The Roads I Ride: Road Cycling In Derbyshire

I’m very fortunate, as a cyclist, to live where I do. I live on a quiet country lane which sees as many tractors as it sees cars. In fact, on a nice day, more bikes will pass by (with people on them) than motorised vehicles.

Unlike when I lived in south east London, I don’t have to ride for 30 minutes just to leave suburbia and traffic.

I thought I’d share a little about my local cycling environs, and the sorts of rides I do in them. I doubt the Peak District needs much extra publicity (even if it is not the second most visited national park in the world), but if I can encourage a few more cyclists to ride in this part of the world, I’ll be a happy yellow jonny.

By the way, this post isn’t meant to come over all self-congratulating. After all, it’s not like I live in the Alps, Majorca or Calpe (which seems to have gone to the top of my family holiday/training camp visit list).

I’VE JUST DISCOVERED I LIVE ON ROUTE 68

Actually that’s not true. I just said (nay SHOUTED) it for effect.

I’ve known our house sat on one of the National Cycle Network routes since before we bought it. That was one of the attractions.

Loads of cyclists pass by each day (admittedly the majority aren’t riding an NCN route as such – they’re local road cyclists doing what local road cyclists do).

I’ve harboured for years a vague idea that I should create a ‘pop up’ cycling cafe in our front garden, serving locally roasted coffee and homemade cakes to passing trade.

What I hadn’t quite realised was:

  • we are on National Route 68, otherwise known as the Pennine Cycleway
  • not only that, but we are right at the start (or end) of it – the start proper is in a village called Etwall, from where we occasionally get a Chinese takeaway (which may or may not be relevant)
  • you can ride Route 68 all the way from here to Berwick-upon-Tweed, on the border with Scotland, a distance of 327 miles.

What I now know, deep within my bones, is that I must buy a gravel bike (there are some off-road trail sections that would not be comfortable on a pure road bike), some expensive bike luggage, and ride the first section of the route to Holmfirth (God’s Own Country; Last of the Summer Wine).

Not Quite The Peak District

The Sportive Cyclist Service Course (my house…) is located in a village that’s sort of in the middle between Ashbourne and Derby.

It’s a farming area, set on rolling countryside with a network of quiet country lanes.

It’s certainly not steep climbs and hill farming. That is saved for the Peak District.

The attraction of having quite a concentrated network of quiet roads is that there are loads of options for building a route whilst I’m on the hoof (not that I do that much, being a creature of habit – see below). There is constant variety. I can take a new turning and have a little explore, safe in the knowledge I won’t be inadvertently committing myself to a terror climb to make it back to my starting point.

The only slight downside to my location (and this probably depends on your viewpoint) is that before moving here, our rented house in Ashbourne gave 15 minute access to the Peak District and a first proper climb.

(I had visions of this climb becoming my equivalent of Armstrong’s Col de la Madone test ride for the Tour).

Don’t feel too bad for me though. Now we’re talking probably 30 mins to get somewhere proper grippy.

My 60 Minute ‘Training’ Loop

My general window of opportunity is for a one hour ride.

Taking into account the time needed to don my battlelycra, crank up the Wahoo and fill my water bottle (plus the same in reverse, post ride), and the inertiafaff phase before and after, we’re talking 1hr 20 total.

Which seems just about acceptable to my wife and kids on a busy Saturday or Sunday.

I’m a creature of habit. I tend to do the same loop each time. Sometimes I’ll go crazy and ride it in reverse.

I’m not totally stuck in my ways. Oh no!

As my fitness has improved, I’ve added little bits on, to increase the distance a little, to keep total ride time at about an hour as I’ve got quicker.

Having a standard route works for me for these sorts of rides. They’re generally about maintaining fitness, getting some fresh air, sparking up a little dopamine boost to improve my mood. For those times when I want just to get out on my bike.

Not having one more thing (a route) to think about helps make the ride happen.

The other good things about this loop (and things you could consider when designing your own ‘standard route’):

  • It involves no main roads – they’re all quiet country lanes. The main hazards are mud and pot holes. There is the odd car, tractor or horse.
  • It is not a route that is hard intrinsically. The barometric alimeter in the BOLT and Strava/RidewithGPS underlying map data both agree there is ~210 metres of climbing. I can either ride the loop whilst giving it full beanz, or I can relax a little and coast round.
  • The aforementioned extra bits can be missed off if I want to cut the ride a little bit shorter (e.g. if I’ve miscalculated the available time window and I need to be back sooner, or if I’m really just not feeling it).

In an ideal world, my standard ride wouldn’t be limited to an hour. Over the Christmas holiday period, rides were around the 1hr 30m mark and this certainly felt sustainable from a fitness perspective. Just not from a time perspective as we move back into ‘term time’.

Medium Length Rides

If I can muster up the time, say two hours, then a wider range of riding options present themselves.

Two hours of riding gives the opportunity to get out, if not into the Peak District proper, at least into the foothills.

This past Sunday’s ride was a good example (of the species). I struck out with one of the other village MAMILs (I’m not the only MAMIL in the village) westbound towards Staffordshire. Having done a gradual grinding climb near to Rocester (where the world HQ for JCB is located, digger fans), we dropped down towards Ashbourne.

Ride of the Valk… MAMILs

We then did a climb which I was totally unaware of, to a village called Stanton, two thirds of the way up the ridge that forms the start of the Staffordshire Moorlands (so almost the Peak District). I’ve ridden another (much less interesting) route up that hill numerous times without realising what I was missing.

In order to continue our route to Ashbourne we had to descend into a small valley on a 14% gradient road (according to the sign) and then… ride back up the other side on a 14% gradient road (according to my legs – and another sign).

So two more really great roads to add to my local road lexicon.

The attraction of a two hour ride is that I have time to get to more interesting and longer climbs, and make it back. I can pretty much push myself to ride anywhere and up anything within that radius, giving the satisfaction of a challenging ride, without the slight nervousness that comes from doing a longer ride (4 hours, say) on such ‘grippy’ roads.

Which brings me to…

Longer Rides Near My House

Now I suppose I could pootle around for 4 hours, criss crossing local lanes, not going too far from the house.

That would be a bit of waste though, considering the opportunities on my (almost) doorstep.

Four hours, a 100km ride say, allows for a nice challenging ride in the Peak District. I did a few of these (I think) as training in the run up to RideLondon 2018.

With this sort of time window I’m within striking distance of longer (Strava) category 3 climbs (wooooh…).

In May 2015, just before I returned to the world of paid employment, I wrote this post about an interesting ride (though I’ll let you be the judge of that). It also included the bagging of two additional ‘100 Greatest Climbs’.

Point To Point Racing

One thing I did in 2018 that I’d like to do more of are ‘point to point’ rides. Rides where I travel to a location (for a summer/outdoors activity) by bike, whilst my wife and kids go by car.

In last year’s case, a few families with young uns arranged to meet in a Peak District village called Monyash (not Montyash) one Saturday morning. The plan was to have a short country walk followed by a picnic (followed by walk back to pub for a drinky).

I managed to turn it into a ride opportunity by setting off early and meeting everyone at the rendezvous.

The trick was to make sure my wife brought me a change of clothes (easy when it’s summer shortsweather) and that the roof rack was attached to the car (I wasn’t quite ready to ride back home at the end of day).

Sportives In and Around The Peak District

My record in local sportives is inauspicious to say the least.

My first decent ride in the Peak District was the Igloo sportive, which took place only a few weeks after we moved up from London (April 2013). The route started in Chesterfield, climbed up into the eastern part of the Peak District including through the Chatsworth estate.

It was a rude awakening. Cramp. Crosswinds blowing us into oncoming vehicles and having to lean over at a 45 degree angle, just to stay upright.

It did offer the opportunity to complete my first ‘100 Greatest Climb’ in the area though (Rowsley Bar in case you’re interested).

#EpicFail

The next one I signed up for (the Peak Epic), the weather (miserable) and my fitness level (poor) meant that I dropped down from the medium route that I’d signed up for to the shorter one.

It was another good route (to be fair they all are round here), starting in Bakewell and taking in climbs like Longstone Edge and The Rake.

The highlight (lowlight) of the ride was the climb out of Millers Dale. The Strava segment (a category 3 climb) is actually called Hollow O’ The Moor, evocatively.

The actual lowlight wasn’t so much the climb. It was the fact that the peloton of keen lycra clad uphill warriors was passed casually by a family clad in civvies that had hired (I assume) e-bikes. They just cruised past us as we suffered. I remember being in pretty poor state as I staggered back in to Bakewell by the end of the ride.

There’s Always Tommo-row (?!?)

The year (this was all in 2013) closed with probably my worst Sportive failure. Having completed RideLondon at the start of August, I promptly got straight off the bike and didn’t really get back on again until mid-September when I attempted the ‘Tommo Sportive’.

The ‘Tommo’ (which I don’t think is run any more) started at Carsington Water, a small reservoir on ‘my’ side of the Peaks. It followed many roads I was (and remain) very familiar with. It was also the ride where my legs gave way with 20km to go, at the bottom of the longest climb (the long schlep out of Cromford, if you’re familiar with the area).

I can’t remember precisely, but I’m pretty sure I ground to a halt at the steepest part, stuck into my pedals with electrifying cramp coursing through my quads.

After a little walk and a little talk (to myself), I remounted and ground my way up, missing a bit at the top and taking the direct route back to the finish.

Greatest Of All Time…

More recently (though not that recently) I aborted part way through the Grindleford Goat sportive. It’s a(nother) great sportive route and follows the day after what is, by all accounts, an entertaining hill climb event (to watch…).

The Grindleford Half A Goat

It took place in September 2015, a few months after I started back at work. The first half of the year was characterised by regular riding and gradual fitness gains. The second half of the year was… not.

It’s surprising (not that surprising) how quickly you lose fitness when the frequency of riding drops. When it became apparent (to me at least) that my legs weren’t going to last out the final few climbs of the designated Goat route, I elected to ride the straightforward and relatively flat route back to the start.

Not that this stopped it being the hardest ride I’ve ever undertaken (apparently…):

Conclusion

There is no conclusion. Other than perhaps to note that it is over 3 years since I last complet… took part in a local sportive. For a blog that has ‘Sportive’ in the title, you do have to wonder…

My new cyclo-contact Paul, owner of RideStaffs and organiser of this sportive in Staffordshire in early April (amongst other organised rides), has kindly proposed I take part in the event. With the start being some 15 minutes from my house (and very convenient for dropping my daughter for her gymnastics training!), I’m very tempted.

I hope this post is useful if you’re considering riding your bike in this part of the world. I’d be very happy to answer (if I can) any questions on riding in my part of the world (southern Peak District and Derbyshire Dales).

Now over to you:

  • Where do you ride?
  • What’s your ‘go to’ training loop?
  • What route are you looking forward to tackle come Spring or Summer?

Let me know in the comments below.

13 thoughts on “The Roads I Ride: Road Cycling In Derbyshire”

  1. I ride in Merseyside but extend to Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales
    I have a 30K local loop which is safe and takes me about an hour and 10mins
    I am cycling from Newcastle to Whitehaven this year, my next Sportive is Lancash Lanes in May, about 120K with some decent but doable climbs

    • I’m afraid it’s a different set of Dales, Mark. That’s in mighty mighty Yorkshire 😀 I’ve ridden some of those roads though (Trapping Hill etc) – it’s a great place.

  2. I ride very similar roads to you Monty, just a bit slower. Let me know when the coffee shop opens! If you get a gravel bike then a good 100km ride starting in Ashbourne is my epic from last summer, three old railway tracks in the Peak District joined up with a healthy dose of Derbyshire hills. The Manifold valley following the river upstream from Waterfall to Hulme End, over to Bakewell to pick up the Monsal Trail and all the tunnels to Buxton and the last big hill over Earl Stansdale and a welcome downhill all the way back to Ashbourne on the Tissington Trail.

  3. Thanks for going to all this trouble to write your blog. There must be many times when you wonder whether it is a waste of time but I for one love them. Keep ’em coming son!

  4. I’m lucky to live in East Lothian where quiet country roads abound with some hills or none depending on time and mood. Very much enjoy your posts and the book

  5. I moved (in a convoluted route that took a decade) from Cornwall to Perth, Australia. We are ridiculously lucky with the weather, although I find myself getting up at 4:30am to beat the heat.. There’s a 35km loop round the Swan River that the entire city seems to ride on the long weekends (imaginatively called by most; Round The River). Thanks for the blog!

    I didn’t ride when I lived in Cornwall, but now when I visit family I do see hints of lycra. Do you know anywhere I can find out about rides, for post-Brexit when I get evicted at the end of my visa?!?

  6. Great read, as always. Please keep up the posts. After a relatively inactive cycling 2018, I’m approaching 2019 with more determination (as in ‘Get back on the bike’) and I do have some standard routes that I will keep expanding as I get a bit fitter. I can totally relate to this blog, well done again.

  7. Enjoying the blog. This is my go to evening spin… https://strava.app.link/DKg7pIC1OV

    Got a couple of Sportives coming up – Fat Lad At The Back on May 11th (just the 75 miler), and then the 80 mile Le Petit Depart on June 2nd. You should give the LPD Sportive a go, it’s truly spectacular…

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