The Pennine Bridleway is one of the most iconic long distance trails in the United Kingdom, spanning the length of the Pennine Hills from South to North, often referred to as the ‘backbone of England’. These ‘hills’ are not to be underestimated, and pass through the Derbyshire Dales, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, the Yorkshire Dales and Cumbria. From ancient Roman roads to grassy singletrack, woodland trails to spectacular connecting lanes, the Pennine Bridleway bikepacking route offers you some of the very best off road riding and views that the North has to offer.
Here we propose the entire length of the Pennine Bridleway in five riding days. There are also two additional loops that you can try, and if you’re looking for a longer adventure, the Pennine Bridleway is also the starting point of the Great North Trail that spans all the way up to Cape Wrath and John O’Groats at the Northern tip of Scotland! The Pennine Bridleway can certainly be completed in less than five days over this 186 mile (300km) route, but here we find five days to be a good balance of challenge on the bike, and time to explore off the bike. After all, the route is littered with historic ruins and quaint towns, all waiting to be explored.
It’s worth saying here that this is by no means an easy or beginner’s route. The climbs can be very tough in places and terrain anything but smooth, but don’t let that put you off trying a day ride or two in the area before committing to the whole route. You’ll need a good level of fitness to ride the Pennine Bridleway, and be well clued up on emergency procedure too as there are many remote areas that you’ll venture into, where emergency help could take some time to reach you.
The best bike choice for the trail is probably a rigid or hardtail mountain bike, as there are some technical and rocky sections along the route. You can certainly ride it on a gravel or adventure bike if you’re technically capable and don’t mind walking a few sections!
Accommodation along the route is plentiful, from hotels and inns, guest houses and hostels to many campsites. Remember that wild camping is not permitted in this part of the UK so you’ll need to overnight in a campsite if you’d like to sleep outdoors. Make sure you book ahead in any case, as the trail passes through many popular areas.
The Pennine Bridleway is best accessed via train, and here we’ve routed the start and of the route to local train stations in Wirksworth (South) and Kirkby Stephen (North). You can take your bike on English trains, but just check before you travel as you might have to book your bike onto your chosen service in advance.
The best time to tackle the Pennine Bridleway is in the summer months, although be aware that it is likely to be busy during July and August with the UK school holidays. Early and late summer offer good windows of opportunity, from May to June and September to October when it is hopefully a bit less busy but still with better weather. Or at least we hope - make sure you take your waterproofs just in case!
Like many good things in life, the start of the Pennine Bridleway in the South eases you in gently, with half a day of flat and almost traffic free easy gravel trails. This first stage covers 40 miles (61km) from the train station at Wirksworth to the Village of Hayfield, across the Derbyshire Dales and straight through the heart of the Peak District.
Having said this, you will need to climb sharply out of Winkworth to start with to meet the official start of the Pennine Bridleway, up to Middleton Top. From here, essentially follow the well marked trail along the Pennines, sometimes described as the ‘backbone of England’.
Follow the High Peak Trail heading North West to Parsley Hay, where it meets the Tissington Trail. Here there’s a bike hire centre and cafe if you need to make any early adjustments or simply enjoy a cuppa! You’ll find yourself gently climbing as you continue on North, before the flat is broken by a fast and fun singletrack descent to the river Wye outside Buxton and a sharp climb up the other side of the valley that’ll really test your off road handling skills!
The following few miles are a mix of field edge singletrack and narrow country lanes, showcasing some of the most brilliant views in the Peaks. Join the Kinder Loop for the last section, with a thrilling rocky descent of ‘The Street’, which of course is followed by a testing climb up to South Head! The final descent to Hayfield is another fantastic off road trail that’ll leave you on a real high, before exploring the village, your first overnight stop. Choose from hotels, inns, bed and breakfasts and camping nearby.
After your first overnighter in Hayfield, the second day spans a shorter 36 miles (58km) up to Hebden Bridge in the Upper Calder Valley, Yorkshire. Again on the Pennine Bridleway route, you’ll experience some of the very best riding that this area has to offer, today with a lot of climbing and descending! The route first circumnavigates the city of Manchester, giving spectacular views down into the valley and to the Dark Peak on the other side. The terrain today includes some tricky rocky singletrack climbs and brilliant descents - you’ll be glad to be on a mountain bike here! There’s some beautiful linking lanes in part too, and you’ll pass by numerous picturesque reservoirs that supply Manchester and the surrounding area. Be sure to stop in the Pantry Farm Shop and Cafe as you pass over the Rippondale Road for some refuelling!Nearing the end of the day’s ride, the climb to Rake End and London Road are two real highlights of the day; ancient pathways built for traders and travellers to be able to cross these boggy valleys now give excellent mountain biking trails! There are lots of options for accommodation in and around Hebden Bridge, including the campsites that the trail passes by to finish this stage.
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Today’s 27 mile (49km) route crosses from Yorkshire into the county of Lancashire and will certainly feel more easy going than previous stages, with some of the most spectacular sections of the trail thrown in for good measure too.
Just like most other days, staying in towns on rivers means you’ll have a climb soon after breakfast. Take the steep Horsehold Road climb out of Hebden Bridge towards the beautiful ancient Beaumont Clough Bridge. Descend soon after to cross the Rochdale Canal, then zig-zagging up the valley side opposite and over Long Causeway road. Follow the singletrack and quiet lanes North to the top of Standing Stone Hill - hopefully you’ll have a clear day here for some mega views!
Take the Lower Gorple Reservoir descent - fast, open and thrilling! Head West now on the trail, where you’ll find a gorgeous sector of trail, crossing down the side of one bank before heading up the other side, almost like a mountain bike trail. Briefly pass through Wain’s Wood to head North East now, skirting the edge of Colne, a large town with many facilities if you need to detour and restock on food etc.
The last climb past Kelbrook moor is a much more gentle one, and from the top it’s gradually downhill for the rest of the day! Descend the singletrack into Sough, before taking the main road a short distance North to Earby. Here there are hostels, hotels and inns to choose from, as well as camping nearby and even more accommodation in nearby Barnoldswick.
A slightly longer day at 33.5 miles (54km), the penultimate day takes you to the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, leaving Lancashire’s scenic moorland behind in favour of Three Peaks CX territory - a world renowned cyclo-cross race that takes part annually in this area.
Head West out of Earby to take the doubletrack climb up Weets Hill, peaking at 1200 feet (364m). Descend off this peak straight away, down the doubletrack onto lanes that circle around the pretty little town of Gisburn. Enjoy a flatter section of the Pennine Bridleway for a while now, following the beautiful River Ribble through the valley on a mix of bridleways and quiet country lanes.
Long Preston is a gateway village to the Yorkshire Dales, and from here you will skirt the Western edge of the Dales for the second half of the day, not so flat anymore! Climb up Edge Lane onto Mitchell Lane, all paved roads, before descending sharply into Settle. There’s plenty to do and see in this small North Yorkshire market town so make the most of your visit. Why not try some Parkin cake with a cup of Yorkshire tea in the Three Peaks Cycle Cafe?
Heading on North, climb sharply up the hillside on singletrack this time, joining the road up out of Langcliffe. Turn left at the summit by the Langcliffe Scar car park, to the end of the lane where it turns to double track here. If you fancy it, take a short detour off the main trail to check out the waterfall at Catrigg Force.
Take the Goat Scar Lane rocky doubletrack descent now, hurtling down into Stainforth. Again, a lovely place with places to rest and refuel before the last leg. Take lanes North before turning onto the unpaved Fezior Nick and onto Hale Lane, crossing Austwick Beck. The final climb is a gentle one heading West on Thwaite Lane, descending off through the dark tunnels into Clapham. Be really careful here as it can take your eyes a while to adjust to the darkness, especially on sunny days! In the village you’ll find a bunkhouse, hotel, inn and guest house - make sure you book in advance. Alternatively there are some campsites near Austwick.
Head North out of Clapham to start the final day of five along the Pennine Bridleway, today venturing into the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park to finish in Kirby Stephen after 38 miles (61km). Climb gently to start with Thwaite on your right along the doubletrack trail and past Trow Gill. This landscape is littered with both Roman relics and more recent mining works - be sure to take a look as you pass by.
Enjoy a gentle descent into the next valley to cross the railway line near Selside, before pitching up again, this time climbing for much longer. The double track briefly rejoins and then leaves the tarmacked road, some small respite! Join the ancient Roman Cam High Road with views to Ribblehead Viaduct, along this long and straight gravel road climb. Take a left near the summit to start the long descent into the valley below - it’s a belter, enjoy!
Continue on the gravel road North again, climbing up to Wold Fell before contouring around Great Knoutberry Hill. From here you get to enjoy the marvellous Coal Road descent on tarmac - it’s certainly not so enjoyable if you’re climbing it though as it can be very steep in parts!
Climb up from the River Ure directly up towards Tarn Hill, before heading North towards the beautiful sculpture at Mallerstang, not far from the source of the River Eden. Make the most of the doubletrack descent into the valley before a hard climb up the other side. It’s short but steep, and after nearly five days of riding your legs might not be the freshest!
This is the last official climb of the Pennine Bridleway as it finishes when you meet the next main road. That’s really remote, so here you’re routed to the nearest town with good facilities and a train station for getting home. You wouldn’t want to miss out on that celebratory toast now would you?! You’ll pass the train station on Ash Fell Road as you ride into town, so if you’re heading home via the railway you’ll need to retrace your steps here. Congratulations, you’ve just completed the Pennine Bridleway!