The Dark Peaks - true northern grit

Mountain Biking Collection by
komoot

The Peak District National Park is an extraordinary place. No, it doesn't possess incredibly high mountains - the highest point, Kinder Scout, is a shade over 630 metres above sea level. But it's extremely varied - not least because it's split roughly into two halves. The Dark Peak is comprised (geologically speaking) of Millstone Grit - an extremely coarse sandstone - and the White Peak is, perhaps unsurprisingly given the name, made of Limestone. From a mountain biking perspective, this gives the Peak District two distinct personalities; the White Peak is much more rolling, and is a lot muddier and more slithery in the winter; the Dark Peak in contrast drains much better, and offers much more grip; but it can eat brake blocks (and drivetrains) for breakfast.

The Tours in this Collection are in the Dark Peak; they all offer open moors; rocky descents; incredible views. But for all that they are surprisingly varied, too. Fancy a non-technical spin with some excellent views? Take a tour around the Goyt Valley, with some gorgeous vistas, fairly easy, non technical terrain and a trip to the outskirts of the Roman Spa town of Buxton, via some ancient Roman roads - some of which have remained untouched since the 17th century.

The Shattered Road, starting in Castleton, takes in the extraordinary old main road through the area, long since abandoned thanks to Mam Tor's frankly unstable geology and propensity to landslip. It's a bizarre, post-apocalyptic start to the ride, which ends with the excellent descent down Cave Dale that spits you back into the middle of Castleton.

If you're of a mind for some of the more technical riding the area has to offer, take a look at Ladybower and Derwent - a Peaks Gem. This Tour encompasses some extremely stiff and techy climbs mixed with some very challenging descents, including the famous Beast - which has been challenging riders for decades. It's not the only descent on the ride though; there's plenty more where that came from, and the joyous thing about many of them is that they often have many different lines, so it's a fresh experience each time you ride them.

Or perhaps you're more inclined to a huge day out? Glossop, the Cut and the Doctor takes in two of the Peaks' famous Gates, and they're both classics. Cut Gate, ridden as here from north to south, is a long climb followed but a glorious descent, by turns fast and steep, until it arrives at Derwent Reservoir. And by the time you've ridden down the Hagg Farm descent and up and over Doctor's Gate at least six hours will likely have passed and you'll be ready for a lie down!

Hollins Cross and Jacob's Ladder is another classic Peaks Tour - this one, unusually, can be ridden either way round. If you like your descents short and brutal, then clockwise is the direction for you. Conversely, if you'd rather attack very challenging climbs and enjoy slightly more languid descents, then ride the Tour anticlockwise. Either way, it's a fabulous route, and Jacob's Ladder is famously technical, whichever way you tackle it!

The Lady and the Edge takes in some of the lesser known (or at least, not quite as spectacularly busy) trails around the outskirts of Sheffield, and offers some more unusual riding in the area - woodsy singletrack, and a couple of descents famous amongst Sheffielders (check out the Devil's Elbow trail) as well as the exquisitely bermed Lady Cannings trails.

And last but by no means least, explore a quieter corner of the Peak in Macclesfield Forest; less technical than some, perhaps, but an area of quiet beauty, and no small amount of fun besides. Extremely stiff climbs, open and rocky descents and an extremely pretty spot in the Three Shires Head, and some of the excellent singletrack in Macclesfield forest. What's not to love?

But as well as the varied terrain, and the wide selection of excellent trails on offer here,perhaps the most extraordinary feature of the Peak District is its proximity to great swathes of the UK's population. It's within an hour's drive of an estimated 20 million people. So there's really no excuse not to get out there and get stuck in!

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

  • Difficult
    03:06
    27.8 km
    9.0 km/h
    850 m
    850 m
    Expert mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to carry your bike.

    Jacob's Ladder is one of those climbs which has entered into legend amongst the UK's mountain biking fraternity (at least, those of a certain age). It's brutally unforgiving, with difficult terrain, hop-ups, bizarrely maintained sections and false summits. It's actually just as much fun run the other way (this is one of those rare routes which is good either way) and in fact, this is the approach this Tour takes. So if you like your descents fast and furious, then step right up!

    From Edale, the route takes the trail up to Hollins Cross along the old coffin road. It's a tricky climb in places, and there's a feeling of achievement if you can make it to the top without dabbing - so you can smugly enjoy the fantastic view.

    The climbing's not over yet, though - Mam Tor is next on the list to tick off, as the route crosses over the road and heads along the ridgeline of Rushup Edge. It soon drops down to the road, and joins the Pennine Bridleway. Don't trust the contours here; it's more brutal than it looks!

    Dropping down to Hayfield is an absolute blast, before the inevitable happens and the Tour takes in another long grind up to the Scheduled Ancient Monument of Edale Cross. And then there's another monster descent.

    Jacob's ladder, when ridden as a descent, is exactly as you'd expect. Very fast indeed, quite technical, with a couple of interesting corners and a ford at the bottom - which can be a trickle or (more often) a sock-soaker. But no matter, as it's all downhill (mostly) down to Upper Booth, and a spin along the road back into Edale.

    This Tour starts in Edale, but there are a few other options; the carpark just below Mam Tor being an obvious one; Hayfield being another. Edale's your only option by trail though; Hayfield doesn't have a railway station. Edale is a routes town though, so there are plenty of places to get something to eat; but by the same token it can get pretty busy.

  • Difficult
    02:29
    26.0 km
    10.4 km/h
    580 m
    570 m
    Expert mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to carry your bike.

    So, so many rides in the Dark Peak can be considered classics - but in the minds of many, this is the one that immediately springs forth. It encapsulates so much that's fantastic about riding in the area - great views; long, grinding climbs; short sharp shocks; technical descents - and all on the Millstone Grit geology that eats drivetrains and brake blocks for breakfast.

    The initial spin along Laydybower reservoir doesn't last long; you're soon hauling your way up some very steep slabs as you climb up Grindle Clough. It doesn't last forever (although it may seem like it)as things get a bit less steep up Grainfoot Clough, and top out as you approach Whinstone Lee Tor.

    And yes, it's all downhill from here - for a bit, at least. Lots of rocks, the odd ford, more rocks, and as much speed as you can muster. The first of the day's descents doesn't disappoint.

    A swift blat along the road before the route joins the Thornhill Trail and climbs up to Hope Brink, drop down to the Roman Road and heads to Hope Cross. Here's where descent number two takes hold, and it's something of a famous one. The Beast, as its known, is perhaps not the dread-fest it was 20 years ago, thanks to modern mountain bike design, but it's still a hugely stiff challenge. Wide, for sure - but hugely rocky, and very, very thrutchy. It eases off at the bottom a little, but it's still up there as one of the gnarliest descents in the Peaks.

    Of course, after all that down, there's a need to go up again. The Hagg Farm trail is also a lot of fun ridden as a descent, but here it's a serviceable climb - just keep an eye out for people hurtling down. It's possible to detour up the road to a slightly more forgiving climb at Rowlee Farm instead, but it adds little to the experience - and you have to ride along the road for half a mile or so.

    The final descent down from Lockerbrook Heights is also a lot of fun, and will leave you refreshed and invigorated for the spin along Derwent Reservoir back to your starting point and a well-deserved bite to eat.

    It's perfectly possible to start this ride at a variety of other places - there are carparks to the A57 to the east of the route, and the Ladybower Inn also serves food. There's always Bamford, of course - home to plenty of places to eat and drink, and the nearest railway station.

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  • Difficult
    05:22
    63.1 km
    11.8 km/h
    1,200 m
    1,200 m
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    This ride is something of a doozy. The estimated time to complete says something over 5 hours - but add a couple on if you stop for a snack. It's a long old route, but it's extremely rewarding, taking in as it does two of the classic Peak District Gates, Cut Gate and Doctor's Gate. Because of the state these last (particularly Cut Gate) can get into in the winter, this is a ride best left for the summer months.

    Heading out from Glossop, the route follows the Trans Pennine Trail along the Woodhead Reservoir, before picking up the Kinder Loop and the Barnsley Boundary Walk. It's a pleasant enough warmup for what's to come - which is a long, long climb up Mickleden Edge and onto Cut Gate.

    Even in the driest of weather you'll likely encounter boggy sections here, but they're soon passed, and the trail then hurtles down towards Howden Reservoir, the first in the Howden/Derwent/Ladybower triumvirate. This is an exceptional descent; fast, precipitous, rocky, very challenging and sprinkled with sharp switchbacks and walkers coming up - so stay sharp.

    The run down to the reservoir proper is a mellow cool down - with the option of grabbing a snack at the Derwent Visitor Centre - before another long climb Hagg Side. The payoff this time though is the Hang Farm descent - a rocky, but fast, and substantially naturally bermed series of corners. Enormous fun.

    Then there's a long trudge up to the top of the Snake Pass before you hit Doctor's gate; the site of another of the Roman Roads that lattice the area. It's a great descent back to the start, following the line of Shelf Brook, and giving lie to the adage that all Roman Roads are straight.

    Glossop is the natural starting point to this ride; there are plenty of shops, lots of places to park and a railway station. If you've a mind, though, it's possible to start at the Derwent Visitors Centre, or if you're coming by train then Bamford isn't far away.

  • Intermediate
    01:32
    16.2 km
    10.6 km/h
    430 m
    430 m
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    One of the more unusual Tours in the area, largely because of its first feature - the collapsed road at Castleton, which skirts the Blue John Mines. The rest of the Tour shouldn't be underestimated, although there's little that's truly daunting.

    From Castleton, the route heads up towards Mam Tor, and one of the most interesting mountain biking challenges in the Peak District - the collapsed road which was once the main route into Castleton before it was abandoned in the seventies. Fractured tarmac, strange chasms; it's a strangely isolating climb.

    One at the top, though, the Tour takes in a short stretch of road, before hitting the track just north of Eldon Hill Quarry. From here, it skirts Eldon Hill and drops into the village of Peak Forest, where it's possible to grab refreshments if needed.

    The next section is a fairly straightforward grind to the top of Old Moor - which is the set up to the final challenge of the Tour, the Cave Dale Descent. No, it's not all that speedy, but it is quite rocky - so caution is advised. Even if you've ridden it before such lines as there are can change, so it presents a fresh face every time. The bottom of the descent lands you right back onto the middle of town.

    Refreshments are available in profusion at Castleton, a (at times, very) busy tourist town, or Peak Forest. In terms of parking Castleton is your best bet, as it also allows you to finish on that cracker of a descent. If you're arriving by train, the nearest station is at nearby Hope.

  • Intermediate
    02:28
    27.3 km
    11.1 km/h
    640 m
    640 m
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    This is a fairly long Tour, but there is little that's technical on the route. It's a great one for people who are new to the sport, or who aren't terribly technically confident. It's also a great ride on its own merits, of course. And (apart from one section at Mill Clough) it's pretty serviceable all year round.

    The Tour starts with a gentle road climb up the side of the reservoir, and it keeps on going beyond the reservoirs until you've left them far behind. Suddenly, the route turns off the road and carries on climbing along the old coach road between Macclesfield and Buxton. Although it's an uneven surface, it's in pretty good shape for one that's at least three hundred years old.

    Once the route crests Raven's Low Flat and drops down into Buxton; loads of low-risk fun with lots of traction. Once in Buxton, the Tour follows the main road almost to the centre before swinging off along the A5004 for a mile or so.

    Shortly, however, another old Roman Road heaves into view, and the Tour follows this along the Midshires Way, Wythen Lache, and round Ladder Hill and Long Lane before dropping down and crossing over the River Goyt.

    Then it's simply a case of navigating Mill Clough - which is steep, and can get pretty muddy in the winter, be warned - and enjoying the track through Goyt Forest back to the carpark.

    This provides the most scenic start and finish to the ride, but there are plenty of other places to start and finish if you prefer - Buxton would work nicely, and of course there are plenty of places to get refreshments, but it can get busy. It's the nearest train station, though.

  • Intermediate
    02:05
    22.5 km
    10.8 km/h
    590 m
    590 m
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    Macclesfield Forest, on the far west of the Peak District, is a great place to enjoy some marvellous scenery (and riding) away from the seething tourist traps of other parts of the Peak District. It's a ride suitable for all; some of the descents (Cumberland Clough in particular) can get a little spicy in the wet, but there's nothing that can't be overcome with a little care.

    The Tour starts off in Macclesfield Forest itself, before winding down to the (very fine) pub at Ridgegate. No time for breaks just yet, though; there's climbing to be done! The wide open track in the middle of the forest takes the Tour up to Hacked Way Lane, and here in its last throes it gets very. very steep. It's a proper challenge, even with mountain bike gears.

    The Tour regains its breath with a trip along Charity Lane. This is wide open and easy to start, and a gradual uphill. When it starts to head downwards, however, it becomes narrower and more rocky, eventually spitting delighted riders out at St Stephen's Chapel.

    Another short descent follows before the bulk of the road work on this ride gets underway. Still, it's quiet and pretty, albeit in the lee of some pretty stout hills. Eventually the road climbs up through Leech Wood and onto the main road. It's only a short slog up here to the first substantial bend, before the route cuts off to the right around Cut Thorn Hill.

    This is a pretty gentle descent, pocked with rocks, but nothing serious, which ends at the almost ridiculously pretty Three Shires Head. This three-county intersection is a great place to stop for a snack and enjoy the scenery. But if it's been raining heavily, be warned that the ride out the other side can turn into a boggy mess at the bottom. It's still a stiff climb up past Holt Farm and onto the A54.

    The Tour doesn't hang about here, though. A Scant hundred metres sees the route swing off down towards Cumberland Clough. The track here is extremely fast to start off with (and gravelly, so make sure front wheels remain where they're supposed to be) until a picturesque gate leads down the Clough proper. Fast, rocky and rooty, this is a cracking descent; challenging for the expert it taken fast and challenging for the novice at a more sedate pace.

    Eventually the trail emerges at Clough House, where a mile or two of (admittedly rather steep) road work leads the Tour back to Macclesfield Forest to explore some one of its bridleways before emerging close to the car park.

    This starting point is the one that makes the most sense, ending as it does with a fun descent and attempting to get as much of the climbing out of the way at the start as possible. The nearest railway station is Macclesfield; be warned you're in for a stiff climb if you start from there!

  • Difficult
    04:22
    46.9 km
    10.7 km/h
    1,070 m
    1,070 m
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to carry your bike.

    Some surprisingly varied terrain, open moorland, dappled woodland and a trip round a dedicated bike route with berms and jumps - what more could a biker want?

    The route starts at Dennis Knoll, and climbs up Long Causeway to Stanage Edge and the ancient boundary marker Stanedge Pole; a pole has stood in this site since at least 1550, pole fans.

    From there it's a gentle run down a rutted tracks to the reservoirs at Redmires. From here things get a little complicated, as the route takes in the wonders of Clough Lane - which will have you staring at the views of Sheffield when you're not trying to keep your front wheel going where you want it to - before running alongside Porter Brook.

    After a few twists and turns, Colt Lane takes the Tour along to Whirlow and into Ecclesall Wood; sun dappled woodland singletrack shall be yours as long as it's sunny; if it's raining as usual then you're in for the usual highly entertaining slither, before the route heads into More and towards Blacka Moor.

    Here there's a quick detour. The Devil's Elbow is an absolute blast of a trail, and should not be missed if at all possible - but if pressed for time, then ignore this short loop and press on; there are more singletrack delights ahead.

    The climb onto Totley Moor often starts to get a little blowy, and it's blowier still as you grind up the track on top of Burbage Moor. It's all worth it though - the going drains well, it works well Ain the winter, and your rewards is a couple of laps of the bermed, jumpy wonder that is Lady Cannings Plantation; an absolute hoot of a place with some wonderful trails crammed into a surprisingly small space.

    From here it's a straightforward downhill spin back to your start, safe on the knowledge that a quest for pie will be well deserved.

    This Tour uses there carpark at Dennis Knoll primarily to get bikers riding off road as soon as possible; there are plenty of other possible starting points; Carhead Rocks, Dore, Whirlow or Eccleshall are all perfectly viable options. Refreshments-wise the Tour isn't short of options either, heading into civilisation as it does.

    This Tour is perfectly possible to run backwards - if you do that then you can divert down point 1 at the top of Stanage Edge, onto a fantastically technical screamer of a descent through Stanage Plantation down to the road before winding back up to the car.

Collection Stats

  • Tours
    7
  • Distance
    230 km
  • Duration
    21:24 h
  • Elevation
    5,360 m

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