The Peak District in Derbyshire used to be blighted by all kinds of mining and mineral extraction, mostly in the last 150 years. The inheritance today is that most of that industry has now closed, and old railway tracks have been converted into cycleways that cut through the rugged countryside, providing traffic-free routes that are (for the most part) either flat or with gentle gradients.
The three most prominent are the Tissington Trail, the High Peak Trail and the Monsal Trail. We chose to cycle the length (and back again) of the latter, starting in Bakewell, the town famous not for its ‘tart’, but for its ‘pudding’. The choice of Bakewell as the starting point was a happy serendipity, because most of the 9 mile trajectory to Topley Pike (near Buxton) is gently uphill, so the pay-back was on the return, which was fast, taking only half the time of the outward journey.
Unlike a lot of converted rail tracks, which can enshroud the riders with deep cuttings through the landscape, affording few views of the surrounding countryside, the Monsal Trail is very different. Yes, there are tunnels to ride through, but none of them are intimidatingly long, and they frequently open out onto wide, expansive views over valleys and dales.
And along the way you discover a lot about Wye Dale’s recent industrial past. All quiet now in the 21st century, but in its heyday, this area must have been a bustling, noisy, dirty and very smelly place to live and work. Now it is endowed with all the beauty and tranquility that we expect from a major National Park.