Peak District Cycle Route: Ashbourne to Ilam Loop

Do you ever feel frustration when searching for cycle routes on the internet? I do.

I struggle to find courses that have been properly curated and accurately described. When looking at a Jackson Pollock of route markers on a website, it’s difficult to decide whether the route is suitable for me.

There has to be a better way than Google Streetview-ing my way around the A roads of England in order to find my perfect cycle loop.

Oh yay! Oh yay! The rot stops here. At least for the people of south Derbyshire and the Peak District (and anyone visiting the area).

I hereby do solemnly swear that, on occasion, I will write a post describing a route that I feel has merit, either as a suitable training course or simply as an enjoyable cycle ride.

If you live in London or Lugano or the banks of the Limpopo, I apologise for writing about a place so far away from you. Solution: strap on a bicycle and come on over. The hills are lovely.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you today’s fox.

Peak District Cycle Routes: Ashbourne – Ilam – Calton – Ashbourne

It’s a hilly loop north from Ashbourne into the southern tip of the Peak District, taking in Dovedale and the picturesque village of Ilam.

I like to think that this course borrows elements from the Vuelta a España (with it’s steep, farm track ramps) but I am deluded. It’s a fun jaunt through some beautiful countryside, with some steep bits and the odd farmyard.

Where does it start?

Ashbourne. The clue was in the title. You could start at any point on the loop though. That’s the joy of a circular course.

If you’re coming by car, there is parking in the town centre. Slightly further out, the Waterside ‘Retail Park’ is free, but you might have to buy something from M&S Food or Halfords on your return.

Tunnel of love

Hands up who knew that there was a mahoosive (disused) railway tunnel from roughly the centre of town (the leisure centre car park) to ‘the countryside’? No, me neither.

Good news: the tunnel offers a flat, traffic-free route to quiet country lanes. Bad news: it’s very dark, particularly if you’ve just been cycling in the full glare of the sun (it shines here occasionally). Watch out for people walking dogs.

The tunnel vomits you out into the Tissington Trail car park. Here you will find a café and a cycle hire shop (albeit with bikes more suited to traversing the trail rather than ascending the Apennines). Unless you’re about to ride the Tissington trail (and if you are then you’ll have little further need for the current post), you’ll want to ride out of the car park, turning right towards Mappleton.

Where does it go from there?


The easiest way to describe the route is to show you a map. So here it is.

I created the route on You can follow this link to look at the course in more detail and, if it appeals, to download it to your Garmin (other GPS devices are available…).

RideWithGPS puts the total distance covered at 26.9km, so not too long if you’re unaccustomed to the hills.

If you do fancy something a bit longer, there are opportunities to continue further north into the Peak District at either Thorpe or Ilam.

How long will it take me?

This will obviously depend on your speed, your fitness and how hard you’re pushing yourself.

For most (non-pro) people, we’re probably talking between 1 and 1½ hours.

Tell me about the climbing


There are essentially two climbs: one larger, one smaller. The larger one starts as you cross the River Manifold and climbs up through farm land for 3km. At times the road resembles more of a farm track (albeit paved) than a formal highway. It even passes through a farm yard, with cow-filled barns on either side of you. A road sign is the only indication that you are still on a public road.

Over the course of 3km, you ascend 175m (just under 600 feet). According to RideWithGPS, the gradient hits 17%. Given my track record for believing improbable gradient numbers, I expect the actual gradient is somewhat less. Still, there are quite a few sections where you’ll want to be out of the saddle.

The smaller climb occurs earlier in the ride, taking you from Mappleton up to Thorpe. At 87m (~300 feet) of ascent and 2.5 km in length, it is a much kinder climb. You’ll probably be able to do most of it in the saddle. It’s a good opportunity to warm up the legs ahead of the main event.

In total the route features 527m of climbing (and descending – it is a loop after all). This amount of climbing over a relatively short distance classifies this ride as being “Hard / Hilly” using the Ride Ascent Ratio calculation created by Phil on his blog, (Phil wrote this post to explain his methodology).

If you choose to do the circular section of the route in the opposite direction (so turning left at Mappleton onto Yerley Hill), you have the opportunity to do an even longer climb: 6.3km, rising 207m.

It’s a good opportunity to test your fitness, and there are flatter sections to help catch your breath (or calm the legs), but for me it happens a little too early in the ride, before I’ve warmed up sufficiently. Must be getting old…

Where can I get sustenance?

Mappleton has a pub – the Okeover Arms. I haven’t been inside, but the car park seems full at lunch time. I deem this A GOOD SIGN. You’re unlikely to want to stop in when you first pass by (about 3km into the ride), but is a definite option for the way back. It’s a flat run from the pub back to Ashbourne.

There are few other options on the route itself. Given that it is not a long ride, it may be better to wait until you get back to Ashbourne, where a panoply of cafes, pubs and takeaway options await (as well as Waitrose and Sainsbury supermarkets).

Grimpeur out

There you have it. A short but challenging, picturesque loop through Dovedale and the southern tip of the Peak District. The spectacular scenery provides reason enough for me to ride it. The upward-sloping roads give plenty of opportunity to push myself on the training front.

If you live near the Peak District, or are planning to visit, the route is worth trying out.

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