What Is the Monsal Trail?
From rail to trail, The Monsal Trail is a visually impressive traffic-free route set along a former railway line. Nestled in the heart of the Peak District National Park and a dream for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and wheelchair users alike, the trail runs through the tranquil, spectacular and dramatic limestone dales of Derbyshire from Bakewell to Wye Dale.
It’s a route you can’t miss, so lace up those walking boots or strap on your helmet and read on to find out everything you need to know to plan your day along the Monsal Trail! And keep your eyes peeled along the way for some highlights of the trail such as the tunnels, Headstone Viaduct, the kilns and of course the cafes!
If you’re looking for other cycle trails, don’t miss our post on the South Staffordshire Railway Walk.
Monsal Trail History
Opened as a recreational trail in 1981, this former Midland Railway line carried passengers and freight for more than 100 years. By digging several impressive tunnels and the gem of the route over the River Wye, the famous Headstone Viaduct, the line was completed in 1863 to create a railway route between Manchester and London.
When the route was opened as the Monsal Trail in 1981, the tunnels remained closed for safety reasons. At £2.25 million, it wasn’t until 2011, after a 2-year repair period, that the tunnels were re-opened to allow users to pass through. In the meantime, folk had to pass around them using footpaths. The Monsal Trail now forms part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network route 680.
Along the route, you’ll see some wonderful sights including Cressbrook Mill and Litton Mill. That’s because Monsal Trail and the wider area have a rich industrial heritage. The River Wye was used to power the cotton mills at Cressbrook and Litton and the railway was used to transport coal. Coal was then used to burn limestone to produce quicklime which was transported along the railway for the steel and chemical industries. The limestone was extracted from local quarries but the trail cuts through limestone between Blackwell and Monsal Head that was formed more than 350 million years ago!
Where Does the Monsal Trail Start and Finish?
The Monsal Trail starts and ends in either Bakewell or Wye Dale (just 3.5 miles or so east of Buxton). The choice is yours for where you start. Monsal Trail Bakewell start is where we recommend you begin and that’s where we started. There are two reasons we began with a Monsal Trail Bakewell start, which are:
- We ended with a Bakewell pudding after the ride.
- There is a small incline heading towards Wye Dale, meaning it’s slightly downhill on the way back.
The former is the most important, obviously! A trip to Bakewell without eating a Bakewell pudding would quite simply be an offence, much like Stacey returning to Cornwall and not eating a Cornish pasty!
If you’re a wheelchair or mobility scooter user, you can access the Monsal Trail through accessible ramps at Bakewell Station, Hassop Station, Great Longstone Station and Millers Dale Station.
How Long Is the Monsal Trail?
The Monsal Trail length is 8.5 miles long, point to point, from Bakewell to Wye Dale. If we can work out the maths, that would equal 17 miles there and back, assuming you reach both signs! According to Google Maps below, the route is 9.1 miles, from its origin on Coombs Road, Bakewell to Chee Dale, near Buxton.
The Trail itself is not circular, although there is a circular walk if you’d prefer. Click here for that route.
Monsal Trail Map
Below is a map of the route from Google Maps. The route itself is super easy to follow. You’d do well to get lost, to be honest! Once you’re on the trail, just keep following your nose and you’ll get to the other end. There are signs indicating you are at the end. Once you reach the sign, it’s time to grab your camera and take a few snaps! Click here to download the Peak District National Park Monsal Trail leaflet. You’ll also see sign posts along the trail indicating which way is which with the locations marked on a sign attached to the post, so you should be able to figure out where along the trail you are.
Monsal Trail Parking
There are plenty of options for parking along the Monsal Trail. We recommend you start your journey at Bakewell where you can either park in the pay & display car parks in Bakewell centre and mosey up Coombs Road to the very start, or use Bakewell Station Car Park that’s right next to the trail. Bakewell Station Car Park is a pretty small car park so if you opt to use it, we recommend you arrive early.
You’ll also find parking along the road next to Bakewell Station Car Park that’s free. Parking in Bakewell centre will leave you with a short journey to the start of the trail, 0.9 miles or so.
Alternatively, you can start at Hassop Station where there is plenty of parking. Note Hassop Station is almost 2 miles into the trail from the Bakewell start!
The following car parks are located right next to the Monsal Trail:
- Bakewell Station Car Park, Bakewell, DE45 1GE
- Hassop Station Cafe and Monsal Trail Cycle Hire, Hassop Station, Hassop Rd, Bakewell, DE45 1NW
- Millers Dale Car Park, Wormhill, Buxton, SK17 8SN
The following car parks are located a short distance from the trail:
- Bakewell centre, follow DE45 1BU to get there
- Monsal Head Car Park, Castlegate Lane, DE45 1NL
- Tideswell Dale Car Park, Buxton, SK17 8QH
- Wye Dale Car Park, Buxton, SK17 9TE
Monsal Trail Bike Hire
If you don’t have your own bike and are looking for bike hire along the trail, you’re in luck! There are two places you can hire bikes listed below.
Address: Hassop Station, Hassop, Bakewell, Derbyshire, DE45 1NW
Blackwell Mill Cycle Hire
Address: Blackwell Mill Cycle Hire Monsal Trail, Blackwell Mill Cottages, Bakewell Road, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 9TE
Monsal Trail Cafes
Looking for a drink or bite to eat at one of the Monsal Trail cafes? You are spoilt for choice! And a day out wouldn’t be complete without a cafe stop now, would it?! Below are three cafes that are located right on the trail.
Hassop Station is a one-size-fits-all for your needs along the trail. As you know, they offer bike hire and parking but they also have a cafe (with takeaway options), a bike repair shop, a book and gift shop and they even offer bed & breakfast!
Address: Hassop Station, Hassop, Bakewell, Derbyshire, DE45 1NW
The Refreshment Room
The Refreshment Room serves freshly ground coffees and local loose leaf teas as well as a taste of the Peak District with a range of homemade dishes including the Peak District Burger, soups, sandwiches, salads, and amazing looking cakes! Environmentally conscious, The Refreshments Room’s takeaway disposables are all 100% recyclable or compostable – great news for the environment!
Address: The Refreshment Room, Wormhill Road, Buxton, SK17 8SN
Open 7 days a week, Quakers Cafe is part of the Thornbridge Estate that offers sweet and savoury foods sourced from local suppliers. They even have beer on tap from Thornbridge Brewery.
Address: Quakers Cafe, 5 Thornbridge, Great Longstone, Bakewell, DE45 1NY
Things to See and Do on the Monsal Trail (or not so far away!)
If you fancy getting up to some other bits and pieces while you’re on the Monsal Trail (or not so far from it!), look no further than the list of things to do below. There’s plenty to see and do to occupy you for a few hours.
Enjoy The Tunnels
There’s an abundance of things to see along the trail, of which one of the most impressive is the tunnels. They are fun to cycle through…but don’t touch the walls! You will pass through six of them along the way, of which the longest is the Headstone Tunnel at a lengthy 487 metres!
In daylight hours you won’t need a torch or bike light because they are illuminated but once dusk comes, the lights are turned off. So, if you’re on the trail past dusk, consider bringing a light along! The tunnels are operated by light sensors, so when it gets darker sooner, like in winter, the tunnel lights switch off earlier in the day…who knew?!
Admire Monsal Dale and Headstone Viaduct
You will pass through the gorgeous Monsal Dale and over Headstone Viaduct on your journey, roughly a third of the way from Bakewell.
You will know you’ve passed over the 487 metre-long viaduct, of course, but it’s not the best place to see it because you can’t admire its industrial beauty! The best place to see Monsal Dale and Headstone Viaduct is from the top of the hill at Monsal Head Car Park (postcode DE45 1NL).
There’s a short stay (1 hour) and a long stay car park, plus a pub and an incredible view. Or, if you’re feeling up for it, you can walk from the trail to the top. There are steps located on the Bakewell side of Headstone Viaduct that will take you to the top.
As we’ve mentioned, we recommend a Monsal Trail Bakewell start. Doing so will enable you to explore this beautiful town that’s best known for its unique sweet treat – the Bakewell pudding. There’s loads of stuff to do in the town once you’ve finished on the Monsal Trail but the best thing to do, of course, is…
Eat a Bakewell Pudding
While you’re in Bakewell it would be rude not to treat yourself to the delights of a Bakewell pudding, would it not? We’ve tried several Bakewell puddings and the best one is from The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop, located on Rutland Square. It gets busy, so expect a queue!
Wonder at the Lime Kilns
Located west of The Refreshment Room is the Lime Kilns. Remnants from the commercial kilns used between 1880 and 1944, the kilns look largely out of place today along the trail but are a feast for your eyes with their brutalist-like design. Once upon a time, they produced over 50 tonnes of quicklime a day that would be transported along the railway. Now, they are home to birds and bats!
Abseil From Bridge 75
If you’re an adrenalin junkie and looking for something a bit more exciting along the Monsal Trail then this is for you! You can abseil from Miller’s Dale Bridge on the Monsal Trail! To abseil Bridge 75 you either need to obtain a permit or book through a list of suppliers. For more information on abseiling Bridge 75 click here. To book an abseil with Abseiling in Derbyshire, click here.
Run the Monsal Trail Parkrun
The Monsal Trail Parkrun is a free weekly 5k community event that starts at 0900 every Saturday morning. We’ve run a few Parkruns and they are always fun. If you haven’t run one before, we recommend lacing up those running shoes and setting your first PB! For more information about the Monsal Trail Parkrun click here.
…to share the trail with care by following the rules below:
- Leave no trace – take your rubbish home
- Clean up after your dog
- Keep to the left to allow traffic to pass
- Cyclists – slow down for walkers and dogs
- Horse riders – keep to a walking pace and no faster than a trot
- No BBQs are allowed on the trail
- You’ll need a light in the tunnels after dusk
How Long Does It Take To Ride the Monsal Trail?
It will take you around 45 minutes to 1 hour to cycle one way, without a stop. You’re best to allow around 2 to 2.5 hours to cycle the full trail, there and back. This will allow you time to stop for a break and to admire some of the beautiful scenery…and take a few pictures!
How Difficult Is Monsal Trail to Cycle? Is the Monsal Trail Easy?
The Monsal Trail is super easy to cycle! Although there is a slight incline heading towards Wye Dale, you likely won’t notice it. If you have a Monsal Trail Bakewell start, you will gain around 120 metres of altitude by the time you get to Chee Dale.
The route is mostly a smooth, sandy finish which is easy going under the tyres. You’ll be glad to know there are no surprise hills or anything along the way.
Where Is the Best Place to Start the Monsal Trail?
We recommend a Monsal Trail Bakewell start to enable you to cycle and enjoy the full length of the trail and explore Bakewell afterwards. Alternatively, Hassop Station is a good option. It’s located right by the trail so if you’ve got kids or aren’t keen on cycling to the trail, plus there’s a Bed and Breakfast, cafe and ample parking!
What Surface Is the Monsal Trail?
The surface is a smooth sandy finish for most of the way. A mountain or hybrid bike will handle the surface without a problem. The surface isn’t the most suitable for a road bike, so best to avoid anything with narrow tyres and no grip! According to Sustran.org, the National Route 680, known as The Monsal Trail, is 82.7% unsealed firm and 17.3% asphalt.
Here’s a short video by sustrans.org about the Trail…
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