Riding the Pennine Bridleway
PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 March 2016
Peter Naldrett explores a lesser-known long distance trail with its roots in the county
There’s a trail in Derbyshire that’s well used to living in the shadows of its older, bigger and more popular brother. For tourists arriving from outside the region, the younger sibling may indeed get totally forgotten, overlooked and ignored. But it’s time to celebrate the achievements of this lesser-known route and encourage users to walk, ride and trot onto the Pennine Bridleway.
There’s been a lot of publicity recently about the Pennine Way, that iconic walking path leading from Edale in Derbyshire to just over the Scottish border at Kirk Yetholm. The 50th birthday of that long distance trail rightly received coverage in newspapers, magazines and television shows because it has been so popular for half a century and calls at so many famous hills.
But creeping up the country in a far more modest manner away to the west, the Pennine Bridleway takes in gorgeous scenery and interesting heritage sites as it presses on away from Derbyshire towards Cumbria. And the Pennine Bridleway also celebrated a special birthday in 2015 because it was 20 years since approval was finally given for the long-planned route. Back in 1995, the trail was given the green light to set off close to Carsington Water and wind north for 205 miles up to Kirkby Stephen. A few years later, work began thanks to a grant from Sport England and word soon started to spread about this new and exciting bridleway.
Today, thousands of people enjoy what the Pennine Bridleway has to offer – and it’s also bringing money into the Derbyshire economy to boot. Those embarking on the full 205 miles spend money on food, accommodation and souvenirs on the way, bringing in cash for local businesses.
To get back to the roots of the Pennine Bridleway we must travel back to 1986 when horse rider Mary Towneley took it upon herself to ride 250 miles from Northumbria to Ashbourne in order to raise the idea of a bridleway along the Pennines. Parts of the trail were up and running when Mary died in 2001, and a special extension to the bridleway was named the Mary Towneley Loop the year after.
Different sections of the Pennine Bridleway have been completed over the years and the final piece in the long distance jigsaw was opened by Martin Clunes in 2012. But there is still work to do, as trail manager Heather Proctor pointed out to me. There are still some gaps that are not fully accessible for horses, including an eight mile stretch at Glossop.
Heather said: ‘There are problems with the route around Glossop which we are trying to resolve and we are making it a high priority. There are alternative signs for walkers and cyclists but we are advising that horseriders box up their horses and cut that section out. Hopefully it will be a continuous trail in two or three years.’
As trail manager, Heather is not just responsible for the Pennine Bridleway but also the Pennine Way. That involves keeping both of them up to a high standard when it comes to the quality of paths and the signage that guides people along the route. There are also other aims to increase the number of visitors and boost the local economy along the trails by encouraging people to stay over and walk longer sections.
The first section of the Pennine Bridleway in Derbyshire follows the route of the High Peak Trail and, to be quite honest, is a glorious place to spend a day. Whether you are walking, riding a horse or giving the bike an outing, following the former line of the Cromford and High Peak Railway is not only good physical exercise but it also gives you a chance to delve into our regional history.
All along this section of the trail you’ll find a wealth of information posted on boards at the side of the trail, each filling you in on how this beautiful part of Derbyshire was (and still is) industrially significant. Right from the outset at Middleton Top station is the large chimney and workings of the Engine House that was once used to haul trains up the steep Middleton Incline. There is still a working steam engine inside this building, built in 1829 it is occasionally open for the public to see. Further along the Pennine Bridleway, you’ll come to the massive and impressive Minninglow Embankment, a huge structure built in the 1820s out of local limestone to allow the trains to run on a level track.
But despite having plenty of great places to visit, the fact remains that the Pennine Bridleway just isn’t the Pennine Way. It simply doesn’t have the same status, the same prestige, the same kudos. Heather puts it down to the bridleway being fairly new. ‘It is not less important, but it is less established and so it is less well understood. There is still some confusion about whether it is a separate trail and because it has not been around so long there is still some outstanding work that is required along it.
‘In the future, we want to fill in the gaps along the Pennine Bridleway, and possibly extend it further north into Northumberland. Most people will dip into the bridleway and use small sections at a time, but there is potential for long distance cyclists to do the full route. We have enquiries from people who are thinking about doing it and I also heard from somebody recently wanting to take a horse along the full route. The intention is to get people using it from lots of areas and there are a lot of links to it so people can reach it.’
Looking after the Pennine Bridleway is certainly not easy, however. It requires a lot more maintenance than the Pennine Way, for example. Although it doesn’t go through such difficult terrain as the Pennine Way, the bridleway needs to be wider and have a surface able to take more wear and tear, given that horses and bikes will be using it in large numbers.
Heather added: ‘It’s more expensive to look after, partly because the gates needed are more complex. They have to be easy to open for people on bikes and horses. People on foot can manage different types of gates, but there are higher standards needed for the gates on the Pennine Bridleway. There’s also a lot of rain in the Pennines and the paths can be easily eroded.’
The stature of the Pennine Bridleway may not be as great as that of the Pennine Way. But it’s only going to get bigger. As new sections come online and as more people get to know about this long distance route, the use of it will increase. And the more time you spend on it, the more you are tempted to have a go at it from end to end. w