High Hell in the High Peak

Possibly England’s least hospitable roads 

High Peak – a region of Manchester commuter villages steeped in the hills on the periphery of the Peak District. A quintessential Kipling-esque English countryside; think of gentle rolling hills, of wooded river valleys, of smoke curling up from whitewashed cottage chimneys; think of the intro montage for Emmerdale pre-2011 (notably Emmerdale is set in the Yorkshire Dales, but it’s a similar picture). As a child I have fond memories of being in a car travelling through the hallowed Peak District National Park on the way to Alton Towers (undoubtedly England’s best theme park). Our great Dame Vivienne Westwood, Designer to the British Empire, was born and raised in the High Peak village of Tintwhistle. In Castleton, destination of many a school geography trip to study scree and gemstone mining history, you can take lunch in one of many fuddy-duddy tearooms with doily-tablecloths and enjoy a Bakewell tart – namesake of a village not many miles down the road.  

Sounds like the setting for some idyllic leisure road cycling – but think again. 

Our recent ride through the Peak District was the most hair-raising cycling I can remember. I have never felt so close to death, and on so many occasions. The roads were busy. Phenomenally busy and with some really big kahuna vehicles – I was unsurprised to see that the trend pervading neighbouring Cheshire of wearing your wealth on your wheel-base and driving the biggest 4×4 you can possibly afford on hire-purchase agreement was commonplace in Derbyshire too, but in addition to this there were a lot of HGVs and tankers negotiating what seemed, from first glance of the map, to be pretty small-fry roads. 

But it was the absence of patience, sharing and spatial awareness that perhaps shook me to the core the most. 

A pick-up truck driver behind us got so angry, drove so close up behind us, and shouted so passionately out of his window as he overtook us, before turning into a pub car park a few miles ahead. That pint won’t drink itself. So many petrol tankers overtook us, beeping as they did so, with barely enough room to clear us with their long cargo so that several times we had to abort and skid into the pavement. These weren’t isolated incidents. It seemed that the whole cast and crew of the US Republican Party were on location filming their own re-hash of the bellendery of the Range Rover haring through the post-2011 Emmerdale intro montage, this time directed by Jeremy Clarkson (who will surely be the Overlord of the post-Earth Hell we find ourselves in when our carbon emissions set fire to our very brains and eyeballs). 

I hate to be defeated, but I counsel anyone reading this to avoid riding the roads of High Peak. There are some lovely off-road trails – such as the Sett Valley trail – that are worth an explore if you don’t mind getting your bike muddy and carrying it over the odd gate or stile. There are canal ways too, though I haven’t yet tested them. But no combination of these will necessarily get you from A to B in a way that’s easy to navigate. 

Petrolheads of the High Peak – I’m sorry to say I think you’ve won the battle. 

If anyone reading this has some insights into how to get across the High Peak undetected as an infidel on two pedals, please comment below and I’ll give your tips a try when I’ve built up the mettle to visit my family again!

1 December, 2019

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