The Peak District National Park is one of the most popular riding destinations in the UK. There’s a good reason for that, because the Park is home to not only plenty of touristy things to see and do, but also some excellent roads, including the legendary Snake Pass and the Cat and Fiddle road. But the fame can come with a price… and judging by the majority of comments on social media when I asked for recommendations of riding routes in the Peak District, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s the most over-crowded place to ride in the UK. Although, to be fair, there were also those who offered helpful suggestions, and on balance, it sounded like the Peaks were definitely worth exploring on two wheels.
Now, I must admit, I didn’t venture into the Peak District completely blindfolded. I used to live there, so I know how good the riding can be. But with the lowlands of Lincolnshire being my home now, it has been years since I have ridden there, and I wasn’t sure how much it might have changed. What I did know was that it definitely used to be good for a ride, and the call of the hills, twisty little roads and Bakewell Tarts is still strong...
So, armed with my hazy memories and the up-to-date suggestions from my social media chums, I decided to head out there and have a day to explore whether the National Park was still as pleasant as I remembered it.
I approached the Peak District from Chesterfield direction, and entered the National Park on the A619. It’s a lovely introduction to the Park, with the urban landscape gradually giving way to the green hills and small villages with their stone houses. As you enter the Park, there’s a great big mill stone announcing the National Park border, and once you ride past that the scenery explodes into vast greenery with little dry-stone walls criss-crossing between the fields.
My first destination was Holmfirth, ironically just north of the National Park, but that’s where I had arranged to meet my mate Hannah. The route there took me through some lovely parts of the Peaks though, and the ride was delightful. It was a weekday morning outside the holiday season, and traffic was very light. I rode through Baslow, then headed towards Calver on the A623. At the traffic lights I turned right to Grisedale and sailed through a couple of tasty bends up the little hill. From Grisedale to Hathersage the twisty B6001 runs through the woods, and gives you the first reminder that you need to keep your wits about you when riding through blind bends on undulating roads.
It's just a short hop from Hathersage on the A6187 to the first set of traffic lights and the junction for Bamford and the Ladybower Reservoir. On through the village, you’ll soon see the pleasant Yorkshire Bridge pub, and then the reservoir on your left. At the T-junction I turned right towards Sheffield on the A57. You go through some tight bends, and just after the road opens up to reveal more open moorland, there’s a turn to the left for the Mortimer Road, better known as the Strines.
The Strines is a hoot of a road, with some fast open sections mixed in with very tight corners (so tight that you may need to give way if there’s a vehicle going the other way). It’s a lovely road for bikes, and since I only saw half a dozen cars on the whole stretch, it felt like my own personal playground.
From the Strines I navigated to the Carding Shed near Holmfirth. There’s a strong vintage theme throughout the Carding Shed with classic cars and bikes on display, and a café with delicious food and drinks on offer. If you like classic motors as much as you like your cuppa, this is the place to go. I met up with Hannah there, and it took a couple of coffees and toasted tea cakes before we could tear ourselves away and continue the ride.
Our route took us over the Holme Moss, with the A6024 a gently weaving ribbon, like a miniature Alpine pass. The effect is enhanced by the snow poles at the side of the road, although the elevation is not so high that we needed to worry about snow on our ride in early June.
After a little right-left at the bottom of the hill, we took the B6105 towards Glossop. This is another belter of a road, with ups and downs, lefts and rights coming at you all the way. The views are ace too as you are running between the hills and a succession of reservoirs.
In Glossop we took a left at the traffic lights to head over the Snake Pass (A57), an iconic bikers’ route. The Snake is famous for a reason. It’s a stretch of road about 12 miles long that takes you up from Glossop through some fast bends and over the hills where the road crosses the Pennine Way long-distance walking route. From there, the road drops down into the forest and, true to its name, snakes down to the Ladybower Reservoir. Many have complained about the 50mph limit on the Snake, and sure enough, some of it feels like it could be ridden faster, but at the same time it’s lovely to just take your time and enjoy your surroundings rather than chase the apexes.
Reaching the Ladybower reservoir, we took a right towards Bamford, then another right at the end of the road to head to Hope for some lunch. That’s another great thing about riding somewhere that’s geared up for tourists – you’re never very far from a café.
A couple of toasties later we were back on the A6187 heading towards Castleton and Winnats Pass. If you haven’t been, Castleton is worth a good nose about, with plenty of caves and caverns, the ruins of Peveril Castle dating back to the 1100s, and a visitor centre to help make sense of everything on offer. If you’re into your walking, there are plenty of great walks starting from Castleton and Hope – take your pick from Win and Lose Hills, Kinder, Mam Tor, and a whole host of other peaks further afield.
Just after Castleton, you’ll find Winnats Pass. It may be just a short and steady climb up a ravine, but it’s so beautiful that it’s well worth riding up. The green hills rising up almost vertically on both sides are dotted with sheep that somehow manage not to roll down the hills all the time.
From here Hannah headed north towards home, and I continued my route a bit further through the Park. I followed the road to Sparrowpit, where I took a left turn on the A623. This took me back towards the heart of the Peaks. To be honest, apart from one lovely set of bends, this is not the most exciting road, but after about 6 miles, just before the Yonderman Café, I took a right towards Monsal Head on the B6465. This is a fun little road cutting a wiggly line between hills and fields, and it takes you to the Monsal Head Hotel and viewpoint, where you can admire the view over the Monsal Dale with the old viaduct over the river Wye. More importantly, you are almost guaranteed to find an ice cream van at the car park pretty much any time, any day. If you’re feeling energetic, it’s a brisk walk down to the river and a slightly slower one back up. But if you are wise, just a grab an ice cream, pick a seat with a view, and watch the others sweating as they climb the hills.
There are plenty of pleasant little villages, such as Little and Great Longstone, and Ashford in the Water, just a stone’s throw away. The town of Bakewell is close too, if you fancy a Bakewell Tart chaser for your ice cream.
I was by now getting rather conscious of not just my cholesterol levels taking a hit from the cakes, toasties and ice creams, but also of the time I had been riding, so I started to head back east. My route went through the Chatsworth House estate where you don’t just have to dodge sheep, you need to mind the deer too. It’s a steady ride through there, but if big houses and even bigger parks are your thing, this one is worth it.
From Chatsworth you can reach the A6 and take the direction of Matlock Bath, a famous bike meet destination, and the home of some tasty chips. Lucky for my poor cholesterol-clogged arteries though, the road there was closed for roadworks, so I decided to ride through Matlock and head home.
Riding home, I declared that the day on the bike had been thoroughly enjoyable. I can see how busy the area might be at weekends and during school holidays, but on a weekday, the traffic levels were low to medium everywhere I went, and it certainly didn’t bother me at any point.
Another gripe that many riders have with the Peaks is the almost-universal 50mph speed limit. I get that this can curb some faster fun on the roads, but there were not many occasions all day that I would have wanted to ride much faster. I was just happy to take it steady, and take it all in.
The only real issue that I had was that I didn’t have enough time to do half of the routes that I had been recommended. But that’s also the beauty of the place: you can return time after time, and discover new routes to ride. I’m already planning my next trip. Maybe after I spend a few weeks on salads and water to give my body a fighting chance in the land of cake…
Words and photos: Mikko Nieminen