The not-so-Dirty Dozen
If you want to get some good riding in this winter, don’t limit yourself to trail centres — there are plenty of natural winter routes out there too.
Proper hills are still fun in winter if you choose them wisely, we’ve pulled out the best rides with well-draining trails or decent natural shelter.
1. Jacob’s Ladder and The Roych, Peak District
Start in Edale (Landranger 110/SK124853) and head SW on the road before turning S. After that a steep track branches off the road and up Chapel Gate, a techie climb that brings you up onto Rushup Edge over what’s left of the old road. A fun descent takes you NW down through the Roych and out the other side. Turn R at the x-roads on Mount Famine and you’ll drop into Coldwell Clough. Then it’s a R turn for a brutal climb up to Edale Cross. Then drop your saddle, check your tyre pressures and descend down Jacob’s Ladder back into Edale. Just remember to ride through the puddles rather than round them to limit erosion. Climbing Jacob’s Ladder is a classic challenge too, and this route works well in reverse.
2. Lake District, Hodge Close
For all its wheel-swallowing peat bogs, the Lake District also boasts a wealth of riding on less permeable terrain. Furness Fells is home to our favourite winter Lake District ride. Although surrounded by giant peaks, this route sticks to the more stunted fells out of the harshest weather and, combined with the fact that it packs a decent distance into a compact area, makes this Lakes route four-season friendly.
3. Burrator reservoir, Dartmoor
You can start this ride in Princetown if it’s easier, but we reckon it’s best to pass through England’s highest town half way round the ride in winter, so you can refuel or take shelter if need by. The trails are rocky, fast and perfect for rainy days because the drainage is first class.
4. Pennines, Calderdale
32km (19 miles)
Open an OS map of Calderdale and it’s hard not to see red. This steeply flanked dale in the Pennines is literally riddled with trails, many of them stony or paved with gritstone flags, making the area a premium off-season venue.
5. Stockdale Lane, Yorkshire Dales
This ride in the South Dales is easy to get to, which can be half the battle on a winter’s day when the weather is bad. It starts in the village of Settle and gets you out onto the fells quickly, with a cracking descent on the bridleway to finish.
6. West Highland Way, Fort William
The West Highland Way delivers som sumptuous singletrack all the way to Kinlochleven, on undulating terrain that we’ve always found to be great fun. This trail gets lots of traffic and so it holds up fairly well to bad weather. This route does go against the usual flow of the WHW so our advice is to start early and finish by midday otherwise you’ll be stopping for walkers.
7. Sarn Helen, Snowdonia
Sarn Helen has great all weather surfaces, and together with the epic and tumultuous descent and the fact you get to ride a proper mountain, it’s a real winter winner. Sure it’ll be wet and puddle filled, but the speeds are high and you won’t get bogged down, plus the views are incredible.
8. Suffolk, Thetford Forest
As long as you like
This extensive plantation of broadleaf, heathland and pine basks in a similar climate to that found down the road on the Essex coast, but weaving through the pillars of evergreen are mile upon mile of rampant singletrack. It’s easy to lose yourself among this mtb nirvana as it is to get lost among the uniform plantation, so to stay on track, our advice is to follow one of the three waymarked routes through the forest, or stump up the paltry sum of 50p demanded by the Forestry Commission for one of their trail maps.
9. Cairngorms, Glenmore Lodge
27km (16.5 miles)
The magnificent Cairngorm National Park is one of the UK’s last remaining wilderness mountain environments and, on a crisp winter’s morning, among the sugar-coated peaks and majestic Scots pine, there are few better places to be. Although prone to bad weather, the underlying granite makes the countless paths and tracks a genuine off-season proposition. With much of the area covered in forest, there’s plenty of sheltered riding to be enjoyed, and the profusion of singletrack radiating from the Forest Visitor Centre at Glenmore means you never have to venture too far from a steaming plate of neeps and tatties.
10. Powys, Painscastle
20km (12.5 miles)
Shouldering the border with England, Powys is blessed with an extensive network of trails traversing wonderful heather-clad moor. While they may sound barren, the exposure means there’s a consistent wind to blow-dry the trails. For advice on the best rides in the area we turned to Jeremy Atkinson, developer of the route-riddled www.roughrides.co.uk website and organiser of the annual Rough Ride event. Jeremy pointed us toward the Llanbedr Hill area and a route out of Painscastle. Obviously, with no tree cover, you’ll need to plan carefully around the weather before taking on this route. Although the riding will be essentially mud-free, there’s little shelter from the elements once you’re up on the moor.
11. Somerset, Quantocks
27km (16.5 miles)
In essence the Quantocks are a long ridgeline radiating countless steep, wooded combes, all of which are blessed with the kind of trails that dreams are made from. The spine is traversed by a well-surfaced track, allowing ready access to the various combes, and most of the best descents end up at a pub — plus you’re never far from the car should there be a need to head home early. Although the trails frequently criss-cross small streams, most of them sit atop a stony base, and the whole area drains very quickly, so mud shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
12. Peak District, Stanage Edge
32km (20 miles)
A short route and a bit over-embellished with tarmac to rank among the greats during the summer months, this spectacular Dark Peak loop comes into its own when the nights close in. We spoke to Jon Barton, author of the excellent Dark Peak Mountain Biking guide by Vertebrate Graphics, and he was quick to single out this route as a particular winter fave.