If you’re looking for a fantastic day out for cyclists of all ages and abilities, try heading for Carsington Water in Derbyshire’s Peak District National Park. You’ll be cycling around the Severn Water reservoir with its breathtaking views and it’s a great location for beginners and families who love to ride together. But you’ll also have a superb opportunity to interact with nature and wildlife or test your skills on the water.
Currently, Carsington Water offers a choice of two cycling trails that loop around the water. If you’re riding with complete beginners or little legs, then the three-mile route is a great way to start exploring the reservoir. This route sticks close to the visitor centre, so it’s handy for the on-site restaurant and shops and are perfect for younger kids or riders new to off road cycling.
If you want more of a challenge, the eight-mile (15km) loop serves up some undulating terrain through the hills on the banks of the reservoir before flattening out and following an easy-going route by the water’s edge. None of the climbs are long but some are steep enough that you’ll feel it in your legs the next day and the section at the head of the reservoir will give your mountain bike a workout.
The routes are all well signed from the Visitors Centre, so head off across the dam – avoiding the Canada Geese – then turn left through the car park and picnic area to hit the start of the longer trail proper. In around half a mile, you’ll hit the first of the climbs followed by a hard pack descent. Take the anticlockwise route if you’re cycling as a family so you get the toughest terrain out of the way first.
One of the great things about cycling Carsington Water on a hot summer’s day is that you spend quite a lot of time in the treeline which keeps things cool and shady. The section towards the head of the reservoir hits really dense woods with plenty of rolling action which is probably the most challenging part of the entire route. But there’s still plenty to look out for, including the old RAF ‘Bomb Tower’ from the 1940s and a Bronze Age burial mound near the Visitors Centre.
If you’re cycling with the kids there are a few things to look out for. There are some uneven surfaces and you’ll need to look out for loose gravel, so if you’ve treated yourself to a gravel bike this could be a fantastic place to test it out. Otherwise, it’s definitely worth taking your mountain or cyclocross bike for this one. But while the gravel is plenty of fun for adults, if you’re riding with younger kids, watch out for skids and falls. And if you do the full loop, it’s worth knowing that you’ll also find yourself crossing a B road and riding approximately 1 mile on a minor road. It doesn’t get much traffic but it’s best to be prepared. So take extra care if you’re riding with the family and make sure everyone has a helmet and hi-vis.
If you’re in the area, Carsington Water has plenty to offer for a great day out. Nature loving kids will love the different habitats from native woodlands to wildflower meadows, while birders can spot buzzards, kingfishers, grebes, lapwings and tufted ducks from the hides located around the water’s edge.
One of the best things about a day out at Carsington is the wide range of wildlife it attracts. There are nearly 300 species of birds and mammals here including voles, deer and whiskered bats who have their own bat hibernation boxes. Wildlife is so important to the Carsington Water experience that there are 300 homes for Barn Owls and the site has won a prestigious ‘Forestry Centre of Excellence’ award.
The Carsington Water track also links into the Tissington and High Peak trails if you want to make a fantastic day out in the stunning Derbyshire countryside.
High Peak trail covers 17.5 miles and includes part of the route of the Cromford and High Peak Railway, one of the first long-distance rail routes. Stop at Black Rocks for the spectacular views, and go in summer for the native orchids and wild herbs.
Tissington is another traffic-free trail open to cyclists, hikers and horses that covers the route of a disused railway line for 13 miles. Both trails have fantastic views and the opportunity to see the best of UK wildlife and wildflowers.
I definitely recommend making a day of it at Carsington Water. Take a picnic or grab an ice cream at the onsite restaurant. If you’re lucky, you’ll even find an ice cream van on your travels. And did we mention the excellent village pubs just off route? The Barley Mow Inn at Kirk Ireton and the Miner’s Arms in Carsington village are both dog and family-friendly with good beer and decent food.
All walking and cycling trails start and finish at the visitor centre which is at the heart of a square filled with shops and cafes. Drop into the RSPB shop for some expert birding advice, or park the kids at the indoor play centre and enjoy some well-earned coffee and cake overlooking the water.
Carsington Water is a great place for watersports and you can try your hand at windsurfing, kayaking and paddleboarding. There’s also some great fly fishing and the stocks of rainbow and brown trout are topped up every week. You can hire outdoor gear and bikes – including inclusive cycles like the velo plus wheelchair transporter and the Fun 2 Go cycle – at the Water Sports and Cycle Hire Centre located near the visitors centre.
You’ll find Carsington Water just off the B5035 near Ashbourne. There are pay and display car parks at the Visitors Centre, and the Millfields and Sheepwash car parks.
But the real attraction here is definitely the opportunity to enjoy a ride through all that naturally beautiful countryside Carsington Water has to offer. The peace, tranquillity and fantastic waterside views make it a haven for cyclists and nature lovers alike.
- 100% Off-Road
- Long and short route options
- Suitable for beginners and families
- Undulating terrain makes for a fun ride
- Plenty of parking options and facilities
- Fantastic views across the water and surrounding countryside
- Some of the climbs on the longer route may be difficult for beginners and young children