The Great North Trail – The Pennine Bridleway from Middleton Top to Settle – UK

We are bike packing on our fat bikes on the Great North Trail which, on this section, follows the Pennine Bridleway from Middleton Top in Derbyshire to Settle in North Yorkshire over the Peak District National Park.

We have cycled up from North Devon in the South West, staying off-road about 70% of the time. After 600 miles we reached the East Coast at Aldeburgh then had a week of flat cycling around the East Anglian coast. After 850 miles we crossed back to the centre of the country and reached Derbyshire. That was a shock after a week of flat cycling as we did 900 m (3000 ft) of climbing that day, it was bottom gear all the way to Middleton Top and the start of the Pennine Bridleway.

We were the only people in the Middleton Top campsite which was right at the start of the Pennine Way
There were lots of purple spotted orchids in the next meadow

The start of the Pennine Bridleway was on a railway trail. This building houses the old steam beam engine used to haul the railway trucks up the steep incline we had just ridden up, using a steel hauser. You can still see the pulleys underground.

The Cromford and High Peak railway, built 1831, was one of the first railways like this built in England. They had wanted to continue the canals across the country to connect the industrial areas but couldn’t get across the Peak District. So this railway was built by the canal builders using the same format of flat sections then inclines as on the canals. They used the stationary steam engines to haul the heavy stone laden wagons up these inclines. The first stations were called wharfs.

Although the first section of the trail is flatish along the old railway line, it is up high so you can see for miles

The sides of the trail were covered in flowers and sky larks were singing in the meadows alongside. Being flat this section of the Pennine Way is open for all to enjoy and we passed young families and people in mobility scooters

All that changed when we turned off onto the bridleway section of the Pennine Way which took us steeply up on rough tracks.

It was very picturesque with miles of dry stone walls, flowering hay meadows and bird song

We stopped at the top for a picnic lunch in the warm sunshine.

The afternoon was hard work and set the tone for the next few days as the hills got steadily steeper.

But we had some nice descents through grassy meadows

Scabious

Most of the tracks were loose rock like this one, which was a lot steeper than it looks here. Most were rideable as it had been dry for a few days. A pity that didn’t last!

It had been a long hot day with climb after climb. It seemed that we had been pushing our bikes all afternoon in the hot sunshine. We were heading for Hayfield and I thought I could see it at the bottom of the next valley. Turned out I was wrong and we still had to get over the biggest climb of the day.

As it was so hot we had run out of water at this point so we stopped in the valley to filter some stream water into our bottles

Then the hard slog started again, although walking allows more time to look at the flowers such as these Stone Crops here.

As we finally made it to the top a magnificent view opened up in front of us.

We staying here in Hayfield overnight.

This is a short video showing the type of trails we did on the first day.

Of course, as all the towns are snuggled deep in the valleys every morning starts with a long push.

This push went on for most of the morning.

This orchid was almost a metre tall. Common Spotted Orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsia
Gallium

The weather got worse after leaving Diggle. We were heading towards Hebden Bridge and this was the hardest day for us on this section of the Pennine Way. It was so steep that by lunch time we had only managed to go about 12 km. We were drenched and exhausted.

When the tracks did finally head downhill I found them too technical, slippery and rocky, so still had to walk a lot of it.

I was so tired at this point I nearly needed this horse mounting block to get on my bike.

The weather didn’t detract from the wonderful scenery. We were on a section called the reservoir trail and we must have passed about 16 reservoirs.

In this wilder section of the trail the walls are not so well maintained. You can see two of the reservoirs in this photo.

We regularly had to lose all our height to cross valleys and on this occasion, just as we were about to head back up another steep track we notice a sign for a cycle route to Hebden Bridge, where we were going, pointing down this canal path. Well, which way would you go? We were soon spinning with gay abandon along the canal path. Too much abandon as it turned out. As I shot through a flooded section my wheels skidded out sideways and I narrowly missed falling into the canal. A few more bruises but nothing too bad.

The day ended with another big climb up to a pop-up campsite in the tiny village of Jack Bridge. It was next to a pub which unfortunately had closed its restaurant due to Covid, but they had put in showers! It did more than shower overnight. We had just zipped up the sleeping bags when a major thunder storm started with torrential rain. Luckily it had all gone by the morning.

This is a short video showing the type of cycling we did on the second day

We managed to do more riding and less pushing the next day, which was a relief. It was still steep but manageable.

Lots more reservoirs again. The population density is high in the cities in this area.

Our fat bikes coped really well with these lumpy stone tracks, even though we had no suspension

Having watched Bernie cycle down over this lot with his bike sliding and bouncing I decided to walk!

It was quite cool but at least it wasn’t raining. We could still hear the thunder rolling around in the distance

You can see the track snaking away into the distance

We decided to give these Belted Galloways with their calves a wide berth.

We had a fast descent from here down into Kelbrook where we spent the night and managed to dry everything.

This is a short video showing the type of cycling we did on the third day.

The next morning started sunny. Bernie is opening the first gate of literally hundreds during the day. A time consuming thing on a bike and they were always at the bottom of a steep hill so you couldn’t take a run at it.

I think he is meant to be that colour.

Although the riding wasn’t so technical here it was very slippery after all the rain and I was nervous after my fall, so I didn’t really enjoy the downhill sections much.

We are just about to drop down into the wide Ribble Valley with the Yorkshire Dales rising on the far side.

Once in the flatish Ribble Valley the riding was surprisingly hard through meadows of long grass and little track visible.

I am pretty sure I am going the right way, but it’s difficult to tell

There were a lot of these old stone barns with arched entrances

The Ribble River snaking its way along the valley

Having climbed up the hill on the far side of the Ribble Valley we are officially in the Yorkshire Dales. A good place to stop for lunch.

Going over the top of the final hill before Settle

This is a short video showing the cycling on the last day

We finally arrived in Settle which is full of hikers and bikers. It is in a deep valley with rock cliffs and stone buildings, and a busy road running through the centre with many heavy stone lorries on it. The result is that it is a very noisy place so not that relaxing. We had a day off there before setting off on the next section of the Pennine Way through the Yorkshire Dales which is going to be harder and more remote. It rained heavily on our day off so here’s hoping the weather will improve as we will be wild camping for the next few nights.

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