Kevan Manwaring follows the stunning (& remarkably flat!) High Peak Trail amid the glorious southern Peak District. The White Peaks, welcoming cafés and fascinating industrial heritage await!

Great British Life: High Peak JunctionHigh Peak Junction (Image: Kevan Manwaring)

In the early 19th century William Cobbett set off on a series of saunters, via horse-back, across the English countryside, to see the state of the nation. He was concerned in particular with the rural poor, but his timeless classic, Rural Rides (1822-26), became a vivid and opinionated portrait of Victorian England, both town and country. A century later, the poet and critic Edward Thomas set off from London on his bicycle heading west towards the Quantocks, in search of spring - an experience he captured in his singular travelogue In Pursuit of Spring (1913) - a book that convinced his soon-to-be new friend Robert Frost that Thomas was, in fact, a poet. With Cobbett and Thomas as my eastings and northings, I set off on my own peregrinations - exploring the delights of Derbyshire and the Peak District on two wheels: a modern rural ride. If I glean the 'state of the nation' or find signs of spring along the way, that will be a byproduct for my focus here will be on finding the best day rides around the National Park and its borders - with an eye on scenic charms, interesting landmarks, and literary and folkloric heritage (oh, and the odd pub or cosy café!). The plan for my first Rural Ride was to cycle a respectable 25 miles from Buxton to Matlock, taking in the High Peak Trail - a traffic-free cycle path, which follows the old Cromford and High Peak railway route for 17 miles. You are of course welcome to just do the Trail (or even just a section of it)! There are two good places to join it (and hire wheels if you need them - cycles, wheelchairs, baby trailers, etc) - at Parsley Hay and Middleton Top. The Trail is very family friendly, wheelchair accessible, and popular with walkers, photographers, and the odd Hen Party! There's a great campsite-pub in the middle, and plenty of accommodation options either end if you want to make a weekend of it - I did!

1. Buxton

Great British Life: Grade II listed Samuel Turner Memorial Drinking Fountain in BuxtonGrade II listed Samuel Turner Memorial Drinking Fountain in Buxton (Image: Kevan Manwaring)

Following the Sustrans route 68 signs, turn right out of the station and coast downhill past St Anne's Well Pump Rooms (once the heart of this charming former spa town), on to the splendid Opera House. Take a moment to admire its façade before pushing SSW alongside Buxton Park - the leafy boulevard of Broad Walk makes for pleasant cycling. You will pass a sign for Poole's Cavern (an optional detour). Turn right and leave the suburbs to join the main road (A515), though not for long as you turn off right to push up Harpur Hill. Don't worry it's not as formidable as it looks and you're soon cycling high up on the plateau. You pass the High Peak Bookstore and Café, if you need a pitstop, before turning onto the A515. It can be busy here, but hold your nerve - pleasant cycling awaits!

2. High Peak Trail

Great British Life: The High Peak TrailThe High Peak Trail (Image: Kevan Manwaring)

The Matlock road is busy so you'll be glad to leave it after a couple of miles, turning right onto a dusty track, then, in the dip, joining the High Peak Trail on the left: the start or end of the route, depending on which way you're heading! Pleasant level traffic-free cycling follows. Enjoy the views - but watch out for fellow trail-users. Give pedestrians and horse-riders the right of way. You need to have iron will to pass the temptations of the Royal Oak pub at Hurdlow!

3. Parsley Hay

Great British Life: Parsley HayParsley Hay (Image: Kevan Manwaring)

Keep following the High Peak Trail all the way to Parsley Hay cycle hire centre, where there is a popular café. Shortly after this the Trail splits - the right fork is the 13 mile Tissington Trail, which you can follow all the way to Ashbourne, but save for another day! For now, take the left fork to Middleton. Savour the peaceful miles. Stop now and then to enjoy the view.

4. Middleton Top

Great British Life: Middleton TopMiddleton Top (Image: Kevan Manwaring)

At Middleton Top there is another cycle hire centre and a shop selling hot drinks and snacks. Stop to admire the magnificent Engine House, used to pull steam trains up the formidable Hopton Hop - the steepest climb of railtrack in England. Engines would sometimes take several attempts to make it, and there is a catch-pit at the bottom of the hill for those that didn't! The great 20th century author, D H Lawrence, stayed here with his German wife Frieda from 1918-19 - at Mountain Cottage, where he wrote 'A Wintry Peacock', a short story set in the area. Further along admire the views from the Sheep Pasture over Cromford - the heart of the Arkwright empire - before plunging downwards. Take real care descending the steep descent to the Derwent Valley bottom. At High Peak Junction, there is an exhibition about the Cromford and High Peak Line, and you may spot a well dressing too!

5. Cromford

Great British Life: Cromford WharfCromford Wharf (Image: Kevan Manwaring)

Cross the canal bridge, and turn left following the towpath along to the charming café at Cromford Wharf. A chance for a cuppa or an ice-cream, before joining the main road (A6), turning left, and heading towards your final destination of Matlock.

6. Matlock

Great British Life: Countryside viewsCountryside views (Image: Kevan Manwaring)

Following the A6 - busy but level and smooth - you pass through the popular tourist honeypot of Matlock Bath, with its many attractions, including The Heights of Abraham. Matlock itself awaits not farther beyond - and the end of this first rural ride. Worth celebrating, perhaps with a pint at the Duke William, or another hostelry in town!

Highlights of the Route

Buxton: handsome spa-town

Parsley Hay: cycle hire centre and café

Middleton Top: cycle hire centre and shop

Cromford: canal-side café

Matlock Bath: a lively tourist hub

The essentials

- Distance: 25 miles.

- Level: Moderate.

- Refreshment: Buxton (various); Parsley Hay café; Middleton Top (shop - basic snacks and vending machine); Royal Oak; Cromford (canal-side café); Matlock.

- Accommodation: Various options in Buxton and Matlock; Duke William campsite.

- Accessibility: Wheelchair and specialist bikes for hire. Parking at Parlsey Hay and Middleton Top.

- Transport links: Buxton train station.

Useful Links & Addresses

High Peak Trail:

Parsley Hay:

Parsley Hay, near Buxton, SK17 ODG. Tel: 01298 84493


Middleton Top: Middleton Top Cycle Hire, Middleton Top Countryside Centre, Middleton by Wirksworth , Derbyshire, DE4 4LS. Email: Tel: 01629 533294

Visit Buxton:

Visit Matlock:

Staden Grange: (B&B/glamping/campsite in Buxton):

Royal Oak (pub & campsite on High Peak Trail):

Duke William (pub & campsite in Matlock):

Kevan Manwaring is an author and creative writing lecturer. His books include Pen Mine: itinerant thoughts of a Pennine Wayfarer. He is a keen walker and cyclist.