Family-friendly cycling – Peak District and Derby area


While it is hoped that Bikeability is doing a lot to encourage older children (roughly 9+) to ride safely on the roads, many families are worried about taking younger children, who may lack sufficient road-sense, onto even quiet roads. For those that aren’t yet ready for the fantastic mosaic of country country lanes that Derbyshire (and particularly the White Peak region of the Peak District) has to offer, there are some linear “rail-trails” in the region. Cycle hire is available at many of these, which may help those with either insufficient bicycles for all the family, or with difficulty transporting cycles to the routes. Some of these are completely off-road, (although it should be noted that these are all linear routes at present, effectively doubling the distance required to cycle there and back); most however do have short sections of quieter roads within the route.

The most popular routes are listed below, less popular ones will be added on an irregular basis in the future.

White Peak Loop (96km/60miles) – Buxton to Matlock

Although not yet complete, planning applications are in place to complete a family-friendly loop that runs from Matlock train station to Buxton train station, enabling car free access across the Peak District from two major train station in the region. The planned route starts from Buxton, and uses the existing High Peak and Monsal Trails as the backbone of the route. Planning applications are in progress to join Buxton to the Monsal Trail via Woodale, Bakewell to Cromford via Rowsley, Darley Dale and Matlock Railway station, and Dowlow to Buxton via Staker Hill, Ladmanlow and Grin Low woods. See Peak Cycle links for the most up-to-date information on the progress of this route. And although lengthy, this route is worth mentioning for it’s unique appeal in connecting the rail head at the central west of the Peak District to the railhead at the South East of the Peak District on mostly traffic free routes.

High Peak Trail (29km/18 miles) High Peak Junction (near Cromford) to Dowlow (near Buxton)

The High Peak Trail starts at High Peak Junction near Cromford, and runs to Dowlow near Buxton (just north of Parsley Hay). The route follows the former High Peak Railway line, which was original built in the 1820s to connect the canals at Cromford and Whaley Bridge over the White Peak. The line is unusual in that was it constructed in a similar manner to canals – with long relatively flat sections, punctuated with short steep sections (swap the inclines for locks on a canal, and the comparison becomes much more obvious!).

Cycle hire?: available at Parsley Hay, near the northern end of the trail.

Traffic-free?: Completely, but there is a major road crossing near Newhaven

Tissington Trail (21km/13 miles) Ashbourne to Parsley Hay

This trail runs from Ashbourne town centre through Tissington to join the High Peak Trail at Parsley Hay. Like many of the other off-road trails it runs along the line of a former early railway line.

Cycle hire?: available at both ends of the trail at Ashbourne and Parsley Hay.

Traffic-free?: Completely on the trail itself (minor road usage on link routes between this and High Peak Trail)

While it might seem obvious to try and join the High Peak Trail and Tissington trail together to form a long loop route, in practice this is problematic for younger families. At nearly 37km/23mi one possible loop return route from Harboro Rocks to Brassington to Tissington is getting lengthy for younger children, and is on roads (although mostly fairly quiet) with some steep hills – especially the one coming back into Tissington from the Bradbourne Brook ford/footbridge. A shorter alternative joining Cardlemere Lane from Minninglow (starting and finishing at Parsley Hay, rather than Tissington or Ashbourne) is only 19km, but involves crossing the busy A515 and the off-road sections may well be too strenuous and technical for the very young. It also has a few short sections of road cycling.

Monsal Trail (14km/8.5 miles) Bakewell to Topley Pike (near Buxton)

This trail used to be broken in many places by closed railway tunnels, which had no viable cycle route around. But the recent (May 2011) re-opening of four Monsal Tunnels, has made this route into a popular and reasonable length route. Now running from Bakewell to Topley Pike (Blackwell Mill) on the A6, this route goes through 6 tunnels on the former Bakewell to Buxton railway that got John Ruskin so riled when it opened up in 1863 (the infamous quote about building of the Monsal Viaduct on this route, which in his eyes merely enabled the exchanging of fools from Bakewell and Buxton every 30mins at the cost of a tranquil valley).

Cycle hire?: (including electric bike hire) available at Hassop Station and Blackwell Mill.

Traffic-free?: Completely along the trail itself, road links to Bakewell Town Centre and Rowsley

Thornbridge Trail (2.5km/1.5miles) Bamford to Ladybower Reservoir

This is a very short linear route from near Bamford Station (it doesn’t quite link up without using a short section of A6013 north of the station) to Ladybower Reservoir near Yorkshire Bridge. But it may be useful for families with older children arriving at Bamford station who are intending to complete the full Derwent Reservoirs loop.

Cycle Hire?: None that I know of

Traffic-free?: Completely on the trail itself, but there is a short section of main road to link to Bamford railway station

Sett Valley Trail (2.5mi/4km) New Mills to Hayfield

A very short traffic-free trail that starts just outside New Mills.

Cycle Hire: None that I know of

Traffic-free?: Completely on the trail itself, but there is a short road-based section to link New Mills rail station/town centre to the trail on the edge of town

Middlewood Way (16km/10miles) Macclesfield to Marple

This route follows the former Macclesfield, Bollington and Marple railway line, which opened in 1869 to carry coal, silk and cotton. It is rather better developed as a traffic free cycle route from Bollington northwards to Marple – the route is more complex with more road crossing further south.

Cycle Hire?: None that I know of

Traffic-free?: Completely, but there are some road crossings

Carsington Circuit (14km/8miles) Carsington Reservoir

This route starts at the Carsington visitor centre and circles around the shores of Carsington Reservoir.

 Cycle Hire: (including electric bike hire) available at Carsington Visitor Centre

Traffic-free?: mostly, but there is a short section of road cycling (reasonably quiet lanes) between Carsington and Hoption villages and two road crossings over the fast B5035.

Derwent Reservoirs (17km/11 miles or 24km/15mi) Derwent and Howden Reservoirs (+N Ladybower)

Although (strictly speaking) this does include some road cycling, on the shorter route this is only on an access road from the visitor centre at Fairholmes to the road end near Slippery Stones, which is closed to cars and other public vehicles at weekends and bank holidays and a short section of residents access under Derwent Dam (extremely quiet). The longer version uses the public access road up to Fairholmes, so isn’t suitable for families with younger children who have yet to gain road sense, but may be suitable for older children who are confident on road (but it can get busy at weekends in summer!)

This route follows the edges of Derwent and Howden reservoirs north of Fairholmes visitor centre, the longer route includes the north arm of Ladybower as well.

Cycle hire?: at Fairholmes

Traffic-free?: mostly on the shorter loop at weekends/bank hols, access roads used (western one is busy) on the longer loop.

Manifold Track 13km/8miles Waterhouses to Hulme End

This former railway trail follows the route of the former Leek and Manifold Valley light railway, up the Manifold and Hamps valleys. It passes under Thors Cave, a noteable landmark. Although it follows a riverbank for most of the way, in summer, the riverbed is usually dry.

Cycle hire?: at Waterhouses (S end)

Traffic-free?: Not completely, the trail has mixed sections of traffic-free and minor roads – with a minor road for roughly 1.5miles between Wetton and Ecton, including the Swainsley tunnel.

Hipper and Holme Valleys Trails (6.5km/4mi) Chesterfield

Heading out beside brooks running through formerly heavily industrialised parts of Chesterfield (and I believe using parts of a former railway), these two trails can be joined together with mostly quiet roads to form a short circuit (now signposted as Hipper Holme Valley Link).

Cycle Hire?: None that I know of

Traffic-free?: In part, mostly quiet residential lanes on joining link between trails with a couple of more awkward road crossings.

Nutbrook Trail (16km/10mi) Heanor to Long Eaton via Shipley Country Park

This pleasant and lesser-known route runs along both the former Stanton Colliery/ironworks railway line (in the north) then the Erewash canal towpath (in the south) from just outside Heanor to Long Eaton. Passing through Shipley Country Park at the northern end, it’s traffic free all the way and offers a variety of scenery from former industrial mills (including a lace mill at Sandiacre), canalside paths, a country park and tarmac tracks. There’s also a useful cafe in Shipley Park and a pub or two not far off the trail. For the more adventurous, it links into the southern end of the TransPennineTrail (Sustrans Route 6) via Nottingham, Worksop and Sheffield.

Cycle Hire?: None that I know of

Traffic-free?: Yes.

Derby Canal Path and Cloud Trail (21km/13mi) Derby to Worthington (S of Melbourne)

This route is a mix of the Derwent Riverside Path, the Derby Canal Path and the Cloud Trail, of which only the short Cloud Trail section is a former rail line (former Ashby branch line).

Cycle Hire?: None that I know of

Traffic-free?: Mostly, short road section to connect to Derby rail station, various road crossings on Canal Path, short road sections near Swarkestone and Breedon.