Monsal Trail - From the low country to the highlands and beyond - CycleBlaze

September 9, 2018

Monsal Trail

Cavendish Cottage is so comfortable and its surroundings so beautiful. We knew very little about England's Peak District before arriving, but were looking for a scenic riding destination cheaper and less populous than the Lake District. We've found it.

A good three hours south of Keswick, our country cottage is not far from the town of Matlock. In other words, bang in the middle of a large green space on Google Maps, bordered by Manchester to the north-west and Nottingham to the south-east.

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 After the initial laundry spree, we are looking forward to today's ride, the Monsal Trail. We park the van at Bakewell (of Bakewell tart fame) and ride slightly uphill to the trail's end at Blackwell Mill.

This former Midland Railway route is a tunneller's dream - there are six in total, most around 400 metres long.  The old railway line (and thus the trail) broadly follows the River Wye, passing a couple of large mills on the way. This is the industrial heart of the UK after all. Cressington Mill and Litton Mill, both producing cotton, were opened in the 1780s.

There's a sad tale behind our glimpse of Litton Mill on the ride. According to the trail's website, "It became notorious for the harsh treatment of child labourers by the owner, Ellis Needham. Many of the children, brought from London and other large cities, died young from the cruel treatment and were buried in the churchyards at Tideswell and Taddington."

The infamous Litton Mill
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Another feature of note is the 19th century Monsal Viaduct crossing the River Wye. Now a major drawcard on the trail, it was not initially welcomed.

"Victorian environmentalist, essayist and poet John Ruskin said: 'There was a rocky valley between Buxton and Bakewell, once upon a time, divine as the Vale of Tempe... you enterprised a Railroad through the valley - you blasted its rocks away, heaped thousands of tons of shale into its lovely stream. The valley is gone, and the Gods with it; and now, every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell in half an hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton; which you think a lucrative process of exchange – you Fools everywhere'."

We're thankful for its construction, even if he was not. And we're not alone. We are constantly navigating around Sunday walkers, with and without dogs, and family cycling groups.  An unexpected pleasure is discovering at the turnaround point that we've been pushing gradually uphill so far. The ride back is fast and fun. And it needs to be; we have tarts in Bakewell to sample.

I hope this sign mentions the tarts - they are very good!
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Today's ride: 28 km (17 miles)
Total: 464 km (288 miles)

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