Ten of the best cycling climbs in the Peak District

The Peak District is home to some of the most beautiful countryside - and toughest climbs - in the country

The Peak District National Park is home to some of the most picturesque countryside in the UK, straddling the counties of Derbyshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire and Yorkshire. In such a wide area, which covers almost 1,500 square kilometres, there’s plenty to whet the appetite of road cyclists – and no shortage of climbing to be had.

The area is also popular with riders because of the its close proximity to the cities of Manchester, Sheffield, Derby, Stoke-on-Trent and Huddersfield, offering an enviable escape for cyclists – and challenging terrain for the odd professional based near the home of British Cycling, too.

The Peak District caters for cyclists of all abilities, from off-road trails to quiet touring routes. However, what if road cyclists want to seek out the toughest challenges it has to offer? There’s no shortage of tough climbing to be had in the Peak District, so you’re spoilt for choice, but we’ve scouted around for ten of the best climbs in the region.

The Peak District is home to some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK (Pic: Reflected Serendipity / Creative Commons)

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Peaslows cuts a direct line up from the eastern edge of Chapel-en-le-Frith (no, we haven’t strayed into France), towards the locale of Sparrowpit. You can access it just off Sheffield Road, which cuts out the busy A6 junction.

If Peaslows is relatively unremarkable viewed on the map from above, it’s certainly challenging when you look at the profile that counts. For the first kilometre, you won’t see less than ten per cent, with peaks of up to 14 per cent along the straight road.

That makes it incredibly tough as there’s nothing to distract you from the task at hand, with the final 500m acting as a tease – it eases, but only just, necessitating you to switch on the afterburners, if you have any, to top this deceptively tough climb.

Vital statistics

Distance: 1.5km
Average gradient: 11 per cent
Steepest gradient: 14 per cent

Monsal Head

Monsal Head is a short and sharp stinger that runs up the ridge that characterises Monsal Dale. What makes the climb so testing, though, is the constant gradient that starts by kicking you in the teeth, and then unceremoniously continuing to do so as you grind to the top.

The view from the top of Monsal Head, back over Monsal Dale and the Headstone Viaduct, makes the climb worthwhile (Pic: Joe Hunt/Creative Commons)

We say ‘grind’, although the fact that it’s entirely predictable, not reaching more than 17 per cent for its entirety, makes it ripe for attacking out of the saddle from bottom to top as you fight to retain your starting momentum – and to control the lactic building up in your legs.

Monsal Head is also used for the annual Monsal Hill Climb. The events dates back to 1930 and has established itself as one of the most prestigious hill climbs in the country, with the 2016 edition won in 01:16.5 minutes.

At the top you’ll find the Monsal Head Hotel pub, and views of the viaduct that traverses the cutaway forged by the River Wye, which offers the reward of a local ale if you’re in the mood. Better hurry, though, to get to the front of the queue.

Vital statistics

Distance: 0.4km
Average gradient: 14 per cent
Steepest gradient: 17 per cent

Burbage Moor

Burbage Moor is one of the longest climbs on our list at 4.5km, and is a winding affair that pitches and rolls with the terrain more than most.

Over the course of the climb itself, you’ll gain 269m of elevation, with an average of five per cent over the course of the Strava segment. Sounds relatively easy? Forget it. The last few hundred metres is actually a descent to the segment finish line, shrouding the true nature of the climb.

It’s true nature is brutal; featuring a peak gradient of 16 per cent in the first third. So, unless you’re feeling particularly sprightly you’re going to need a wider cassette to help you spin up as you fight for grip from your rear wheel.

Starting at Hathersage, the road rolls up and over that first incline, before flattening off as you round the hillside and head up the second ridge. Be warned: the flat gradient at the turn isn’t long enough to allow you to recover, so it’s probably best to attack it here, building as much momentum as you can to take into the second stage.

Vital statistics

Distance: 4.5km
Average gradient: Five per cent
Steepest gradient: 16 per cent

Larkstone Lane

In the southern part of the Peak District you’ll find Larkstone Lane, which climbs out of the gorge created by the River Manifold and proceeds straight up towards the crossroads at the top.

What makes it so characterful is the way the road switches back on itself twice in the first 400m. You dink left, then right, in the process scaling the initial surge up the hill, peaking at 18 per cent. The road then eases off briefly before steepening again for the longest continuous stretch of the segment at 800m.

The top of the climb as you approach the crossroads isn’t easy on the legs, either. Even though the road flattens off, with a slight negative grade before rising gently again to the junction, if you want a quick time on the Larkstone Lane segment you’ll need to keep pushing right to the very end – even if your legs cried “enough” a kilometre back down the road.

Vital statistics

Distance: 1.8km
Avg gradient: Seven per cent
Steepest gradient: 16 per cent

Rowsley Bar

If you’re looking for a tough climb which bites from bottom to top, then Rowsley Bar could be the one for you. Starting just outside the extremity of the Peak District, heading outwards from the village of Rowsley, you’re faced with a steadily increasing gradient from the get go.

Rowsley Bar is within striking distance of the imposing Chatsworth House, pictured (Pic: Tour of Britain)

From the start point, where you turn off from Chatsworth Road (this one’s a great climb to do in the area around the famous Chatsworth House), the road heads steadily upwards until you reach the switchbacks. It’s at these bends in the road that the steepest gradient is found, at around 25 per cent, before straightening up again for the finale.

It’s a climb well-traveled by riders from around the country, and is well known by the folks at British Cycling, so should be one for your wish list too.

Vital statistics

Distance: 1km
Average gradient: 13 per cent
Steepest gradient: 25 per cent

Curbar Edge

Any climb which has been been a regular venue for a hill climb competition is sure to test the legs, and Curbar Edge fits that bill. In recent years, before its move to Scotland for 2016, Curbar Edge has hosted the British Universities and College Sport’s (BUCS) national hill climb competition, providing a proving ground for many young cyclists.

Curbar Edge is a true test for anyone, though. The climb is accessible from the A623 and takes its name from the village you pass in the first 500m. From then on the gradient on the 1.7km ascent remains remarkably constant at around ten per cent the whole way to the summit.

You know you’re nearing the summit when the road takes its characteristic twist first left, and then right, as you point your bike towards the natural gap in the cliff faces near the top. There’s no respite though, like any challenging hill climb course, so it’s full gas from bottom to top if you want to figure anywhere on the Strava leaderboards.

Vital statistics

Distance: 1.7km
Average gradient: 10 per cent
Steepest gradient: 11 per cent

Gun Hill

Gun Hill skirts the very edge of the Peak District on its south western side in Staffordshire, and has quite the reputation among pro riders – it even once reduced Mark Cavendish to tears on a training ride, but what we do know for sure is he dealt with that demon emphatically by wearing the Tour of Britain’s yellow jersey over it in 2011.

You might first wonder why it had such an effect on the Manx Missile at the start, because although certainly not famed for his climbing, the start of the ascent from Meerbrook is only a gentle rise for the first kilometre, peaking at little more than five per cent.

However, then it rears its head. Having lulled you into a false sense of security, the road pitches to a sticky 20 per cent, and maintains that tougher gradient for the next kilometre, only easing in the final 200m before a final little dig in the ribs to crest the summit.

Vital statistics

Distance: 2.2km
Average gradient: Seven per cent
Steepest gradient: 20 per cent

Winnats Pass

Winnats Pass is one of the most beautiful, characterful and atmospheric climbs of the Peak District, passing through what was once thought to be a collapsed limestone cavern, and is a must-ride if you’re looking for a challenge. It also featured on stage six of the 2015 Tour of Britain, so it hasn’t escaped the attention of pro race organisers, either.

Winnats Pass takes in some of the most dramatic countryside in the Peak District (Pic: Ed Webster / Creative Commons

At 1.4km in length and an average of 12 per cent, it’s a toughie from bottom to top; a challenge made harder by the ever-toughening grade as you scale the climb. At the bottom, just off the A6187, you proceed up Arthurs Way with an initial gradient of seven per cent. Thereafter, it only goes upwards.

You’ll enter the limestone cleft that makes Winnats such a popular ride, and it’s here you begin to see double figures. Sweeping through the canyon, the stunning road pitches further higher until you hit a steady 20 per cent in the last 200m – a true sting in the tail on what is a beautiful climb.

Vital statistics

Distance: 1.4km
Average gradient: 12 per cent
Steepest gradient: 20 per cent

Ewden Bank (AKA ‘Deliverance’)

We couldn’t help but include a climb that has earned the suggestive title of ‘Deliverance’. Presumably this is a reference to the severity of the climb, and the fact that it doesn’t allow you to carry momentum on to its main drag.

Starting at the Ewden Beck river, the road swings upwards right then left, sapping your speed before depositing you onto the ridge. With speed gone, it’s time to shift up the cassette and settle in. The fact that this 900m climb KOM is held by JLT-Condor’s Graham Briggs in 3:26 is a great indicator of how even the pros can’t take speed onto the climb.

You then follow Mortimer Road almost directly up the ridge, with the gradient reaching 15 per cent, dipping to ten, then rising again to 16 as you approach the right hander near the top. You’ll need to round this corner at full gas, though, because the segment stops at the next bend, a left, which rounds Thorpe’s Brow 150m later.  

Vital statistics

Distance: 0.9km
Average gradient: 13 per cent
Steepest gradient: 16 per cent

Mam Tor

No ‘best climbs’ list on the area of the Peak District would be complete without at least mentioning Mam Tor. Starting at Barber Booth, it’s another relatively consistent climb which tops out next to the actual peak of Mam Tor, at over 500m in elevation.

However, this time the average gradient (ten per cent), is spread over a 2.1km distance, allowing you to at least attempt o find a rhythm and pace your way up. Don’t be fooled though – the current KOM and QOM times are 6:53 and 9:20 respectively, so unless you’re a real mountain goat, you’ll be spending some decent time grinding away on this one.

At first you approach the hill head on, already feeling peaks of ten per cent, and then at around the kilometre mark veer left to scale the incredibly steep hillside. You then wind, twisting and turning along the topography – hitting the peak pitch of 15 per cent – until you reach the final switchback-like twist at the top. Keep up the effort; this one tests you to the very end.

Vital statistics

Distance: 2.1km
Average gradient: Ten per cent
Steepest gradient: 15 per cent

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