Dales, moorlands, quiet roads and Bakewell’s finest
WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY: Chris Prior
Within a short hike of Shining Tor, the highest point in the White Peaks, the Cat and Fiddle has long been a
popular meeting place for motorcyclists – on summer weekends it’s hard to find a parking spot. Lots of tight bends on the A537 Macclesfield road make it a great road to ride, but beware.
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It’s reputed to be the most dangerous road in Britain, thanks to the number of motorcycle accidents, so there’s now a 50mph limit with average speed cameras to enforce it. And as with all of this route, cyclists and hill walkers abound at all times of the year, while summer weather brings out hordes of slow-driving sightseers. But don’t let any of that put you off, because it’s still a great ride.
From the Cat & Fiddle ride west to Macclesfield, and then take the A523 south towards Leek. Just past Rushton Spencer, Rudyard Lake is visible on the right. There’s a layby here, with an opportunity to admire the view and/or patronise the burger van. The lake was created as a reservoir towards the end of the 18th century and is now home to a thriving sailing club. And a Mr and Mrs Kipling were so enchanted by the beauty of the place that they named their son after it.
As you enter Leek, the road swings round to the left and then, via several speed cameras, up towards the town centre. Carry straight on along the A53 Buxton road and as you leave the built-up area note the white Sera Bistro building on the right; it’s your next waypoint.
Turn right here, taking the road towards Warslow and Thorncliffe. We’re off the A-roads now and into some of the most beautiful parts of the country. As the road climbs, verdant pastureland gives way to moorland. As it’s fairly flat here and the roads are not bounded by high hedges, on a clear day one can see to the far horizon.
It’s particularly picturesque in autumn when the heather paints the hills a striking purple. In the winter it’s bleak, so it’s not surprising that the wallabies are now extinct – they were rumoured to have lived here after escaping from a private collection. On the left the ridge that forms the Roaches and the escarpment of Hen Cloud are clearly visible (weather permitting), and these gritstone features, in many places weathered to curious shapes, are popular with hill walkers and rock climbers. There’s a big layby here, perfectly placed for you to stop and whip out the camera.
Take the waters
On through Thorncliffe and at the Mermaid Inn turn right towards Warslow. Ride through Warslow village and at the T-junction turn left on to the B5053. After less than half a mile turn right on to the B5054, another wonderful riding road leading to the Derbyshire Dales.
You soon come to the little village of Hartington. It’s a centre for hiking and, like many others in the White Peak area, the houses are built from the local limestone and look at home here. The 13th century church of St Giles, set in the highest point of the village, is worth a visit, and its graveyard tells much of the history of the area. Stop to appreciate it, have a cuppa and a little walkabout, or just sit by the pond and think what a good day you’re having.
Leaving Hartington, stick with the B5054 as far as the A515. Turn right here, but don’t worry, we’re soon back on the B-roads. After about a mile, at Newhaven, turn left on to the B5012 towards Pikehall and Winster. At the B5056 turn left again on to another lovely piece of tarmac that leads to the A6. In spite of being an arterial road, the A6 has a country feel, and after two-and-a-half miles you’ll be in Bakewell. On a fine day the town is packed and a parking spot is hard to find. Some car parks have motorcycle bays, but only in places not readily accessible by cars, and unfortunately the same charges apply. Nevertheless, Bakewell is well worth wandering around. Even if you don’t want to enjoy one while here, treat yourself to a Bakewell pudding from one of the specialist shops to take home. They are the real thing, not the pastiche sold at supermarkets.
Leave Bakewell on the A6, much of which follows the course of the River Wye. It’s a two-lane road, winding and lined with trees, but can be quite busy with trucks. The spa town of Buxton reached its heyday in the 19th century when the arrival of the railway enabled masses to enjoy the therapeutic waters of St Ann’s Well.
There’s a flourishing opera house here, and our route out of town passes the beautifully landscaped Pavilion Gardens, a place not just to relax but also to enjoy one of the many events there – brass bands, markets and classic car auctions feature, so something for everyone, as they say in the tourist brochures.
Just out of Buxton, from the A53 Leek road turn right on to the A54, but be aware that you are re-entering the average speed check zone. This winding A-road leads to the A537 and back to the Cat & Fiddle. As you climb once again, the scenery becomes more barren and the Cat & Fiddle stands alone in a treeless landscape.
On the other hand, if you feel the ride so far has been too enjoyable to end so soon, keep going on the A54 towards Congleton and throw a right along an unclassified road towards Wildboarclough.
In fact, as there’s a network of mostly well tarmacked minor roads covering the area, why not ride at random, just to see what’s there? So much of Britain’s country roads are lined by high hedgerows that make every corner blind, but in these higher moorland areas the roads are mostly bounded by drystone walls, low enough to see over. You still need to be aware of the limestone quarries hereabouts, so on a weekday you are likely to encounter large trucks. Otherwise, happy wandering.