Shore tour

Rutland Water is custom-made for outdoor pursuits, cycling among them.

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Normanton Church

Rutland is the little guy that fought back and won. England’s smallest county was wiped off the map as a result of boundary changes in 1974 and then, three years later, nearly five square miles of it was submerged in the creation of the Rutland Water, western Europe’s largest man-made lake. Suddenly there wasn’t an awful lot left of Rutland whatever way you looked at it. The county was restored by popular demand in 1999 and a circuit of the Water is now one of the most popular family bike rides in the Midlands. Pleasant rather than spectacular (the lake is artificial, after all), the route provided my 11-year-old son, Bertie, and I with an enjoyable, simple off-road outing during October half-term.

Egleton

Egleton

The start of the ride is inauspicious and, for a mile or so, the route runs beside the main road with no view of the Water at all which is frustrating. It comes into its own on the optional loop around the Hambleton peninsula, a tongue of land reaching out into the middle of the water, which we followed. As we approached a flock of sheep on the track I expected them to scramble but they just edged reluctantly to one side. In these parts I guess they’re used to people enjoying the great outdoors. During the course of the ride we passed fishermen up to their thighs in the water, golfers, canoeists, ramblers, dry stone wallers and birdwatchers. What I first thought was a recreated thatched Iron Age roundhouse was actually a birdhide. The weather was undoubtedly best suited, though, to sailors.

Wind had whipped the water into white horses and, in these conditions, the Jacobean Hambleton Old Hall could almost have been the lochside, baronial pile of a Scottish laird. In place of golden eagles Canada geese flew in a v-shape. Bertie also travelled in formation for greater speed in my slipstream like an Olympic pursuit cyclist. The Hall’s waterside view is relatively new, of course, having resulted from the flooding of most of Middle Hambleton to create the reservoir. An embankment provides the necessary protection for hall.

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Southern coast of Hambleton peninsula

If you have time and energy it’s well worth nipping up to Hambleton (previously Upper Hambleton) as I did on a previous ride. Many people come for The Finches pub or Hambleton Hall hotel but the village is well worth the diversion just for the beautiful thatched cottages that line the main street with roses growing in arches over their gates. Everything’s old – The Old Manse, The Old Vicarage and The Old Stables – and the former post office and telegraph station, its sign still proudly on the wall, looks like something out of a Victorian murder mystery film. The road sign now indicates ‘No through road’ in two directions and ‘Oakham 3’ in the other. The initials RCC (Rutland County Council) remain defiantly on its shaft. Almost marooned by history, Hambleton will remain forever Rutland.

Having completed the loop, Bertie and I resumed our shore tour. A bench beside the village sign at Egleton and its Victorian primary school was a perfect swig stop and, on a warmer day, the tables outside the Horse & Jockey just around the corner would’ve provided an even better facility for imbibing. We could almost hear the ghosts of cyclists of summers past. The pub even has a bike rack and offers discounts for riders. Just the sort of half-way (public) house we like.

View north towardsx Burghley House

View north towards Burghley House

Shortly afterwards we hurtled down from the road on a slope so steep that I was glad we weren’t going in the other direction. Once beside the shore the track undulates and wiggles gently through clumps of trees making this my favourite stretch of the ride. At Edith Weston – a village not a person – a fine view opens up of the entire length of lake, sheep on the bank in front, Hambleton in the mid-distance and, in the background, the imposing Burley House.

The highlight of the route and the best known landmark on Rutland Water is St Matthew’s Church at Normanton. Originally medieval and with a tower rebuilt in the 19th century to look like St John’s in Westminster, the church was saved from the reservoir in the early 1970s by raising the floor by three metres, waterproofing the walls and building a stone embankment which also connects the building to the shore. Now it appears to sit on water almost as extraordinarily as Jesus walked on it. We’d just had lunch in a snack bar then, on resuming, passed a fabulous looking Italian restaurant and café overlooking the reservoir. Ain’t that always the way? One for next time, perhaps …

Dam good ride

Dam good ride

The final leg of the route on smooth Tarmac along the top of the dam with good views of the limnological tower (used to monitor the biological, physical and chemical aspects of the water) should’ve been the easiest. But for us, on such a gusty day, the exposed dam – it’s 40m high and 140m long – presented an unexpected challenge. We were practically tacking like the sailors we’d seen earlier, leaning into the wind to avoid being blown over. A sign beside the Rutland Belle pleasure boat read: “Not sailing today. Too windy.” We could well believe it. Not too windy for cycling, though. Just. We were so glad to get back to the sealed sanctuary of our car before the night’s storm really whipped up.

Fact file

Distance: 23 miles.

Time: 3 hours.

Directions:

IMG_4232Very straight forward navigation. There are car parks all round the reservoir but we started at Rutland Cycling (see Stop!) on the northern shore. Proceed around the reservoir in an anti-clockwise direction (as recommended by the bike hirer) following the plentiful waymarks. Just two points to watch out for. Firstly, at the end of the cycle lane beside the A606 in the north-west corner of the reservoir it’s easy to miss the signpost for the cycle route. If you encounter a roundabout you’ve gone too far. Secondly, just after the sailing club at Edith Weston pick up the next stretch of the cycle track through a steel gate on the left. Easy to zoom past.

Map: available from hire centres

Eating:

IMG_4290The Finch’s Arms, Hambleton. 01572 756575 and finchsarms.co.uk.

The Horse & Jockey, Manton. 01572 737335 and horseandjockeyrutland.co.uk.

The Wheatsheaf Inn, Edith Weston. 01780 720083.

Crazy Fox café, Edith Weston.

L’Oliveto Due Italian restaurant and café bar, Edith Weston. 01780 721599.

The Harbour café, bar and restaurant, Whitwell. 01780 461288 and harbourcafebar.co.uk.

Bike hire:

Rutland Cycling. Bull Brigg Lane, Whitwell, Rutland Water, LE15 8BL. 01780 460705. Website here. Alternative, smaller outlet at Edith Weston, LE15 8HD. Both centres open 9am-5.30pm in winter (every day) and 9am-6pm (weekdays) and 9am-6.30pm (weekends) in summer. Highly recommended.

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Hambleton peninsula

Follow line by line

Two disused railway lines and a reservoir provide plenty of traffic-free riding on this tour of the southern Peak District.

Tissington Hall

The Cromford & High Peak and Ashbourne to Buxton railway lines closed in the mid-60s but, on the Bank Holiday of my visit, looked like they had never been busier – with cyclists, of course. All ages of cyclist and types of bike were represented – from toddlers in trailers to children on tandem extensions, adults on tandems, grandparents on mountain bikes and the occasional tourer. I even passed one bike fitted with a wheelchair on the front. There could hardly have been a more heartening advert for the National Cycle Network and leisure cycling in the 21st century. If you enjoy your cycling alone, though, make sure you come off-peak and, whenever you visit, make sure your bike has a bell.

You can join the two trails at many different points but chosing one of the former stations is the best bet if you need somewhere to park. I picked up the Tissington Trail at Thorpe. To start with it was hard work since I was carrying a pair of panniers and towing my seven-year-old son, Bertie, on a tag-along bike. What I didn’t realised was that I was also travelling slightly uphill. Between Alsop and Hartington the scales tipped and, with the gradient in our favour, I didn’t feel quite so out of condition.

Hartington signal box

Hartington signal box

Hartington was once one of the busiest stations on the Ashbourne to Buxton line used by walkers as well as by the limestone quarrying industry. It had two platforms (with a ladies waiting room on each), a booking hall and waiting area. Today it’s a popular picnic spot, our bench bearing the inscription: “Sit back on this bench and dream of noise and wheels and coal and steam.” A short walk from the station is Hartington Meadows where you might hear skylarks singing while they hang in the air or the distinctive cronk-cronk call of ravens that breed in the quarries in the spring.

Some railway paths are enclosed and can get a little monotonous after the initial novelty but not the Tissington Trail. After a showery summer we saw England’s green and pleasant land at its most verdant. Cows, sheep, fluffy clouds, rolling hills and dry stone walls were all around. At the northern end of the Trail we passed along two deep, dramatic rock-sided cuttings which were framed in a purple v-shape by willow herb waving gently in the breeze like peacock feathers.

Cutting on Tissington Trail nr Heathcote

Cutting on Tissington Trail nr Heathcote

Reached after 10 miles and at the first corner of our route, Parsley Hay was a natural spot for lunch – for us and most other cyclists too. I hadn’t seen such a great concentration of bikes since my last visit to Halfords.

Parsley Hay was initially a rural outpost on the Cromford & High Peak Railway. The railway was conceived as part of the canal network and as a means of connecting Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire to the industrial north-west via the difficult high ground of the Peak District. Opened in 1830 it was designed like a canal with level sections of track (originally worked by horses) between five steep inclines. It would sometimes take 16 hours to complete 33 miles of the railway – which made our earlier progress seem positively speedy! In 1889 the Buxton to Ashbourne line opened making Parsley Hay a busy junction.

High Peak Trail

High Peak Trail

The High Peak Trail – which follows the route of the old Cromford railway and now forms part of the Pennine Bridleway – wasn’t quite as busy as the Tissington Trail but we still had to take care as we wobbled our way on the narrow track past the other cyclists. It also includes several bridal gates and you need to cross a main road.

Bridge near Tissington

Bridge near Tissington

There are few obvious station buildings on the Trail but two towering dam-like embankments, walled on either side, gave a strong hint of its past. Just after them we passed a working quarry. The Arbor Low stone circle near Parsley Hay (see map) is described as the “Stonehenge of the north” so perhaps Bertie’s comparison of the quarry to the Grand Canyon wasn’t quite so far-fetched.

Our next stop came at Longcliffe, a former goods yard and and watering place. Little water was available in the area because of its limestone geology so spring water from Cromford was brought here in tenders. These were shunted up onto the waiting ramps to provide water for the steam locomotives and for other industrial and domestic uses. Milk from nearby farms and limestone from quarries were also loaded at Longcliffe.

The highlight of the High Peak Trail for us was the 113-yard long Hopton Tunnel. Suddenly, we were plunged into the darkness. In fact, it was so pitch black that I couldn’t even see my wheels turning and felt like that little boy cycling through the night sky in the ET film. Also looking a little sci-fi was a mysterious structure next to abseilers at Harboro’ Rocks. Four towers like an Aztec temple connected by stone steps stand forbiddingly in a field looking out across the Trail. A quick Google suggests they are part of old quarry workings.

We reached the end of the Trail at Middleton Top. At least, it’s the end if you’re on a bike as a sign indicates that the incline too steep for cycles and we were bound for an overnight stop in nearby Wirksworth anyway.

Carsington Water

Carsington Water

The following day it was almost a novelty to cycle along roads again. A lane led us up a steep hill from the town’s marketplace and then down to the peaceful Carsington Water. The Bank Holiday weekend now having past, we were mostly on our own as we pedalled around the numerous little ups and downs of the reservoir’s eight-mile perimeter track which encompasses a mile-long dam wall. Beside it were two more strange structures: what looks like a giant plughole with a rock in the middle of it is a performance area and a small building in the water next to the dam is a valve tower which controls flows into and out of the reservoir to and from the River Derwent.

Stones Island, Carsington Water

Stones Island, Carsington Water

We had a look around the visitors centre – which includes a craft and RSPB shops – and trip to the playground then walked around Stones Island. This land was the site of a Bronze Age settlement and, consequently, was saved when the valley was flooded in the 80s to create the reservoir. Up to 4 metres tall and weighing up to 7.8 tonnes, stones were sited on the island to continue Derbyshire’s long-standing tradition of hill top monuments. They reminded me of what we’d seen earlier at Harboro’.

A signed Sustrans route conveniently links Carsington Water via Bradbourne and a big hill back to Tissington. The church and the Jacobean Tissington Hall stand imposingly on banks either side of the long green and the village also has several chocolate box cottages, no less than six wells, a chapel, a duck pond and butcher, an even greater rarity. We’d resisted exploring Tissington at the start of the our ride as it seemed to be the ideal place to celebrate its completion – which we did in style at the tea room on the green, the terminus at the end of our line.

Fact file

Distance: 34 miles.

Time: All day.

Directions:

Hmmm ... which way at Parsley Hay?

Hmmm … which way at Parsley Hay?

Join the Tissington Trail in Tissington and head north towards Parsley Hay. Keep going for 10 miles until a sign saying ‘Refreshments 800 yards’ at which point either continue to Parsley Hay station (in view) or turn right onto the High Peak Trail (also signed). Leave the Trail at Middleton Top just before the visitor centre via a track on the right.

Turn left at the t-junction then, at the B5035, turn left again signed to Wirksworth. Turn right at the crossroads beside The Rising Sun down Middleton Rd. Turn right beside the Hope and Anchor and through the marketplace. Just after the sign to Hopton turn left off the road, pass through a five-bar gate and bear left to join the the Carsington Water Circular Route. It is well waymarked (in blue) with one exception. At the Millfields car park and toilets pass a wooden sculpture then, at a barrier, turn right down a track then immediately left signed ‘Viewing area, dam wall and visitors centre’. Cycle along the top of the embankment to the visitor centre and playground.

Leave Carsington Water via the main exit and turn right signed to Kniveton, Wirksworth and Matlock. At the Town Farm campsite fork left to join the signed National Cycle Route 54A. Keep following the signs through Bradbourne (turning left at the t-junction). On the descent from Bradbourne turn left onto a traffic-free section of Route 54A (easy to miss – at Valley View Barn). Follow the route over a bridge, across a road and then (back on road) over another bridge beside a ford and up a steep hill to Tissington.

Map: here

Pubs and grub:

Cyclists at Parsley Hay

Parsley Hay

Parsley Hay station (kiosk only). SK17 0DG. Tel 01298 84888.
Middleton Top visitor centre, DE4 4LS. Tel 01629 823204.
Le Mistral bistro, The Marketplace, Wirksworth, DE4 4ET. Highly recommended. Tel 01629 824420. Plus six pubs and seven other cafes in the town.
The Knockerdown Inn, Knockerdown (near Carsington Water), DE6 1NQ. Tel 01629 540209.
Mainsail coffee shop and restaurant, Carsington Water visitor centre, DE6 1ST. Tel 01629 540363.
The Bluebell Inn, Tissington, DE6 1NH. Tel 01335 350317.
The Old Coach House Tea Room, Tissington, DE6 1RA. Tel 01335 350501.

Bike hire:

Parsley Hay station, SK17 0DG. Tel 01298 84493.
Middleton Top visitor centre, DE4 4LS. Tel 01629 823204.
Ashbourne (Mapleton Lane). Tel 01335 343156.

Selected accommodation:

The Old Lock-up, North End, Wirksworth, DE4 4FG. Tel 01629 826272. Former police station with a room also in Gothic chapel in graveyard next door.
Overfield Farm, Tissington, DE6 1RA. Tel 01335 390285. Beautifully situated at the top of the green.

Dam at Carsington Water

Dam at Carsington Water

Nipper’s north Notts

There’s something you shouldn’t forget if you go on this ride: the kids. Energetic nippers and experienced passengers (like my two-year-old) will love it. There is plenty to entertain them along the way and much of the route is traffic-free.

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North Leverton windmill

The only testing stretch is over soon after the start. The road east from Retford is uphill but you are rewarded with a expansive view over the Lincolnshire plain. You can navigate by sight to the first checkpoint, North Leverton windmill. Built in 1813 and still operational, the windmill is a real Chitty Chitty Bang Bang-type affair. It has a fine fantail just like the one in the film and the windmill’s cap is like an old onion, the white panels of wood up its sides weathered and flaky.

A few turns later and you start a long stretch of peaceful bridleways and byways. From Hayton a conveyor belt from the gravel pits gently rattles its way alongside the byway like a narrow gauge railway. Former pits are home to many birds. Bring your binoculars and look out for the hide on your right.

Boy meets goat at the Wetlands

Boy meets goat at the Wetlands

There’s no need for such magnification at the Wetlands Waterfowl Reserve. This is a marvellous menagerie so allow plenty of time for it. You can see chipmunks, llamas, emus, wallabies, vultures, yaks and all sorts. Ask for bird seed when you buy your ticket. There’s also a cafe overlooking the main pond used by fishermen and a children’s playground.

End your day with a history lesson at All Saints Church in Babworth. Exactly 400 years ago its rector, Richard Clyfton, got into trouble with his bishop for holding non-conformist views. Two friends of the rector who shared his views became Pilgrim Fathers and later sailed for the New World on the Mayflower to escape religious persecution. Inside the church you can view a plaque about the voyage.

All Saints Church, Babworth

All Saints Church, Babworth

Fact file

Distance: 21½ miles.

Start and finish: Retford rail station.

Directions:

From station forward down Victoria Rd and right along Albert Rd. At lights continue ahead on Arlington Way for 400 metres. Then, at The Broken Wheel pub, right signed ‘Leverton’ and keep going for 4½ miles. In N Leverton left to Sturton and at The Reindeer Inn left down Springs Lane. When byway bends to left turn right down signed Trent Valley Way bridleway for 500 metres. At the bottom of slope pass through hedge then left up track. At tarmac road right to Clarborough. Right on main road to and through Hayton and over the canal. As road bends to right continue ahead along byway

North Leverton windmill

North Leverton windmill

signed ‘Chain Bridge Lane Nature Reserve’. First left signed ‘Byway’ to pass Wetlands Waterfowl Reserve. At t-junction, left to and through Sutton via Town St. Cross A638 and level crossing to reach junction with A620 at Babworth. Turn left then right at mini-roundabout and first left down Ordsall Pk Rd. At the end over ramped railway bridge and right down unsurfaced Westfield Rd to station.

Map: OS 1:50 000 Landranger 120 ‘Mansfield & Worksop’ or byways map of East Midlands available via http://www.nationalbyway.org.

Conditions: Mainly minor roads and byways. All the route is suitable for a touring bike other than a short bridleway and track after Sturton where you may need to push your bike.

Eating: The Bay Tree, Carolgate, Retford (01777 710298). Family friendly, canalside restaurant with tables outside. The Boat Inn, Hayton (01777 700158). Large playground.

Turkey and peacock at Wetlands_4_1

Unlived in but much loved

Save this ride for a crisp autumn day when the woods around Clumber Park are at their most colourful.

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Lime Tree Avenue, Clumber Park

Starting a bike ride near Worksop at a house that was demolished before the war may sound inauspicious but then this was no ordinary property. It was Clumber House, a mansion built by the Duke of Newcastle in 1767 and set in 3,800 acres of woodland and heathland now owned by the National Trust. The estate that remains more than compensates for the building that was lost as I was to find out on my last ride of the season.

A major attraction of the venue for me was its 13 miles of waymarked cycle tracks. Waymarked, that is, if you are travelling in a clockwise direction as suggested by the maps. I, however, unwittingly set off in the other direction and found navigation challenging at times. The route follows tracks, bridleways and – in some places – paths so narrow and winding that I was surprised on one of them to come across a bike towing a baby buggy. Rather him than me. Indistinct though it may be in parts, the route allows you to explore the woods in a depth usually afforded only to walkers.

Church and lake at Clumber Park

Church and lake at Clumber Park

The House may have gone but there is plenty of architectural interest in the Park not least the perfectly preserved Gothic lodges which stake its perimeter. Lurking in the trees as if waiting for the master that will never return, they are made of stone with ornate black eves, ecclesiastical latticed windows, lots of chimney-pots and practically every feature tapering to a point. Another house I came across even deeper in the woods is the sort where you would imagine that in the olden days a disagreeable old man with a bushy beard would have burned peat fires.

An all together less attractive but just as notable building is the tall chimney of the Lafarge lime and aggregates works at Hodthorpe which is a handy landmark for locating Creswell Crags, a limestone gorge honeycombed with caves and smaller fissures. I lunched beside the lake in the company of Canada geese. Excavations show that previous residents from the Ice Age included wolves, bison, rhinos, hyenas and bears. The availability of all this meat attracted man. In fact, the Crags are among the most northerly places on earth to have been visited by our ancient ancestors. In the 19th century a stream running through the Crags was dammed by the Duke of Portland to form a lake which enabled him to prevent a proposed railway coming through his land. The Boathouse Cave was just that.

Creswell Crags

Creswell Crags

My return route passed by Welbeck Abbey where the eccentric and extraordinarily private Duke once lived. He built three libraries and a chapel (later converted to a ballroom) underground as well as three miles of tunnels, one of them reputed to have led to Worksop station to allow him discreet passage all the way to London.

Back at the centre of Clumber Park I admired the exterior of its foremost Gothic building, the Victorian chapel described as “cathedral in miniature”. Sadly I was unable to look inside as it closes at 4pm in winter. I made do instead with a stroll around the grounds. In their heyday they required the services of 100 gardeners but now just two do the work.

All that remains of the House are the steps which would have led from the rear to the lake. A paved path indicates the position of the outer walls. Elsewhere – and still in tact – are a stone landing stage, stable block and walled kitchen garden. The reason for the demise of the House was simple: tax. Unable to maintain high payments the Duke sold its contents at auction in 1936 and had it demolished the following year. My bike in the boot, I drove away along a splendid double avenue of lime trees and under a grand arch. Clumber today is a riddle: so many ways in but nowhere to go.

Leaving Hardwick

Leaving Hardwick

Fact file

Distance: 24 miles.

Time: 2½ hours excluding stops.

Sign for National Cycle Network

Sign for National Cycle Network

Directions: If leaving from the bike hire centre, R onto Green cycle route. R at road and over causeway across lake. R into Hardwick village. L up bridleway just after house No 43. Soon after Manton Lodge fork L to clearing where horse boxes are parked then follow track round to R after a large tree stump. On leaving Clumber Pk turn L, then R at Trumans Lodge and L up bridleway (Robin Hoods Way) beside small car park. Pass by lodge and continue onto road. Cross over A60 then in Hodthorpe L opposite Working Mens Club. L in Penny Green then almost immediately R. L at t-junction past chimney to Creswell Crags. On leaving visitors’ centre R along bridleway. R onto A60 then after 500m R to Holbeck. After village at crossroads L. Cross back over A60 to Norton. Pass through village, alongside lake and through Carburton. Cross bridge to re-enter Clumber Pk. First R along estate road back to start.

Tip: Get a map from the cycle hire centre or here and follow my route the other way round.

Bike hire: Available in Clumber Park.

Bike hire at Clumber

Bike hire at Clumber