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Derbyshire Peak District - The UK "Best of Three"

Three National Parks, Derbyshire

It wouldn't surprise many people to learn that riding a motorcycle in the UK's congested and camera-ridden cities is about as much fun as eating vegetarian food.

To get any real satisfaction or challenge from your bike riding, you need to be out on the open road, preferably in places with low traffic density, twisty roads and fantastic scenery thrown in for good measure.

Every year I cannot resist riding my favourite 520 mile circuit, which pulls in 3 UK National Parks in three days. Situated in the Derbyshire Peak District, the Victorian Spa Town of Matlock Bath is my first port of call, to enjoy a bacon butty at the traditional little café by the lights in Cromford. Riding the sweeping, rising bends through Via Gelia is sublime, especially if the sun is glinting through the trees above, and there's a whiff of wild, woodland garlic in the air.

The road from Grangemill crossroads to Fenny Bentley is taken with a pinch of caution due to the presence of heavy quarry traffic, before then leaving the traffic behind to pass Dovedale, Ilam & Throwley. Gentle limestone dales, burbling trout brooks and roads scarcely more than dirt tracks typify this section.

Swifter riding soon follows, through Waterhouses, Longnor, Tideswell, Peak Forest and Sparrowpit to bring us to " a bit of the Alps" in Derbyshire. The stunning, but diminutive Winnats Pass is a hidden gem.

Lunch at Strines Inn, where peacocks will nibble your salted nuts if you let them, is a good stop off before heading North to reach the Yorkshire Dales in time for dinner.

We leave the A65 at Gargrave to ride via Malham Cove and rise up to the magnificent Karst landscape before tacking the steep descent into Lancliffe. My last ride there was a challenge to say the least. A large truck had just struggled to make the summit of this helter-skelter hill, and the driver was gesticulating wildly to me. "Must be the inbreeding" I thought, but then realised his warning message was to alert me to the slippery trail of, shall we say, "discharge" running from the back of his cattle truck.

The pace then picks up for one of the nicest sections in the Dales. Intense concentration is required to thread the bike through the seemingly endless, dry stone walls, undulating and winding onwards to Ribble Head with, famous for its curved viaduct carrying the Settle to Carlisle railway line.

Taking the long way round, via Ingleton, past muddy Troglodytes emerging from the classic caves in Kingsdale, we pass my favourite land mark, a sign which reads "Tek care, lambs ont rode". A tricky gated descent through Dentdale, leads us to a tent, or rustic room at the Sun Inn and several pints of locally-brewed Dent Ale.

In complete contrast, day 2 starts with a mug of tea at Devils Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale, then a truly amazing circuit of the Lake District. It's only 130 miles, but by the end, you know you've done it. We take a less-obvious non-tourist route to Windermere and Ambleside. Sadly, these spots are spoiled by heavy congestion and crowds of coach tourists whose sole mission in life is to buy Peter Rabbit souvenirs and eat ice cream. We do not dwell here. Luckily, 90% of these folks are blissfully unaware that the true beauty of the English Lake district can be found only 7 or 8 miles away.

A quick detour via the Kirkstone Pass if time & weather is on our side, is followed by lunch at The Old Dungeon Ghyll in Great Langdale. This is one of the finest Inns, set amidst one of the most spectacular locations in the Lake District. A must do.

What follows next is the hardest section of road riding I have come across in the whole of the UK.

Call yourself a biker?

You'll have ridden nothing like the Wrynose and Hardknott Passes before. Rightly so, warning signs advise against tackling these in "Winter conditions". A series of very steep climbs, with severe and sometimes off-camber bends will test even the most experienced riders. Gravel, sheep and occasional potholes can make this a challenging ride even in the driest of conditions. If it's tipping down with rain, like it was the first time I ever rode these, on a heavily laden FJ1200, then high levels of concentration and skill are needed to avoid locking the wheels under braking when coming down these extremely steep and narrow roads.

A detour up to Wasdale Head and the deep blue lake of Wastwater is worthwhile when the sun is shining, before returning via Ulpha and Coniston, to cross Lake Windermere by ferry! Tip - there are big queues for the boat, but bikes can go straight to the front of the queue, and are loaded quickly into remaining gaps between cars.

Fairly deserted A & B roads take us back to Dent via, Crook, Kendal & Sedbergh.

Leaving the classic "U-shaped" valleys, lakes and glaciated features of Cumbria, day three sees us back in the gentler but equally beautiful limestone scenery of the Yorkshire Dales. A ride via Kirkby Stephen, Nateby and Buttertubs Pass is a great sheep-dodging warm up before lunch at the Sunday biker hotspot of Hawes.

Here gathers the broad spectrum of the UK biking scene, which in turn, also attracts a healthy interest from Plod.

Weekend Warriors pose in matching leathers alongside their shiny new sports bikes; some fast, some slow - all too often, all show and no go. Worthy IAM types with beards, and day-glo jackets nod sagely over a cup of tea before pottering off on their Pans & BMWs. Armour-plated rugged types roll up on KTMs and CRFs; all knobblies, mud and cow dung, before blat blat blatting away again to take on some hidden rock-strewn trail or treacherous peat bog that mere road riders have absolutely no comprehension of.

Before leaving Hawes, it's compulsory to visit the Creamery, to sample, and buy Wensleydale cheese, made famous by Wallace & Grommit. One more ride over the hills, via Gayle, drops you into my favourite valley in the area - Langstrothdale. Ride alongside the river Wharfe as it drops over steps and limestome ledges and into swirling pools. Maybe tarry awhile to take in the scenery and a picnic perhaps?

Finally, pass Kettlewell and Grassington and wave goodbye to the Yorkshire Dales before taking the A1 homewards.

A great ride indeed; surely some of the best that England can offer. It's also a good training ground for those keen to extend their horizons to the mountains of mainland Europe.

This story was kindly provided by Bike Tours UK website,

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