Four intrepid riders from the Derbyshire Sport team – Lewis Adams, Matt Halfpenny, Martin Hird and Craig Homer – rode up to 75 miles of the Aviva Tour of Britain route that passes through Derbyshire on September 11. Via one or two wrong turns, they encountered some stunning scenery, tasty bacon and brie baguettes and tough hill climbs that gave them an enormous sense of achievement when conquered, as Matt describes.
Buxton to Castleton
Not only are the legs nice and fresh as we head off from the Devonshire Dome in Buxton, but the sun is out and there’s a long downhill stretch heading down towards Whaley Bridge after a short initial climb. “We’ll be there by lunchtime!” quips Craig, as we pass over the busy A6 that links Manchester and Derby.
Onwards we go through the beautiful villages of Buxworth, Chinley and Chapel Milton where the twin railway viaducts really catch the eye – those Victorians certainly knew how to build – and into Chapel-en-le-Frith, dubbed the capital of the Peak District.
It’s very much a ‘wow’ moment as we start the steep descent down Winnats Pass, one of the most famous roads in the county among cyclists, towards Speedwell Cavern. Most like to challenge themselves to conquer the climb, but we’re glad to be going the other way as we pass people puffing away up a slope that reaches a gradient of 20 per cent.
Thankfully all our break cables are working and we soon arrive in Castleton, passing a cavalcade of inviting pubs with signs for good food. Unfortunately, it’s just that little bit too soon to stop and settle Lewis’ grumbling belly!
Top ToB viewing place: Winnats Pass. It will be a spectacle to see the pros’ bike handling skills as they descend at breakneck speed.
Castleton to Bakewell
After winding through the tourist traffic and continuing on through Hope and Hope Valley we make it to the one-third marker of our journey into Hathersage, popular among walkers and climbers, as well as cyclists.
As it’s a busy Sunday, we decide to dive into the nearest café with available seats, and it proves a decent choice. It takes the arrival of the food to quieten Craig down for the first and probably only time of the day – well, at least for the three minutes it takes him to eat his bacon and brie baguette.
A quick look at the route over lunch suggests a lengthy climb out of Hathersage, which doesn’t disappoint, but the views down into the valley are fabulous, and more than compensate. There’s also the grit stone edge climbing meccas of Millstone, Froggatt, Curbar and Calver to look out for in quick succession.
At Stoney Middleton we turn onto what becomes known as the ‘Stocky-P road’, after the rest of the team shoot down my description of Stockport, the ultimate destination if you continue along the A623 and then A6.
From there, it’s a brief stop at Monsal Head to take in the striking viaduct in the valley below that hosts the Monsal Trail before setting off once more for Bakewell, via a cricket match at Ashford, where my call to bowl an over from the Pavilion End falls on deaf ears.
Top ToB viewing place: Monsal Head. Why not combine a stunning vantage point for the Tour with a ride or a walk?
Bakewell to Matlock
By now ‘the boys’ are getting pretty tired of my tourist-style stopping-for-a-picture-at-every-corner approach. No wonder the ride’s taking a while! Apparently there’s a bet on to see how many shots I will take. Martin’s guess of 100 is not even close…
We pass over the River Wye as we climb out of Bakewell and at the junction of the A6020 that leads to the former Hassop Station, we part ways with Craig, who is soon to reach his pre-agreed finishing destination in Baslow.
For the remaining three of us it’s on through Pilsley towards the magnificent Chatsworth House. A quick selfie later and we steel ourselves for the climb up to Beeley Moor – one of three category two climbs on the route. By the time we get to the top, we’re all breathing hard. Although not massively steep at an average of seven per cent, it goes on and on.
We cross beautiful moorland and pass Darwin Forest Country Park before descending through Farley to drop into Matlock, with the road into the former spa town revealing Riber Castle on the hill.
Top ToB viewing place: Beeley Moor climb. Watching the peloton climb will be a sight to behold – and could be a key moment in the overall stage.
Matlock to Belper
Whether it’s a sign of our growing fatigue or poor map reading by Lewis, we turn off the route for a few miles to head past the Heights of Abraham and through Matlock Bath, which remains a popular gathering point for motorcyclists.
We’re soon upon Masson Mills before re-joining the Tour route for the steepest ascent on our trip up Cromford Hill, which maxes out at over 15 per cent in gradient. It’s a relief to make it to the top and be on our way to Carsington Water, a haven for wildlife, as well as a popular watersports hub.
From here, it’s ‘home straight’ territory with the scent of the finish line in our nostrils, but there’s still time for me to have a mad five minutes, errantly follow two random riders, adding an unnecessary climb onto the distance. There’s enough hills to go at already, without adding them on!
After around seven-and-a-half hours in the saddle, we soon reach our final destination of the North Belper North Mill – a breathtaking sight on which to end. We all agree that it had been a memorable trip and whetted our appetites for the real thing on September 11, but it’s fair to say Sir Bradley Wiggins and co don’t have much to worry about anytime soon!
Top ToB viewing place: Belper Town centre. The listed North Mill provides a stunning backdrop and it is set to host one of the intermediate sprints.
To find out more about the Aviva Tour of Britain, including a stage six map and photos of the route through Derbyshire, go to the dedicated Derbyshire Sport page and also the official Aviva Tour of Britain website.