Peaks perfect

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01 November 2018
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Peaks District Greenlaning : credit: © Patrick Cruywagen
Is there anything better than greenlaning in the Peak District on a bright, sunny day? The only thing might be doing it in Land Rovers with mates

The Peak District is without a doubt one of the jewels in the natural beauty crown of the United Kingdom. The fact that it lies slap-bang in the centre of England means that tourists flock from all over the UK and the world to take in the views, hikes, cycling trails, greenlanes and wildlife. If you’re only coming for the day or the weekend you will leave wishing you had stayed for a week or a fortnight. Well, that’s what happened to me, and this is my story of a day spent laning in one of the most breathtaking parts of this island I have seen.

Our journey begins at the Ilam Hall youth hostel near Ashbourne, where some of our group are overnighting before our day of laning. To call it a youth hostel is a bit of an understatement as its actually a 17th century gothic manor which lies on 84 acres of pristine National Trust parkland. 

There are loads of families staying in the hostel, could this be because it is only 15 minutes away from Alton Towers? There are also lots of walkers in attendance, and it will take them less than 25 minutes to stroll to the nearby legendary Dovetale Stepping Stones, which were laid in the mid-19th century. Hopping over these series of stones takes you from one side of the River Dove to the other.

GLASS rep for Warwickshire, Faye White, leads us

The hostel has a bar and a restaurant so we are able to enjoy an average curry and a few lagers before retiring to one of the manor’s many spacious dorms. Before heading off to meet rest of the crew the following morning there is time to enjoy a full English breakfast at the hostel. There are five Land Rovers in our convoy and we all meet up at the nearby Bentley Brook Inn at 09.30 am sharp. Faye White, the GLASS rep for Warwickshire will be leading us in her silver Discovery 1. Her partner Kelvin Priestley is in his diesel P38A, it has done many a mile in Europe and Morocco, so he obviously knows his stuff. The friendly Andrew and Bev Taylor are in a tidy double cab Defender 110 Td5. Mark Blinkhorn (or should that be foghorn?) is in a relatively standard Discovery 1 V8 while Dave Leo is in his go-anywhere Ninety.

Nothing can beat the Peaks on a fine, sunny day

Everyone seems jovial as we buckle up and head off to our first lane. Could the sunshine and setting have something to do with the mood? It’s about 15 minutes to our first lane, which lies to the north of Ashbourne and to the west of Matlock; if you look at a map of the Peak District, we are in the most southerly part of it. We take the A515 to get there and it starts just north of Alsop en le Dale. 

“The plan is to do about 14 lanes today and we will be covering a big part of the peaks, with Castleton our most northerly point,” explains Faye, as we start the first lane, which is also known as Bankhouse Lane. The lane is easily done in high range. I think you could do it in a Toylander, to be honest.

A waller has set up camp about halfway down the lane. Judging by the semi-permanent dwelling he has put up, he has probably been here a while. From the finish of the lane at Pikehall, it’s a very short southerly transit to The Nook farm where our next lane, Minninglow Hill, begins. It’s very different to the first lane in that some 4x4 skills are required thanks to the several sets of rather deep ruts that have to be negotiated. Those with the more capable vehicles and bigger balls plunge straight into the ruts while others elect to protect their diffs by straddling the ruts. There is the most beautiful old wall and bridge; I’m told that it’s where a railway line once went. The views over the Derbyshire Dales from our first two lanes have me all excited for the rest of the day. A couple of healthy-looking dogs bark at us as we reach the finish of the lane while a rather unhealthy Discovery 1 longingly glances at our passing convoy.

Sweeping vistas and stone walls are a common sight

It’s a long transit to our next cluster of lanes which lie directly north of Matlock near Two Dales. We take the busy A5 to get there and we are all much relieved when we leave the touristy tarmac and exchange them for scenic lanes. Unlike our first two lanes, the third and fourth lanes are rocky in parts. Thanks to the views on our fourth lane it is also being enjoyed by some walkers. If looks could kill… Our fourth lane finishes on some farms that are part of the well-known Chatsworth estate. In fact, we drive right past this most beautiful of English stately piles, which the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire call home. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit Chatsworth House each year, which has over 30 impressive rooms housing works of art that span over 4000 years. I have visited the house on more than one occasion and if planning a visit put aside a full day. It’s worth it.

Overgrown lanes hide gravel tracks that are well-maintained

Our fifth lane starts in Edensor, the village closest to Chatsworth House, and mostly still owned by the Duke and Duchess. The overgrown lane is a climb out of the village and its location makes it a popular one for walkers. I love the big old trees near the start of the lane as they provide welcome respite from the harsh summer sun.

We pass just south of Handley Bottom to get to our short sixth lane. It, too, is overgrown and scratchy. I feel sorry for Andrew in the newish double cab. The lane gets progressively worse as we go along, but nothing that requires a sports bra or the resetting of your dentures. Andrew is still smiling at the end of the lane so it couldn’t have been too bad. 

We continue north towards the central part of the peaks and to where our seventh lane begins near Great Longstone. The bikers, walkers, cows and sheep join us on the lane known as Longstone Edge. I could never tire of the views that this lane gives us. Our Ordnance Survey maps show many opencast workings running parallel to the lane, and I notice someone abseiling down one of the quarry walls.

Mark Blinkhorn’s relatively standard Discovery 1 V8

Our eighth lane, also known as Jacob’s Ladder, starts in the village of Stoney Middleton, which was once an important centre for all the lead and mineral extraction that was taking place in the area. The lane might be short but it’s a climb that needs a bit of power and momentum (not the same thing). “Don’t stop, just keep on going and watch out for walkers,” comes the warning over the radio from Faye. She takes herself literally because by the time we get to the top of the lane Faye discovers that she has lost one of her front brake pads. The rest of us decide to take this opportunity to brew some tea, get out some lunch and enjoy the views from the top of the hill.

Unfortunately it’s too late in the afternoon to find replacement parts and so Faye calls the AA. Her partner Kelvin kindly offers her the use of his P38 while he waits for the AA. Land Rover love is a beautiful thing. The greenlaning show must go on…

To get to our next lane we pass through the village of Eyam, which was rather badly hit by the bubonic plague of 1655. After some debate the people of the village unselfishly decided to isolate themselves from the surrounding villages. There are conflicting reports as to exactly how many people were killed though most agree that it was over half of the population. If you have the time and want to find out more do stop at the village museum and the Plague Cottage.

Lane nine, a rocky climb, starts in a forest

Lane nine is a short and sharp, straight-up climb that starts in a forest. It does get progressively bumpier, the further we climb. We continue north once we reach the finish of the lane at Highcliffe farm, making our way across the Eyam Edge towards the start of our tenth lane. According to Faye it’s called the Old Racecourse. It’s nothing more than a gentle gravel track with a forestry bit on the right, classic walls on both sides and it does get progressively worse before finishing with a gentle decline.

Father and son enjoy the stunning views

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Next, we drive via Great Hucklow towards the eleventh lane of the day, which is known as Abney Moor. It’s one of the longer lanes of the day and despite its narrowness at the start it soon opens up as we make our way up onto the ridge. I know that I have harped on about the views throughout this feature but once again the Peak District turns it on for us. The sun is baking down fiercely on the surrounding hills while we bumble along the rocky ridge. I stop the convoy a few times so that I can take some pictures. I’m high on the fresh air and views. The lane finishes with a never-ending decline, and views down over Bradwell village and the cement factory. 

From here it is short westerly transit to our next lane near the village of Castleton. They call this lane the Pin Dale Quarry as it goes through the quarry, though some have renamed it after a vibrating toy. The reason for this is that the lane consists of a series of rocky climbs and the occupants of the car will get shaken about. Nothing that low range, second gear and a steady foot on the throttle can’t handle. As we climb higher and higher the tallest chimney at the cement factory makes an appearance on the horizon behind us. While it is pretty rocky with one or two largish boulders a novice in any Land Rover should have no problems. 

Dave Leo’s go-anywhere Ninety

It’s a long trek south to Buxton for our final two lanes of the day. The thirteenth lane is over the Fairfield Common. Allow me to rephrase that. It actually goes between two of the fairways on the local golf course. It was like driving your Land Rover across the plains of the Serengeti and instead of wildebeest you have neatly-dressed people wielding clubs at innocent little white balls. It was rather surreal. 

Faye had saved one of the best lanes for last, it was along the old Derby and Macclesfield link road. It was a long yet well-maintained gravel and rocky track. Officials had put many big logs in a perpendicular position to the lane. This was to stop people from going off piste. We could see signs of the damage that they had done everywhere. Several walking trails cross this lane so do keep a lookout if driving it. The lane finished with a steep, rocky decline. There were big boulders on some parts of the track but it was easy to go around them. 

Our convoy arrived safely in the village of Burbage, which lies on the eastern edges of Buxton. Our day’s laning in the Peak District was officially over. We’ve covered a good part of the southern and central Peak District. There is so much left to explore and see, which is why I will be back soon and definitely stay for longer. The Peak District is without a doubt one of Britain’s premier outdoor playgrounds for laning, hiking and mountain biking. Did I mention the views?

Maps

 

Where we stayed

YHA Ilam Hall is without a doubt one of the best youth hostels I have ever stayed in. A bunk bed costs less than £15 and if you are trying to treat the other half why not upgrade to a double for £25? Perfect location, stylish digs, just mind the snorers. yha.org.uk/hostel/yha-ilam-hall

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Did you know that you can now get access to the entire archive of Land Rover magazine content with our brand new digital archive? You can enjoy all the issues since the launch of the magazine – use the search bar below to find features, reviews and other great content: