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Ride in the Steps of the Packhorses – Trails Perfect for Electric Off-road Cycling

Ancient direction post on the Roman Road at Hope Brink

The South Pennines and Peak District Off-Road Cycle Map

by Richard Peace, cycling journalist, guide book author, map designer: https://richardpeacecycling.com/

Packhorse Trails were the motorways of their day
Packhorse Trails were the motorways of their day

I spent last summer riding many of the finest tracks in the South Pennines and the northern Peak District in order to produce this tough, waterproof map.

For many years, before the days of tarmac, these tracks were the motorways of their day, with incredibly hardy packhorse ponies bringing the necessities of life like salt from as far afield as Cheshire and also acting as the HGVs of the very early cotton and woollen industries in the area, still dotted with early weavers’ hamlets and villages.

Today they are the bedrock (literally in some cases) of some great off-road riding. Add in the canals of the area and you have one of the most varied, visually striking and beautiful areas in the whole of the UK for off-road riding.

Best Track Highlights from the South Pennines and Peak District Off-Road Cycle Map

Along Reddyshore Scout
Along Reddyshore Scout

Here’s my top five scenic tracks and lanes of the area (in no particular order), all detailed on the map as part of longer bike routes:

  1. Colden Clough Road – Just west of tourist magnet Heptonstall, next to Hebden Bridge, this gradually climbing broad track takes you through a wonderful ancient wooded valley then onto moorland scenery to end at a pub.
  2. Reddyshore Scout Gate – A broad, easy to ride track climbs high above the steep sided Upper Roch valley with great views down onto colourful canal boats and small rows of terraces decorating the Rochdale Canal.
  3. Pennine Bridleway – Hayfield to Rushup Edge. A great section of this well-signed National Trail. Rocky in places but plenty of broad tracks too with stunning views over to the highest point in the Peak District National Park, Kinder Scout.
  4. Hope Brink – Actually thought to be much older than packhorse trails, being marked as a Roman road on maps. Fantastic views down Edale from the old direction post at Hope Cross.
  5. Wessenden Valley – Improved by the National Trust who own large tracts of Wessenden Moor, this is now one of the best quality off-road tracks in the South Pennines and makes a wonderful descent from the moors into the attractive old mill town of Marsden.

Family ride highlights

Easy trails around the Longdendale Valley
Easy trails around the Longdendale Valley

Family ride highlights on the map include the Longdendale Trail and the Calder & Hebble Canal but there are many more.

The latter has been undergoing a scheme of surface improvements to make it even better for cycling thanks to the excellent CityConnect project.

Daunting No More

I surveyed the whole of the area using electric bikes which I also write reviews of. They mean terrain once unconquerable to someone in his mid-50s with a dodgy back and knees is now a joy to ride through. And I still get a good workout in the process.

Here’s selection of my favourite e-bikes I reviewed whilst riding the routes.

E-biking on the Pennine Bridleway heading towards Kinder Scout
  1. Riese & Muller Delite Mountain Rohloff – A no-holds barred, no expense spared full suspension e-mtb that also comes with rack and lights and a double battery, making it the best off-road e-bike I’ve tried for long distance, ride-all-day off-road e-biking.
  2. Brose Drive S Mag E-bikes – Any e-mtb with a new Brose Drive S Mag motor should give great power yet still be relatively lightweight. Here’s a comprehensive e-mtb test where it is declared winner. 
  3. Carrera Vengeance-E – Halfords own brand and great for family and easier emtb trails
  4. Riese & Muller Nevo GX – Great for older riders or anyone who struggles to get their leg over a higher top tube design. One of the very few off-road step thru e-bikes with incredibly sporty and bullet-proof performance as you would expect from this company.

Map Details

There are three main elements to the waterproof map:

South Pennines and Peak District Off-road Cycle Map
  1. A 110 mile ‘Pike to Peak’ circular ‘challenge’ route, linking the famous landmarks of Stoodley Pike near Hebden Bridge to Rushup Edge and Mam Tor in the Peak District National Park. The Pike to Peak is around 75% off-road and uses old packhorse trails and turnpike roads to take in some of the area’s most stunning scenery and attractive towns and villages. The Pike to Peak can be tackled in the form of two smaller loops to make it more manageable as it is bisected by the TPT, meaning you also have the option of two smaller loops of 78 miles and 43 miles.
  2. 14 shorter circular day rides along classic trails such as Hope Brink, Wessenden Valley, Holme Valley, Reddyshore Scout, Ladybower Reservoir and the Hope Valley. These range from 8 miles to 26 miles.
  3. 20 family trails including the Calder Valley Greenway, Longdendale Trail, Upper Don Trail, Tame Valley Trail, Huddersfield Narrow Canal, Sett Valley Trail and many more.

In compiling the map I tried to pick out the best examples of off-road riding in the area by picking out broad, rideable tracks for adventurous leisure riders (though of course being in the heart of the Pennines there are still plenty of gradients unless you choose one of the family trails on the map). The route choice is ideal for electric mountain bikers getting their first taste of the activity.

The map also features:

  • Cycle-friendly accommodation listings with a link to internet pages featuring lots more detail.
  • GPX route files – internet links that guide users to web pages where they can download GPX route files for all the rides and get more background information about the routes.

Available from all good online and high-street booksellers or direct from the publisher via https://www.bikeridemaps.co.uk/excellent-books/

South Pennines & Peak District Off-road Cycle Map

  • ISBN: 978-1901464382
  • Folded size: 24.4 x 13.8 x 1.2 cm
  • Unfolded size: 68cm x 48cm
  • RRP £8.95