Road cycling in the Peak District is a bit like riding a rollercoaster. As the word ‘peak’ suggests, you need to expect hills – innumerable short and testing climbs on narrow, country roads. You climb a sharp incline followed by rapid descent, and it continues on and on!
Don’t expect much flat riding here. The Peak District’s most famous climbs include legendary British cycling climbs such as the Cat and Fiddle, Holme Moss, Winnats Pass, Mam Nick and Monsal Head.
That said, there are some decent off-road trail options if you’re looking for cycling at the other end of the spectrum.
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What’s special about a Peak District cycling holiday?
The Peak District’s climbs are the sort of climbs that big-hitters in the UK cycling scene make a special visit for: check out the local Strava leaderboards and you’ll see names like Adam Blythe, Ian Stannard and Ben Swift…
While the terrain may be leg-sapping, the Peak District is a very beautiful part of the UK to cycle in. The Peak District National Park is famed for its heritage and it’s a joy to see. Ancient stone villages are connected by hundreds of miles of stone walls that lie beside stately homes, caves and huge reservoirs. There are dramatic limestone valleys, rivers, green fields, wild moor and dramatic views.
There are thousands of square miles of woodland and rugged moorland waiting to be explored.
Where is the Peak District?
The Peak District National Park spans nearly 1,500 square kilometres and is located in the middle of England. It is broadly flanked by Manchester and Sheffield in the north and Derby and Stoke on Trent in the south. The Peak District region includes the National Park but is wider than it.
Whilst a lot of people view the Peak District as belonging solely to Derbyshire it also covers parts of Cheshire, Staffordshire and Yorkshire. The northern Dark Peak comprises of bleak and exposed moorland and rocky outcrops. In the south there is a distinct geological change with the White Peak consisting of many limestone dales.
The Dark Peak is at the north of the region (everything north of Edale) and is bordered to the west and east by Glossop and Sheffield respectively; it is largely uninhabited moorland. It also includes the reservoirs (Ladybower, Howden and Derwent). The White Peak in the south includes Bakewell, Matlock, Buxton and Ashbourne.
Unlike cycling in the more famous Lake District or Yorkshire Dales, as this quick geography lesson suggests, the Peak District has more towns and villages and is more accessible. The scenery is still stunning, but you’re less isolated and remote, which can sometimes be a nice feeling!
Other great things about cycling the Peak District
The Peak District is an extremely popular tourist location with hundreds of thousands of visitors flocking each year, towards the main towns of Buxton, Matlock, Bakewell and Ashbourne in the south and around the villages of Hathersage and Castleton in the north.
As such it is a great area to visit even for non-cyclists with several attractions such as the magnificent Chatsworth House, the Blue John caverns in Castleton and the Gulliver’s Kingdom amusement park and the Heights of Abraham country park in Matlock.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that while the Peak District is great for road cycling, it’s more famous for its network of off-road trails. When it comes to cycling, it’s that kind of cycling that’s much more established here. That means that if you’re in the Peak District with family, there are plenty of traffic-free cycling trails to explore that are great for kids. Many of them are along disused railway lines, which ensures they’re nice and flat.
Peak District cycle routes
Such is the sheer size of the region, opportunities for cycling in the Peak District are endless.
Amongst hundreds of Peak District cycling routes we have selected three loops (north, central and south) in order to showcase some of the most famous Peak District cycling climbs (Holme Moss, Winnats Pass and Mam Nick) and the history of hill climbs that the Peak District is known for (Matlock Top Ten ride).
Also make sure you read the route planning tips below.
Northern Peaks loop (inc Holme Moss)
128 kilometres / 2,532 metres of elevation gain
Starting in Bakewell this route takes you north through the Hope Valley, past the Ladybower Reservoir and cycling onto Strines Moor (an 18 kilometre undulating training road for the local pros).
Continuing north towards Holmfirth and then turning south to tackle the 7.5 kilometre ascent of Holme Moss (made famous by the 2014 Tour de France).
The ride then continues past the Woodhead Reservoir and on ‘lumpy’ roads through the towns of Glossop and Chapel-en-le-Frith before returning to Hope and then back to Bakewell.
Central Peaks loop (inc Winnats pass + Mam Nick)
84 kilometres / 1,400 metres of elevation gain
The ride starts in the majestic setting of the grounds of Chatsworth House and soon heads up the popular hill climb of Beeley Moor before looping around to the village of Baslow.
Heading north to Calver there is a steady 4 kilometre climb through the village of Froggatt before turning west towards and enjoying a terrific descent down to Hathersage and the Hope valley.
In the village of Hope you are faced with a choice you can either ascend the dramatic Winnats Pass and descend Mam Nick or vice versa. Either option returns you back to Hope.
From here you track back in a southerly direction and have the chance to test your legs on the short Monsal Hill climb before heading back to Chatsworth.
Southern Peaks loop (Matlock)
62 kilometres / 1,630 metres of elevation gain
Known affectionately as the ‘Matlock Top Ten’ this route is particularly hilly and as the title suggests and covers ten of the best Peak District cycling climbs in the Matlock area in just 62 kilometres.
This is a challenging but rewarding test of fitness and mental strength.
You will need your best climbing legs as three of the ten hills (Rowsley Bar, Bank Road and Riber) have previously staged the National Hill Climb Championships.
You can complete the course either on your own or as part of the Dark and White Sportive.
(route credit: @DarkandWhite on ridewithgps.com)
Peak District cycling events
The Tour of Britain has been through the area on a number of occasions and until 2005 the Tour of the Peaks, a Peak District cycling event for professionals was for many years held here.
A Tour of the Peaks Sportive has now been introduced which is held over the same course as the original race and includes a timed section along Winnats Pass.
There are also plenty of other sportives that take place here – for example, the Peak Epic, the Battle of Bradfield, the Brutal Tootle – the kind of terrain you can expect here is kind of obvious from their names!
For those into their vintage cycling, the annual Eroica Britannia was once a reason to come cycling in the Peak District. Eroica Britannia is a three day family festival that celebrates cycling heritage. It was held in the Peak District for several years until moving down to Goodwood in Sussex.
Peak District hill climbs
The Peak District today is well known for a number of hill climbs that are staged each autumn and which attract entrants from all over the country. Derbyshire has hosted the National Hill Climb Championships more times than any other county.
The most prestigious is the Monsal Hill Climb which has been running since 1930 and seen many famous winners including Tom Simpson, Malcom Elliott, the Downing brothers and more recently Adam Blythe. The short climb (500 metres at a gradient of 16%) starts in the bottom of Monsal Dale and finishes in the famous beauty spot of Monsal Head. The record of 1 minute 14.2 seconds has stood since 1981!
Family cycling in the Peak District
There are a number of very popular bike friendly and traffic free trails in the Peak District. They have often been converted from disused railway lines and so are particularly suitable for families with young children.
Many of the old railway stations are still in situ on the trails and have now been converted to cafes and bike centres which offer bike hire (mountain bike / hybrid variety) and a basic repair service. Cycle Hire stations include:
In the north of the region, near to the village of Bamford, the Fairholmes Cycle Centre is located near to the Ladybower Reservoir cycle route and offers bike hire. It is ideally located to access traffic free trails around the Ladybower, Derwent and Howden reservoirs.
Where to stay in the Peak District (for cyclists)
Remember to double-check accommodation bike storage arrangements (and any other services you need) before booking as policies often change.
The Peak District covers a vast area and as such there are plenty of towns and villages in which to stay. We think Bakewell is a great option in terms of its accessibility to many Peak District bike ride routes and for the range of accommodation it offers. All three routes we have referenced are accessible from Bakewell and it is only a 30 minute drive from the M1 motorway or an hour’s drive from the M6. Sheffield and Derby are only 45 minutes away by car.
If you happen to be staying in the southern Peak District, around Ashbourne in Derbyshire, check out this Q&A on cycling in the southern Peak District.
Bike hire in the Peak District
Prices, services and bike brands often change. Please let us know if anything is incorrect.
Peak District bike hire focuses on off-road bikes. Most visitors that want to cycle here come to ride the extensive network of trails and want to keep off the roads. As a result, mountain bikes and hybrids are in demand.
Road cyclists coming here tend to bring their own bikes.
Here are the bike shops in the Peak District that we’ve come across:
Bakewell – Peakland Cycles (Sales and repair service)
Matlock – Stanley Fearn Cycles (Sales and repair service)
Buxton – Peak Ascent Cycles (Sales and repair service)
Hope Valley – Bike garage (MTB Hire and repair service)
Glossop – High peak Cycles (Sales and repair service)
A few route planning tips:
Lots of the villages have great pubs and cafes, so this is a great place to ride if you like your cafe stop.
You can’t visit the Peak District without sampling the local delicacy: bakewell tart! You’ll spot it in many of the local cafes, and we think it’s delicious!
We’ve heard there are “Polaris Pit Stop Boxes” with things like spare tubes and cables for use in emergency, in various cafes in the Peaks. What a great initiative! Have you used these? Let us know more about them in the comments below!
Buxton Cycling Club have a club run every week and they welcome visitors. You can find their rides on Facebook, classified from A (fast) to D (leisurely, no drop).
Check out our tips for riding in the Yorkshire Dales before you head off. Not the same part of the country, but many of the tips are also relevant here.
There’s loads to do in the Peak District if you’re bringing the family. Check out Go Ape, Buxton’s Poole’s Cavern, Speedwell Cavern, Blue John Cavern and Peveril Castle.
Interested in other UK cycling destinations? Head to our UK cycling page here which has links to loads of articles on other UK destinations.
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