Goyt Valley Grinder

Escaping to the spectacular Goyt Valley reservoirs via canal and quieter roads, a superb gravel fire track through the forest leads to the challenging Pym Chair climb and a thrilling descent past Windgather Rocks.

Route details

The reservoirs of the Upper Goyt Valley flooded this landscape not only with water but with people, too. Once a remote, rural corner of Derbyshire, the completion of the Errwood Reservoir in 1967 saw the valley become a prime day trip for new motor car owners, a testing popularity it still struggles with today.

It was much earlier that Fernilee Reservoir began the transformation. Completed in 1938 by Stockport Corporation Waterworks to supply the growing towns below with water, the building of the dam was a major feat requiring a temporary “tin town” for workers and its own railway.

The gravel fire track through the Goyt Forest.
The gravel fire track through the Goyt Forest.

Yet despite the green surroundings, the upper valley had long been industrialised to some degree. The new reservoir left intact the trackbed of the Cromford & High Peak Railway, a dizzying freight line linking two canals across the Peak, on which trucks were hauled up huge inclines. While the line had opened in 1831, by 1892 the section through the Goyt Valley had been mothballed.

Even down on the valley floor, the River Goyt’s course was surrounded by Chilworth Gunpowder Factory, a large and dangerous mill that had its own tramway and spewed out pollution. The entire complex was largely demolished in the 1930s and now sits submerged deep below the reservoir’s waters.

While today’s noise and air pollution from visiting motor cars continues this human impact on the valley, it has an odd relationship with the quiet, clean, humble bicycle. On one hand, the Goyt Valley is a beloved cycling landscape and one of the key destinations in the whole Peak District. On the other, genuine cycle access is incredibly limited and disjointed, often for no good reason, especially around the reservoirs themselves.

Nearing the top of The Street, Embridge Causeway crosses the open moors towards the summit of Pym Chair.
Nearing the top of The Street, Embridge Causeway crosses the open moors towards the summit of Pym Chair.

Surprisingly pleasant to reach from Whaley Bridge via these neat back roads, the Fernilee dam is then legally landlocked for cycling. The well-surfaced trail which was the railway trackbed has no official right of way designation at all and today’s water company have decided not to welcome cycling (even if actual usage suggests different).

This challenging gravel-geared loop instead crosses the dam to use a short, steep lane (again well-used by bikes but perhaps having only footpath rights) to reach the forest above.

The spectacular descent past Windgather Rocks.
The spectacular descent past Windgather Rocks.

Luckily it’s worth it: the Goyt Forest “fire track” is a real stunner for gravel riding; curving, climbing and dipping between old and new trees with stunning views down into the valley. It also chops the narrow start off the long climb up to Pym Chair, where the view out amongst the clouds to Windgather Rocks must be one of the UK’s most remarkable cycling rewards.

Returning to New Mills along the traffic-free towpath of the Peak Forest Canal, it’s worth diverting down into the Torrs Riverside Park with its spectacular Millennium Walkway to see how this town has been shaped more than any other by the flow of the River Goyt.

Route map

The route stats featured here are automatically generated by Komoot. For the most accurate guide, please refer to the route details above, based on actual rides recorded by Strava.

Where to start

The Upper Peak Forest Canal cycle route provides the lead-in to this circular loop which is mapped from Newtown, starting just off Victoria Street opposite New Mills Marina, in the shadow of the town’s sweet factory.

However, anywhere along the canal provides a good starting point. Starting further back from Redhouse Lane, Disley would make for a total route of 17.4 miles (28 km) or from Marple Junction 23.2 miles (37.3 km).

By train: New Mills Newtown railway station on the Buxton line is nearest to the starting point, but New Mills Central on the Hope Valley line is fairly convenient too. From there, either cycle through the town down Union Road or, for a complete Goyt adventure, push your bike down over the Millennium Walkway above the river, turn right and head back up towards Wirksmoor Road and the canal.

By car: Newtown at the start of the route is tricky for parking, so you could start much further back along the canal at Disley or Marple, or you could cut the canal out entirely and start from the official Canal Wharf council car park or on-street parking in Whaley Bridge.

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Things to note

  • Crossing Whaley Bridge Junction on the Peak Forest Canal requires either carrying your bike over a very narrow footbridge with steps or going down under the canal and pushing back up again via a steep cobbled ramp.
  • Road bikes lap up the climb to Pym Chair and the descent past Windgather Rocks, but would struggle on the forest track. A smoother route around Fernilee Reservoir is the wide, well-surfaced trail to the eastern side. Yet ridiculously, this isn’t a registered right of way and upon checking, the owner (water company United Utilities) officially states cycling is not permitted. In reality, it’s well-used by people on bikes on a daily basis without issue and there’s nothing done to discourage its use, except a couple of awkward gates…
  • Those happier on the road might eye swapping the canal for the A6 and A5004 into Whaley Bridge, but these are very busy, often unpleasant roads with no cycling facilities and do not come recommended. The roundabout between the two at Bridgemont is terrible for cycling in particular.
  • The link between the quieter lanes either side of the A5004 Long Hill is so short that you’ll wonder why on earth Derbyshire County Council haven’t provided a shared off-road link at the side (you can make highways requests here). If you’d rather not join the road and make the right turn, you could cross over and walk the pavement instead.
  • The Shallcross Incline should provide a traffic-free way to climb the biggest hill out of Whaley Bridge, but after being decimated by heavy rains (including the downpours which nearly toppled Toddbrook) it’s still awaiting reconstruction by Derbyshire County Council. Luckily the parallel Elnor Lane used here is quiet enough.
  • See the Upper Peak Forest Canal cycle route guide for more things to note about this section of the route. Remember to take it easy on this narrow shared path and slow right down when passing others. From behind, ask to pass well in advance by bell or a friendly voice, then wait until a signal that you’re welcome to pass.

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Route description

  1. Keeping New Mills Marina on your right, follow the Peak Forest Canal towpath for roughly 3.2 km (2 miles).
Leaving New Mills Marina, the River Goyt soon comes into view down in the valley below Goytside Meadows.
Leaving New Mills Marina, the River Goyt soon comes into view down in the valley below Goytside Meadows.
  1. At Whaley Bridge Junction, you’ll need to cross over or under the Bugsworth arm of the canal to continue. Just beyond the noisy Bridge 36 before the canal junction, take the gravel path on the left through an open gate to drop down below the canal and under Bridgemont Aqueduct. Push back up the cobbled ramp to the right on the other side, to join the towpath of the Whaley Bridge arm of the canal. Follow this for a further 650 metres to arrive at Whaley Bridge basin, in front of the 1801 Transhipment Warehouse. This was built to transfer goods between the canal and the abandoned Cromford & High Peak Railway, which is now followed in part.
Crossing the Goyt in Whaley Bridge thanks to the original 19th Century bridge of the Cromford & High Peak Railway.
Crossing the Goyt in Whaley Bridge thanks to the original 19th Century bridge of the Cromford & High Peak Railway.
  1. Pass the warehouse and continue straight ahead, over Canal Street into Tom Brads Croft with a council car park on the left. Briefly join the pavement through bollards then cross the historic girder railway bridge over the River Goyt, taking care with its surface still inlaid with rails. Briefly rejoin the road on the other side to continue straight ahead again towards an obvious trail, through an awkward metal barrier. This is the Whaley Bridge Incline, the first and smallest of three inclines which would see wagons gradually hauled up to the summit of the line.
The Whaley Incline is a good way to avoid the busy main road through the town, though it does have some particularly annoying metal barriers with raised grids underneath.
The Whaley Incline is a good way to avoid the busy main road through the town, though it does have some particularly annoying metal barriers with raised grids underneath.
  1. Through a second barrier at the top of the incline, the railway’s route is now partly lost. Turn left onto Old Road and follow this quiet road up over the rooftops of Whaley Bridge. Dropping down to a wide t-junction with the B5470 Chapel Road, turn left and continue for just 300 metres.
Climbing Elnor Lane out of Whaley Bridge towards Shallcross and Fernilee.
Climbing Elnor Lane out of Whaley Bridge towards Shallcross and Fernilee.
  1. Take the first right into Elnor Lane, signposted with Route 68 stickers. An immediate drop into Randal Carr Brook gives some good momentum to start the strenuous climb ahead, but not much. This quiet lane inclines upwards by approximately 67 metres (220 ft) over 650 metres, mostly wide enough to give plenty of breathing space but narrowed awkwardly near the top by parked cars. Reaching the farmland at the summit, ignore the Route 68 arrow and continue straight ahead as the hills of the Upper Goyt Valley come into view on the right.
The 1871 Fernilee Chapel has an enviable position overlooking the upper Goyt Valley and its forests.
The 1871 Fernilee Chapel has an enviable position overlooking the upper Goyt Valley and its forests.
  1. Now a tight single track lane, Elnor Lane becomes Taxal View and enters the hamlet of Fernilee between fields. Pass the delightfully quaint Fernilee Chapel, Grade-II listed and dated 1871 with its enviable view across the valley. Behind a row of houses, the lane drops down to swiftly meet the A5004 Long Hill. Only a 225 metre (0.14 mile) dash to a right turn is needed here, so it’s worth waiting for a good gap in traffic. As the road begins to bend and indicating well in advance, turn right into the wide, unsignposted junction mouth to the right. This drops down a long incline between trees over a few speed bumps before snaking around a bend. Look to the right and the old line of the Cromford & High Peak Railway can be clearly seen again through a gate, sadly with no public access.
The octagonal valve tower looks out over the mile-long expanse of Fernilee Reservoir, the dam of Errwood Reservoir just visible.
The octagonal valve tower looks out over the mile-long expanse of Fernilee Reservoir, the dam of Errwood Reservoir just visible.
  1. Turn left at the sharp corner, pass the small car parking area and then turn right. Fernilee Reservoir and its roughly 5 billion litres of water now suddenly opens up in all its glory. The first part of the road over the dam is actually a bridge, with the hair-raising spillway passing underneath. Continue across the dam, passing the octagonal valve tower, then turn left and follow the narrow, bumpier lane into the trees along the shoreline. After a sharp right turn, this climbs rather brutally up the hillside towards Oldfield Farm with high sides and just the one passing place. Turn left at the top, over very bumpy ground, to almost double back on the route up the hill.
The wide unclassified road snakes brilliantly through the forest below Hoo Moor.
The wide unclassified road snakes brilliantly through the forest below Hoo Moor.
  1. Through the gate ahead, the unclassified road through the Goyt Forest is followed for the next 1.9 km (1.2 miles). If it seems bumpy at first, stick with it. Once a completely wooded forest “fire track”, recent tree felling has seen stunning new views open up, perhaps only temporarily, down to the reservoir. New stone laid for the forestry wagons has also improved much of the track to make for perfect gravel riding, though watch for patches of sketchy coarse stone. Rising and dipping below Hoo Moor, this is a peaceful, dramatic and almost eerie place, where the only sound is often the wind through the trees.
Climbing The Street to Pym Chair, from the forests out onto the open moors.
Climbing The Street to Pym Chair, from the forests out onto the open moors.
  1. At the end of the forest track, go through the gate and turn right onto The Street, suddenly switching gravel riding for a classic road cycling ascent. This climbs 125 metres (410 ft) over 1.6 km (1 mile), between trees at first and then out onto the open moor with spectacular views of Shining Tor to the left and back over the Goyt Valley to the right. As one of only two road routes into the upper valley, the width is luckily mostly good enough for motors to pass. Along the windswept moor, the road is known as Embridge Causeway and throws up one final gasping climb to crest the blind summit of Pym Chair, with a remarkable view over Cheshire revealed ahead.
Cresting the summit of Pym Chair, an incredible view over Cheshire is revealed.
Cresting the summit of Pym Chair, an incredible view over Cheshire is revealed.
  1. Continue over the cattle grid and the junction ahead provides a perfect point to stop and take in the view atop the two counties, looking out above every undulation in the landscape. Turn right to begin the descent towards the jagged edge of Windgather Rocks. This gritstone crag juts out as such a perfect backdrop it could be an engineered theme park set piece rather than a fluke of nature. Today it’s a popular spot to learn the ropes of rock climbing. Having now gathered quite a wind over your shoulders, go firmer on the brakes as Windgather Road narrows around a farm building and prepare for a sharp turning ahead.
The view from Pym Chair never disappoints, always lighting the hills in new ways and skies ever-changing. This long ridge is the dividing line between Cheshire and Derbyshire.
The view from Pym Chair never disappoints, always lighting the hills in new ways and skies ever-changing. This long ridge is the dividing line between Cheshire and Derbyshire.
  1. At the crossroads, turn right into Clayholes Road. It might seem a shame to brake and turn off such a descent, but doing so provides an even longer downhill and an escape from the fast road out of Kettleshulme. As this lane drops gently below Taxal Edge, it passes farmhouses and fields with a magnificent view over Todd Brook. Further along, after dipping briefly past Clough Farm with poor visibility (it can help to keep an eye on the road on the other side to check for approaching vehicles), it’s just possible to catch a glimpse of Toddbrook Reservoir itself on the final steep descent.
Some may go wrong by following the Windgather descent right down into Kettleshulme. Turning right onto Clayholes Road not only provides a longer descent but a way to avoid unpleasant parts of its fast B road.
Some may go wrong by following the Windgather descent right down into Kettleshulme. Turning right onto Clayholes Road not only provides a longer descent but a way to avoid unpleasant parts of its fast B road.
  1. Now there’s no choice but to turn right onto the B5470 Macclesfield Road, which thanks to the poor visibility may have to be done by ear as much as by eye. The good news is, it’s all downhill from here and, after briefly racing through trees above the reservoir which could’ve toppled the town, the speed limit gladly drops around a sharp s-bend into the residential area of Horwich End. Keep a good door-distance from the endless parked cars lining the long final descent. At the traffic lights, continue straight across into Chapel Road then turn left onto Old Road, briefly rejoining the outbound route.
Descending back into Whaley Bridge, with Toddbrook Reservoir off to the left (built to supply the canal, not drinking water).
Descending back into Whaley Bridge, with Toddbrook Reservoir off to the left (built to supply the canal, not drinking water).
  1. As Old Road drops tightly between the stone cottages, drop to a low gear and take the second right turn into Bings Road, signposted Route 68 and single track lane. This fearsomely steep and sudden climb takes you up over Silk Hill. Passing quiet cottages, it emerges to a wide vista over the sides of Chinley Churn and Eccles Pike. A sheer drop, more vertical even than the route up, sees the lane squeeze itself down into Buxworth. Turn left onto Brookside, heading over the Chapel Bypass on a bridge, into Bugsworth Basin. Turn left again immediately after the narrow canal bridge, onto a gravel track beside the basin.
Silk Hill dropping down into Buxworth provides one final brake check.
Silk Hill dropping down into Buxworth provides one final brake check.
  1. Follow the track down to join the towpath of the Bugsworth canal arm and then follow the Peak Forest Canal towpath gently right back to the starting point — no manoeuvre over or under Whaley Bridge Junction required this time.

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Please note: While great care and attention has been put into gathering these routes, ensuring details are accurate and determining their suitability, all information should be used as a guide only and is not a replacement for using your own judgement or research when setting out on new adventures. Peaks & Puddles cannot be held responsible for any problems you may encounter.

Always ensure your equipment is safe for use, that you are well prepared carrying everything necessary including access to a good map. Follow the Highway Code and the Countryside Code at all times, respect the landscape and the wildlife and people you encounter. But most importantly, have fun!