Best trail centres in England

What the riding's like, who it's suitable for and how to get there

Trail centres are on the up! Not only in their popularity but also, it seems, in the level of investment going into them. In fact, as we’ve compiled this guide for 2014 it’s been exciting to see how many new trails and facilities – and in some cases actual full-on trail centres themselves – have come into being.

It’s not difficult to see why we all love them so much. Great trails that are ridable whatever the weather, easy access throughout the UK and a good range of riding for different levels of ability. Not to mention the excellent facilities for bike maintenance and a nice bit of cake at the end of a long ride!

Through this guide we bring you all the info you need on what we consider to be England's best trail centres. So whether you’re a seasoned pro or are just starting out in the wonderful world of mountain biking, you can discover some of the best places to go and ride your bike. Happy trails!

Cannock Chase

About the centre

Right in the middle of England, Cannock is easily reached by a lot of riders. Follow The Dog and The Monkey are popular. The trails are maintained by Chase Trails, a local volunteer group, working in partnership with the Forestry Commission.

The trails

Follow The Dog – red

  • Distance: 11km
  • Time: 45mins-1hr30
  • Technicality: 3/5

Follow The Dog is mainly singletrack  – and it’s varied singletrack at that. The whole loop is rideable in less than an hour, but is entertaining enough for repeat laps. 

The Monkey – red

  • Distance: 24km (inc Follow The Dog) 
  • Time: 2-3hrs
  • Technicality: 4/5

The Monkey offers some classic, well surfaced singletrack with optional black sections, but nothing too intimidating. The lack of gradient is made up for with a lot of switchback climbs – be prepared!

Downhill area – orange

  • Technicality: 5/5

There are several downhill runs at Stile Cop near Rugeley. The tracks are fairly short, taking a minute or so to ride from top to bottom, and there are berms, drops and jumps. 

How to get there

The cross-country trails begin at Birches Valley Visitor Centre. From Rugeley, take the A51 from the roundabout where it joins the A460 and head north towards Wolseley Bridge. At the first traffic lights, turn left onto Hagley Road and follow it out of town. Turn left by the Birches Valley sign, and left into the car park. For the downhill area, leave Rugeley on the A460 to Hednesford and turn left just outside town. The car park is on the left at the top of the hill. Grid ref: SK 018170 , sat nav: WS15 2UQ

Facilities

Bike hire, bike shop, cafe, pay & display parking, toilets

More information

www.chasetrails.co.uk

Dalby Forest

About the centre

Dalby Forest is England’s largest trail centre, with a wide range of trails, the Dixon’s Hollow bike park and a full range of facilities. If you want to make a weekend of it, the new Sutton Bank trail centre is just 26 miles away.

The trails

Tour de Forest – blue

  • Distance: 14km
  • Time: 1-2hrs
  • Technicality: 3/5

This route combines easy, enjoyable singletrack with more open terrain and is slightly tougher than the previous blue trail it replaces.

Red Route

  • Distance: 37km
  • Time: 3-4hrs
  • Technicality: 3/5

Dalby’s red route is a long trail with a lot of good, varied singletrack. Although it’s not massively technical or steep, it can be tiring, so there are several shortcuts.

World Cup XC – red

  • Distance: 6.5km 
  • Time: 1hr
  • Technicality: 5/5

Dalby’s old black route has closed, but in its place is the black XC World Cup course. It’s a pro level track, but you can have a go at most of it. This 6.5km bolt-on to the red route offers such treacherous challenges as Medusa’s Drop and Worry Gill.

Pace Bike Park – orange

Dixon’s Hollow offers adrenaline junkies a 4X track and some North Shore skinnies.

Further riding...

Forty-five minutes down the road from Dalby, Sutton Bank has new green (5km), blue (12km) and red (28km) trails.

How to get there

From Pickering, follow the A169 north towards Whitby, turning right just before the Fox and Rabbit Pub onto the Thornton-le-Dale road. The turn-off for the forest drive is on your left after a short way. Grid ref: SE 857873, sat nav: YO18 7LT

Facilities

Bike hire, bike shop, café, pay & display parking, toilets, bike wash, visitor centre

More information

www.forestry.gov.uk/dalbyforest

Forest of Dean

About the centre

Lying on the Wales/England border, the Forest of Dean is full of good mountain biking, with a mix of wide forest tracks and tight singletrack. There are two waymarked XC loops and seven technical downhill runs, as well as a family trail. The red-rated Freeminer’s Trail has been reworked and is now 7km long, with a 2.5km extension filled with jumps, berms and a couple of steep climbs. Two new downhill runs are being built too.

The trails

Verderer's Trail – blue

  • Distance: 11km
  • Time: 1-2hrs
  • Technicality: 2/5

The Verderer's Trail is a relatively recent addition and is proving popular. This all-weather loop features flat-out fast corners, berms and a few challenges. Novice riders enjoy its flow and those with more MTB experience enjoy pushing their limits. 

Freeminer's Trail – red

  • Distance: 7km
  • Time: 30mins-1hr
  • Technicality: 3/5

The Freeminer's Trail has recently been reworked. It follows varied singletrack through the woods, with some tricky climbs, drops and hairpin bends. Some sections are relatively smooth, but much of the trail is rooty, so line choice is critical. There's a new 2.5km extension filled with jumps and berms.

Further riding…

The Forest of Dean contains miles of good singletrack, so go explore. There’s also a number of downhill runs cut into the hillside. They are all short, but tricky to ride, with tight, steep corners and big jumps. The main downhill run is Ski-Run, which has several technical sections and a big tabletop to finish. The others (Endo, Mr Rooty, Corkscrew, Flatland, Sheepskull and The OC) can be found further up the hill. The push-up takes five to 10 minutes. There's an uplift service too – more info at www

The other runs (Endo, Mr Rooty, Corkscrew, Flatland, Sheepskull and The OC) can be found further up the hill. The push-up takes five to 10 minutes. There’s an uplift service too – more info on that at www.flyupdownhill.co.uk.

How to get there

The Verderer's and Freeminer's trails are just north of the crossroads between the B4226 and the B4234 in the Forest of Dean. At the crossroads, head north on the B4234 and turn left after a couple of hundred metres, into what appears to be Gloucestershire Highways' Cannop Depot – the car park is on the side of this. Grid ref: SO 608118, sat nav: GL16 7EH

Facilities

Bike hire, bike shop, café, pay & display parking, showers, toilets, uplift service (www.flyupdownhill.co.uk), workshop

More information

www.dtvfod.co.uk

Gisburn

About the centre

There’s a lot going on at Gisburn. There’s an easy blue route, The 8 red route and several downhill runs – all of which are well worth riding. Trails start from Cocklet Hill car park. A new café has recently opened, and there's also a new skills loop.

The trails

Bottoms Beck – blue

  • Distance: 9.5km
  • Time: 1.5-2hrs
  • Technicality: 2/5

If you want a nice easy ride, the blue route is worth a shot. The Bottoms Beck trail has a good combination of forest road, pleasant surroundings and singletrack. You’ll pop out by the car park at the end with a grin on your face.

The 8 – red

  • Distance: 18km
  • Time: 1.5-3hrs
  • Technicality: 3/5

The 8 is an odd trail. Each section of singletrack is different to the rest. It doesn’t have amazing flow, but every section leaves you looking for a way back up for another run. Home Baked is dark, narrow and fast; Whelpstone Crag has rough berms and optional black lines; and Hully Gully rollercoasters up and down the sides of a huge gully. 

How to get there

From Skipton, head north-west towards Kendal on the A65 to Long Preston. In Long Preston, turn left onto the B6478 towards Clitheroe. Follow this through the villages of Wigglesworth and Tosside and then turn right up a minor road signed to Gisburn Forest. Park at Cocklet Hill car park, which is on your right immediately after entering the forest. Grid ref: SD 745550, sat nav: Slaidburn

Facilities

Parking, café

More information

www.forestry.gov.uk/gisburn

Hamsterley

About the centre

There’s a lot of riding at Hamsterley, for cross-country riders, downhiller and 4X fans alike.

The trails

Blue

  • Distance: 15km
  • Time: 1-2hrs
  • Technicality: 1/5

A route for those who like to cover distance and explore the forest at a leisurely pace. The blue-graded intermediate trail heads up the valley on loose-surfaced forest roads, and ends with a long, fast descent. 

Red

  • Distance: 22km
  • Time: 2-3hrs
  • Technicality: 2/5

Essentially a longer, harder version of the blue, with bigger and steeper climbs and more exposure.  

Black

  • Distance: 11km
  • Time: 1-1.5hrs
  • Technicality: 4/5

The black route offers a great technical blast and a different style of riding to the other trails here.

Descend Bike Park

The downhill trails are tough and pretty technical. The 4X course is long, wide and sandy – a sweet, short rollercoaster of a track. Sign on at the shed to ride these trails.

How to get there

From Durham, head south on the A690 towards Crook. Stay on this road as it becomes the A689 at Crook, and turn left at the roundabout junction with the A68. Head for Darlington and turn right after three miles, following signs for Hamsterley. Once in Hamsterley, turn right into the centre. After about a mile, cross 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. Grid ref: NZ 092312, sat nav: DL13 3NL

Facilities

Bike hire, bike shop, café, pay & display parking, toilets

More information

www.hamsterley-trailblazers.co.uk / www.forestry.gov.uk/hamsterleyforest / descend-bikepark.co.uk

Kielder

About the centre

Sitting in the middle of a massive forest, the manmade trails at Kielder are a solid addition to the region. The paths have plenty of singletrack, a few tough climbs and some technical riding.

The trails

Osprey – blue

  • Distance: 20.5km
  • Time: 2-3hrs
  • Technicality: 2/5

Osprey is an open, flowing trail designed for riders who love a good cross-country blast.

Lonesome Pine – red

  • Distance: 19.7km
  • Time: 2-4hrs
  • Technicality: 3/5

If you like views, you’re in for a treat. On Lonesome Pine you can see for miles. The trail also has one of the UK’s longest sections of North Shore woodwork. 

Bloody Bush – red

  • Distance: 33km
  • Time: 3-6hrs
  • Technicality: 3/5

The combination of Lonesome Pine and Bloody Bush gives an impressive 33km of red-graded trail riding. Bloody Bush speeds through trees and moorland all the way to the Scottish border and the 7stanes trail centre at Newcastleton.

Deadwater – red

  • Distance: 6.8km
  • Time: 1-2.5hrs
  • Technicality: 3/5

An enjoyable route with descents, berms and forest singletrack. 

Up and Over – black

  • Distance: 10.2km (addition to red)
  • Time: 1-2.5hrs
  • Technicality: 4/5

The black branches off the Deadwater red route, adding a tricky climb and technical downhill.

How to get there

From Newcastle or Carlisle, follow the A69 to Hexham, then the B6320 to Bellingham (signed Kielder Water and Forest), then the C200 to Kielder Water and Forest Park. From Jedburgh or south-east Scotland, take the A68 south then the B6320 from Otterburn to Bellingham. Follow the brown signs to Kielder Water and Forest Park. From south-west Scotland, follow the A7. Leave the road at Canonbie to join the B6357 to Newcastleton, and Kielder Water and Forest Park is signposted from there. Grid ref: NY 632936, sat nav: NE48 1HX

Facilities

Bike hire, bike shop, café, parking, toilets, camping, youth hostel

More information

www.kieldertrailreavers.org.uk / www.forestry.gov.uk/kielder

MTB Shropshire

About the centre

MTB Shropshire is based in the Shropshire Hills, near the Long Mynd, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are plenty of waymarked trails to explore, none of which are massively technical, but you do have to be wary of the exposure of being out in the hills.

The trails

MTB Shropshire have put together a trail map of the Long Mynd, which shows the easy-to-follow waymarked routes using a number system. This allows you to create a ride to suit your ability level and preferred riding time. 

There are plenty of fantastic singletrack descents to be had on these hills, but there’s some steep climbs too and the terrain can be quite exposed at times. Trail maps are £1, from the Shropshire HIlls Mountain Bike & Outdoor Persuit Centre in Marshbrook.

  • Distance: Various
  • Time: Various
  • Technicality: 3/5

How to get there

The MTB Shropshire base is located in the small village of Marshbrook. To get there, take the M54 to Shrewsbury then join the A49 at Church Stretton. MTB Shropshire is on the B4370, off the A49. Grid ref: SO 44240, sat nav: SY6 6QE

Facilities

Parking, shop, bike hire, bike wash, café, pub, campsite, showers, mountain biking courses

More information

www.mtb-shropshire.co.uk

Stainburn

About the centre

Stainburn’s black route is the most technical manmade cross-country trail in England. Built mainly by trail builder extraordinaires SingletrAction, Stainburn’s trails aren’t long – it’s the sort of trail centre where you come to session sections until you can ride them clean.

The trails

Red Trail

  • Distance: 2km
  • Time: 15-30mins
  • Technicality: 3/5

Stainburn’s shortest and easiest route. It swoops down from the car park and climbs through a rock garden into the woods. Then there are switchbacks, low berms and jumps. 

Descent Line – red

  • Distance: 1km 
  • Time: 5mins
  • Technicality: 3/5

Turning off at the top of the red route, the Descent Line snakes through the woods, around tight corners and out into the open. A few fast berms and some high speed rock sections lead you on to two sizable drops. 

Norwood Edge – purple

  • Distance: 3.2km
  • Time: 30mins-1.5hrs
  • Technicality: 4/5

This might be a short XC route, but it’s quite technical – if your bike handling skills or fitness are lacking, it’ll show!

Warren Boulder Trail – black

  • Distance: 4km
  • Time: 30mins-1hr
  • Technicality: 5/5

Think you’re a good rider? Find slick slabs a doddle? Reckon steep rock gardens are easy? Know you can balance along boulder-spines and ride North Shore without problems? Got strong legs and technical climbing skills? Good – you’ll need all this and more to get round Stainburn’s black route!

How to get there

From Harrogate, take the A59 west towards Blubberhouses. After seven miles, turn left onto the B6451, signposted to Otley. The car park is on your right after about three miles. Grid ref: SE 210509, sat nav: Otley

Facilities

Parking

More information

www.singletraction.org.uk

Swinley Forest

About the centre

There have been some big changes at Swinley Forest lately. There’s still an extensive network of unmarked singletrack but now there are three waymarked trails too, for varying abilies. There’s also a freeride area and downhill zone.

The trails

Green Trail

  • Distance: 1.1km
  • Time: 20-30mins
  • Technicality: 1/5

The Green is a typical wide family trail but with two 25m loops that are twisty, fun and suitable for very small wheels!

Blue Trail

  • Distance: 9.3km
  • Time: 1hr-1hr30
  • Technicality: 2/5

The Blue is swoopy and bermy with the odd cheeky double thrown in for good measure. It's fun for intermediate riders, with all the obstacles being rollable, but is also a blast for the pinners out there.

Red Trail

  • Distance: 12.2km
  • Time: 1hr-1hr30
  • Technicality: 3/5

The Swinley red incorporates longer fireroad sections, along with plenty of singletrack that should be familiar to anyone who rode here when the trails were still unmarked. There are two new bikepark-style descents that are superb fun and some great rooty natural sections as well. The Red Trail is suitable for any intermediate rider.

How to get there

All the new trails start at The Look Out Discovery Centre. It’s off the A322, which runs between the M3 (Junction 3) and the M4 (Junction 4). Follow the brown tourist signs to The Look Out and Coral Reef. Turn off the A322 on to Nine Mile Ride (B3430) at a roundabout about four miles up from the M3. The Look Out is on your left after about 100m. Grid ref: SU 876661, sav nav: RG12 7QW

Facilities

Bike hire (seasonal), cafe, parking, toilets

More information

The Look Out Discovery Centre, 01344 354400

Whinlatter

About the centre

Lying to the west of Keswick in the Lake District, Whinlatter Forest is a great spot. It contains the blue-graded Quercus Trail and the figure-of-eight Altura Trail.

The trails

Quercus Trail – blue

  • Distance: 7.5km
  • Time: 1-2hrs
  • Technicality: 2/5

The blue Quercus Trail is for reasonably competent cyclists and mountain bikers, but there are easy routes around technical features such as berms and rock paving. It’s a short but twisty loop and is an absolute blast when ridden fast.

Altura Trail – red

  • Distance: 19km
  • Time: 1-2hrs
  • Technicality: 3/5

The Altura trail has two loops, the North and the South. The North has optional black sections and 200m height gain, rewarded by exhilarating descents. The South boasts fast singletrack with berms, jumps and natural features to challenge you – also in return for a hefty climb. Take it steadily or hit with a bit more speed to add a massive dose of fun.

How to get there

From Keswick, take the A66 west towards Cockermouth. After a couple of miles, enter the village of Braithwaite and turn left onto the B5292. Follow the road through the village and into Whinlatter Forest. The car park and visitor centre are on your right. Grid ref: NY 209245, sat nav: CA12 5TW

Facilities

Bike hire, bike shop, bike wash, cafe, pay & display parking, shop, toilets, visitor centre

More information

www.forestry.gov.uk/whinlatterforestpark / visitlakelandforests.co.uk

The information in this article is taken from Britain’s 50 Best Trail Centres, free with issue 303 (June 2014) of  Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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