A breezy cycle tour from Chesterfield to the Palaeolithic hunting ground of Creswell Crags via the Stuart splendour of Bolsover Castle

Great British Life: Bolsover CastleBolsover Castle (Image: Archant)

If feeling down in the dumps, what better way to shake off the fug than by getting in touch with your inner Stig of the Dump? Ice Age delights await to cool you down in the heat of a summer’s day, but first – more urbane pleasures.

Leaving the upholstered delights of Chesterfield behind, head east, following the winding back lanes towards the impressive edifice of Bolsover Castle - backdrop for the 2007 Robert Carlyle film Summer.

Acquiring its unusual toponym, from either the ‘bull’s ridge’ (OE: Bula’s Ofer or Boll’s Ofer), or, more prosaically, ‘the ridge associated with a chap named Boll’, surly Mercians were licked into shape by the iron-headed Normans when they founded a castle here in the 11th century.

It wasn’t until Charles Cavendish turned the ruins it had become into a resplendent castle (starting with the ‘Little Castle’), ostensibly as a retreat from his principal seat at Welbeck that it gained a sheen of respectability.

Great British Life: A view of the limestone outcrops at Creswell Crags (c) Peter Wooton/Getty Images/iStockphotoA view of the limestone outcrops at Creswell Crags (c) Peter Wooton/Getty Images/iStockphoto (Image: Peter Wooton)

When Cavendish senior died in 1617, his son, playboy poet William (future Duke of Newcastle), added to his father’s estate, turning it into a playboy mansion to entertain the cream of Stuart society, and by 1650, when the settlement of bull’s (or Boll’s) ridge was referred to as the more elegant sounding ‘Bolsouer’, its makeover was complete.

Fortified by the monumental cream teas available from the castle’s tea rooms, it’s time to push on – back, fifty to sixty thousand years, beyond the Ice Age into the Palaeolithic, as we continue east to Creswell Crags – an awe-inspiring limestone gorge on the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire border.

Its bottle neck proved an ideal confined killing ground, into which early hunters drove their fast food: bison, mammoth, and other delicacies. Within the many caves, which riddle the cliffs, evidence of Neanderthal occupation have been found, along with the earliest cave art in Britain and later apotropaic ‘witch marks’, discovered in 2018.

The fabulous exhibition and visitor centre help put everything into context. It is worth spending a good couple of hours here at least – be prepared to queue for the cave, cuppa, and rock cakes in the busier months – before turning back westwards; this time taking a northerly route via Clowne. Not a place to live if you are a coulrophobiac (although its name actually derives from the Celtic for river: ‘clun’), but a pleasant village to pass through on a summer’s day. Ahead, you still have easy towpath cycling following the Chesterfield canal back into town. Roll on, summer!


1. From Chesterfield train station turn right and under the railway bridge, following Crow Lane east out of town. After 0.8 miles, turn right onto Crow Lane, past the cattery onto Wetlands Lane, which becomes Westmoor Road as you enter Calow.

2. Follow Blacksmith Lane southeast out of Calow. At the roundabout take the first exit onto A632. Follow this all the way to Bolsover. Take Castle Street to, well, guess!

3. Head northeast on Welbeck Road, which becomes Marlpit Lane.

4. At the crossroads, take the left (Mansfield Road/B6417) and head north. After 1.2 miles turn right onto Spring Lane towards Elmton. Continue past the Elm Tree pub, following Wood Lane as it bends northeast. Continue to Creswell and follow signs to Creswell Crags. From Creswell, retrace steps to Mansfield Road and head north northwest. It bends west and becomes Sheffield Road (A616), but don’t stay on this. Turn left at Hazelmere Road, then right onto the old Clowne Branch Line. After some nice traffic-free cycling along this leafy route to Clowne, come off the greenway, following signs to the shopping centre.

5. From Clowne, follow B6418 west. As this bends southwest, turn ‘right’ onto Slayley Hill. After a couple of miles, turn left onto the Worksop Road/A619. Follow this past Mastin Moor and Netherthorpe, onto Staveley.

6. As you enter Staveley, turn right onto Church Street, and head west towards the river, then, at the Staveley canal carpark, take the Chesterfield canal towpath left. Follow the canal, then Holbeck Close all the way back into Chesterfield.


Distance: 25.4 miles; 40.8 km

Level: Moderate (ascent: 1,214 ft; descent: 1,207 ft)

Parking: Chesterfield Station pay and display

Refreshments: Bolsover; Creswell Crags; Clowne; Staveley

Toilets: Bolsover; Creswell Crags; Clowne (for customers)

Travel links: (Train) Chesterfield


OS Map: OS Map: Explorer 269 (Chesterfield & Alfreton); Explorer 270 (Sherwood Forest)

Map of route: goo.gl/maps/PHpRSRC5aS1ZYkUM8

Bolsover Castle: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/bolsover-castle

Chesterfield: www.visitchesterfield.info

Cresswell Crags: www.creswell-crags.org.uk

Peak District: www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/home

Kevan Manwaring is an author and creative writing lecturer. His books include Turning the Wheel: seasonal Britain on two wheels; Lost Islands; and Pen Mine: itinerant thoughts of a Pennine Wayfarer. He is a keen walker and cyclist.

Before undertaking any journey, please check gov.uk for advice and updates on Covid-19.