Plan now, go later!
Our favourite places to ride in the UK when lockdown lifts. With the help of mountain biking’s most seasoned travellers, we’ve compiled the ultimate UK trail hit list.
In no particular order…
1. The Four Passes, Lake District
Chosen by: Charley Oldrid, Guide and outdoor instructor, @oldrid
“This pandemic has really made me appreciate the amazing riding I have on my doorstep here in the Lake District. I simply can’t wait to get back amongst it, and there is nowhere I would love to go and ride more than the Lakeland Fells.
“I’ve been living and riding bikes in the Lake District for the last twenty years, in which time bikes themselves have progressed so much that it has transformed this beautiful area into a world class riding destination. Rugged mountains littered with steep sided valleys offer an astonishingly varied array of terrain to explore on two wheels. From endless bedrock, twisting singletrack, exposed ridgelines and steep scree, it has it all. One of the things I love the most about this area is that to access the best riding, you have to ‘earn your turns’. Hike-a-bikes are a big part of the game here, which make the rewards even more magical. I guess you might call a day out in the Lake District more of an adventure than a ride.
“One particular ‘adventure’ which I plan to embark on again as soon as we get back to normal is the ‘Four Passes’, a truly epic day out which ticks all the boxes. Starting at Seatoller in the gorgeous Borrowdale valley, this 25km loop takes in around 1,500m of climbing and ventures deep into the heart of the fells, taking in the passes of Honister, Scarth Gap, Black Sail and Styhead. It might not sound like a lot, but the nature of the terrain and the remoteness makes it a serious undertaking.
“From start to finish you are treated to jaw droppingly beautiful scenery, seriously long hard hike-a-bikes, mind blowing technical descents and a real dose of remoteness and adventure. Taking your bike on a journey over these ancient high-level packhorse and drover trails is truly special and something that will live in the memory for a very long time.”
2. Torridon, Scotland
Chosen by: Stu Thomson, Steve Peat and Tristan Tinn
Stu Thomson, Founder of Cut Media, @cutmedia
“On a beautiful day there is nowhere like the mountain tops of northwest Scotland. Incredible riding, landscape and, to me at least, it’s just the most special place to be. Specifically the mind always wanders to the classic Lochcarron loop over from Coulage to Achnashellach. A beautiful day riding up there is something to behold. I’ve been a host of times over the years now, from filming a Santa Cruz project up there with Steve Peat back in 2013, to a bunch of weekends with friends and family holidays. But my favourite times have probably been solo rides; I just really enjoy the solitude. I feel the smallest, the closest to nature and ultimately most detached from daily stresses when it’s a ride set against the Highlands.
“Aside from the classic Torridon loop I’ve mentioned, there are loads more. Over at Applecross, Skye and of course Bealach Na Ba if you want to mix in a wee tarmac challenge while you’re there.”
Steve Peat, Former racer and World Champion, @stevepeat
Being a DH racer for 25 years defo has its perks as far as travelling and exploring new places goes. But one of the downfalls is that we visit the same venues often, and usually only get to see the resort or the hill that we’re racing on. However, in my career i’ve been fortunate enough to go on some epic filming trips and photoshoots all over the world, from Machu Picchu to the Lofoton islands, the jungle of Borneo to Whistler, as well as all over the UK. So it’s hard to pick a favourite!! I think due to our current crisis I am going to go for a place that is a little easier to access, and a place I love to visit; Scotland. But to be more specific, the Torridon area. It’s so remote up there, but has these lovely little pockets of villages strewn around to accompany the epic scenery. I was lucky enough to be able to film with Stu Thompson and the boys from Cut Media for Santa Cruz and the 5010/Solo bike a few years ago and it’s certainly a trip I remember well. Riding the epic rock and remote hills was awesome. The scenery in Scotland really does it for me, and this area even more so. We were based in Lochcarron Village, and got to ride the Drochaid Coire Laire trail.
Tristan Tinn, Photographer, @tristantinn
“Once lockdown is over I will be packing my bags and taking by bike to the West Coast Highlands to scour the remote Munro’s for slithers of treasure. In August 2018 I visited Torridon to investigate if it really is the mountain bike mecca that many proclaim. We agreed. A year later I visited the highlands twice, once on ‘The Postman’ project with Sam Needham and others to the Isle of Harris. In August 2019, following the cancellation of ‘Ard Rock, I followed up my Torridon trip by pushing further north into Assynt for a recce, reliant on scouring satellite images for slabs and singletrack.
“Scotland’s West Coast is all about the isolation, the dramatic landscape, mixing summits with sea, and the surreal sunsets. Highland trails are the icing on the cake; vast slabs of granite and torridonian sandstone add traction and technicality.
“Our take on the Torridon circuit was a highlight. Park in Annat, head east along the Torridon Glen Road until Lochan an lasgair, take a right past the Ling Hut. Follow this trail S through Coiré Grannda and Coiré Láir to Achnashellac Lodge. Turn right and follow the road SW to Coulags. Follow the trail N up the valley, past the bothy. At the split turn left and hike up Bealach à Choire Ghairbh and descend down around the NW flanks of Maol Chean-dearg. Follow the trail to return to Annat. This is a demanding route with some carrying, give yourself all day and take the required equipment.”
3. Ben Nevis, Scotland
Chosen by: Hannah Barnes, Former racer, @hannahbarnes66
“To be honest, that’s an easy one; I’d choose Scotland. There are so many amazing places in the world which I’ve been fortunate enough to visit and ride in, and to be honest the success of a trip is never solely down to how good the riding is. Many places are memorable: Israel, Stellenbosch in South Africa, Rotorua in New Zealand, BC, Canada for the BC Bike Race. But, no matter how great somewhere is, I am always happy to be back in Scotland. Also, as time goes on and the older and ‘wiser’ I get, it feels like doing all I can to really enjoy ‘home’ is the key to reduce my impact on the world. It’s easy to say that, as I’ve been fortunate to travel a ton, but moving forwards I am keen to really make the most of what we have here at home and think twice before jumping on a plane. We are converting a camper van at the moment – a perfect lockdown activity – which we can pack up and enjoy exploring Scotland.
“Whenever I fancy a easy to access dose of rough and wild feeling riding, I head up to the CIC hut. I take a sandwich and flask, and at the highest point where the path ends, just sit and enjoy the magnificent and intimidating North Face of Ben Nevis. It’s a rocky, techy ride and a great way to spend a few hours and have a dose of doorstep adventure. It’s certainly a ‘must ride’ for anyone visiting the area. Bring a spare tube, there are quite a few drainage ditches and I’ve probably cased most of them over the years!”
4. Tweed Valley, Scotland
Chosen by: Ben Smith and Aneela McKenna
Ben Smith, MBR Art Editor, @smithben76
“Where would I most like to be riding when the lockdown lifts? It’s a tough call. After weighing up the Surrey Hills and the Forest of Dean, I decided to settle on the Tweed Valley up in the Scottish Borders, as it’s hands down the best place I’ve ridden my bike in the UK. Big days out on big hills with long, steep, gnarly, natural tracks, epic scenery, loads of variety and a bike-friendly scene like few other places. It’s become an annual pilgrimage for a few of my riding mates, and is somewhere I look forward to going every summer.”
Aneela McKenna, Go-Where Scotland guiding, @gowherescotlandmtb
“If there’s one place I’d like to ride again, it would be down the road, just 10 miles away in Innerleithen, Tweed Valley. Like many, I’m fortunate to be allowed to keep riding safely on my local trails, but Innerleithen’s so tantalisingly close, but feels so far away.
“Innerleithen is the hub of mountain biking in the Tweed Valley, made special by a combination of the trails, the views and good vibes you get from the mountain bike community. I’ve guided people from all over the world in the Tweed Valley, and they are always blown away by the place. I’m hoping my next guided trip to Inners, will be a thankyou to frontline workers from across the globe – we’re offering a special (#caremòr) mountain bike experience (non profit) for those helping us through these unprecedented times.
“The area is hoaching with trails and it’s hard to pin down one that’s my favourite. If I have to pick one, it’s got to be New York, New York, one of the intro trails to the Golfie. This was the first unauthorised trail which was adopted by the local Tweed Valley Trails Association (TVTA) and with lots of TLC from local volunteers, it’s running mint. I’m probably slightly biased as I am part of the TVTA!”
5. Surrey Hills
Chosen by: Paul Burwell and Jamie Darlow
Paul Burwell, Tester/Coach – The Trail Academy, @trailpixie
“I can’t wait to get back to my local Surrey Hills. It may seem like a cop-out choosing my own back yard as the place I rate in the UK, but I’ve ridden all over the country, and in terms of trails-per-square-mile I don’t think anywhere else has the sheer variety and number you get in the Surrey Hills. What makes this place special is that mountain bikers built most of it – they’re not just permissive bridleways or pumped-up deer tracks. You can also easily ride all day there and never do the same trail twice. In fact, twenty trails in a day is not unreasonable. There’s also something for everyone, which is why, on a summer weekend, this place is absolutely rammed.”
Jamie Darlow, MBR Front Section Editor
“I live in Sussex but the Surrey Hills is home for me, as it is for half of London and the South East. I learnt to ride here, I’ve crashed here, I’ve made lifelong friends here, and I’ve had the most fun on two wheels here.
“It’s a small space to cram in a network of trails, but leave the car parks, and the woods cover you like a green blanket — some days you’ll ride for hours without seeing another person. The trails are like tales of folklore, with the god of Loam worshipped on a daily basis. The singletrack is largely soft, flattering, and made by some of the most talented trailbuilders this side of Gatwick. As good as the trails are though, it’s the people I miss most. Riding with friends, enjoying a coffee at the Plough in Coldharbour, relaxing with a pint in the sunshine at The Hurtwood. This is what makes Surrey riding home for me. I miss it, I miss it very much.”
6. Borrowdale, Lake District
Chosen by: Mick Kirkman, Photographer/tester, @mick_kirkman
“The Lake District is only a couple of hours away from me, yet I still find myself gawping at beautiful Lakeland hills or trail ribbons saying ‘why don’t I come more often?’
“One of my favourite bits is Borrowdale. There are spectacular views in multiple directions and a solid mix of flat-out bridleways and technical, loose and rocky tech-fests. Of all the trails, the Warnscale Bottom descent down the back of the head of the valley takes the biscuit with sensational scenery, and some of the most continuously rocky terrain in the UK.
“The bendy trail pounds down 600m elevation on a combination of huge embedded limestone chunks and then endlessly loose glacial spoil. It’s just about rideable, even for the most experienced shredders, and you’ll barely descend it without one group member having an incident or mechanical.
“Warnscale’s tough on bike and body, but commanding respect, fear, adrenaline and concentration is what makes it so special. At the bottom, rolling towards Buttermere (often straight into late evening setting sunshine) the only thing that isn’t absolutely perfect is knowing you’re going to have to shortly slog it back up the wicked Honister Pass climb.”
7. The North Pennines
Chosen by: Roo Fowler, Photographer, @roofowler
“We’re all itching to get out riding after the lockdown restriction have been eased, and because I’m lucky enough to have man-made mountain bike trails on my doorstep, my choice for where to head first is a little different. I’d pick a wild route with a big descent I put together a few years ago on the North Pennines while looking at an OS map. It’s little known, little ridden and therefore not going to be crowded. I feel like it’s got to be one of the most remote and rewarding rides in England; it requires some kind of map, there are no cafe stops, and requires a fair chunk of determination, so it’s not for everyone. The route uses the highest road in the UK to gain elevation, before traversing wild open moorland, climbing up to the highest point of the ride at 800m before losing 600m in one long bridleway descent. Catch it with good weather and good ground conditions, and you’ll wonder at why you’ve never heard of it before, catch it on a bad day, and you’ll have a new definition for the word grim.”
8. The Forest of Dean
Chosen by: Alan Muldoon, MBR Bike Test Editor
“Living in a city has made me soft. It’s probably why I find it somewhat reassuring, comforting even, to have all the amenities to hand even when I ride. And what better place to grab a cuppa and a bite to eat or get your bike fixed before, during or after a ride, than Pedal-a-bike-away in the heart of the Forest of Dean? Sure, the pay and display parking is one hangover from city dwelling that I could well live without, but the quality of the riding easily offsets the price of admission.
“Most trails are hand-cut by local volunteers, so there’s nothing sterile or urban about the riding here. Just dirt, roots and a very creative use of the available elevation. It’s as natural as trail centres get. Its really beauty though, is that it’s easy to mix and match your favourite bits of different trails. Best of all, if your legs or lungs give out before you’ve filled your boots, jumping on the FlyUp uplift is every bit as easy as catching a bus to the West End.”
Chosen by: Danny Milner, MBR Editor
“Much as my mind instantly travelled north, to Scotland, when I thought about the best places to ride in the UK, so many people have covered it here already, that I figured many of Britain’s less obvious gems would miss their chance in the limelight. So instead of Torridon, Kinlochleven, or Skye, I’ve chosen Exmoor, and the tiny village of Porlock. The riding around there is not to be underestimated, both in terms of quality and severity. This may be Somerset, but the hills are misleadingly tough; steep and long, rising up to 500m in places from close to sea level. All that pain is worth it though, as the trails are sumptuous. Quintessentially English, they roll through lush ancient woodland, scour across windswept moors and dive into tight, challenging combes. Think old school navigation along ancient rights-of-way, combined with the type of trails that are immensely fun and satisfying to ride. If nature did bike parks, it would look a lot like the trails around Porlock.”
10. West Cumbria
Chosen by: Sim Mainey, MBR Contributor, @simmainey
“Self-isolation might be eligible for Oxford’s 2020 Word of the Year, but it’s something I’ve been practicing for years. Riding solo has its own rewards. The quiet is one but it’s the guilt free feeling of stopping and taking in the view without ruining someone else’s ride that really appeals to me. The place that draws me back time after time for its quiet, great riding and huge views is West Cumbria.
“Having said all that one of my favourite rides in the Western Fells was with two good friends. Starting in Ennerdale we went over Scarth Gap Pass to Buttermere then up Red Pike before heading back down to Ennerdale again where curry and beers awaited. It was a brutal ride/carry – as most Lakeland rides are – mixed with incredible scenery. I finished the ride buzzing and grateful for friends who were as willing to kick back and enjoy the here and now as me.”
11. Applecross, Scotland
Chosen by: Benji Haworth, MBR Deputy Digital Editor, @benjihaworth
“Even though it’s not abroad, there is something about just getting up to Applecross that feels a mission. A rite of passage. An epic adventure. A leaving behind of regular life. It makes no logical sense to spend an entire day driving to reach somewhere to ride a mere 15km. Until you ride it. Then all is clear.”
12. Brecon Beacons
Chosen by: James Bracey, MBR Product tester, @jbraceycycling
“Of all the riding to do at home, what I’m really missing is an old-school South Wales cross-country beasting with my mate Mike. It’s the sort of ride where you spend countless hours exploring the uncharted corners of the Brecon Beacons and the valleys, whilst trying not to cry owing to the amount of climbing his routes inflict on you. But all that pain and suffering is worth it for the views, endless descents and intense feelings of being part of ‘proper’ mountain biking that make ‘Mike’s Sufferfests’ the thing I miss most right now.”
13. Your local woods
Chosen by: Benji Haworth, MBR Deputy Digital Editor, @benjihaworth
“I just want to ride my local woods again. Specifically, I want to finally have a go at a sketchy wall-drop that I’ve never attempted before. Back in early March I was all set to cash in my hard-earned winter mud-miles – with their attendant skills boost – and finally have a go at this drop that’d been haunting me for months. But lockdown means no daredevils.”