England Ride: The Fabled Monsal Trail

So though I didn’t rent a Brompton folding bike while I was in England, I did rent a bike, briefly. I had read about the Monsal Trail, a supposedly-lovely rails-to-trails-type effort near the little town of Bakewell. Since I was going to be in Bakewell anyway to visit a couple grand houses, I figured I’d rent the bike, ride the trail, then ride out to the houses. No problem, right?

Well, to start with, I got going a bit later than I’d intended (I can’t even remember why, but it wasn’t just sleeping late… something else came up). From Bakewell, the beginning of the Monsal Trail is about 1/2 a mile’s walk, and then the bike rental place was another mile further. So though my intention was to be there when the shop opened, I arrived about an hour later than I had hoped. This meant I had less time to ride than I’d thought I would, and I was definitely not going to complete the trail. As it’s 12 miles each way, I had figured it would be doable easily. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise that I was only able to ride the first eight. More on that, in a moment.

After a pretty walk that skirted the edge of town, I was up on the trail itself.

So far, so good. The views were obviously beautiful, and the weather looked to be holding. The above view is looking back toward Bakewell.

The trail itself was hard-packed dirt/gravel, edged with beautiful flowers and trees. The knee-high Queen Anne’s Lace was everywhere in England, and stunningly pretty.

Of course, those blue skies didn’t last for long. Before I’d even reached the bike shop, the skies had turned overcast, though the day was still very warm and muggy.

Given how pretty the walk was, I should have been able to slow down and enjoy it, but instead I kept thinking: “Where is that dang bike shop? Haven’t I walked a mile yet? Surely this is mile. Or this. Or this!” And so on.

When I did reach the shop, it was nearly 11am, which was way past when I was planning to arrive. They quickly rented me a bike, and I was off. The rental bike was exactly what one would expect: a cheap, mountain bike rip-off. And of course…

It was a Raleigh.

Not nearly as exciting as MY Raleigh, is it? But we can’t all be beautiful, I guess. This Raleigh rattled excessively and had that semi-upright position I find so dang uncomfortable, along with straight bars, which put my hands in a position that they were never meant to be in. That all said, the bike worked. I bungeed everything to the back, and took off.

Soon, I was approaching my first tunnel. These old railway tunnels are part of what makes the Monsal Trail fairly unique, and are a big draw for walkers and cyclists alike.

This one is called the “Headstone Tunnel.” Hopefully, not literal, that name…

Massive supports are needed to hold up the hewn-out sides of the approach:

Note the water pouring down the sides. It wasn’t raining, but it wasn’t… not… either.

Then I entered my first tunnel. I’m not sure what I expected, but these were longer than any tunnel I’ve ridden in before (probably because most of the tunnels I’ve ridden in were designed simply to take bikes under a street crossing). It was definitely unnerving and a bit creepy.

I emerged into a beautiful valley, riding high above it on a railroad bridge. The views from either side were stunning:

Here’s the other side:

How about a panorama, of sorts? I need to take more elaborate ones, I think. This one wasn’t even really deliberate. I’d forgotten how cool they are.

Anyway, I rode on toward a group of large, impressive-looking buildings down in the valley below. At first, I thought they might be part of a manor house complex, but a sign on the side of the trail enlightened me: they were an old textile mill. While the buildings were beautiful, I found them somewhat sad as well, since they were once a place where orphaned children were sent to work long hours at low pay as part of the industrial revolution (the sign even pointed this out, in case you think I’m being melodramatic and Dickensian).

Bucolic, if you don’t know its purpose.

I then rode into tunnel number two, which was equally creepy and considerably less exciting on round two.

Just beyond was another lovely valley, though I was no longer so high up.

It was here that I had to turn around. The weather was cooler now, and each tunnel was a bit tortuous, as the air inside was absolutely frigid. I was definitely over tunnels.

After the ride was finished, I headed back into town on the bike, and then on the “short” ride out to Chatsworth, one of the large houses I was hoping to visit. That short ride turned out to be over seven miles. Each way. Up hill. Fortunately, the other house I wanted to see was in the same area, so I didn’t end up with any extra mileage. But that said, thirty miles on the miserably uncomfortable faux mountain bike was plenty. I returned the bike the next morning, missing the 5pm cut-off for the same day return. This made me late the next day, but ah well. It was worth it!

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6 Responses to England Ride: The Fabled Monsal Trail

  1. John h says:

    Looks like a really nice rail/trail. Great scenery. Too bad about the rental bike, hope it didn’t leave you feeling cramped or sore.

  2. James F. Duncan says:

    Very pretty & welcome post, Rideblog. Gorgeous scenery of course is the icing. The tunnels remind me of the Queen Creek mine in Bisbee. I’m not a good tunnel person I guess. Were there any mine trolls :)!? Good to have you back. Jim

  3. rideblog says:

    My rear end, John, was none-to-happy about having to ride up and return the bike the next day. Worst. Seat. Ever.

  4. rideblog says:

    No mine trolls, Jim, but I didn’t much like them either, so I understand.

    I leave for Ireland in less than a week! Will ride around the Aran Islands, so there’s a rideblog.

  5. Hey those tunnels actually sound pretty great : )
    Not the bike though!

  6. rideblog says:

    V, I think tunnels sound more romantic than they are :).

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