Tim's Peak District Gravel Classic
At just 26 miles / 42km long, this isn’t a ride of epic length nor does it explore the remote reaches of some distant land. What it does, however, is string together some fantastic riding, great descents, interesting climbs and stunning Peak District scenery. It doesn’t do it any harm that there are two potential coffee stops, a cafe and three pubs en route either. So whether you treat it as a fast evening blast or linger all day over the views, wildlife and eateries, it's a great introduction to the area.
The route is all rideable on a gravel bike, but it does have some moderately technical sections so I’d recommend decent volume tyres for added comfort, or it could be used as a pretty mellow mountain bike circuit too. It is a good option all year round as the stony, sandy trails drain quickly and don’t get too muddy; the 43mm Panaracer GravelKing SK Plus TLC Folding Tyres that I fitted to the Cervelo Aspero gravel bike were perfect.
It is fairly exposed on the rocky edges and open moors though, so a cold, windy day could be quite hard work. My favourite time to do the ride is a warm summer's evening, with the heather looking stunning in pink bloom, the sun low on the horizon and curlews calling across the moors.
Mile 0/Km 0: The Fox House
There are plenty of places that you could start this route, but the Fox House seems as good a place as any, because all the best rides end at a pub! Heading off-road straightaway, the steady climb up onto Houndkirk Moor gives great views to the east of Sheffield, emphasising just how close the city is to all the trails. The sandy byway leads east to the small village of Ringinglow, and the Norfolk Arms (which would make another good pub-based start/finish point).
Mile 1.8/Km 3: Houndkirk Moor
The two trail centre style routes of Lady Canning's Plantation are hidden in the woods near here, and are both quite fun on a gravel bike if you have surplus energy. These red and blue grade descents are the work of the Ride Sheffield group, who successfully managed to get permission to build the trails a few years ago and they have been extremely popular ever since.
Mile 6.8/Km 11: Stanage Pole
After Ringinglow, quiet lanes deliver you to the off-road ascent up to Stanage Pole, the highest point of the route at over 400m above sea level and a landmark that denotes the border between Yorkshire and Derbyshire. A wooden pole has stood on this spot since 1550, and the surrounding rocks bear the scratched inscriptions of the parish road surveyors over the last 500 years!
The brave (or mountain bike equipped) can dive down the gritstone rocks of the Plantation descent, but if you are on narrower tyres then the ancient Long Causeway is the safer option. Both descents eventually lead to a car park where there is frequently a coffee van in situ. From this point, a scenic longer loop to the north around the reservoirs of Ladybower and Derwent can be added on for those with an excess of time and energy.
Mile 10/Km 16: Burbage Valley
The road climb underneath Stanage Edge is always a bit of a drag on a mountain bike, but a fast gravel bike like the Aspero makes it feel much easier. Picking out the brightly coloured specs of the climbers and boulderers pinned to the gritstone edge takes your mind off the gradient, before passing through a gate and descending the long, picturesque Burbage Valley with more climbers in evidence.
Mile 13.6/Km 21.8: Longshaw Estate
The old hunting lodge in Longshaw Estate is now run by the National Trust and has a cafe with a lovely open view over the grounds and across to the Hope Valley and the distant hill of Mam Tor. It’s also about halfway round the route so makes a great place for a bite to eat. After passing another wooden pole marking an old packhorse route, there is a choice to make; either ride past the slightly spooky lone house and down an easy grassy slope or stay left and enjoy a rockier, rooty singletrack descent. Both options lead to the Grouse pub.
Mile 16.9/Km 27: Froggatt Edge
The path along the edges of Froggatt, Curbar and Baslow was only opened up to bikes in 2014, and now provide an excellent off-road trail easily accessible from Sheffield. There are a couple of technical sections here, with judicious line choice and a bit of momentum needed for success, but it is mostly straightforward riding with amazing views across the valley to your right and the open moors on the left. Red deer stags can often be seen around here, particularly in the autumn rutting season when they will certainly be audible if not visible.
Mile 18.6/Km 29.8: The Eagle Stone
There is another opportunity for a coffee stop at the Curbar Gap road crossing, where a lovely converted Citroen H van will provide more caffeine and cake if required before the gorgeous Highland cows and Eagle Stone of Baslow Edge. Local custom has it that any villager who wishes to marry must climb up the vertical rock tower to prove his worthiness - maybe don’t try it in cycling shoes though…
Mile 21.9/Km 35: Big Moor
A long open section across the imaginatively titled Big Moor on good trails leads past Barbrook reservoir, a popular wild swimming spot for a dip on hot days. Keep an eye out round here for the daytime hunting short-eared owls, barn owls and kestrels that frequent the area. Eventually, after crossing a main road, the trail reaches Wimble Holme Hill, a great bit of singletrack that contours around the hillside on a narrow trail and can feel quite exciting at speed, before a grassy climb and rocky lane deposits you back at the pub, ready for a pint.
My Bike - How It Rides
The Cervelo Aspero is a gravel bike capable of taking on some seriously rough terrain, but it is definitely a speed-focused machine built for gravel racing or off-road attacks on PBs and Strava KOMs. Weighing in at just 8.4kg, which is in pure road bike territory, and with its laterally stiff full carbon frameset, this bike longs to be pushed hard, through, rather than over typical gravel terrain. The SRAM Force AXS wireless gear setup is perfect for off-road use due to its simplicity of use, while the Reserve carbon wheels are reasonably light and have proven to be robust when tackling rough, more MTB themed tracks.
Travel: The starting point at the Fox House pub is only 7.5 miles / 12km from Sheffield train station, and 5 miles / 8km of that is off-road through the Porter Valley and Ecclesall Parks. Or the route passes within a couple of miles of Hathersage train station if travelling from the west.
Accommodation: Both the Fox House and the Norfolk Arms offer accommodation on the route, and there are plenty of other options in Sheffield and the surrounding villages.
Food: As well as the two pubs which serve meals on the route, the cafe at Longshaw estate sells food and at weekends or bank holidays, the Curbar Gap and Stanage Plantation car parks usually have coffee vans that also offer snacks.