Rev up your bicycle and head for the hills

The Peak District is pioneering a new electric bike initiative. Rhiannon Batten discovers there's still some pedal power required

'Whose is the cheat's bike?" asked a cynical voice at the George, a gastropub in the Peak District village of Alstonefield.

If the man started back-pedalling when he realised it was mine, it wasn't altogether surprising. In my mid-30s, reasonably fit and a regular cyclist, I'm not an obvious candidate for an electric bike but, having agreed to test drive a new cycle scheme in the area, it hadn't taken long to become a convert.

The idea, launched at the end of last month by the Electric Bicycle Network, is straightforward enough. The Peak District's hills are speckled with walkers, painters and committed cyclists but there are fewer options for the less active. About 85 per cent of those who venture into the UK's oldest and most visited national park explore it by car. The Electric Bicycle Network hopes that, by making the ride slightly easier, it will convince more people to swap from four wheels to two.

Though the scheme – a legacy project from now-abolished Cycling England – is also being rolled out in the Lake District next month, and in Devon shortly afterwards, the Peak District is the first UK location to join the network. Several accommodation providers, cafés and tourist attractions have signed up as hire and charge points along the way – including the Charles Cotton Hotel in Hartington, my base the night before I set off on a trial run.

The hotel's co-managers, Judy Dyer and Alan Shanks, say the bike business is already starting to fulfil its potential. "Someone tried one of the bikes earlier this week and wrote in our visitors' book that it was the best £25 they had ever spent," Judy told me as we headed towards the hotel's small fleet of sturdy Giant bikes.

Alan showed me how to slot the battery into one of the panniers and pointed out a detachable counter on the handlebar which displays speed and battery life, and lets you choose which mode to put the bike in. "Eco mode prolongs the battery – you're doing more work than the bike but it gives you a top-up," he explained. "In normal mode you put in a push and the bike puts in a push and, in sport mode, you put in a push and the bike puts in two. Most people keep it on eco most of the time and use normal or sport if they're going up a hill."

Pedalling out past Hartington's grand youth hostel was a revelation. Compared with my own bike, the Giant was shockingly comfortable, with an upright cycling position that lets you take in the scenery. And the boost was never powerful enough to make you feel out of control. The bikes are also quiet, apart from a very faint whirring.

I left the bike in eco mode along the flat Tissington Trail, an off-road cycle path that follows an old railway line. At about 10mph, I passed a scenic blur of dry-stone walls, rolling green hills, old stone barns and fat, leafy trees. About an hour after setting off, I arrived at the pretty village of Tissington for a tour of Tissington Hall, a wander around the village's famous wells, a spot of window-shopping at artisan candlemaker On a Wick & a Prayer and a bowl of homemade sweet potato soup at the Old Coach House which is also one of the scheme's battery-recharging points. But, in mainly eco mode, my battery lasted all day.

From Tissington, the ride took me out past an avenue of lime trees, on to quiet country lanes fringed with cow parsley and the odd kamikaze chicken, before winding sharply downhill at Thorpe. Just after the village, I left the road at a bridge over the River Dove and detoured up into Dovedale to spot dippers and wagtails hovering around the water's edge. The photogenic limestone ravine here – and particularly some stepping stones across the Dove – formed the backdrop to the closing scenes in Russell Crowe's Robin Hood. It's also a great jumping-off point for a lovely three-hour walk to Milldale and back.

My next stop was nearby Ilam, with its doll's house cottages, the country park and yet another stately youth hostel – Ilam Hall. I pedalled up to the National Trust visitors' centre for a cup of tea before heading on towards Beechenhill Farm, a cosy country B&B run by multitasking businesswoman and artist Sue Prince and her family.

An electric bike is more gentle deception than downright cheating, as I found on the steep uphill pedal from Ilam to Beechenhill. Even in sport mode, my legs were burning.

After a quick tour, it was time to get back in the saddle and cycle over to Alstonefield for dinner. I was rewarded that evening, though, when Sue showed me down to a magical wood-fired hot tub at the bottom of the garden. Surrounded by glowing hurricane lanterns, I wallowed away the sunset as the lowing of cows was gradually replaced by the hooting of owls. Now that, I thought to myself, is what recharging your batteries is all about.

Compact Facts

How to get there

East Midland Trains (08457 125678; eastmidlandstrains.co.uk) has return fares from St Pancras to Matlock from £27. Double rooms at the Charles Cotton Hotel (01298 84229; charlescotton .co.uk) in Hartington cost from £60, B&B. Double rooms at Beechenhill Farm cost from £80, B&B (minimum two nights). Wood-fired sauna "experiences' costs from £80 for four hours (01335 310274; beechenhill.co.uk).

Further information

Electric bike hire in the Peak District costs about £10 per hour, £15 per half day, or £25 per day. Go to electricbicyclenetwork.com for more details and a map of rental providers. Also visitpeakdistrict.com.

Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before