Peak District Ride Guide - A Blast into the Past
A blast into the past
Grade Intermediate Length 17 km Time 3 hours
This short (but very sweet) Peaktastic loop links some of the ancient paths and trading routes around the beautiful Hope Valley and finishes with a fantastic descent of a film set – sort of! It’s a perfect route for a fine Summers evening but please bear in mind that it does get you well off the beaten track and parts of it can be very exposed in poor weather.
Your starting point is Hope. This picturesque village in the heart of the valley has become quite a mecca for mountain bikers and has everything you might need as a riding base. Along the main road (A6187 Castleton Road) that cuts through the village you’ll find a small supermarket, a campsite and B&B’s, a brilliant café (the Woodbine) and even a helpful bike shop (Eighteen Bikes). The only thing Hope struggles with is parking and most bikers end up parking along the main street or round the corner on the Edale Road. This isn’t brilliant for locals so please make sure you act responsibly and don’t block pavements with bikes or use walls as benches!
The ride starts by turning off the main road on to the Vale of Edale Road and follow the road for a mile or so until you come to an obvious road bridge where the road bends back sharply to the left. At this point take the right fork onto Fullwood Stile Lane and follow the tarmac road as it gradually climbs (going over the railway) to Fullwood Stile Farm. Then take the left turn onto Brinks Road and follow this until you come to a gate at the start of access land.
The road now starts to climb and you go through another wooden gate. Climb a little more steeply and the track surface gets more challenging but is still rideable. You are now leaving civilisation behind and the true beauty of the Edale valley starts to reveal itself. Eventually you will get to a point where the track flattens out and you enjoy fine views of the valley below and the Great Ridge to your left (which you will be heading across to later). Please bear in mind that this track gets very very muddy in wet weather – you have been warned! Soon you will come to a stone way marker that’s known as Hope Cross. You are actually on an old Roman Road that used to link Hope and Glossop and is one of many that criss-crosses the Peak. They must have been challenging routes to trudge along in the heart of winter!
Go through the wooden gate and continue along the technical track to another wooden gate. Once through this gate you need to immediately turn left and follow a less distinct path that soon starts to head downhill. Through another gate and you now have a lovely descent down to a stream crossing at the bottom. Take care as the loose surface here has been known to catch quite a few speedsters out!
Blast across the stream and through the gate to a sign at the start of the steep climb up Jaggers Clough. Jaggers were the pack horse handlers that used to traverse the many ancient Peak District tracks and I always really feel like I’m stepping back in time on this section – albeit on a hi-tech MTB rather than with a packhorse! The climb ahead is short but challenging and involves negotiating some small steps and a loose gravel surface. It’s all rideable – but can you do it every time?
At the top of the climb head through the gate and along the obvious track traversing rightwards across the hillside to reach the signpost pointing you down to Clough Farm. The bridleway goes round the back of the farmhouse, crosses a stream, through another gate and picks up a narrow track that quickly leads down to the road. Incase you haven’t realised this is the main road that cuts all the way through the Edale Valley and is the one that you started the ride on.
Turn right, follow this road, go under the railway bridge and continue along until you reach a turning on the left signposted to Back Tor Farm. At this point we are about to start the climb up to Hollins Cross but before you turn it’s worth pointing out that you have a few alternatives for this section. If you take the turning here it will take you up a very steep track that is really difficult to ride in parts. I’m not saying it can’t be done but I’ve always ended up pushing part of it. It’s even harder if the ground is wet! Having said that, it is the most direct route.
Alternatively, you can continue along the road until you pass the junction to Edale then turn left at the next bridleway and head up to Hardenclough Farm. Continue up the bridleway to Greenlands then take the left hand bridleway that leads you up to the cross at a gentler angle. A final option is to simply follow the road until it swings left at the head of the valley and leads you up a very long (and steep) climb to the meeting point of the three routes at the distinctive summit niche known as Mam Nick.
Assuming you do decide to turn left here the track soon crosses the bridge (Back Tor Bridge), swings right (ignore the track entering from the left) then climbs steeply to Back Tor Farm. Go through the wooden gate that’s straight ahead and you’ll soon realise why I warned you about this way……it’s steep and technical! Continue climbing (either on or off your bike) and eventually, after a few twists and turns that are clearly marked, the track starts to flatten out and you will see a stone circular structure that is Hollins Cross (I agree that it doesn’t look remotely like a cross). This point in the ridge actually marks the high point of an ancient route that used to link Castleton and Edale. In 1795 a cotton mill and tannery were built in Edale and many women from Castleton used to walk this route between the villages every day!
Have a power bar and soak up the view then when you’re ready head rightwards up the block paved track towards the ‘Mother Hill’ - Mam Tor. This innocuous looking lump is actually the site of potentially the oldest Bronze Age hill fort in Britain – and the second highest. All that remains of the fort today are two burial mounds but as you ride towards it try to envisage the hundred or more platforms topped with wooden huts that used to dominate the skyline.
Don’t get too settled on this track though because soon the path splits and leads you rightwards onto the bridleway continuation. This track climbs steadily then forces you to traverse rightwards below the summit before dropping down to the road. Take care on the final bit of this track, as there is a steep drop on the right.
Through the gate, turn left and make the short climb up the road to the V groove I mentioned before (Mam Nick). The road now leads right and you can either follow it to the sharp junction at the bottom and turn left on to the Rushop Edge road (A6187) or get to the same point by cutting off the road just after Mam Nick and follow the track that heads down through the car park to join the road (A6187) at the bottom. The road drops down then take the left fork (signposted to Peak Cavern) at a very sharp rightwards bend. Blast down this, pass the cavern entrance, and keep going until the road stops at a turning point and fence.
Ahead of you lies a unique piece of road that is certainly one of the top bits of riding the Peak District has to offer. The old Mamtor road was built in 1819 to bypass the 1 in 5 gradient of nearby Winnats Pass. Winnats was very difficult for coachmen to manage even though they always hitched up two extra horses from Castleton to help. The road was constructed using spoil from nearby Odin Mine and would probably have stood the test of time had it not been built on the side of a hill made up of layers of shale. During wet weather the water seeps between the layers and lubricates the joints causing the hillside to head progressively downwards. It is estimated that the hillside will only stop sliding when the slope angle has reached about 30 degrees in around 1500 years. So, all things considered, the road never really stood a chance and in 1979, after years of constant repair, it was finally closed.
The upside of this sorry situation is that we now get to ride on a film set! Okay, so it isn’t actually a film set, but if you use your imagination surely you can see what I’m getting at?! The road is all rideable and has a variety of drop offs and fun little obstacles to play on. Don’t head down too fast as the only drawback with this road is that it’s not very long and you want to make the most of it. Once you’ve taken your photos and had a play, just blast down to the gate at the bottom, head through this and keep following the road, which will soon bring you to Castleton.
Castleton is a great little village with lots of good pubs (the Castle pub on Castle Street is great!), a comprehensive Tourist Information Centre and loads of cafes - so don’t rush through! But, when you’re ready, just follow the road through the village and keep on it until you get back to Hope. Peaktastic? – You betcha!