With the tail end of storm Doris still hanging around like a bad smell, destinations for last Sunday’s ride that didn’t have tempestuous weather forecast were few and far between. Unusually, it was the Peak District that looked to have the most favourable conditions of anywhere in our doable-in-a-day radius, which gave us the perfect excuse to head back there to explore some more of the area.
When I say “most favourable”, what I mean is that the heavy rain and high winds that were forecast all day everywhere else, were only expected from mid-afternoon onwards, so with this in mind, I was conscious not to plan an overly ambitious route. After a bit of research, I decided on a 21 kilometre loop around Ladybower reservoir, with the option to extend it if Mother Nature was kind. The route was billed as being a classic with some of the best singletrack in the area, so we set off from Heatherdene car park on the south east end of the reservoir with high hopes for the ride ahead.
Turning right out of the car park, we followed the road for a few hundred metres, across a bridge and then up towards the Ladybower Inn. Immediately after the pub we turned off the road onto a very rocky bridleway that climbed sharply up onto the moor, providing quite a technical start to the ride.
Once up on the moor, the trail became soft, boggy and rutted, making it fairly difficult to negotiate in places. About half way up we encountered another group of mountain bikers on their way down, which looked much more fun than grinding through the quagmire.
After a steady climb, we arrived at the top of Whinstone Lee Tor where we were rewarded with great views of Ladybower reservoir, and the promise of a good descent. It started fairly sedately by skirting around Derwent Edge until the trail forked and we took the direct route down to the banks of the reservoir for a fast, fun blast that was over way too soon.
At the bottom we followed the road for a couple of kilometres until we reached the magnificent Derwent Dam, which Doris had undoubtedly helped to make even more spectacular than usual. After pausing for a while to marvel at the massive wall of water, we continued up the road, past the top of the dam, until we reached another stretch of rocky bridleway that escalated sharply. As I ground away on my cranks, determined to make it round the steep bend without dabbing, I found myself thinking, once again, that this would make a much better descent. Right on cue, as if to confirm my suspicions, a group of lads came blasting down the trail having a whale of a time. The only consolation was that it gave me an excuse to take a breather.
After a while the gradient eased off and we enjoyed an easier pedal along Gores Heights. Just as I was starting to wish we’d done the ride in the opposite direction, we arrived at the top of our next descent, down to Hagg Farm, which turned out to be a superb technical descent with a steep gradient, rocky terrain and huge swooping berms. Although not particularly long, it was great fun, and easily surpassed any of the ones we’d climbed along the way.
The descent brought us back down to the opposite side of Ladybower reservoir where we skirted the banks for around five kilometres to the dam at the other end. Although very scenic, it was a fairly flat and unremarkable gravel track that felt like a bit of an anticlimax after such a great descent. However, what did add some excitement was arriving at the incredible sinkhole next to the dam, and watching torrents of water plunge to the depths below, giving the effect of a giant whirlpool.
From this point we could’ve added an extra 14 kilometre loop to the ride, but as the heavens were due to open at any moment, we decided just to call it a day and find a nice pub in which to seek refuge.
As it turned out, the rain didn’t arrive for another hour or so, by which time we were safely ensconced in the Peaks Inn at Castleton enjoying a pint and reflecting on another great ride.
Although by no means an epic, it was an enjoyable ride with some good technical climbs, a couple of great descents, and some awesome water features to admire along the way. Next time, I’d like to try it in reverse and extend the route to incorporate some more of the Peak District’s best trails.
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