Cycling the Peak District - Dovedale and the Tissington triangle
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 October 2019
Saddle-up and follow two former railway lines turned into easy-going cycle tracks, exploring the stunning Dovedale area that inspired Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler, and many other writers, artists and film-makers
'I can assure you there are things in Derbyshire as noble as Greece or Switzerland.' So wrote Lord Byron to the poet Thomas Moore. The Romantic poet may have been 'mad, bad, and dangerous to know,' but he knew an inspiring landscape when he saw one. He perhaps had in mind the sublime vale of Dovedale, which has inspired other wordsmiths (Samuel Johnson, Lord Tennyson, John Ruskin) and painters (Joseph Wright of Derby), as well as more recently film-makers (Justin Chadwick's The Other Boleyn Girl; Ridley Scott's Robin Hood). And to seal its literary credentials, Lizzie Bennett talks with Mr Darcy about her travels in Derbyshire, mentioning Dovedale.
Izaak Walton (aka Viator - Latin for 'traveller') was inspired by the splendid trout stream of the River Dove in his 17th century fishing classic, The Compleat Angler. His friend, poet and translator of Montaigne, Charles Cotton had a Fishing House, standing in woods by the river, which they were fond of frequenting (both sets of initials are combined in an inscription above the entrance). Cotton contributed to the book with his advice on fishing in clear water, and is seen as a pioneer of fly fishing.
And people have been drawn to the area ever since - be it for casting a rod, doing a sketch, penning an ode, or simply idling away a couple of pleasant hours in some of the most beautiful scenery in England.
Not surprisingly, it can get rather busy, especially in the summer. Fortunately the whole area is worth a visit, and can be explored in leisurely way, on two wheels, thanks to a couple of excellent cycle tracks.
The Tissington Trail
The London and North Western Railway (LNWR) between Buxton and Ashbourne first opened in 1899. Following the closure of the line around 70 years later, the Peak District National Park bought the route in 1971 and turned it into a traffic free trail for walkers and cyclists. The Tissington Trail runs for 13 miles from Parsley Hay in the north to Ashbourne in the south. It follows the National Cycle Network (National Route 68).
The Manifold Track
The Manifold Track is a nine mile tarmac track along a disused railway from Hulme End to Waterhouses. A section between Swainsley and Wetton Mill is used by traffic (single track) and contains a tunnel 100m long at Swainsley; this is illuminated but still quite dark with small passing places to avoid vehicles.
1. Ashbourne and beyond: Right, time to put on those cycling clips and push north! Don't worry though, the going along this well-maintained and mostly level cycle trail is easy (simply follow the signs for Parsley Hay). Enjoy a wonderful traffic free ride!
2. Tissington: Well done! So far, so good! At Tissington there's the option of a detour to lovely Carsington Water. This 2 mile-long reservoir, managed by Severn Trent Water, was opened in 1992 as an emergency reserve of water for Derby and the East Midlands. Cyclists can make a complete circuit of the reservoir - over 8 miles long - crossing the dam and passing through the villages of Carsington and Hopton. There are wildlife viewing points around the shore. A large modern Visitor Centre includes a children's play area, watersports centre, restaurant and shops.
3. Biggin turn off: When you reach Biggin you should turn off left, onto the Manifold Track Alternatively, you can continue on to Parsley Hay, where there's a café (and loos) at the popular cycle hire centre.
4. The Manifold Track: If you have decided to take this option, you should now be heading west (ish) down this lovely route. Keep going until you get to the end - but stop at the main road (the A523). In Waterhouses there are, appropriately, toilets!
5. Waterhouses to Ashbourne: This is a swift ride back to base-camp along the A523 (8.4 miles) via Calton Moor, Blore, and Mapleton. An alternative/overnight option is to turn off for Ilam, where there is a handsome YHA; or to Common End Farm campsite.
6. The Dovedale Loop: From Ilam it's possible to do a stunning 8.5 mile loop along the Dovedale valley. Initially head north to Stanshope. The climb out of Ilam is well worth the effort for once you reach Dovedale itself, it's a lovely ride along the trout stream (though watch out for walkers). Dismount in the most popular sections, especially near the famous stepping stones. Take some time to savour the stunning scenery. Perhaps the glittering waters may even inspire the Muse? The intrepid may want to explore the various caves and crags - but take care! Great views can be achieved on top of Thorpe Cloud (for the athletic among you!), which can be followed down to the car-park. From there, continue back towards Ilam, perhaps rewarding your efforts with a cool drink in memory of Izaak Walton and his friend Charles Cotton in the eponymous watering hole … The Izaak Walton.
A Daft Dash for a Good Cause:
On the first Sunday of November, there's the Dove Dale Dash, an annual race for charity: dovedaledash.co.uk u
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.
Distance: Tissington Trail (13); Manifold Track (9); Back to Ashbourne (8.4).
Level: Easy to moderate.
Refreshments: Ashbourne for shops and cafés; Ashbourne and Parsley Hay cycle hire; Carsington Pubs: The Devonshire Arms; The Manifold Inn; The Izaak Walton.
Accommodation: Hostel: YHA Ilam Hall; Campsite: Common End Farm Campsite: www.commonendfarmcampsite.co.uk
Transport links: Train to Derby, bus to Ashbourne.
Highlights of the route
Ashbourne: a lovely place to start (or end) your day out (or weekend away).
Carsington Water: for messing about on the water.
Dovedale (National Trust): photogenic gem!
Hartington: picturesque Derbyshire village with great walking.
Parsley Hay cycle hire: the place to be for all things pedal-powered.
Tissington and Tissington Hall: to the manor born, or not, worth a visit.
Useful links and addresses
Tissington Trail peakdistrict.gov.uk/visiting/trails/tissington-trail
Ashbourne Cycle Hire: peakdistrict.gov.uk/visiting/cycle/cycle-hire-centres/ashbourne. Tel: 01335 343156; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cycle Hire: Parsley Hay peakdistrict.gov.uk/visiting/cycle/cycle-hire-centres/parsleyhay Tel: 01298 84493
Carsington Water: carsingtonwater.com
The Izaak Walton Hotel: izaakwaltonhotel.com
YHA Ilam Hall: yha.org.uk
Dovedale (National Trust): nationaltrust.org.uk/ilam-park-dovedale-and-the-white-peak/features/visiting-dovedale
Map of the Tissington Trail: peakdistrict.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0016/410218/PDNP-White-Peak-Trails-Map.pdf