The Monsal Trail - running through the heart of the White Peak, Derbyshire.

Image:  Monsal Trail, Derbyshire Peak District cycle track, one of the views - Monsal Head.The Monsal Trail is just under 9 miles in length. It runs from the Coombs Road viaduct, about a mile south of Bakewell to Blackwell Mill junction, 3 miles or so from Buxton (east). The trail runs along the course of the old Midland Railway through the very heart of the Peak District.

The northern half of the trail is, in our opinion, undoubtedly the crowning glory of the Monsal Trail. When you pass through the Headstone Tunnel and pop out almost immediately onto the Headstone Viaduct at Monsal Head, the countryside changes dramatically. The rolling fields are replaced by views of steep valley sides, which become even more impressive as you continue north through Miller's Dale and on into Chee Dale. There are various information points along the way detailing the flora, fauna etc.

North of Monsal Head, the trail has always been popular with walkers because of the stunning Peak District Limestone scenery, however, this section can now be more easily enjoyed by cyclists. Until May 2011The Monsal Trail was not continuous like the Tissington and High Peak trails owing to the high maintenance costs of the long tunneled sections of the line. These were closed when the railway was closed but are were re-opened officially under the 'Pedal the Peak District' scheme on May 25th 2011, although it was possible to use them a couple of weeks before that. The project was largely funded using a shade over £2 million pledged by Cycling England, a quango that was recently scrapped by the Government.

According to a press release from the Peak Park Authority, the tunnels were officially reopened in a ceremony held at the Headstone Tunnel, which leads the trail into (or out of depending on your direction of travel!) Monsal Dale at Monsal head during which 3 retired Midland Railway employees (Betty Nesbitt, Wilfred Oven and Ken Munns) cut a ribbon. Naturally the event was well attended by local residents, schoolchildren and local officials plus walkers and cyclists. The official party also included the current Duke of Devonshire. There are further plans afoot to develop the Monsal trail into a circular route linking Matlock, Bakewell and Buxton, with another section connecting to the World Heritage Site at Cromford. A bid of almost £5million has been made to the department of transport to complete the development.

The Park Authority has issued the following code of conduct:

Keep to the left and pass in single file (we hope that someone has passed this on to the ramblers association ... )
Use a bell or call out 'bike' when approaching others from behind on a bicycle
Keep dogs on leads and under control. Clear up any dog mess they leave.
Take all rubbish home with them

Why visit the Monsal Trail?

Firstly, take a look here at the route map of the Monsal Trail. You can see for yourself that it passes through some great scenery of the White Peak. If that is not enough to convince you, here is a little of the history and key points.

The building of the Original Midland Railway line was not welcomed by the Dukes of Devonshire and Rutland since it was to pass close to their Derbyshire residences (Devonshire refused to let the line be routed through Chatsworth Park and Rutland refused a line up the Wye Valley through Haddon Hall lands). Rutland compromised and the line was screened from Haddon using a tunnel. This can be seen as you come down the farm access road that joins the A6 just north of Haddon Hall from Chatsworth but unfortunately has not been re-opened which is a shame as it would be really nice to be able to go all the way to Rowsley. Rutland also insisted that the station at Bakewell had to bear his coat of arms. Not wanting to be completely left out, Devonshire had a station built at Hassop, which is now a cafe, bookstore, gift shop plus cycle hire and a bike maintenance centre.

The line was completed in 1863 and closed about century later in 1968 by the transport minister (Barbara Castle) and not as part of the notorious 'Beeching Cuts'. The Peak District National Park Park Authority bought the line and opened it as the Monsal Trail in 1980 after carrying out essential safety work. Footpaths connected the sections closed by tunnels, cyclists need to link the sections by road unless they were cyclo-cross riders who were happy to carry their bikes along the footpath sections of course! The longest continuous section prior to the re-opening of the tunnels was from Coombs road viaduct to the closed tunnel near Little Longstone, just beyond Great Longstone Station. This section has a couple of car parks, one at Hassop Station and the other at Bakewell station. It is possible to park in Bakewell (and worth it if you haven't visited Bakewell before) and then cycle or walk along Coombs Road to join the trail at its southern extremity. Perhaps the most interesting (and most challenging in times of heavy rain) of the old link sections ran through Chee Dale - the stepping stones are often submerged under the waters of the river Wye! Walkers can still leave the trail to follow the public footpath section if they wish.

At Monsal head you will find one of the Peak District's many spectacular views - along Monsal Dale to the west and and Miller's Dale to the north west. This is a good starting point for a variety of walks but note that the way down (and therefore back up) is very steep. Refreshments are available from the pub or the rather good tea shop. Parking is Pay and Display behind the pub (the car park in front of the pub is small and for short stays only).

Monsal Dale - Monsal Station, or at least the platform of Monsal Station, is situated here perched above the River Wye in Miller's Dale, a fascinating valley steeped in industrial history (see the Industrial Archaeology section below). Since the Cressbrook Tunnel and Litton Tunnel were re-opened, in winter it will now be possible to get through from Cressbrook to Litton Mill without having to wade through a foot of water that covers the riverside path after times of heavy rain ... this part of Miller's Dale is prone to flooding by the River Wye as it is narrow.

From Millers Dale, the trail heads west into the fabulous Chee Dale section. At Miller's Dale itself, there is a grand little pub below the celebrated twin viaducts and the Miller's Dale car park at the station (toilets). Just before the trail enters the Chee Tor tunnel, you cross another tall viaduct which is open to licenced operators for abseiling. In Chee Dale, during decent weather, you will hear the clanking of climbing gear as it is a popular limestone venue with some of the Peak District's hardest sport routes and the celebrated overhang of Sir Plumb (E1). The Monsal Trail ends at the Topley Pike junction where the railway line still exists, taking limestone from the Great Rocks Dale quarry. It links with the Pennine Bridleway at Topley Pike.

The trail is perfect for a wide variety of users and has been extensively re-surfaced, but it is undoubtedly of great appeal to anyone wanting traffic free cycling in the Peak District. It is convenient to just do certain sections if you are short of time and just want to see the best bits, for example, parking at Miller's Dale Station car park and heading into Chee Dale would be a nice short option to take in the most impressive part without having to ride or walk all the way ... 4 miles or 17 miles, the choice is yours with a friendly snack bar at Blackwell Mill (plus Monsal Trail cycle hire). Or perhaps do the stretch from Monsal Head to Topley Pike if you have a little more time. It is also perhaps a useful way back to the car if you have done a cross country mountain bike ride from Bakewell, Monsal Head or Miller's Dale where you can stretch your weary and mud splattered legs on an easy surface.

Monsal Trail Car Parks and Facilities

Bike (cycle) hire centres at Blackwell Mill and Hassop Station, refreshments available at both centres

Car Parks at Bakewell Station, Hassop Station, Monsal Head, a little unofficial roadside parking (2 or 3 cars at most opposite the entrance to Cressbrook Mill), Miller's Dale Station, Topley Pike (large layby just off the A6 with a grassy path (joins a short section of the Pennine Bridleway) down to the trail, Blackwell Mill cycle hire and snack bar) and the Wyedale car park (off the A6 pretty much opposite the entrance to Deep Dale and a short but fairly level walk to the Blackwell Mill cycle hire and snack bar). For Disabled access, or if you have someone in your group who is a little unsteady on their feet, use the Bakewell, Hassop Station or Miller's Dale car parks.

Refreshments at Blackwell Mill, Hassop Station (we can vouch for the quality and ambience of the cafe, which has both outdoor and indoor seating areas and is light and airy with friendly staff), Millers Dale (pub), Monsal Head (pub, tea room) and nearby in Ashford in the Water and Bakewell.

Toilets at Miller's Dale Station, Monsal Head and Hassop Station.

Accommodation in or near to Bakewell

Accommodation in or near to Buxton

Nearby places to visit - where do we start! The spa town of Buxton, the Market town of Bakewell, the village of Ashford in the water, Chatsworth house and Park, Haddon Hall, the church at Tideswell (known as the 'cathedral of the Peak'), Magpie Mine, Great Shacklow Wood in the Autumn or go up to Wormhill (if you can ride the bridleway up from Blackwell Mill in the winter award yourself a gold star) and sit in the stocks!

Below is a photograph we took of the original schematic map provided by the Peak District National Park Authority to guide you along the Monsal Trail and is included here just for (historical) reference. It is now out of date since the tunnels have been opened.

Image: Schematic map of the Monsal trail before the re-opening of the tunnels.

Industrial Archaeology

To the east and west of Millers Dale station you can spot limekilns, used to produce quicklime for a variety of uses. Litton Mill lies downstream from Millers Dale station and is notorious for the uncompromising treatment of orphans by Ellis Needham, some as young as 9 years old, from London and other major cities. These provided a source of cheap labour with no-one to show any concern. The graves of many of these child labourers are found in nearby churchyards. Despite its dark past, the mill is an interesting building which is now converted into luxury apartments. A path leads steeply down from the trail to the river and the Litton Mill pond.

Further downstream still lies Cressbrook Mill, which was opened in 1783 by William Newton. Previously the site had been a herb distillery. Richard Arkwright supplemented his Cromford Mills through the use of Cressbrook. As happened to several of the Mills, the original one burnt down. The subsequent mill was in use until the mid 1960s. The imposing building seen on the site today was built in the early 19th century to house the workforce - what a great view they woke up to! Today, as with Litton Mill, the building has been converted into luxury apartments. More information can be found at the point the footpath to Cressbrook Mill joins the trail.

Both of these mills were water powered.

Credits: Thanks to Bakewell resident Mr P Bain for the information about why the line was closed.


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