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Quintessential Peak District landscapes, viaducts, cotton mills and charming villages. The Monsal Trail is a fantastic traffic-free route to take on in the Peak District.

cressbrook-weir-peak-district
Photo: The Cressbrook Weir CREDIT Margaret Clavell

Monsal Trail – Why Go?

Monsal Trail is a traffic-free route running through some of the Peak District’s characteristic limestone dales. Following the former Midland Railway line, the walking route passes through a series of old railway tunnels. Some of these are over 400 metres long, making this the perfect walking route for a rainy day. 

You'll be immersed in the history of the Peak District's industrial past. When walking the Monsal Trail, you pass a series of old cotton mills, a limestone quarry, and railway viaducts. It's a stunning walk through the Peak District National Park – with beautiful views that you don't have to hike up hills for! These views and the Monsal Trail's accessibility make it one of the best Peak District walks  – it's a walk that everyone can enjoy without any prior hiking experience. 

Monsal Trail – What to Expect

The Monsal Trail is 8.5 miles long and regularly used by walkers, cyclists, and horses. The paths of this former railway are paved and suitable for wheelchair users, with access ramps at intervals along the path from Bakewell Station to Millers Dale Station. It is possible to walk parts of this trail or include them in circular walks in the surrounding valleys. Otherwise, there are cycle hire centres nearby for anyone who prefers cycling. 

While the pathways of the Monsal Trail are well-maintained, if you’re planning on walking the whole thing, wear a pair of comfortable walking boots. A waterproof jacket could be useful here too, but of course, the long tunnels are perfect for sheltering in. Do remember that the trail is not only for walking; it's a cycle route too, so take care when walking and watch out for cyclists. 

Monsal Trail – The Route, Part 1

13.7km / 3 - 4 hours

Starting at Bakewell to avoid large crowds of tourists, climb the steps or the cycle slipway that are located just before the Coombs Viaduct. The Monsal Trail is part of the former Midland Railway line, so the paths are traffic-free, well-defined, and perfect for taking a stroll at your own pace.

The first station you'll pass when walking from Bakewell is Hassop Station. There are plenty of options for refreshment here, including their cafe that offers views of the trail, and a cycle hire centre if you've decided that walking really isn't for you. 

The first tunnel you’ll reach after Hassop Station is the Headstone Tunnel. This is the longest of all tunnels on this trail, measuring 487m. The tunnels are lit during normal daylight hours, making them a safe place to walk. In winter when the daylight hours are shorter, the lights switch off earlier, so if you’re walking the trail during the afternoon in colder months, you should bring a torch. 

After passing through the first large tunnel, your view will open up over Water-Cum-Jolly Dale and the Cressbrook Mill. It was first opened as a cotton mill in 1783, and a larger Georgian building was constructed here in 1812. Inside, the mill has been converted to luxury apartments, but the outside retains the signature charm of an old mill building, sitting pretty in the heart of the Peak District National Park. 

Monsal Trail – The Route, Part 2

After two more long railway tunnels (Cressbrook Tunnel and Litton Tunnel), you’ll come across Litton Mill. It’s a slightly older cotton mill, opened in 1782, and it has an unsavoury history. The mill's owner, Ellis Needham, was notorious for his harsh treatment of child labourers. 

Moving past this mill and its sad past, your view will open out to the stunning limestone valley of Tideswell Dale. Managed by the Peak District National Park Authority, this dale is home to beautiful rare plants and one of the hardest climbing routes in the Peak District (Mutation, graded at 9a). 

A gentle stroll from Tideswell is Millers Dale. It's one of the most popular beauty spots in this area – and for good reason. Millers Dale sits on the edge of the River Wye that flows through Derbyshire and is home to a disused quarry. Once, the smoke from the lime kilns filled the air, but now visit on a hot July at and you'll be greeted by the scent of delicate orchids and wildflowers. 

The Monsal Trail ends (or starts!) at Blackwell Mill near Chee Dale after the Chee Tor tunnel. The dale is another fascinating, if somewhat forgotten, place to climb with its polished limestone cliffs and occasional loose holds. But it is a stunning place to end your walk. 

If you like the look of the Monsal Trail, check out our guide to the best Peak District walks for more route ideas.