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Eastern Peak District from Matlock

A seriously tough epic full of monumentally steep climbs.

Region Starts Length Ascent Scenery Brutality Quietness
East Midlands Matlock Train Station, Matlock, Derbyshire 93 km 1827 m

Rarely does any ride have such a high barrier to entry as this. Starting in Matlock, deep in the quasi mountains of the Peak District you are greeted immediately with a stairway to hell, Bank Road. Without even a hint of time to warm up, this ridiculous pitch of tarmac shoots unrelentingly skywards for what seems like eternity. This climb starts steep and stays that way, averaging 11% and hitting 20% at its worst. I struggled my way up while my younger, fitter and irritatingly spritely riding buddy Greg pushed on ahead of me. Finally, after nearly a kilometer, the road bends to the right and the gradient eases off. Once you have made this turning success is yours to savour but not for long.

As a certified masochist I planned our route to go straight down again, with a sketchy but enjoyable descent to the bottom of Riber Road. This is rated 9/10 in Simon Warren’s “100 Climbs” and I can see why. I am ashamed to say this one got the better of me and I made myself look a massive tit in the process. I honestly find it hard to believe how anyone could consider it a good idea to build a road like this. Characterised by brutally steep hairpins, this narrow, winding climb is one of the worst I’ve done, up there with hardknott pass. Still tired from Bank Road, I knew I’d be in trouble here. I got most of the way up but towards the top I couldn’t get on top of my gear and popped just after the last hairpin. Stopping to catch my breath I intended to clip in and finish the climb, but I managed to miss my pedal and topple over gracefully (...probably). Normally this would be embarrassing enough but today the climb was full of spectators watching a hillclimb. Body and ego both bruised, I thought better of trying again and pushed the final hundred meters or so to the top. I’m disappointed not to make it but will have to come back to put the record straight.

Back to the fun, we scream down the hill on a nice open descent back into the valley, past the pretty Cromford Mill and then start climbing again. While this next climb up and beyond Bonsall is very long, it’s nothing like as difficult as our opening two climbs. There are a few steep pitches towards the bottom but the climb gradually becomes more and more shallow as you reach the moorland on the top. It’s a classically english scene with ancient dry stone walls and fields full of hardy sheep, with wonderful views stretching down into the valley below. It’s cold up here and on a windy day could be very exposed but today is still and misty but dry. A nice descent awaits, before a very steep but short climb through a wooded area near Stanton in Peak and a nice long descent to the valley floor. 

The next climb is similar to Bonsall being long but not too challenging, only this time with the added benefit of a cafe stop at The Old Smithy in Monyash. Popular with everyone on two wheels, motor or otherwise, this is a good place to stop, not least because it’s in the middle of nowhere so options are sparse, but also because it does a damn good sausage and bacon cobb (bread roll) which you will no doubt need by now.

Both Greg and I really enjoyed the descent into Miller’s Dale. The road surface is good and it’s twisty enough to be fun while not being so steep that you’re constantly on the brakes. It also leads us towards the next recognised climb of the day, Monsal Head. It’s not a climb to be feared although it is quite steep. It’s not long enough to trouble anyone that’s made it this far into the ride but it’s one of my favourites. The run in along the valley is very pretty, especially at this time of year as the autumnal colours really set the forest alight. At the top is Monsal Head hotel which is very popular with beautiful views into the valley while the impressive viaduct frames a picture postcard image. 

From here on in there’s a few more short climbs and a nice little descent into Calver, where we stopped at “The Eating House” for a slice of cake, or in my case Bakewell tart because it seemed rude not to. It’s worth stocking up because there’s another lung busting climb to tackle. Curbar Edge is one of my favourite climbs, it’s steep but not too steep, long but not too long, has tremendous views, good surface and tolerably low levels of traffic. At the top the heather parts way to reveal a long cliff edge popular with walkers and rock climbers with views reaching far into the valley. As we’re riding in late October time is not on our side so we’ve got to move quickly but in summer I’d like to dwell here for a while. It’s very beautiful.

We’re getting close to Matlock now, having bombed down the hill on the main road. The end is in sight but there’s a final sting in the tail. First, some history, as we follow the main road to Chatsworth House, a grand stately home set in extensive grounds on the River Derwent. It is possible to cycle through the grounds but I’ve not risked putting it in the route because it’s not always open to the public. It’s well worth a visit though, the house and grounds are truly stunning. It’s worth noting that the road between Chatsworth and Rowsley is quite busy. Not a problem for most but if you’d prefer to add distance and keep things quiet you can stay high up and descend to Rowsley on Chesterfield Road.

Now, for that final sting in the tail with one last climb up to Stanton Lees on a fantastic road that clings to the side of the hill and offers views all the way back to Matlock and beyond. We’re both getting really tired now, but the sweet taste of victory is tangible and we can roll down to celebrate a hard, but incredibly rewarding ride in Matlock. If you can hack a ride with this much climbing I can’t recommend this one enough.

by matthj1