“Dream of noise and wheels and coal and steam,” reads the metal plaque screwed to one of the many railway bridges along the Tissington Trail. While the trains have long fallen into silence, it’s not hard to imagine a bygone age of rail travel while cycling the route of the dismantled track.
Just south of Parsley Hay (where bicycles can be hired), the High Peak Trail splits in two. Veer right to follow the 13-mile-long Tissington Trail to Ashbourne. Soon a Victorian-era signal box – now a small information centre – comes into view. The restored sign announces Hartington Station as the stop for three close-by valleys of exquisite beauty: Dove Dale, Beresford Dale and the Manifold.
Here you can grab a coffee or ice cream from the kiosk, then climb the steps of the signal box to learn about the railway’s history and admire the lever frame with its line of colourful, soldier-straight cranks.
History of the Tissington Trail
The line was built by the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) and opened in 1899 to link Ashbourne with the High Peak line at Parsley Hay. Milk was transported daily to London, while limestone from the quarries lining the route was distributed across the country. By 1971, the track, no longer considered economically viable, was lifted and resurfaced as a leisure trail for ramblers, cyclists and horse riders.
Cycling the Tissington Trail
Flying along the first miles of the level trail, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were cycling on the roof of the world, the White Peak plateau rippling out to a distant horizon. It’s easy to see why this heart-soaring landscape of upland, wood and dale was chosen as Britain’s first national park – celebrating its 70th birthday this month.
Stop at Tissington and explore the quintessential estate village with its avenue of limes and stately Tissington Hall. Enjoy a cream tea sitting outside Herbert’s Fine English Tearooms with bucolic views of the village duck pond and hillside church.
The last miles into the fine market town of Ashbourne are an easy downhill ride. In spring, the ash woodlands along the trail are splashed with wood anemone and primrose. Whoop your way through the 600m-long tunnel that delivers you into the heart of Ashbourne. It’s a fitting end to a nostalgic ride through an era of “wheels and coal and steam”. And “noise”, as the hidden sound system in the dimly lit tunnel unexpectedly blasts out the clang of an approaching train: a ghost of the past.