Purpose built trails

'Real' trails or not?

A couple of weekends ago, me and one of my riding buddies, Jonathan, decided to go on a road trip. We’re pretty spoilt for mountain bike trail choice here in Yorkshire, but wanted something a bit different. After some chewing of fat, we headed for the Marin Trail in Wales. I’ve always been slightly wary of purpose built trails, but was willing to give it a go in the name of research. 

So, why the dislike of them? 

Well, firstly, because purpose built trails have never felt ‘real’ to me: on close inspection they’re Mock Tudor instead of Tudor, if you know what I mean.   

There’s also something about working out a route, getting lost and working out how to get back on track that is totally devoid from a trail centre route.  I guess it robs us of the element of ‘discovering’ a trail, or even piecing one together ourselves from bridleways on OS maps.  On a purpose built trail you are told of its existence, and you can’t alter the route (unless using cutbacks is your idea of piecing together a route?!).  Like the Sat Nav generation, will future cycling generations be lacking in being able to read maps if the purpose built trail centre trend continues?

Unless you’re lucky enough to live near a purpose built trail, you have to use your car to get there.  Thereby using up a larger carbon footprint than you pay back by riding there.

The obligatory café, bike shop etc. can make the experience seem a bit like a theme park, adding to the ‘unreal’ feel of the experience.


Those that regularly read my blogs will know that I generally have two hemispheres of thought, however.  And, in the case of the Marin trail, I discovered a real liking for this particular purpose built trail:

Maybe this is because it was one of the first purpose built trails, and therefore has had time to bed in.  It seems to really flow sympathetically with the landscape. The trail side isn’t littered with felled trees, and there’s no theme park type stuff going on. The landscape you pass by seems like it has remained unchanged for generations.  There is a real feeling that you are a guest in history, not creating it (or spoiling it) by being there.

But also, maybe I just found a trail that made me finally understand the pull of a purpose built trail.  It’s fantastic to go to a place where you don’t have to worry about walkers, horses (or even cyclists) coming in the other direction round corners at you!

What is a purpose built trail?

Maybe it was the majestic landscape that got me philosophising, like I always do when I’m back in Wales.  So much so, that I started questioning what a ‘purpose-built’ trail actually is, anyway? What I mean is, what is a ‘real’ trail? Bridleways were formed by someone once, weren’t they, as short cuts between man-made farms, as places for cattle to be driven, or wagons to roll. And, before them, rabbit or sheep runs, and the routes that the beasts took through the forests.  They’re all ‘created,’ they’ve just been there longer…which brings me round to this thought: what will our grandchildren make of the purpose built trails of today, then?  

And, you know what, maybe there’s something nice about not reading a map for once, anyway.  Letting yourself drift into someone else’s imagination after a hard week at work, as opposed to spending your weekend testing your tired brain even further, is actually quite refreshing…

Slaying the Dragon

Is riding all the best man made trails in Wales in two days the ultimate singletrack suicide? There’s only one way to find out… Check out the next issue of What Mountain Bike – WMB85, the Awards Issue – for an Epic Ride to inspire you to get out and ride. On sale 25th June.

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