In full winter gear on the Fullwood Pastures, above Edale in the Peak District
There’s something obscene about a bike on the back of a car. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are a million legitimate reasons why you might resort to the devil’s carriage as a means of carting your bike around. But it’s a bit like Cate Blanchett marrying George Bush: a thing of beauty joined to the beast, a stomach turning and disquieting mix. This set me thinking, how often do we load the car up to get to a favourite ride when - with a little extra planning - we could accomplish the journey without resorting to the horseless carriage?
The team assembled at Dore Station en-route to Edale
Right on cue, my regular biking partner David decided to celebrate his birthday with a ride in the Peak District. No surprise there then. But his master plan involved catching the train from our local station to get out into the wilds, the perfect opportunity to attempt a 'carbon neutral' biking day.
Now, before anyone starts complaining that this is by no means carbon free, it’s as near as we’re going to get without a nuclear-powered rail network. Six of us jumping on the train is a damn sight better than the same group having to resort to two or three cars to get to the same destination. Ideally, we could have cycled out and back - but with a mixed group, our range would have been limited.
We’re incredibly fortunate in Sheffield to have the Peak District literally on our doorstep, but the real joy is to have one of the most picturesque railways in Britain as a means of accessing it. Running from Sheffield city centre to Manchester Piccadilly, the line runs through Dore, Grindleford, Hathersage, Bamford, Hope and Edale. The wealth of great biking that opens up is simply staggering. For our trip, we opted to coast down to Dore Station and let the train take the strain as far as Edale.
We were the subject of a few curious glances as we gathered on the platform, fully togged up and sitting astride our various steeds. I’d checked with the operators and discovered that they had no objections to carrying bikes providing the train wasn’t too crowded. Room for some doubt, then, until the train pulled in with less than a dozen passengers on board. The ticket collector didn’t bat an eyelid as we loaded the bikes into the space provided. As we moved off, my incipient train lover took over. Not only was I travelling as God intended, on a train, but I had my bike with me. It felt damn good and the banter level increased as the journey unfolded, my childlike zeal obviously shared by the rest of the team.
There's even time for some last-minute maintainance when taking the train to go biking!
Alighting at Edale, we whipped out the trusty OS map for the Dark Peak and checked out David’s preferred route. A short section of road back towards Hope followed by lots of uphill on various bridlepaths made us wonder why the Victorians hadn’t built the railway on top of the hills. Couldn’t they have anticipated mountain bikes and created steam-driven uplift? Thankfully, it was quiet on the road out of Edale, and the cars that did pass were careful. Within minutes of leaving the station we were safely onto a rocky little bridlepath up to Clough Farm. The trail now traverses at an amenable angle towards Jagger’s Clough, the view broadening inexorably as we climbed, a panorama stretching from Win Hill through Mam Tor, Rushup Edge and Kinder. Such jaw-dropping beauty is a welcome distraction from the toil, legs spinning granny-ring speed, driven on by the lure of later delights.
Nearing the end of the long drag uphill from Clough Farm
Ahead of us a group of lounging hikers shouted encouragement as we neared the top and the first bit of fun. The path down into Jaggers Clough is wide and smooth to cope with the legions of walkers who pass this way. Thankfully, the steps the National Park have installed make perfect kickers, prompting much whooping and heavy breaking as we hopped down the trail strenuously trying not to lose control and end in an undignified heap in the clough itself. Fording the stream can be exciting when it’s in spate, but even in this wettest of summers, it was placid and a vigorous pedal carried us over the cobbles onto the gut-buster of a climb that follows.
The Roman Road in winter
Arriving at Hope Cross gasping, work done and fun to come, we fuelled up briefly and took in the view, a one hundred and eighty degree panorama of the Peak that was a tonic to tired limbs. Ahead, the ancient line of a Roman road that verges between rocky and very rocky. Time to dial it in and after much fiddling with forks, shocks and saddles we headed off to the sound of chains chattering on stays. The initial rocky section is one of those classic sections where a positive approach is required, full of rock steps and loose boulders. Weight back and a bit of pace carries you through to the smoother territory beyond and a dash across the pastures to the point where the path takes a turn downhill and the passing of water has stripped the trail down to the bare bones. Through the gate a loose rocky descent gets the eyeballs rattling before it flattens briefly to bring you to the top of one of the best descents in the Peak. Just rocky enough but with numerous jumps and even the occasional berm, it’s all over in a flash of adrenaline and frantic braking as you reach the gate above Harrop Farm. Stoked, we turn right round and push back up to have another go, adrenal glands begging for a further work-out.
The Roman Road in summer is much drier - and faster - ride
Having returned to the Hope/Edale road, the options for further fun are numerous. After refuelling in one of Hope’s eateries, it’s possible to take the back road to Bradwell and toil up onto Abney Moor. Alternatively, head out to Thornhill and partake of some of Ladybower’s classic descents. The first time we took the train out, it was midsummer and riding back to Sheffield was an option. However, having encountered some testing weather on a re-run in late October, the option of taking the train back suddenly becomes almost irresistible.
Peak District Fact File
It’s equally practical to take the train from Liverpool or Manchester. Travelling mid-week will offer the best chance of securing a bike space. I have used the train during school half term without any problem. East Midlands Trains are the operator for the Sheffield-Edale-Manchester-Liverpool line and have storage for approximately 6 bikes/train. It’s worth remembering it can all go tits up and the guard may throw a wobbly at the prospect of putting bikes on the train. Be diplomatic and firm. If it all goes wrong and they refuse you access, make representations to the train operators. If we continue to demand the right to use the service, they’ll have to take us seriously in the end.
The biike storage area on the regular Sheffield-Edale service
London Fact File
An obvious biking trip from the capital would be to take the train from London Victoria to Hassocks just north of Brighton and do approximately twenty mile of the South Downs Way. Finishing at Eastbourne would allow you to catch Southern Trains services both ways. Currently, their policy is to allow two bikes on per carriage between 10am and 4pm. The journey takes about an hour leaving five hours for the ride. Alternatively, good trails can be found on the North Downs Way which is adjacent to numerous mainline station including Sevenoaks, Guildford, Farnham and Reigate.
Bristol Fact File
The opportunities for carless biking in Bristol are endless. The city has an unparalleled variety of trails within easy striking distance that don’t even require a train. Check out http://www.bristoltrailsgroup.com/Trail_info.htm
for further information. A short train journey brings South Wales and The Forest of Dean within range. Cross Country Trains and First Great Western serve the area, and it’s possible to book your bike on a train anything up to two hours before departure.
- Always check availability of bike storage with your local train operator
- Always check the train situation just before leaving the house. Things can change rapidly.
- Pack everything you need – there’s no rushing back to a car for a spare tube or dry top.
- If you’re heading out from the city into the wilds, remember that the conditions can change rapidly. Gaining a few hundred metres in height could mean precipitation and high winds and will mean lower temperatures: be prepared.
Jagger's stream in October 2008. Immediately after this shot, mixed hail and rain fell, reducing the temperature significantly. Fortunately, we'd all packed extra warm clothing.