In the 1960s, over 5,000 miles of railway lines were axed – a shame for train spotters, but fantastic for cyclists since many disused tracks have been converted into traffic free cycling walks and trails. We’re exploring some of the best, this week's ride takes us along the Tissington trail, in the Peak District.
Words: Maria David
The Ride: Tissington Trail, Derbyshire
Where: Ashbourne to Parsley Hay
How far: 13.5 miles
This well-surfaced trail set in the White Peak region of the Peak District forms part of route 68 of the national cycle network. Originally owned by the London and North-Western Railway, the line carried passengers between Buxton and Ashbourne from 1899, with milk trains continuing to Finsbury Park in North London.
Following the closure of the line Derbyshire County Council and the Peak District National Park Authority opened the Tissington Trail in 1971, one of the first rail trails in the country.
More lost railway rides:
Getting to the start
We started our ride from a car park in the middle of Ashbourne, near the Leisure Centre. Immediately, we enter the 350-metre Ashbourne tunnel, a recent addition to the Tissington Trail, developed by Sustrans by way of reaching the trail directly from the town.
This leads us to the Tissington trail car park, which is the official trailhead. There are toilets, cafe, and bike hire facilities with various different styles available to rent.
We didn’t need to hire bikes – I was on a Raleigh Mustang gravel bike, and my friend, Tamar Collis was on her latest recumbent bike. Tamar is an experienced rider of recumbents, having spent the last few years doing (literally!) laid back cycle touring across Europe and South-East Asia. I was interested to see how the bike would cope on the steep descent followed by the steep incline at Mapleton.
The reply was quick as this obstacle came very early in the ride, and I saw that Tamar handled the bike with skill, managing to successfully dodge around the numerous walkers and cyclists, some of whom had had to dismount and walk up the 10% ramp.
Fortunately, that was the only tricky section of the Tissington trail, and riders are advised not to cycle down the slope. A gate is strategically installed to prevent people from riding at full pelt through this busy section.
The rest of the trail is straightforward, with the first half of the path being through woodland and picnic sites at various small villages. Woodland later gives way to open countryside and impressive views of the Derbyshire Dales.
There are a lot fewer walkers along this section and you begin to realise how far up you have climbed as you get nearer to the tops of the hills and the wind picks up. There are still plenty of sights to take your mind off the grind, like the splendid views of the edge of the Goyt valley in the distance, and the signal box at Hartington nearby!
At the end of the trail you can relax before the chocolate box picture of Hartington district as you enjoy a coffee and cake at Parsley Hay.
Tamar enjoyed the ride on the recumbent. She said, “Controlling the bike on the descent is just the same as on normal bikes, but on the uphill slopes I had to push my back into my seat when I pedal. It’s just so nice to ride on a trail with a good quality surface and have this beautiful, peaceful scenery right there as you sit back and pedal – something I didn’t always get when riding around Asia!"
From here you can either continue to Buxton via the High Peak Trail, which crosses the Tissington trail, or take a lovely descent back to Ashbourne.
Looking for more relaxed, traffic free rides such as those the railways offer? Check out our (growing) collection of lost railways rides here.