The best gravel rides in the Peak District – by Hetty Kingston

June 25, 2024 5 min read

Riding rain or shine. © David Arbuthnott

Riding rain or shine. © David Arbuthnott

Gravel biking is more popular than ever, and although the Peak District might not offer your typical, traditional gravel  it stands out as the perfect playground for drop bar, off-road riding. While we may not have endless miles of smooth tracks like the New Forest, or the remote, rugged landscape of Scotland, what we lack in size, we make up for in character! 

What makes the Peak unique is the sheer variety and rapidly changing terrain. One moment you're flying down old limestone railway tracks in the White Peak; the next you're traversing the rugged gritstone edges of the Dark Peak. The riding is playful, varied and full of surprises. It’s technical at times and will keep you on your toes. But it has something for everyone  whether you're a seasoned pro or just getting to grips with gravel, above all, it’s a lot of fun!

So, if you’re looking for inspiration and not sure where to ride, here are a few of my favourite routes:

Best route for those new to gravel:

The High Peak Trail © Hetty Kingston

The High Peak Trail © Hetty Kingston

Entering the world of gravel biking can feel a bit overwhelming, especially when you're trying to figure out where to go. Maps don't always show which bridleways are a joy to ride and which might turn into a hike-a-bike adventure.

If you're just starting out or dipping your toes into gravel biking, head to Parsley Hay and Monyash. Starting on the Pennine Bridleway, you'll cruise along an old railway line before picking up another of the White Peak’s long-distance limestone tracks – the Midshires Way. With wide-open views of rolling hills and minimal traffic, it’s a delightful ride.

From here, a series of old lanes will lead you to Monyash where you can take a break at a café or pop into the pub before tackling more adventurous terrain. Yes, it gets a bit bumpy at times and there's a short section through a field, but this route is a fantastic introduction to the different types of riding you’ll find in the Peak District. Plus before you know it, you'll be back at the start, enjoying a well-deserved ice cream.

Best for those looking for a challenge:

Smooth Singletrack and Sunny Skies © Hetty Kingston
Smooth Singletrack and Sunny Skies © Hetty Kingston

For those more au fait with technical terrain and looking for a challenge, check out Lincacre and Shillato Woods. You’d be forgiven for thinking at first glance that 27km is quite a short, easy ride. But don’t be fooled, the distance is deceptive – the route is packed with hills, technical terrain and sections that stray into mountain bike territory.

Beginning in Linacre Woods, old forest tracks and scenic byways wind their way up to the high point of the route. Here you’ll tackle narrow singletrack, river crossings, and even a brief stint of hike-a-bike as you make your way north. The hard work pays off as you descend into a series of narrow, flowy singletrack shoots through tree archways. By the time you reach Barlow, you'll be sporting a big grin and ready for a well-deserved cuppa and cake!

Best route for families:
Ladybower with Peak Gravel Gang. © Hetty Kingston

Ladybower with Peak Gravel Gang. © Hetty Kingston

If you are heading out with young kids, Ladybower & the Upper Derwent Valley is my top pick. Starting in Bamford, once you’re onto the Thornhill trail, you leave the cars behind and are on cycleways and smooth trails for most of the route. It’s a firm favourite of Peak Gravel Gang and one of our ‘any-bike-will-do’ rides since the path is gentle and never too technical. Plus, it’s easy to shorten by moving the start point. There is also plenty to see along the way with impressive views of the dams and ‘plug holes’ as you trace the edge of the reservoirs.

For families with older kids looking for something a bit more adventurous, take a look at Dore & Ringinglow. Starting in Abbeydale Woods, you quickly leave the city behind and enter Lady Cannings Plantation, where you’ll find two playful, purpose-built mountain bike tracks that are also a lot of fun on gravel bikes! What’s more this route passes more cafes than it’s probably sensible to stop at, so there’s plenty of chance to keep energy levels topped up.

Best traffic-free route:

Retired railways lines, characteristic of this route. © Hetty Kingston

Retired railways lines, characteristic of this route. © Hetty Kingston

One of the best things about riding off-road is avoiding cars. For those keen to escape traffic, Thorpe and the Manifold Valley are perfect. This route makes the most of the White Peak's network of old railway lines, picking up the Manifold Way and Tissington Trail to take you past popular landmarks like Thors Cave.

Underwheel the terrain is never too technical, allowing you to look up and enjoy the stunning views as you make your way through steep-sided limestone valleys, navigating under and over old railway bridges. The picnic stops are excellent too – especially if you’ve picked up snacks from the village store or cheese shop in Hartington!

Best circular route:

Purple Peak – the moorland in bloom. © David Arbuthnott

The majority of the routes in Gravel Rides Peak District are circular as I’m not a big fan of an out-and-back. Two that stand out as being particularly good are Stanage and Big Moor and Rivelin Valley & Ughill Moors.

The Stanage route links together some fantastic sections of riding and is incredibly varied. Starting on the edge of the Steel City, you have a bumpy beginning on the old Roman Road, Houndkirk, as you make your way towards Baslow Edge. After soaking in the views (and catching your breath!) it’s on to another edge  Longstone, before riding on to Eyam where you’ll find an excellent selection of cafes. Refueled it’s time to tackle Sir William Hill. After a challenging up and down, the route leads you to Stanage for one final climb up Stanage Causeway before linking back to the start.

The Rivelin route offers a completely different experience. With a mix of moorland and little lanes that were once tarmac and are now gravel, this route has a more urban feel. However, this comes with its benefits – like an ice cream vending machine! With some pretty punchy climbs and fun, swooping descents, you’ll definitely have earned your cake by the time you reach the end.

Best route for descents and climbs:

The Buckled Broken Road. © Hetty Kingston

The Buckled Broken Road. © Hetty Kingston

Those who enjoy the ups and downs of the Peak District will love the Mam Tor route! It’s challenging and will test your legs, but the stunning views and interesting terrain will keep you distracted.

Starting in Castleton, it’s straight up from the get-go as you make your way up Broken Road beneath Mam Tor. The road is twisted and buckled from landslides, making it hard to believe this was once the major route out of the valley. Once at the top, you’ll pick up a lovely limestone track and quiet paths through fields to Peak Forest. Next, a series of fun and challenging climbs take you across to Abney Moor. From here, it’s time for the finale – a fantastic long off-road descent, followed by a final section of fast and fun trails back to Castleton.