Mountain biking in the Peak District
An epic day of 'monster climbs' in the Peaks...
There’s a reason it’s called the Peak District and an epic day of monster climbs allowed me to experience a taste of the challenging mountain biking trails and rewarding vistas that it offers.
The United Kingdom’s first-ever National Park is ideally positioned within an hour’s drive of Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield – providing you set off early enough to avoid the daily traffic jams on roads like the Woodhead Pass – or alternatively there are reasonably good rail links to starting points if you want to avoid the queues completely.
Yet despite living in Manchester for almost 10 years, I probably haven’t explored the Peak District as much as it deserves, particularly by mountain bike.
Following the High Peak Circuit...
Having had the superb ‘Dark Peak Trails’ book out of the library for a while, a gorgeous bank holiday presented the perfect opportunity to get started on the list. I flicked past the simpler Classics to the Enduros section and settled on the ‘High Peak Circuit’ – a 26km anti-clockwise loop with a total ascent of 993m covering a western extreme of the Peaks around Hayfield and Kinder Scout.
Enjoying the stunning views back to Manchester...
To start, a gentle stroll out of Hayfield joined the main loop with a steady but long ascent up Oven Hill Road on increasingly tricky terrain; a climb which soon got me away from settlement and into the Peak District proper, with rolling hills everywhere and stunning views back to Manchester.
The positives of routes like this for the multi-faceted adventurer are that it gets you off the busy roads if you’re more of a road-biker, away from the designated trail centres for mountain-bikers and offers opportunities to chance upon lots of unfamiliar surroundings.
Whilst certain hubs such as Castleton may be following the Lake District and turning into tourist honeypots, the Peak District, in general, seems to be staying relatively unscathed despite its location. The High Peak Circuit would be a perfect long-distance walking route, yet even on a bank holiday, it was totally free from large hordes of walkers and bikers.
Challenging ascents and descents...
The opening climb was to set the tone of the day with many varied and challenging ascents to come. The first major descent though was towards a crossing of the A624 which took me through the quaint Hills Farm and past the wonderfully named Peep O’ Day Farm, typical of the isolated outposts through which a lot of these trails invariably pass.
After passing a grit-stone quarry, another prolonged tough climb up a loose stone bridleway was ahead, which for the first time of the day required me to have some periods of respite and push my bike uphill.
With only 10km of ground covered in over two hours, I realised it was going to be a much longer day than I originally envisaged. The main route carried on eastwards towards Edale but the dictated loop took me directly north onto peatland trails with the heights of Kinder Scout above me and gave me a first sighting of the famous Peak District red grouse.
Towards Kinder Reservoir...
Despite it being a beautifully sunny day, a fair share of rainfall in the preceding weeks meant that the tracks were still particularly boggy and maintaining any stability was an effort, before an easier descent took me through open fields down to Kinder Reservoir.
If the previous big climb felt like it was the toughest it could possibly get, the ascent from the reservoir was, without doubt, “hors catégorie” – a steep cobbled path between stone walls moving onto rocky sections which were an impossibility.
It was lucky that pushing was the only option because an accident was waiting to happen for walkers and cyclists alike, with a few mountain bikers tearing down the path as if it was the downhill world championships whilst I pinned myself against the sidewall of the narrow passage.