Relatively undiscovered lanes and climbs break out into the peaks and dales of the Peak District proper, beyond Chinley and Chapel-en-le-Frith. The quiet oasis of Perry Dale is the worthy pay-off in a strenuous loop that leads from the Peak Forest Tramway to the quarries of Peak Forest itself.
- Distance 19.2 miles (30.9 km)
- Elevation gain 2115 ft (645 m)
- Time allow 2 hours
- Difficulty Challenging
- Route type Roads, Quiet Lanes & Trails
- Suitable for Gravel Bike, Hybrid Bike, Road Bike
- Attributes Accessible by train, Asphalt surface, Canals, Car parking, Circular loop, Compacted stone surface, Dales, Ideal for electric bikes, Industrial heritage, Railways, Reservoirs, Roads, Rural heritage, Shared paths, Steep climbs, Towns and villages, Views of hills and peaks, Views of open countryside
- Starts at
- Places Buxworth, Castle Naze, Chinley, Combs, Dove Holes, Horwich End, Old Dam, Peak Dale, Peak Forest, Perry Dale, Slackhall, Smalldale, Sparrowpit, Tunstead Milton, Wash, Whaley Bridge
From the Dark Peak gateway of Whaley Bridge and its neighbouring towns, getting out into the wide, white, limestone Peak of the National Park by bike can be a challenging prospect. First, there’s the hills. Then there’s the terrifying roads.
This loop largely solves the latter but absolutely not the former — the 645 metres (2,115 ft) of climbing comes mostly in a breathless three-pronged sweat-squeezer through the little-known hamlets of Malcoff and Slackhall.
But therein lies the joy: as it loops out towards the quarried dales of Peak Forest, this is a journey through real, living, more undiscovered landscapes of the Peak District than those found alongside an A road.
Within sight of Mam Tor, which heaves and shivers under the weight of day trippers, is the deserted jewel of this ride, Perry Dale. A long, smooth tarmac lane towards the village of Peak Forest, entirely empty aside from sheep sheltering in its rolled green sides, this an unlikely and seemingly fairly undiscovered road cycling gem of the bumpy long-distance Pennine Bridleway.
Following that National Trail onwards provides another easy road route between rolling fields towards Small Dale and then the Great Rocks freight railway line, a treat for train fanatics.
In a nifty twist, the route began along the Peak Forest Tramway which was built as an earlier way of plundering these very quarries — just how incredible would it be to have that whole, more direct route repurposed as a cycle route, right out to this White Peak gateway and back?
Instead, the return ride must take flight over the side of Combs Moss and its prehistoric hill fort of Castle Naze.
Cowlow Lane there will become infamous in your mind for different reasons than Slackhall. As the saying goes: what goes up, must come down…
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
This route begins right in the centre of Whaley Bridge. The best access avoiding the A6 (and in particular the dicey Bridgemont roundabout into the town, where traffic speeds off the Chapel Bypass) is the Upper Peak Forest Canal towpath; slow of course but fairly well-surfaced from New Mills.
It’d also be possible to cut out Whaley Bridge altogether, however, and start from Chapel-en-le-Frith: head towards Crossings Road and Whitehough Head Lane over to Chinley, to join at Stage 3, then at the final stage leaving Combs Road, turn right back into Chapel.
If you’re arriving off the Upper Peak Forest Canal, you can cut the centre of Whaley Bridge out entirely, start from the Peak Forest Tramway Trail at Bugsworth Basin and instead end by climbing back over Silk Hill (Bings Road) or using the Whaley Bridge arm back onto the canal.
By car: From the Canal Wharf car park on Tom Brad’s Croft in Whaley Bridge, simply follow Canal Street back around to the starting point. Further along the route, the Station Road car park in Chinley is another option.
Things to note
- Three sections of the route use slightly fast and sometimes busy roads, but aren’t too much to worry about: the A624 out of Chinley until a very quick left turn to Wash; the road from Sparrowpit to Slackhall which is fast but much quieter and completely downhill all the way; and the busier B5470 from Combs back into Whaley Bridge which again is tackled downhill.
- Watch out for gravelly conditions on the lanes between Wash and Malcoff and again from Castle Naze down to Combs. The descent to Combs is particularly hair-raising due to its steepness and narrowness, and the Range Rover that always seems to be approaching just around that bend — but at least you’re not climbing it!
- Bings Road gives a steep climb from the get-go, then there’s a belated gentler warm-up before the longest climb of the ride, in three stages, from Wash through Slackhall to the summit of Stoneyford above Sparrowpit. Luckily these are joyously quiet lanes and the pay-off of Perry Dale is absolutely worth the struggle.
- See the Peak Forest Tramway Trail cycle route guide for things to note about this section of the route. (You could stick to the B6062 further north instead, but it always feels harder going and less enjoyable.)
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- From opposite the railway station on the main Buxton Road in the centre of Whaley Bridge, head south around a slight bend over the River Goyt then turn left at the bike shop onto Old Road which forks uphill, marked “access only” for motor vehicles. After 150 metres (0.1 miles), turn left between Weavers Cottage and a garage onto Bings Road, signposted “single track road”. This fearsomely steep and sudden climb is part of the so-called Pennine Cycleway, Route 68, and takes you up over Silk Hill. Passing quiet cottages, it emerges to a wide vista over the route ahead and 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.
- Continue over the narrow bridge, the last on the Upper Peak Forest Canal, and past the Navigation Inn. As the road begins to climb on a bridge over the Black Brook river, turn right onto an unmarked lane. This leads into the start of the Peak Forest Tramway Trail, which you now follow for 1.7 km (1.1 miles) between the river and the bypass, on the route once used by early wagons bringing limestone down from the quarries near Dove Holes. After the odd route through the industrial Stephanie Works, continue carefully across the first lane encountered at Whitehough. At the second, turn left onto Whitehough Head Lane.
- Passing the entrance to a modern housing development, the lane becomes Green Lane and climbs sharply uphill into Chinley, a dramatic view of Cracken Edge ahead as you pass the village green. Continue ahead onto the B6062, which bends sharply to the right ahead behind what was formerly the Princes Hotel. This was built in 1902 to accommodate travellers from the village’s station when it found itself a major railway interchange. The relatively quiet road now leaves Chinley, falling and rising again gently past a couple of schools with marvellous views of South Head. Spoiling the enjoyment slightly, the busy A624 Hayfield Road then joins under a railway bridge from the left, spilling its traffic out. Luckily it’s now just a fairly level 500 metre (0.3 mile) dash past a signal box until a left turn, under the first arch of the railway bridge.
- Gladly shielded from the din of the A road by the railway line, which forms one arm of Chapel Milton’s unusual double viaduct, the route enters the wonderfully quiet backwater that is Wash. Follow the lane through to the first group of houses then, as it dips downhill, turn off left. This unsignposted lane looks more like a private driveway, but now continues for 2.5 km (1.6 miles) in a large curve bobbing up and down the hillsides through Malcoff. The absolute definition of “off the beaten track”, this route pays off with beautiful views, particularly to South Head and Roych Clough on the southern side of Kinder Scout. Along the way, it’s narrow, has short steep sections both uphill and downhill and care must especially be paid to the occasionally rough and gravelly surface, particularly in the middle of the lane. Meeting another vehicle would be exceptionally unlucky, but can happen.
- A final, wider climb after a bridge rises the lane up to Slackhall. Turn left here, past a post box, and cross straight over the fast Sheffield Road with care. The next lane climbs very steeply immediately up to the left (we’re talking three-arrows-on-the-OS-map steep) before eventually giving a first glimpse of the White Peak ahead. Cruelly, it then drops into Stonyford only to climb up again, even further, on the other side. But this is where the views really open out in spectacular fashion: right over the rolling, green National Park ahead and in 360-degrees around to Combs Moss, Chinley Churn and Rushup Edge. Rejoice that the ride ahead is now largely level or downhill for a full 11 km (7 miles), roughly the entire distance you’ve covered so far.
- Dropping downhill, the lane soon joins another to head alongside the row of cottages lining the hillside at Sparrowpit, many built for local quarrymen. The A623 is now a noisy presence ahead, but approaching the junction with a pub straight ahead, turn left onto the much quieter road with a view of Rushup Edge straight ahead. This is still a fast route across to the infamous Winnats Pass, but we stay on it for just 1.1 km (0.7 miles) heading completely downhill. Mam Tor can soon be spotted central ahead. When the road hits its lowest point, prepare to turn right. This is a crossing for the Pennine Bridleway, so there’s plenty of space and even a separate path at the side to make things easier if necessary.
- Just before the road really begins to climb again and where the surfacing changes to a sandy colour, turn right past the weight limit signs into Perry Dale. The most rewarding jaunt of the entire ride now awaits: a gently downhill, smoothly surfaced, wondrously quiet single track lane following magically through this low dale. The absolute nothingness of the green sides, dotted with limestone, and the sheer pin-drop silence makes this an incredibly special find. After just over 2 km (1¼ miles), a cattle grid heralds the return to the real world and the village of Peak Forest. Approaching a bend, follow it to the right and continue ahead, the quaint village street soon framing the view of St Charles King and Martyr Church.
- The A623 is now crossed with a unique traffic light junction which stops traffic to allow you (and more horsey users of this Pennine Bridleway route) to turn out right, then immediately left. The sensors sometimes seem to have trouble picking up bikes, so it’s best to just push the high-level equestrian button for the quickest crossing. Completing the right-then-left turn, the next road now heads immediately out again between stunning wide open fields to Batham Gate, the route of a Roman road. At a right-hand bend, turn off instead straight ahead for a more enjoyable route. This climbs slightly, with views over Dam Dale, then drops to a crossroads. Turn right onto the empty tarmac lane which stretches away along the dale to a group of trees.
- Smalldale is entered alongside a row of stone cottages — the sheer edges of Dove Holes Quarry peeping over the green fields to the right giving an inkling of the vast quantities of limestone extracted from this area. Turn left, now again on the Batham Gate Road, heading downhill until you encounter a railway bridge. Depending on your interest, this will either present a glimpse at “some trains” or absolute trainspotting nirvana: the former Peak Forest station building is still in situ on this, the former Midland mainline through the Peak to London St Pancras; nowadays, a huge marshalling yard for big, exciting quarry trains laden with wagon after wagon of limestone.
- Turn right immediately after the railway bridge onto Dale Road, offering yet more views of the other-worldly quarrying operations as trains are loaded and shunted into place. Remember the railway viaduct at Chinley? This is where those trains end up after travelling through the 2.7 km (1.7 mile) Dove Holes Tunnel, which emerges into a spectacularly narrow cutting just ahead on the right. Pools of frightening turquoise water sit beside the road as we instead begin to head back, above ground, past the quarry entrance which spurts out heavy wagons, towards Dove Holes. Just after the village sign, try to spot where the Peak Forest Tramway, near the end of its journey, once crossed over on a bridge whose stone abutments still remain.
- At the traffic lights, cross straight over the A6 onto Station Road, which curves narrowly uphill and passes Dove Holes station on a bridge over the Buxton railway line. After another brief climb, turn left into Cowlow Lane, signposted a single track road. This spectacular lane rises out over one side of Combs Moss, a huge, peat-heavy plateau which divides Buxton from the central High Peak. Climbing at first between Lady Low and Cow Low, it can be easy to think you’ve conquered it with the view of Cowlow Farm. Yet the lane then drops and rises even further, even more epically, right below the ancient Iron Age hill fort of Castle Naze, defined by its sheer rocky sides. Passing the abandoned cars of hikers to its summit, the descent begins with an incredible view left along Combs Edge, the hillside jutting outwards in three huge outcrops.
- Approaching a terrifyingly tight downward turn, the final dazzler of the ride presents itself: a view right across Combs Reservoir, which feeds the Peak Forest Canal where we began, and over Whaley Moor to the glinting skyscrapers of Manchester. Cowlow Lane now takes a daredevil dive down the hillside: steep, narrow, sometimes gravelly, and by sod’s law often with a 4×4 around the next bend. As you begin to smell your screaming brakes, it decants you without a second thought in the pretty village of Combs itself, centred around the Beehive Inn. Turn right here, signposted Chapel, and follow the quiet road out, under a railway bridge and briefly close alongside the reservoir; now hard to reconcile you were just moments ago so high above it.
- Where the road meets the B5470 Manchester Road, there’s little choice but to join it, turning left. Rather fast but relatively wide for the most part and completely downhill, it heads through the nondescript Tunstead Milton following Randal Carr Brook back into Whaley Bridge. After the railway overbridge, you’re on the home run: a long straight between houses and a pub opens up. As the road widens and veers left at a pair of bus stops, turn right onto Old Road. Follow this quiet residential road right the way over and, as it all suddenly looks familiar again, back to your starting point in the centre of the town.
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The Peak Forest Tramway by D. Ripley
Almost a brief as the current trail itself, this 27-page booklet is nevertheless crammed full of detail on the route right out to Dove Holes and how it was worked with a handful of rare photographs, diagrams and route plans to bring the line to life. (A newer edition is also available.)
Freight in the Peak District by Paul Harrison
Has that sighting of the colourful quarry trains at Peak Dale whetted your appetite for more modern railway geekery? This 96-page book illustrates the rail freight of the White Peak, past and present.
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!