The UK has some of the best mountain biking locations out there, but not all are in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, the Forestry Commission has set up some excellent trails and facilities at some of their sites.
If you’re new to the riding, make sure you’ve got the right gear and bike. Head to a local bike shop like Halfords to get kitted out on the cheap, then you’ll be ready to tackle the trails.
Below, we’ve put together a list of some of the best for budding mountain bikers, with blue to black graded trails – something for everyone.
Gisburn in Lancashire features a large figure-of-eight route with downhill runs and technical features accessible from it should you wish. It’s an active forestry site so watch out for logging heavy machinery on the fire roads. Trails start from Cocklet Hill car park near the pub, but a new café has recently opened which is also a starting (or ending) hub.
Getting to Gisburn Forest
For those coming from the Skipton way, head to Kendal on the A65 past Long Preston. In Long Preston, turn left onto the B6478 towards Clitheroe. Follow the road through Wigglesworth and Tosside and then turn right up a small side road towards Gisburn Forest, this should be signposted. You can park at Cocklet Hill, just as you enter the forest limits.
Stick this into your Sat Nav: Slaidburn and keep your eyes open for the signposts.
Trails on Offer
Bottoms Beck – Blue Route
Time: 2 hours
This blue is an easy ride and worth it with a good combination of forest road, gravel single track and lovely trees, ending up back at the car park.
The 8 – Red Route
Time: 3 hours
This is the epic loop in an “8” shape around the forest with many different types of sections to tackle. There’s plenty of features to do which trail off the side of the main route, with routes such as “Home Baked” – narrow and fast through the woods; “Whelpstone Crag” – big berms and tight lines or the rollercoaster of ” Hully Gully” down through the valley.
Up in Northumberland there’s a lot of riding at Hamsterley Forest for everyone. Cross-country riders, downhill weekend warriors and 4X fans will have something to make them smile here.
Getting to Hamsterley Forest
Assuming you’re coming up from Durham, head south on the A690 as you drive to Crook. Stay on the road as it merges into the A689 at Crook, and turn left at the roundabout junction with the A68. Afterwards drive towards Darlington and turn right whilst following signs for Hamsterley. Once in Hamsterley, head across the river and turn left onto the forest drive. The bike park area has its own car park – through Hamsterley village, on the right after three miles.
Just pop this into your Sat Nav: DL13 3NL
Time: 2 hours
This blue-graded trail heads up the valley on loose-surfaced gravel and forest roads, ending up with a long, fast descent back to the car park,
Time: 3 hours
This red section is basically a longer, steeper version of the blue, with bigger climbs and fewer wooded sections.
Time: 1.5 hours
Only for the most skilled riders, the black route offers a tough challenge and a different style of riding to the other trails in Hamsterley.
Descend Bike Park – Black
The downhill trails are tough and pretty technical. The 4X course is long, wide and sandy – a sweet, short roller coaster of a track. Sign on at the shed to ride these trails.
Located north of Birmingham, Cannock Chase is one of the most popular trail centres for cyclists. The trails here are maintained by Chase Trails, a local volunteer group who work in partnership with the Forestry Commission.
Getting to Cannock Chase
Getting here is easy, if you’re into XC – the trails begin near to the Birches Valley Visitor Centre. If you’re coming past Rugeley, take the A51 from the roundabout where it joins the A460 and travel north towards Wolseley Bridge. At the lights, turn left onto Hagley Road and follow it into the countryside. At the Birches Valley sign go left, and left again into the car park.
For the downhill mountain biking area, leave Rugeley on the A460 to Hednesford and turn left as you leave the town limits. Look to the left for the car park at the top of the hill.
Or, stick this into your Sat Nav: WS15 2UQ
Follow the Dog – Red Route
Time: 1 hour
This fun flowy route is mainly single track on gravel. Can be sessioned but you might be content with just one loop.
The Monkey – Red Route
Time: 2 hours
Includes Follow the Dog sections, this is a mix of gravel, muddy section and a series of black trails that leave and join the main trail. There’s a few climbs too but the swoopy descents are well worth it.
Downhill Area – Black Zone
There’s a sessionable section of DH runs at Stile Cop towards Rugeley. They’re short, steep and include berms and jumps. Push up back to the top if you’re not faint hearted!
Located in North Yorkshire, Dalby Forest is actually England’s largest trail centre, with a full range of facilities, trails of all grades and a bike park.
Getting to Dalby Forest
If you’re coming from Pickering way, head up the A169 north towards Whitby, then turn right before the Fox and Rabbit Pub, joining onto Thornton-le-Dale road. Keep your eye’s peeled as the turn-off for the forest drive and car park is on your left after just a short way in.
Alternatively, use this postcode with your Sat Nav: YO18 7LT
Tour de Forest – Blue Route
Time: 1.5 hours
This is a pleasant route combining easy, enjoyable single track on gravel with more open terrain in sections. It’s not all plain sailing as there are a few slight inclines, so don’t expect to be freewheeling the whole way.
Time: 4 hours
This is the longest but not the hardest. This is 34km of good, varied single track. Although it’s not massively technical or steep, it can be exhausting. Look out for shortcuts to get back to your car quicker.
World Cup XC – Red Route
There used to be a black run here, but it’s been replaced by this World Cup course. Designed for professionals, it’s still tacklable by casual riders due to its short nature. Watch out for some steep descents and tough climbs.
Pace Bike Park – Red Zone
This bike zone is known as Dixon’s Hollow and offers adrenaline junkies a 4X track, table tops and wooden obstacles for Northshore fans. Easy to join and leave, you could spend a day just here honing your jumping and pumping skills.
The Forest of Dean
Just on the Welsh/English border, the Forest of Dean is a mecca for mountain biking, complete with a mix of wide forest tracks, steep downhill and tight single track routes. There are two long XC loops, seven technical downhill runs (home of pro rider Katy Curd), as well as a family trail. Watch out for routes filled with jumps, berms, a few steep climbs all in a beautifully tranquil ancient forest.
Push-up to the top of the trails takes about fifteen minutes, but you can book in on the uplift service with FlyUp Downhill.
Getting to the Forest of Dean
For access to the Verderer’s and Freeminer’s trails, the start of these is north of the crossroads between the B4226 and the B4234 within the Forest of Dean boundary. Once you’re at the crossroads, head northwards on the B4234, then turn left after a couple of hundred metres to the Cannop car park.
Stick this post code into your Sat: GL16 7EH
Verderer’s Trail – Blue Route
Time: 2 hours
This trail is a one of the newest at the trail centre and one of the most popular. A gravel track loop with fast corners but with few technical challenges, it’s good for novices and experts alike, learning to ride singletrack or trying to get round as fast as possible.
Freeminer’s Trail – Red Route
Time: 45 minutes
One of the more popular amongst experienced riders following singletrack through the woods. There’s tough climbs, drops and hairpin bends – all designed to be done at speed. Watch out for the roots when choosing a line.
Red and Black Runs
The numerous runs (Endo, Mr Rooty, Corkscrew, Flatland, Sheepskull and The OC) are short but interlinked from the top to the bottom. They’re muddy, rooty and steep with tight corners and big jumps.