The Monsal Trail
The Monsal Trail winds through the hills of the Peak District offering visitors picturesque views and a unique heritage experience. Since the 1800s, the trail was used as part of the Midlands Railway, connecting Manchester to London. Nowadays it boasts scenic vistas, diverse wildlife and firm terrain for cyclists and walkers. Running north-east for over 8.5miles (14.4km) from Bakewell along the Wye valley towards Millers Dale, the trail offers the perfect recreational day out for visitors to the area. The trail can be accessed from numerous points along the route and can be walked in sections.
Distance: 8.9 miles – 14.4 kms
Approximate time: Cycling: 45mins – Walking: 3hrs 20mins
Please note: Walking and cycling routes change over time. Weather conditions may also affect path surfaces.
As a converted railway, the trail features not only a considerably flat gradient, but also several tunnels. Visitors are reminded of the trail’s heritage by the numerous platforms which remain by the side of the path, reminiscent of the era of steam railway. The original line was built in the 1800s, and became known as a significant feat of engineering due to its route through the varied terrain of the Wye valley. The Duke of Devonshire, resident of the nearby Chatsworth House, had refused for a railway to be built on his extensive lands. This meant that the engineers were forced to build the railway along the path of the river, which resulted in not only some tunnels of considerable length, but also the spectacular Headstone Viaduct. Passenger trains rolled through the beautiful scenery for several decades, before the line was closed in 1968. After a brief closure, the Monsal Trail was first opened in 1981, with diversions around two of the tunnels for safety, and no wheelchair access. In the 2000s, funding of over £3million was granted to renovate the trail, and the tunnels were finally reopened in 2011.
The Monsal Trail is recognised as National Cycle Route 680, and can be covered in sections, or included as part of the much longer White Peak Loop. Cyclists can benefit from tranquillity, away from any busy roads, and a reliable flat surface to take them winding through the hills and woodland. The trail is often covered by trees, providing shade and shelter from weather. The tunnels: Headstone, Cressbrook, Litton, Chee Tor, and Rusher Cutting; range up to almost 500m, and although they are lit, bike lights are advised in case of any failures. As the lights are on a daylight trigger switch, winter visitors may find the lights switch off by early evening.
Although the trail is frequented by bikes, it is a shared path, and is wheelchair accessible at either end in Bakewell and Miller’s Dale, or via the iconic Hassop Railway Station. Hikers visiting the peak district may find this the perfect rest-day activity, as it offers many scenic views with no severe gradient. Many walkers also choose to deviate from the trail near Monsal Head, either to climb up towards the top of the hill, where an even better view awaits, or to drop down into the valley to join the River Wye below the Headstone Viaduct.
Headstone Viaduct is the prime spectacle of the Monsal trail and is surely not to be missed. Crossing the Monsal Dale valley, an area designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), the viaduct offers excellent views up and down the River Wye. Visitors interested in the cultural heritage of the area should keep an eye out for the 19th century Litton Mill, whose history of shady employment practices have earned it a notorious reputation. Bikes are available to hire from the Millers Dale end with Blackwell Mill Cycle Hire, and visitors joining from the Bakewell end can make use of a variety of cafes, restaurants and amenities in the nearby town.
Monsal Head Hotel
Nestled in the heart of the stunning Peak District, this hotel enjoys beautiful views over Monsal Dale valley, and hearty, seasonal food.
Headstone Viaduct is just 250 yards from the hotel’s front door.