Twigs crackle and mud splatters as I weave and bounce through the woods, but my sleeping bag stays firmly fixed to my handlebars. When the GPS points to a hidden path, we take it and discover our lamp-lit bell tent sheltered by a sycamore tree. There’s a flickering fire, a hamper of goodies and two chairs awaiting our weary limbs. It’s a magical sight, especially after 45km of mountain biking through the Peak District. “Glass of wine?” asks my boyfriend Tom.
I love the idea of exploring the UK countryside by bike, carrying my camping gear and sleeping beneath the stars. But in reality “bikepacking” can be a hassle: there’s all the kit to buy (not to mention carry), routes to plan, weather to worry about and wild camping spots to suss out. Luckily, there’s also an easier option.
This spring, Pete McNeil, founder of Adventure Pedlars, is launching overnight biking trips for softies like us – in fact we’re the first to try one out. Pete provides the kit, plans the route and sets up camp in a private woodland that belongs to his father-in-law. “You still have to carry your sleeping kit, and you’ll be riding independently,” he says, “but there’s a comfy bed, and other luxuries to look forward to.”
Our adventure begins at Hope station – with the Sheffield-to-Manchester line running through the Hope Valley, the Peak District is easily accessible. We arrive on a Friday evening after a 2½-hour journey from London, and Pete greets us with high-spec Sonder mountain bikes and lights for the short cycle to the Adventure Pedlars bunkhouse on the edge of Hope village. Our delayed train meant we missed last orders at The Old Hall Hotel, so Pete kindly stepped in and cooked us pizza at his house.
The next morning, we pack our bikes and head off, with our 90km, two-day route pre-loaded on a GPS device, all we need to do is “follow the purple line”. Pete also gives us a paper map, marked with pubs and landmarks, such as historic Caudwell’s Mill and the new Peak Ales microbrewery (where we stop to sample some ale on day two). He can tailor routes through the Peak District to suit, adapting the length and difficulty to match your ability – anything from a 10km family-friendly route to 200km of technical terrain. You could even venture beyond the Peak District and add extra days, staying at other campsites and B&Bs.
“I’ve included my favourite bits of the Peak District,” says Pete, who moved here two years ago but has biked here for much of his life, “so take your time, and enjoy the journey.”
We ride through pretty Castleton village as the sun beams down on Peveril Castle. Soon, we’re panting uphill to the summit of Mam Tor (517 metres), surrounded by sheep-speckled valleys and drystone walls. We’re in the national park’s White Peak area, where the limestone bedrock creates rolling hills and deep river gorges that spawned the first mills of the Industrial Revolution.
Descending to Millers Dale, we hardly notice the lightweight gear strapped to our bikes any more. At the Monsal Trail – a former railway line with long, dark tunnels – we munch up the miles on the flat track to Bakewell, where we stop for an obligatory slice of pudding at the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop. With around 20km to go, we’re over half-way now.
Riding out of Bakewell, we follow a meandering stretch of the River Wye before rolling across open moorland and pedalling through pretty villages to reach our woodland camp.
That night, we sip wine by the fire while potatoes bake in the embers, a beef stew bubbles on the stove, and tawny owls hoot in the dark. Our hamper also contains Swiss chocolate, marshmallows, and breakfast supplies of local eggs, bread, jam and fresh coffee. We’ve arrived here under our own steam, and it feels fantastic.
With our bell tent warmed by a wood-burner, we sleep like logs until awoken by the dawn chorus. When we step outside to repack our bikes, the forest is laced with morning dew and a woodpecker is drumming overhead.
Our route for the second day takes us through the Chatsworth Estate, where deer stare as we freewheel past. Continuing to the moors and dramatic cliff edges of the Dark Peak area, the geology changes from limestone to gritstone, and we follow chocolate-brown paths that glitter with minerals.
When we stop at Curbar Edge to admire the view, our bikes attract attention. “Great weekend for bivvying,” one man says, giving a nod to our professional-looking gear. “We’re cheating,” Tom admits, explaining our night under canvas. “Even better,” says the man.
His words echo as we ride on, and we talk about planning our own trip. We could easily fit a stove and bivvy bags in our rucksacks, but planning a route like this would take time and effort, and our own bikes back home aren’t suitable.
After almost 30km, we arrive at the Fox House pub. From here, we could descend into the Hope Valley and take the train home from any station along the line. Pete had given us two options: continue to Hope and complete our loop, or have lunch at the pub and take the shorter route to Hathersage station.
Two roast dinners later and we’re whizzing downhill to Hathersage, whooping out loud with the Hope Valley stretching out below us. We leave feeling inspired and liberated. I decide I like this style of bikepacking: all of the fun and none of the hassle.
• The trip was provided by Adventure Pedlars. Trips are tailormade; this two-night bike-glamping option, including accommodation, meals, bike hire and equipment, starts at £250pp; two-day/one-night bike-packing trips start at £60pp
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