Hope Valley to the south. It’s possible to combine the best bits into a short loop, or extend into an all-day epic.
Descending the Beast
Starting off on Rushup Edge and riding east along the ridge past Lord’s Seat eventually brings you out onto Mam Tor, where you can take the broken road down to Castleton or keep your height and ascend to the Hollins Cross with three descents to choose from - all of which are immense! To the south you have two great descents: Cavedale (only for the brave) and Pindale. The climb up Winnats Pass is also worthy of note due to its steepness and the sheer grassy walls that give a dramatic sense of scale.
Steep twisty ravines mask some challenging trails, toughest of all being the legendary Jacob's Ladder - which must be the hardest climb in the country (or a great descent, depending on your point of view).
Further north you have Kinder reservoir with a nice descent down to Hayfield and then, to the south, the wickedly quick Roych descent. Keep heading east and you'll end up on Rushup Edge (see above). These trails see a lot of traffic. Walkers, runners, horse riders, mountain bikers (of course) make the trails more challenging. Combine with the Hope Valley and you have a great day on a mountain bike.
TOP 5 EXPERIENCES
1. Jacob's Ladder
Go on - test your climbing skills and give it a go! If you can make it to the first corner then you must be a pro. It eases off in the middle but ramps up again at the end and goes to 11 at the very top. Good luck!
2. The Beast of Hope Cross
This dark, twisty and damp rock fest will test the nerve of the most hardy riders, so hold on tight and let go of the brakes if you dare. This is an absolute blast - and to think people were riding this before bike suspension was invented!
3. Rushup edge, Mam Tor and Hollins Cross
Quite simply magical riding. Wonderful views, great singletrack and a steep technical finish down to the Hope Valley. Take the northwest trail off Hollins Cross with three drops in quick succession to begin with - and be sure to watch out for walkers.
4. Hagg Side
Short, fast and twisty sums up this descent. The corners feature natural berms - banked edges - so you can hit this at full pelt: just make sure you can stop at the bottom because there is a gate!
5. Bleaklow Loop
Great for experienced riders. Starting at the Ladybower Inn, ride west up the Snake Pass, north onto Doctor's Gate, east to Langsett and then south down Cut Gate back to the Ladybower Inn. If you want more then take the packhorse trail up Derwent Edge and down Whinstone Lee Tor to finish behind the Inn.
WHEN TO VISIT
Best times to go:
Spring, summer and autumn are all great seasons in the Peak District.
The winter can be tough as the ground gets wet, very muddy and erodes easily. The terrain and the trails are best avoided on a mountain bike unless you are super-keen. Kinder Scout and some of the trails to the west of Derwent and Ladybower reservoirs are the best place to come if conditions are wet.
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