A red grade trail through Gisburn Forest
27.09.2010 13 °C
Gisburn Forest near Slaidburn in the Forest of Bowland contains miles of forest trails that can be used by walkers and cyclists but of the most interest to people on 2 wheels are the 2 specially constructed mountain bike trails, "The 8" and "Bottoms Beck". The first of these, known as the 8 because it makes up a figure of eight circuit is 18km in length and graded red (difficult) while Bottoms Beck is a blue graded (moderate) route of 9.5km that effectively follows the lower loop of the eight while missing out the technical sections and the biggest hills.
The blue route is suitable for newcomers to the sport - such the author - but the red route was too tempting and while it is simply awesome in places it is graded "difficult" for a reason as I found out.
Setting out from the Cocklet Hill car park (free) - the bike trails all start here while the walks mainly start from the car park by Stocks Reservoir - I rode through the forest on a cool September morning following the directions for both routes. Directions here are easy with the red route - The 8 - marked with red arrows on the posts and the blue route - Bottoms Beck - marked with blue ones. For most of the first section they follow the same route. The actual routes start after a short ride from Cocklet Hill and begin with a left turn as they are one way.
An easy dirt track led over undulating terrain until the first red arrow branched off to the right. The route became a narrow single track and climbed over a moderate hill but posed no difficulty and I was soon back on the wide trail which after emerging briefly on the road to cross the causeway by the Stocks Reservoir, began ascending a valley that had partially been cleared of trees. Where the blue arrows turn right to continue following the course of the valley, the stony track steepens ahead up the slopes leading to the forest above. Some way up this hill my red markers sent me off up a rough narrow trail that climbed into the forest on the right side of the wide track.
This section is called "Home Baked" and was built by local volunteers. It winds uphill while conveniently placed rocks conspire to unseat an unattentive rider and I recall one spot where the trail passes between trees spaced so that handlebars will - just - go through the gap! It's loads of fun but I met my limit on the descent through the woods on the far side. As I was enjoying the concentration of avoiding trees and rocks and the cool green shade of the forest after a hot climb, the path steepened ahead down rocky steps. Brakes on and feet down I bottled hurtling headlong down this and walked my bike down most of it before setting off again. There are a few difficult moments on this route but this one I felt was the hardest that is unavoidabe.
Soon I had emerged back on the blue path which seemed as wide as a motorway after my excursion into the trees and I followed this for a short way until a red marker appeared ahead at a junction where the main trail turns right. This next narrow section is not so hilly as the last one and follows a short way from the main track. The technical features are boards and little bridges over streams with a fearsome looking narrow boardwalk marked as a "black" route. The black (severe) sections of the route are marked with skulls which somehow are not the most inviting of signs. The black sections are optional and needless to say I avoided them - along with a couple of the other features that I figured would see me in the water! This section though is short and fun.
A short section of wide forest road (stones) led past a farm and up a steady ascent to the left. The right fork here is the way home - signposted - if you've had enough. The track climbed up to marvellous views and after curving to the left at the top of the climb red markers again sent me back onto the singletrack. This part is called Sheep Hill and begins with a ride over bare rocks with a choice of routes. The track which was very rough in places with more large stones headed steadily towards Whelpstone Crag - the route's highest point.
This section passed through some remote feeling terrain while the peak of Whelpstone Crag grew steadily closer as I negotiated sections of boardwalk, sudden steep rises and stones that made me think that a full suspension mountain bike would perhaps be a good idea. There was more excitement as I inadvertently strayed onto a black section below the crag itself. This was rougher than the hardest part of the climb on Salter Fell I'd done a few weeeks ago so I rapidly found the red route again which I knew that while not so easy, would be rideable - well mostly!
Beyond the crag I avoided the black grade descent - which I just knew would be scary and involve me falling off - and followed the main route down the Hully Gully section. This was the most enjoyable part so far and I was able to gather some speed while remaining confident of staying on the bike. The singletrack is banked at the turns and made for an awesome descent. Thankfully this wasn't too rough.
The route led down into a valley clearing where - after riding through a small river - there was a short climb followed by a descent of easier terrain with the option to choose to ride on the narrow or wider path in several places. This led back down to the forest road past the farm which marks the middle of the "8". Here I took the right fork this time and the blue and red arrows coincided to follow the same route. The going was now easier on forest road and sections of blue grade singletrack. There was an enjoyable fast descent - again with banked paths - but any technical features here were easier and avoidable and I contemplated whether I could do the blue route - Bottoms Beck - with Daniel in his seat on my bike. Possibly with care on the descent and a short boardwalk. Could be bumpy though!
Pete Buckley September 2010
Essentials >>> How Far? 18km/11 miles >>> What's it like? Hilly with rough sections on singletrack and some technical features (red grade MTB trail) >>> Start and finish at Cocklet Hill car park, Gisburn Forest >>> Here's the easier blue grade trail at Gisburn
For more tales from the trail please see the table of contents below