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Cycling the Peak District - Bakewell and the Monsal Trail

PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 November 2019

Light at the end of the tunnel

Light at the end of the tunnel

Kevan Manwaring

Fancy a picturesque jaunt along the former Midlands Railways line running from Bakewell to Chee Dale? Stock up on Bakewell Tarts and put on those cycle clips - eight and a half glorious miles await!

The CutThe Cut

Arthur Conan Doyle's super-sleuth once declaimed, during a fictional visit to the eastern moors stretching from Sheffield down to Matlock (featured in 'The Priory School', from The Return of Sherlock Holmes): 'A good cyclist does not need a high road. The moor is intersected with paths…' Fortunately, thanks to the transformation of rural railway lines (victim of the not nefarious Beeching Act, which did for Britain's much-loved network of picturesque stations and scenic routes what the Reichenbach Falls did for Holmes, but the equally formidable Barbara Castle, Labour's Minister for Transport) modern cyclists need not resort to hazarding the moors - unless they have a particular penchant for off-road adventure, of course. One can happily experience the simple delights of two-wheels, away from all traffic except the occasional walker, by taking to one of the splendid cycle trails maintained by the Peak District National Park Authority. In previous Rural Rides we've ventured along the High Peak Trail, the Tissington Trail, and the Manifold Track. In this issue the Monsal Trail enjoys its moment in the sun.

A traffic-free route winding its way through the pale limestone dales of the Southern Peak, the trail for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and wheelchair users, runs for 8.5 miles from Coombs Viaduct, a mile south-east of Bakewell, to Topley Pike junction along the former Midland Railway Line. Partially opened in 1981, four railway tunnels remained closed for safety reasons until 2011. Now, Headstone Tunnel, Cressbrook Tunnel, Litton Tunnel and Chee Tor Tunnel, each about 400 metres long, are open for trail users and are lit during normal daylight hours. If that wasn't enough of a tunnel fix, two shorter tunnels - Chee Tor No.2 and Rusher Cutting - already formed part of the Monsal Trail. Now trail-users can discover hidden delights such as the wonderfully named Water-cum-Jolly Dale. The trail is clearly signed and easy to follow, and if you haven't got a bike, you can hire one from the Monsal Trail Cycle Hire, a short way along from Bakewell at Hassop 
Station. They have a range of wheeled conveyances to suit all ages and abilities. All aboard!

There are some spectacular cuttings and viaducts to enjoy, although not everyone was happy about the (now) lovely industrial heritage. When Headstone Viaduct at Monsal Head was built it was seen by some as destroying the beauty of the dale. Victorian art critic and conservationist John Ruskin was swift to condemn it: 'The valley is 
gone - and now every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell in half an hour and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton!'

Whichever end you begin, you would be a fool to miss out on a visit to Bakewell, aka Jane Austen's 'Lambton', as featured in Pride and Prejudice (1813). The cherry of the Peak, the pretty Derbyshire town is an essential pit-stop - not only for the world-famous puddings and tarts, but for its many other attractions and charms. Bakewell has attracted wordsmiths of all stripes for a long time: children's authors, crime writers, romantic novelists, and even the odd bard on a bike!

Cressbrook Tunnel - Loads like this on getty imagesCressbrook Tunnel - Loads like this on getty images

The essentials

Distance: 8.5 miles

Level: Easy.

Blackwell Mill cycle hireBlackwell Mill cycle hire

Refreshments: Hassop; Monsal Head; Millers Dale; Blackwell Mill (and off-trail at Bakewell, Little Longstone, Great Longstone, Buxton).

Accommodation: as above.

Transport links: Train and bus connections to/from Bakewell.

Autumn on the trailAutumn on the trail

Parking: Hassop; Upperdale; Millers Dale.

Useful Links & Addresses

Monsal Trail: www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/visiting/trails/monsaltrail

Cycle Hire: www.monsaltrail.co.uk

Map of the Trail: www.monsaltrail.co.uk/#Map

Visiting Bakewell: Bakewell Visitor Centre, Old Market Hall, Bridge Street, Bakewell, Derbyshire, DE45 1DS. 
Tel: 01629 816558 www.visitpeakdistrict.com/visitor-information/bakewell-visitor-centre-p680971

Monsal Memories: Monsal Memories is a series of six 10-minute podcasts about people who worked on, lived by or travelled on the former Midland Railway which ran through the heart of the Peak District National Park from 1863 to 1968. Perfect to listen to while cycling along the trail, or pausing for a cuppa! You can listen to them via the website: www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/visiting/trails/monsaltrail

Kevan Manwaring is an author and creative writing lecturer. His books include Turning the Wheel: seasonal Britain on two wheels; and Pen Mine: itinerant thoughts of a Pennine Wayfarer. He is a 
keen walker and cyclist.

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