The Chapel Gate track in Edale has been resurfaced and turned into a smooth motorway. The long and very rocky track was previously considered by many, us included, to be one of the most technically challenging (legal) tracks in the area. This is a sad day for mountain biking in the Peak District.
Last Tuesday we went up and took some pictures of the new state of the track, although we only had time for pictures from the bottom of the main section.
11-05-18 Chapel Gate Track, 11 pictures of the current and previous state of the track.
10-01-21 Chapel Gate JI+JK, 16 Pictures by Jeff & Irwin.
Whilst the smoothing out (or “sanitising” to some) of technically challenging tracks in the Peak District often results in out cry from mountain bikers in online forums and in discussions with fellow bikers out on the tracks, there are a few more complicated issues at play with this one.
- Chapel Gate is a BOAT (Byway Open to All Traffic), so walkers, mountain bikers, horse riders, horses and carts ( 😆 ), motor bikes, quad bikes and 4×4 vehicles can all legally use it.
- Derbyshire County Council are responsible for maintenance of the track and the cost of doing so. The Peak District National Park Authority has helped with the assessment of the track.
- They are aware that the track is popular with mountain bikers, but bikers’ enjoyment of the technical challenge of the track isn’t their priority (assuming they appreciate it to start with – how would they know?).
- The main section of the track cuts across the hill side for 1km, with about a 0.5km² area draining onto it – that’s a lot of water in the winter. (See the map…)
- The plastic drainage pipes, fitted some years ago, were inevitably uncovered by erosion and the pipes were crushed and shattered by the weight of vehicles (exercising their legal right to use the track). Arguably if maintenance had been done earlier a lot of damage could have been prevented.
- The failure of drainage lead to a lot of water going down the track, causing, and greatly accelerating, a lot erosion. At the bottom of the main section, at the gate where it flattens out, all the water was draining off into a farmer’s field, carving a deep trench and spewing out soil and debris from the track.
- Some sections (particularly the bottom of the main section) became a deep gully, down to the gritstone bedrock, this led to the grass bank being used and eroded as the main line was either impassable, difficult, or less attractive to users (walkers could legally do so as it’s Open Access land).
- Doing nothing was not a long term option. – When assessed for Sustainability by the Peak Park it got the worst score possible.
- It might have been possible to have done the maintenance in a way that would have left the track in state more enjoyable to mountain bikers, e.g. embedding large rocks in the top surface, but this would certainly have taken longer and cost more.
- The estimated cost to repair it was £200,000, with a further £20,000 annually for maintenance. (Estimated some time between 2006 and 2009.)
- In December 2010 the Peak Park launched a six week consultation on a proposal to trial banning motorised vehicles for a year and half.
No decision has been announced yet.
EDIT: On 3/6/11 it was announced that it would closed to motors for a year and half.
- Between 1st March 2011 and 31 May 2011, the track was closed for the maintenance work.
- Work is planned on other local BOATs, but probably (hopefully) won’t be as severe:
- Long Causeway, Stanage – “Significant repairs” already done
- Brough Lane, Bradwell – Maintenance imminent
- Bamford Clough, Bamford – Maintenance and improvement to the safety of concrete parts
- Pin Dale, Hope / Castleton – Currently has problems with vehicles going off the track
- The Roych, Chinley / Edale – Currently has problems with vehicles going off the track
- Hurstclough Lane, Bamford – To be assessed for maintenance
- Shatton Lane, Shatton / Abney – probably ok, being monitored
- There are more further afield (this the links below)
Sources and further info:
Chapel Gate Experimental Traffic Order – Peak District National Park Authority
Sensitive routes – Peak District National Park Authority
Chapel Gate Route Management Plan [PDF] – Peak District National Park Authority
Vehicles in the Countryside: March 2011 [PDF] – Peak District National Park Authority
LAF Vehicle Sub-group Meeting 5/8/2010 [PDF] – Peak District National Park Authority
Whilst it would be easy to agree with banning vehicles from Chapel Gate, and other places they can legally drive, based on the damage they cause and subsequently cost, it’s perhaps a short-sighted view. Assuming a ban would be followed, where would they go instead? Would this increase traffic and therefore erosion and cost of maintenance on other BOATs? Would they then become like Chapel Gate and get similar bans? Would this lead to more illegal use and damage in less sustainable areas or on bridleways mountain bikers value? Another valid question is; can the council (and therefore taxpayers) continue to pay a lot of money to maintain the enjoyment of a relatively small user group?
Hard problems don’t have simple solutions.
As mountain bikers who enjoy technically challenging rocky descents and don’t enjoy smoothed out sandy motorways suitable only for family leisure cycling, we a take a certain amount of pleasure in seeing such “improvements” returned to rocky mayhem by the elements, but will this take much longer if vehicles are banned?
There are many good examples of self-sustaining rocky technical tracks, Hope Cross DH and Gores being two (bridleways). One thing most tracks will benefit from, though, is targeted maintenance; stopping water flowing down the track or draining dips where it collects and becomes a mud bath. The only question that remains is who will do this targeted maintenance, where are the fabled trail fairies?
Mountain bikers want maintenance to be carried out in a way that’s sympathetic to their use and enjoyment of the trails – that’s only going to happen if mountain bikers are involved in doing it. No one is going to come and ask us how we’d like it done if we don’t get off our back sides (or saddles more likely) and do something ourselves.