High Peak Trail and Carsington Water

Cycling the High Peak trail and Carsington Water.

The High Peak Trail is a disused railway line running through the heart of the White Peak offering virtually traffic free cycling. Carsington Water is Derbyshire’s most recent large reservoir which was opened in 1992 by HM Queen Elizabeth II. This ride combines the trail and reservoir using mainly quiet country lanes and bridleways (with just a couple of sections along main roads).

Start at Middleton Top near to Middleton-by-Wirksworth. From the car park turn left (south westerly direction) along the surfaced trail and follow this for about 3.5 miles to Longcliffe. This section of the High Peak Trail is pretty much flat other than one short incline). Leave the High Peak Trail via the exit past the houses to the right and turn left along the road. Pass back under the trail and downhill.  At a right hand bend, pick up a bridleway across the fields on the left (there is some riding on grass and beware of the gates – churned up by cattle and rather bumpy with exposed rocks) past Rainster rocks to Pasture lane. The bridleway is not obvious on the ground and it is easy to end up riding the footpath.

Once you are back on the country roads, descend through Bradbourne to the main road. Turn left along the road and take an obvious steep and stony track uphill round Wigber Low and Standlow farm to the Wirksworth road. The section after the track can be muddy after rain and needs careful navigation. Ride in an easterly direction (towards Wirksworth – beware of traffic along here as it is a well used road). Take a right turn to Carsington reservoir. A short way along the road you will see a bit of a pull-off by the entrance to some farm buildings. You can hop onto that and use the track running down by the hedge to get off the main road. It joins the Carsington Water car park service road so be aware of traffic at the bottom.

Cross the dam and enter the other car park to join the track that skirts the reservoir on its Eastern side. This is surprisingly hard work as it is seldom flat! At the top end of Carsington Water, cross the main Wirksworth road and take the short track into Hopton. Turn left onto this and shortly after take the road on the right (just after leaving Hopton village) and grind your way back uphill through the lovely wooded valley of Stone Dene. Turn right at the crossroads and continue uphill to the skyline where you will find a farm track on the left which rejoins the High Peak Trail. Turn left along the trail back to Middleton Top. If you are feeling fit, you could start at the High Peak Junction on the Cromfoed Canal  instead of Middleton Top (which gives two big but non-technical climbs to get to Middleton Top).

Disclaimer (probably not necessary but here it is anyway!) – This route is a suggestion only and should not be used in this form for navigation. It is up to your party to decide whether a route is suitable or not and to make sure that you are properly equipped. Navigation is also the responsibility of your party. We cannot accept any liability for injuries or other mishaps.

Points of interest

Middleton Top and the High Peak Trail – Middleton Top is now a visitor centre (pay car park with honesty box), bike hire and public toilets built on the site of the Middleton Top Winding House. When the High Peak Trail was a working railway the trucks were hauled up this section (Middleton Incline) using a cable driven by a large steam engine housed in the big building at the top of the incline – the Winding House. It is occasionally fired up for the entertainment of visitors. Once at Middleton Top, locomotives could take over although it was still a struggle to get up the gentler Hopton Incline. After the Hopton Incline the trail flattens out and on a good clear day you can see the Wrekin in Shropshire plus extensive views over south Derbyshire. With decent visibility it is easy to see the power stations along the Trent and Charnwood forest in Leicestershire too.

Bradbourne – typical unspoilt Derbyshire village with a beautiful church, passed by most tourists as it is off the beaten track. The church has a well-preserved mixture of Saxon and Norman architecture and the monks who first came here 800 years ago would probably have no problem recognising the building today. The Norman tower has a turret stairway, very rare in Derbyshire, and little has changed since the 13th century. Three original Norman doorways remain and the south door of the tower is an especially fine example of Norman stonework with a carved triple archway but the earliest piece of stonework on the site is a very well preserved 8th century stone cross-shaft which stands in the well-tended churchyard. Bradbourne also has been touched by mining with the remains of bell pits to be seen on the sloes of Haven Hill.

Carsington Water – Carsington Reservoir was about 30 years in the planning and making. It would have been finished sooner but the collapse of the first dam wall in the mid 1980s put the whole project on hold for some years. For a change, no villages were swallowed when the reservoir was filled but archaeologists lost some very good examples of medieval ridge and furrow ploughing. The reservoir is owned by Severn Trent and they top it up from the river Derwent during the winter. A 10 km pipeline and pumping system is used to extract water from the Derwent when it is running high. In the summer, the water is released back into the river for extraction and processing at various water stations downstream. Whilst at Carsington, please spare a thought for the men who died whilst constructing the tunnels – they were overcome and suffocated by a build up of carbon dioxide gas whilst working underground. The reservoir has several areas dedicated to wildlife which attract a variety of land birds and waterfowl. There is an active sailing club plus a visitor and craft centre served by a large car park. There are a couple of other car parks too making Carsington Water a very good local and tourist amenity. The kids will love the huge rock sphere that can be spun round by one hand – how does it work? We leave that to you to go and find out!