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Mountain Biking at Gisburn

A red grade trail through Gisburn Forest

sunny 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

Posted by PeteB 08:09 Archived in England Tagged bicycle cycling forests mountain_biking Comments (0)

A Family Ride in Kielder Forest

Following the Lakeside Way

overcast 18 °C

Kielder Forest is located in the county of Northumberland on the southern edge of the Cheviot Hills just a few miles to the English side of the Border. The area is renowned for mountain biking trails of all levels of difficulty and several new routes have been opened recently.

Perhaps the best way to experience what this area has to offer is to ride the Lakeside Way that does the full 26 mile circuit of Kielder Water, the largest man made lake in Europe. The route is suitable for beginners to mountain biking, being a blue grade or moderate difficulty though it is hilly and doing it in 2 sections may be more suitable for family groups. The south shore is easier and has more facilities while the north shore has no motor access and the trail is far from flat. The previous occasion I was here the route had not been finished but this August I set out with my family to complete it.

Beginning at the car park up the hill from Kielder Castle the 4 of us rode down the road and onto the signposted path to the Minotaur Maze past the play area. Both of these are excellent for keeping kids entertained though today one of ours was setting the pace ahead while the other rode in comfort in his seat on the back of my bike.

Pass the maze and turn left at the end where a sign directs over the road to the Lakeside Way down a track that follows the upper reaches of the North Tyne River on the left. Following this dirt track down through the wooded riverbank soon brought us to the Lakeside Way itself which can be followed in either direction from here. We chose to ride in a clockwise direction tackling the North Shore first. This gives more opportunities for tired legs to abandon the ride later on - the north shore of Kielder Water is remote country with no motor access while all facilities and visitor centres are on the southern shore.

The trail was mainly a dirt track type surface which alternately climbed up to open country and descended into the dense woodland along the shore of Kielder Water itself. I really enjoyed riding along here though Jacqui was indignant at the fact that something that described itself as a lakeside route should so resemble an Alpine stage of the Tour de France!

To be fair the route is graded blue which is moderate in terms of mountain bike routes but not so moderate as far as family rides go. The main highlights apart from the spectacular views over Kielder Water and the joy of riding in remote country far from the noise and danger of traffic, are the artworks along the route. These are numerous and are described in the local information leaflets though for some of them you need to leave the trail and ride a short way to see them.

The first of the art works we stopped at were the Janus Chairs; 3 moveable curved giant seats by the lakeside that you climb up into and are surprisingly comfortable vantage points from which to view the unspoilt scenery. Daniel was though more interested in a digger that had been left by a pathway undergoing restoration.

On again to another trackside artwork called Robin's Hut. Someone once said that if an object is made that does not serve a purpose then it must be art yet the Janus Chairs provide comfort and shelter from the rain; while Robin's Hut provided a pleasant sheltered lunch spot with views across Kielder Water to the Leaplish visitor centre on the far shore.

The Lakeside Way did follow the shoreline a little more closely now following it around several indentations meaning that Kielder Dam which was in view ahead was further than it had looked. After another uphill deviation we came all of a sudden to the Hawkhope car park which appeared through the trees following a downhill and an easy flat section.

The Lakeside Way is well signposted around this section and the route is much easier with much smaller hills and a smoother surface to ride on. After crossing the dam we stopped for a drink at the Tower Knowe visitor centre which was surprisingly quiet having ridden about 14 miles. We would continue to Leaplish where Jacqui had decided to call it a day and take Daniel to the play area while me and Josh finished the route to return with the car.

The well marked route to Leaplish follows the lake below the road and is an easier ride than the north shore with the steepest hill encountered on the way up to the Bull Crag Peninsula which also gives the best views. After Bull Crag one passes the ornately carved Freya's Hut which is directly opposite Robin's Hut where we had eaten lunch on the far shore of Kielder Water.

Leaplish is the main visitor centre here and there is a play area, cafe, birds of prey centre - displays are highly recommended - and even a gym and pool though as I was riding 26 miles today I was not in need of a gym. Jacqui tethered her bike to the fence of the play area where Daniel could run around and pretend to be either Thomas the Tank Engine or Sportacus - whichever he favoured today - and Jacqui could watch him. She found this prospect more appealing than the last 7 miles of the trail. Me and Josh set off through the car park and rejoined the Lakeside Way which descended to turn sharply onto a bridge over an inlet. This is where Josh crashed.

There was no serious injury but he could not go on so returned to the play area to await rescue with Daniel and Jacqui. I now set off to collect the car with some urgency.

After Leaplish the route regains some of its wilder qualities that characterise the early part of the ride and while there's a short section on a quiet tarmac road we're soon off on the forest trails again. The way follows the Lewis Burn Inlet to cross the fascinating wooden bridge that spans it at the bottom of a deep wooded valley. I was quite satisfied after the bridge as I ascended the hill on its far side to effortlessly fly past several people with expensive looking bikes and kit who appeared to be struggling with the hill. What made it funnier was that I was on my hybrid bike from Halfords with a child's seat on the back though I may not have been quite so fast had the seat still been occupied!

The last part of this trail was a joy. I saw hardly anyone and I rode on a delightful forest path through patterns of light and shade made by the newly emerged late afternoon sun shining through the trees. Sooner than expected I had arrived at the place we had joined the trail earlier in the day so turned left this time to follow the North Tyne the short distance to Kielder Castle. The last hill to the car park was a fitting challenge to finish with - Jacqui would have hated that - and I was soon on my way back to Leaplish.

Pete Buckley August 2010

Essentials >>> How far? 26 miles >>> What's the route like? Some hills, well marked easy trail >>> Start and finish at Kielder Castle

For more routes please see the Table of Contents below.

Posted by PeteB 04:26 Archived in England Tagged lakes children vacation bicycle holidays cycling forests Comments (0)

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