The Monsal Trail

Skippy, me and my camera set off for Derbyshire this weekend with our sights firmly set on the Monsal trail in the Peak District. It is an 8 1/2 mile long cycle and footpath which follows the line of the disused Midland Railway between Coombs Road in Bakewell and Blackwell Mill in Chee Dale. It formed part of the line between London and Manchester and the line was completed in 1863. It ran for over 100 years until it’s closure in 1968 and it was reopened for recreation by the Peak District National Park Authority in 1981. Work started in 2009 to resurface the trail and open up the tunnels to cyclists and was completed in 2011 at a final cost of £2.25 million.

With my bike loaded on the back of the van I set off on Thursday evening and found a quiet street in Bakewell and parked up for the night.


And after a good night’s sleep I headed off bright and early on my bike ride laden down with my camera gear. Once you’ve pushed your bike up the steep hill to track level the cycling is wonderfully smooth and level, and not too crowded although people I’d spoken to have said that it can get very busy during school holidays.


Easy to ride along and even when it did get busy in the afternoon everyone was very cheerful and easygoing.


There are four tunnels along the route and they are all very well lit and provide a welcome relief from the hot sunshine. This one, Headstone Tunnel, is carved through the Limestone and leads into Monsal Dale.


Two views of Monsal Dale from Monsal Head.



I’ve decided that, like Alfred Hitchcock, I’m going to appear in all my blog posts so here I am enjoying coffee at Millers Dale station.Actually, by the time I’d finished messing about setting the camera up using my camera bag as a tripod, adjusting the self timer and working out where to sit I’d already drunk the coffee so here I am ‘pretending’ to enjoy a coffee at Millers Dale station.


The bridge over the river Wye at Millers Dale is a picturesque spot to practice abseiling. This girl’s nerve failed her and seconds after this photo was taken she shakily climbed back onto the bridge.


Her friend was much braver and discovered that abseiling is actually very good fun.


With those photo’s I was experimenting with large apertures and shallow depth of field. They were taken with an 85mm lens at f/1.8. Once I’d cycled the whole length of the trail I backtracked and started exploring some of the many footpaths that led off of the main route. After quite a steep climb down into the vally bottom I was able to follow the course of the River itself and it was here that I began trying slower shutter speeds to photograph the river rapids.



The speeds varied between 2.5 secs to 10 secs and I like the smooth milkyness of the water.


I still don’t feel that I’ve made the best job of developing these pictures in photoshop. My learning curve for that program is really steep as I learn better ways of extracting each picture’s true potential. For example, all the photo’s in this post have been sharpened using a techniqe which is new to me. Previously I’d always used the oddly named “Unsharp Mask” but for this post, after the initial RAW conversion I made each image into a “Smart Object”, then used a “High Pass” filter  to control the sharpening and selected a “Soft Light” blending option, which seems to be a much more controllable way of doing things.  The more I learn about Photoshop the more I realise how little I know about Photoshop.

I did also have a go at “Contre-Jour” photography and although these aren’t as good as some I’ve seen, I like the results and it’s something which I’m going to try to get better at.



This is my bed for Friday night. If Carlesberg made wild camping sites this is what they’d make. It’s a public car park next to the Monsal Head Hotel and it costs a mere £1 for overnight parking. As you can see I had the place to myself and with a Pub, an hotel, 24 hr toilets and a cafe within two minutes walk plus fantastic views across Monsal Dale it’s difficult to see how it could be bettered.


It was so nice there that I decided to go back for Saturday night only to discover these two behemoths had beaten me to it. The owners of the middle van, George and Sandra offered to move their van forward to give me room and I tucked Skippy in at the back. Within minutes the occupants of both vans were surrounding me asking questions about my van. George and Sandra foster children so they had two small boys with them who were desperate to sit in the drivers seat and have their picture taken.


George and Sandra along with Charlie their daughter and her partner Nigel in the front van had travelled in convoy from Barton-On-Humber and they invited me into their van for a drink. A very sociable evening was had with the seven of us and six dogs squeezed into the middle van and it was way past midnight when we all made our way back to our respective vans. They invited me to visit them in Hull and camp on their front lawn, Sandra said they can even provide me with electrical hook up if I need it, so I’ll probably be posting photographs of the Humber bridge fairly soon.

I’d thoroughly enjoyed Bakewell but I was less impressed when I popped into Buxton for  some shopping. It didn’t seem to have the friendly atmosphere which Bakewell had, so for my last few hours up that way I decided to head for Bakewell again and explore further. I’m glad I did, first I stumbled across a huge cycle race.


Then I discovered an exhibition of wood carving in the agricultural centre.



This guy, Colin Hickman, was demonstrating tool sharpening and carving tecniques and as he’d carved these walking sticks, I think we can safely say that he knows what he’s talking about.


The agricultural centre is on Smith’s Island and the bridge into town is decorated with thousands of love locks.


And the river which runs through the town centre is a perfect place to sit and eat fish and chips whilst gazing at the wildlife in the river.


I “think” it’s a Grayling but I’m ready to be corrected if anyone knows for sure.

I had a fantastic weekend up in Derbyshire and was very impressed by the Monsal Trail which is perfect for families with children and bikes. There are even two car parks along the trail which are at trail height cutting out the climb up to trail level for the smaller children.



10 thoughts on “The Monsal Trail

  1. Love this blog post! Louis will be green with envy as he has been desperate to visit ‘love lock’ bridge in France and the one I’m your blog looks like a good substitute. Great job with the photography, I also like the contra jour photos, I do however love portraits and am pleased you’ll be featuring yourself in each, have you been working out…? 😊😊


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