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 fabulous linear “rail-trails” and other off-road tracks in the region. However, truly traffic-free circular routes are very hard to find!

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. The rail trails themselves are usually completely off-road linear routes (so an out and back ride will be double the length of the trail), however those which are not former rail trails, are circular loops around a rail trail, or indeed the access to and from the trails may well have 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

Cyclist riding through the Headstone tunnel on the newly re-opened Monsal Tunnels section of the Monsal Trail. Long exposure with additional flash. (Chiz Dakin)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 (and as yet incomplete), 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.

Cycle hire? Available at Monsal Station (just north of Bakewell), Blackwell Mill (North end of Monsal Trail), Parsley Hay (North end of High Peak Trail).

Traffic Free? Not yet. There are some significant parts of this which are on roads, sometimes main roads, especially within Buxton and Bakewell.

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

Cycling on the High Peak Trail near Brundcliffe (Chiz Dakin)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

Cycling through the cutting near Parsley Hay on the Tissington Trail (Chiz Dakin)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. There are two options:

  1. A long loop return route (nearly 37km/23mi) from Harboro Rocks to Brassington to Tissington is getting rather lengthy for younger children. It’s also on roads (although they’re mostly fairly quiet) and has some steep hills (eg the one coming back into Tissington from the Bradbourne Brook ford/footbridge).
  2. A shorter (19km/12mi) alternative joining Cardlemere Lane from Minninglow (starting and finishing at Parsley Hay, rather than Tissington or Ashbourne) involves crossing the busy A515. However, the off-road section through fields near the top of Cardlemere Lane has improved significantly in the last 10 years and is usually not too hard any longer! It also has a few short sections of road cycling.

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

The former Bakewell Station on the Monsal Trail (both routes) (Chiz Dakin)Until May 2011 this trail was little use to cyclists as the closed railway tunnels had no viable alternative for cyclists. Since then, the re-opening of four Monsal Tunnels, has made this route into a popular and reasonable length route.

It runs from Bakewell to Topley Pike (Blackwell Mill) on the A6, going through 6 tunnels on the former Bakewell to Buxton railway that got John Ruskin so riled when it opened up in 1863. (It’s his infamous quote about the Monsal Viaduct enabling the exchanging of fools from Bakewell and Buxton every half hour at the cost of a tranquil valley).

Cycle hire? Available at Hassop Station (including electric bike hire) 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? The nearest is at Fairholmes (Derwent Reservoir)

Traffic-free? Completely on the trail itself, but there is a short section of main road to link to Bamford railway station and a small car park/minor road to cross half-way along the trail.

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

On the Middlewood Way (Chiz Dakin)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, particularly towards Marple.

Carsington Circuit (14km/8miles) Carsington Reservoir

Cyclist on Carsington Water Dam Wall (Chiz Dakin)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? Completely since development of the final section of trail at the north end of the reservoir near Carsington Village.

However, if you wish to cross to Carsington or Hopton villages, there are two road crossings over the fast B5035 and a  short section of road cycling (reasonably quiet lanes) between Carsington and Hoption villages.

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

View back along Ladybower Reservoir from roadside by Bridge End Car park (Chiz Dakin)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.

On the shorter route, the first section is on an access road from the visitor centre at Fairholmes to the road end near Slippery Stones. This is closed to cars and other public vehicles at weekends and bank holidays. There’s also 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!) The eastern access road is generally very quiet, and AShopton Bridge has a cycle path on the wide pavement.

Another route runs from Ladybower Dam wall along the western arm of the reservoir and is quite fun for those able to manage undulating and slightly rough terrain (usually in quite good repair unless the logging lorries have been through recently). It can’t really be made into a loop though, as that would require riding on the A57 – which many adults would baulk at!

Cycle hire? Available at Fairholmes

Traffic-free? Mostly free on the shorter loop at weekends/bank hols, access roads used (western one is busy) on the longer loop. Occasional forestry/anglers vehicles on the Ladybower Western Arm track

Manifold Track 13km/8miles Waterhouses to Hulme End

Family group cycling on the Manifold Trail in the Staffordshire Peak District (Chiz Dakin)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

 (Chiz Dakin)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. There are a number of mostly quiet residential lanes on joining link between trails with a couple of more awkward road crossings.

The early part of the Hipper Trail goes along formerly heavily industrial roads, which are now quite quiet (especially at weekends).

A new cycleway from Chesterfield Station past the back of SCS furniture to Queens Park has eased access to this significantly if arriving by train.

I still need to recce the Holme Valley Trail, despite it being on my list for ages!

Chesterfield Canals and TPT route

Three way junction where the TPT meets the Chesterfield Canal route (Chiz Dakin)The route as described in my Cycling in the Peak District guidebook has a few roads at the start from the railway station to the Golf Course, and then onto the TransPennine Trail (TPT) at Inkersall.

These could be avoided by starting at Pools Brook or Inkersall (near Staveley) , then doing a linear ride up the TPT to Staveley, then down the Chesterfield Canal towpath to the Visitor Centre at Tapton Lock and back.

Cycle Hire? None that I know of

Traffic-free? Yes as a linear route from Inkersall to Tapton Lock and back (or the other way around!)

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

This pleasant and lesser-known route runs along the former Stanton Colliery/ironworks railway line then the Erewash canal towpath 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. However, dogs on tripwire leads or off leads can be an occasional nuisance in Shipley Park…

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.

Alternatively – are you a keen rider looking for a challenging route to escape from the young kids for a few days? 🙂
Looking back over the valley before Upper Midhopestones (Chiz Dakin)Have you heard about the Tour de Peak District?

It’s a fabulous three to five day ride which takes the nearest nicest line to the boundary of the Peak District National Park!

250km (150miles) long, 6000+m of ascent and descent!

Road and off-road versions available (NB Road versions do use Sustrans style tracks to avoid busier roads where at all reasonable, but you’re free to adapt the route slightly if you prefer).