From the wilds of Scotland to the suburbs of Surrey, we've got twenty of the UK's best natural mountain bike trails for you to follow.
In no particular order, may we present 20 of the best mountain bike trails in the UK.
1. Nan Bield Pass, Lake District
This ride is all about reaching the infamous Nan Bield Pass and experiencing the Kentmere Common descent that follows it. Sunken alpine hairpins, fast stony singletrack, sketchy, mucky gambles, sudden techy chutes, chilling streams, nightmare ruts and some all-out randomness… all set amid an awesome Lakeland valley landscape.
2. Rhyd Ddu, Snowdon, Wales
This mountain circuit will take you to the top of Wales’ highest peak — and back down along a route you’ll never forget. It starts with a steep climb (don’t feel too bad if you need to get off and push — we did) to Bwlch Maesgwm, where you’ll enjoy smooth-rolling singletrack all the way down to the lakeside town of Llanberis.
From here get ready for a long climb that takes in road, track, rock and scree, with a few steep bits where you’ll need to push. It’s worth it, though, for the descent. The first kilometre is very steep and exposed: you’ll be carrying along much of the knife-edge ridge. After that it settles into a steep, rocky and mostly rideable descent back to the valley floor.
3. Torridon, Scotland
From the outset, this splendidly isolated trail ascends consistently and gradually — rarely does such great altitude come so easily. Only in a few places will you need to switch your brain on, and this firm, stony trail is rideable in all conditions, offering considerable grip.
Once over the small wooden bridge, the mountains start to close in, the trail steepens and the challenges begin. Some fighting spirit and strong legs will see you up most of the climb; only in a few places will the best have to push.
Once up on Bealach Ban, you are greeted by one of the best views anywhere in the UK. To the north is the Liathach, a collection of Munros arranged along a West-East axis, and it’s here that the terrain of Torridon is at its most striking.
4. Cut Gate Path, Peak District
Cut Gate trail in the Peak District: this is the definitive way to do it. Cut Gate typically poses a real conundrum to a lot of mountain bikers. It’s hard to decide how to fit it into a loop, so it often gets left out and riders head over to the other Peak classics like Jacob’s Ladder or The Beast, both of which are much easier to work into a loop.
There are riders who will tell you that south-to-north is the way to do Cut Gate. There are just as many other riders who will protest that north-to-south is best. They are both wrong… and right. It’s great in either direction.
5. Lairig Ghru, Scotland
6. Ullswater, Lake District
Looking at the stats (13km / 8 miles), this route may appear a bit paltry. But this is the Lake District, and eight miles along Lakeland trails can be a real workout.
This route takes in arguably the Lake District’s finest lake before sending you off round the back of tourist-free nowhere. Then it’s a return to Ullswater via an arduous up, then an adrenaline-tastic down, from the head of the Boredale Valley.
The main ingredient of the ride is the famous Lakeside singletrack alongside the east shore of Ullswater. Although it’s (sort of) alongside a lake, the singletrack is very rarely flat. It’s actually much more like riding along a sawtooth blade, and it’s as much of an extreme trials-like climbing challenge as it is a test of descending skill and nerve.
You’ll be constantly working your body and bike. Hustle, hustle, hustle! Some people bemoan its lack of obvious flow, but more seasoned riders relish the all-round crazy challenge.
7. Stob Bàn, Scotland
8. Quantocks, Somerset
With an early start and healthy pair of legs you can easily get round all of the Quantock Hills’ finest trails in a day. There are few classic UK riding spots that give up all their riches so easily.
This route ticks off almost all of the classics. Alongside the plentiful flowing, natural singletrack, we’ve given you the option to test yourself on some seriously technical descents. Triscombe, at the southern end of the Quantocks, boasts a multitude of challenging downhill runs accessed by a steady fire-road climb.
9. Exmoor, Somerset
The ride starts in Porlock, giving you a chance to stock up on calories — you’ll need them! After a steep climb, the first great singletrack drops through Horner Wood. A couple more punchy climbs lead you to Webber’s Post and a long, rocky singletrack across open moorland to Brockwell.
The steady climb to Dunkery Beacon isn’t too bad, and it’s followed by a nice long descent to Stoke Pero. Quiet roads make up the next stretch to Hawkcombe Head — home to the absolutely brilliant Hawkcome bridleway.
Climb back up the top half of Porlock Hill to get another cracking descent — screaming doubletrack at first, then stunning singletrack through Worthy Wood to Porlock Weir. If you’re feeling strong, there’s always the option to extend the ride through Exford (where there’s a great pub — the Crown Hotel) and pick up the Two Moors Way to Simonsbath.
But be warned; it could turn a big day into a soul-destroying epic.
10. Helvellyn and Sticks Pass, Lake District
There’s something dramatic about starting out from one of the largest lakes in the Lake District, looking upwards at mountains thrusting their way into the sky abruptly from the deep water.
Helvellyn is the third highest peak in the Lakes, but it’s the most rewarding to ride, and this route combines ascending the mountain with a glorious descent down Sticks Pass.
11. Snowdon Ranger Path, Wales
The Snowdon Ranger path was featured in our shortlist for the 2011 Trail of the Year award. Nominated by Danny Milner, here’s why he rated it so highly:
“’Character building’ was an accurate description for the conditions on the day I tackled Snowdon with Fabien Barel, Chris Porter and the gents from MTBCut last winter. 80mph winds and driving rain took away much of the fun, but it was every bit as epic as a big mountain experience should be, and the quality of the riding and the spirit of my companions left an indelible mark on my memory.
The narrow window of opportunity imposed by cycling restrictions means most riders tackle it in the winter. Which brings a high probability of bad weather. With this in mind, it’s important to treat the mountain with the respect it deserves; plan for the worst and make sure someone knows where you are.
Take a few precautions, time your assault and you’ll find the rewards are well worth the risk.”
12. Gunnerside Gill, Yorkshire Dales
Fancy trying the Gunnerside Gill route from MBR’s Britain’s Best Singletrack series? Here’s your chance…
An OS map of Gunnerside Gill and its surrounds shows gentle climbs interspersed with unrivalled severity. Over the flat tops of the moors, it’s almost impossible to find contour lines that come together. Industrial and glacial activity have left their mark on the perimeters, however. A climb up to, or a drop off, the moors will involve a journey across the thickest of contours.
Having reached the verge car park at Surrender Bridge, you will already have an idea of the climb that will finish this ride, but don’t let that put you off.
The gravel access road that takes you steadily up onto Melbeck Moor once serviced the area’s numerous lead mines, but now it leads to grouse butts and the habitat that supports these game birds. But the reminders of this area’s industrial past are indelible.
If you’re lucky enough to enjoy the absence of a headwind, the climb is of little hindrance. Loose gravel is the surface of choice here, but the climb is gentle enough for traction not to become an issue. Once up onto Melbeck Moor, the choice is fairly straightforward.
Aim up Gunnerside Gill and sample 100 per cent of the singletrack bridleway on offer, knowing you might have to hop off for a landslip or two; or head straight out of Old Gang Mines along the most direct route, down Bunton Hush into Bunton Lead Level.
Both offer very different challenges. One route offers a fast, smooth and thoroughly enjoyable ride; the other is more technical and will require every ounce of bravery. Either way, you’re in for a fantastic time.
For the full article on riding Gunnerside Gill, see the October 2013 issue of MBR.
13. Kinlochleven-Ciaran Path, Scotland
There is a graveyard at the foot of Blackwater Dam, high above Kinlochleven. It is the final resting place for many of the navvies who built the dam; those who succumbed to the primitive conditions and unimaginably hard Scottish winters.
When the heavy Highland cloud descends and you look out over the bleak and inky expanse of the Blackwater reservoir, few places can match it for a sense of foreboding. It is worth taking a moment, up there, to imagine the daily toil and the relentless misery before you set off down the hill.
Why? Because few trails polarise opinion like the Ciaran Path. For some it is the essence of a wild, natural trial. For the rest, it is a day in hell. And while it is unquestionably tough, it is a walk in the park compared the navvies’ brutal existence.
We crowned it Trail of the Year in 2009, and for Mick it lived up to this billing; “after seeing Andy Mac’s brilliant Big Picture from Kinlochleven, and hearing all about the Ciaran Path in the office, I knew I’d have get myself up there, and this year I finally did. I rode the technical, challenging and scenic Highlands descent on one of the nicest days imaginable, with blazing sun and blue skies making for extra grippy rocks to hurtle down.”
14. Howgill Fells, Cumbria
This classic ride in the Howgill Fells is a loop which can rival the best the Lakes has to offer — but without the traffic that can blight the best Lakeland trails. It takes you up into the mountains of Cumbria to experience a natural and otherwise fairly inaccessible piece of singletrack beside Bowderdale Beck, before returning you back to the start.
There are no shortcuts so don’t take this ride lightly — when you set off you have to be prepared for the whole hog, with no half-measures.
15. Surrey Hills
There are several ingredients that combine to make the Surrey Hills such a mecca for mountain bikers in the South-East; the sandy,loamy soil, the work of the trail pixies and the generosity of the philanthropic Bray family, custodians of the Hurtwood Estate.
It is their open-access policy that allows mountain bikers to enjoy the singletrack on offer, so be sure to act responsibly and ride with care and courtesy to other users when out and about in this popular Surrey beauty spot.
16. Doethie Valley, Wales
Nominated for the 2011 trail of the year contest by Jamie Darlow.
Making Doethie Valley our trail of the year was a tough call. It’s a mission to get to, two-thirds of the loop is on double-track and it seems to be suffering under the volume of traffic and notorious Cambrian weather.
Even the singletrack alongside the Afon Doethie – the reason people come here in the first place – isn’t above criticism, thanks to several sections of marshy bog and a few areas of erosion in desperate need of repair.
So why should it deserve such plaudits? Well, on a sunny day, following a spell of dry weather, the quality of the singletrack and the tranquillity of this beautiful and intimate valley are unrivalled.
Jamie sums up the experience; “It’s a relentless climb up to the top of the Doethie Valley, round the side of the Llyn Brianne Reservoir and up the byway at Soar y Mynydd, but it gets the climbing done with some epic views for visual relief.
The descent’s just as relentless too — a full-on phantasmagoria of singletrack that hugs the side of the valley, delivering roots, rocks and off-camber fun. The highlight: an amazing section of rocky slabs to roll and jump as you please.”
17. Long Mynd, Shropshire
The Long Mynd rises out of the ground like the back of a whale breaking the surface of the ocean. It’s a vast, friendly looking lump of a hill with one of mbr’s favourite trails — long, fast and fun. Just watch out on a windy day, as the lack of tree cover means it gets pretty breezy.
18. Skye, Scotland
Skye is one of the best places to ride in the UK, so get up to Scotland and sample our route from the July issue.
19. Gower Peninsula, Wales
Famous for its wonderful white sandy beaches and a clear blue sea, the Gower’s not a bad place for mtb’ing either, with a great network of trails — many of which offer superb views over the coast.
Two landforms dominate the western end of the peninsula: Cefn Bryn — a whaleback ridge that forms the spine; and Rhosili Down — a towering hill of sand and dune grass that guards the western tip.
This ride explores both, linking them with a selection of quiet lanes and under-used green lanes to make a good-length medium-grade outing.
20. Great Hograh Moor, Yorkshire
On then, to Westerdale, home to Great Hograh; a prime stretch of moorland singletrack if ever there was one. En route we encountered three septuagenarian ramblers, hair all white and fluffy as clouds, walking down from Kildale Moor. “Are you going up there?” they asked, pointing to the naughty looking bridleway falling at our feet.
But without waiting for our response, we were issued with a grave warning; “it’s hell”, uttered with all the conviction of someone who’s just been released from thirty years in a Turkish prison. Actually we weren’t, but with an endorsement like that, how could we resist.
The rest of Great Hograh Moor delighted just as it had done when we rode it back in December 2008, and with the loop measuring only a short but sweet six miles, by midday we were pulling up outside the Castleton tea rooms for lunch.
Ridden any of our top tips? Got any routes you think should be included in our list? Let us know in the comments, below…