This will be my third year attending the South West Outdoor Festival (SWOF), a festival for adventure lovers that tours around the South West and is happening this year on the 5th - 7th October in East Soar, South Devon. Ever year, SWOF has been my favourite festival and I'm going to outline why I'm so excited.
1. Awesome locations
As the festival is run by the National Trust, the locations are always idyllic and show off some of the best spots in the South West. In the first year at Heddon Mouth in Exmoor the mountain bike ride went out from the festival site, along the sea cliffs and to the epic valley of the rocks. The second year on top of Cheddar Gorge was, well, it was on top of Cheddar Gorge!
2. the inspiration for uk adventure
Speakers who I have seen at the festival have included Sean Conway, Monty Halls, Dave Cornthwaite, Anna McNuff, Jamie McDonald and Tobias Mews, to name a few. All with epic tales of adventure to share to inspire you to get creative and push yourself. From skateboarding across the UK to dressing up as a crocodile and running the South West Coast Path. If you want inspiration for adventure, this is the place.
3. The activities
Activities I've enjoyed at SWOF have included guided mountain bike rides and fun races, yoga, sea kayaking, guided walks, foraging, axe throwing, archery and even tree climbing. This year is set to be epic as the festival site is so close to the sea and all the watersports activities. I'm looking forward to the night run! Trail Unknown will be at SWOF this year running mini mountain bike races with prizes to win and running mountain bike rides out from the festival site to take in the local sights.
4. the music
There's been some cracking music over the years to get the hips wobbling in the evenings. From the South West's most loved jam man DJ Dan to bands such as Crinkle Cuts and Sam Green & The Midnight Heist, that I'd describe as absolute gems I'd never heard of before but are now regularly playing in my van. Yes, that is a picture of me dancing in the front row with a 10 year old and my 70 year old parents behind me. All ages welcome on the dance floor!
5. The curry van
Please oh please may those heaven sent men provide me with more onion bhajis again this year! The bhajis are so good Hugo ran an impromptu trail marathon to get one for free. At the last festival they brought a tray of leftover bhajis onto the dancefloor.
GET your tickets here and see you there
the quantock hills
We spent a weekend shooting with Aussie Grit Apparel (F1 driver Mark Webber's new riding gear brand) and thought we'd use the wonderful pictures to inspire you to get into these beautiful hills.
Let's start with some juicy facts. The Quantock Hills were the UK's first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and offer mountain bikers a magnificent variety of terrain to ride, from scenic tracks up high on the heath to flowing downhills in the deep forests of the combes. The Quantocks are located one hour south from Bristol and one hour north from Exeter, forming the western border of the Somerset Levels.
a history of wonder and inspiration
The Quantock Hills have been home to the famous works of S.T. Coleridge, Williams Wordsworth, Shelley and Edward Thomas. The poets became famous for attempting to capture and share the magic in these hills through their art. Which must have been a frustrating job, because like we all know when trying to describe the flow of a mountain bike trail, words will never be enough. You gotta feeeel it.
high on the heath
From the top of the hills on a clear day, you can see across the Bristol Channel as far as the Gower Peninsula in Wales to the north, the Mendip Hills to the east, the Blackdown Hills to the south, and the Brendon Hills and Exmoor to the West. The bridleway running 20km along the top of the hills is a beautiful ride for a cyclist of any experience and makes the Quantocks a perfect location for sharing your love of mountain biking with family and friends. The leafy bridleway connects up all the combes and car parks, ideal for easy navigation.
getting your flow on
If you're thinking 'I'm a gnarly flow dog, show me the naughty stuff', then the Quantocks can provide you with everything you need. Hidden in the magical combes is the flow dreams are made of. You can ride to the soundtrack of trickling streams, surrounded by ancient woodlands. You begin to understand where the likes of Wordsworth got his power from - it may or may not be worth packing a quill in your ride bag. Check out the likes of Triscombe, Bin Combe, Frog Combe, Holford Combe and Smith's Combe.
There are ample places full of character to stop and eat, including the Carew Arms in Crowcombe (which is the only pub we've ever been into with a homemade bowling alley) and the Combe House hotel. However our personal favourite is to visit Kate and Mike's beautiful garden cafe straight off the end of the trail at Holford Combe. They serve tea, cakes and meals prepared fresh from their garden if notified in advance.
check us out
If you like the look of the kit in the photos then do go and check out Aussie Grit Apparel - their shorts have become our go to's for adventure riding. If you would like further information about mountain biking in the Quantocks or would like Trail Unknown to guide your group of mountain biking buddies then please get in contact with us on firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you also to Jacob at Mid Nowhere Productions for the marvellous camera skills.
Fast, rocky and rooty descents..…paired with some wind, sun, rain and a thunderstorm - it was a wild weekend! Yes - the Dark Peak is the one for an awesome weekend of adventure on two wheels!
We based ourselves in Hope, riding around Edale and the legendary Hope Valley. The Peak District is known for its amazing history and network of natural trails. Expect rocky, steep and technical tracks. Along with a rad local community of adventures, cracking coffee shops and good food.
After a quick coffee at Cafe Adventure (the perfect place to fuel up and get excited for a day out in the hills), we met our guide Rich who runs a guiding company and blog called Tyred n Cranky. If you’ve met Rich you’d remember him. He’s a giant of a man, full of laughter with a love of riding, racing and history. An ex-army, reservist, part time racer and full-time legend - we knew we’d be in good hands.
With a short steep technical climb to start we headed up to Mam Tor. At the top were gale force winds, struggling to stay on the bike we stumbled and tripoded along the ridge praying not to be blown over to Sheffield. For our first descent - a mix of open wide rocky tracks that urged you to let the brakes off.
We then ascended and descended across the hill tops to the Roych descent which has an epic singletrack that rises above a gnarly old rocky road. The great thing about the Peaks is the mix of smooth and single track like tracks that weave their way alongside the rocky bridlepaths. This is perfect to mix up the riding on a descent, allowing you to be playful with line choice and giving you a permanent grin on that mug of yours.
We stopped for lunch in Hayfield and tucked into some classic ham and cheese rolls with local cheese and chutney..ohh baby! After a quick coffee we jumped back onto the saddle in the direction of Jacobs Ladder.
As we reached the top of Jacobs Ladder it started to rain, with no time to chuck on a rain jacket we became stuck in downpour and with fast approaching lightning in the distance. I looked at Rich… his eyes were ‘lets get down…fast’. As we hurtled down thunder was cracking above us and bolts of lightning were striking around us. Luckily Jacobs Ladder is as fast and steep as it gets so we got down in no time and escaped the storm.
The storm came and went in a blink of an eye and we were back in the sun. One more climb to the top of Cavedale descent and we were done for the day. An epic wonderland descent with loose rocks and an amazing crumbling castle. The start of the descent is open wide grassland, you’re then plunged into about 100meters of just rocky and technical riding! After you’ve survived the turbulence of the rocks you’re rewarded with a grassy bank that sweeps past the abandoned castle and urges you to play on the natural rollers and kickers to link up and boost off.
We finished the ride off with a trip to The Old Hall Hotel for one of their famous steak and ale pies, washed down with a slice of chocolate cake…just laavely. If you like riding rocky tracks with varied line choice then the Peak District is the ideal location for you. The local area is also home to some awesome people and definitely worth a visit on two wheels!
Friday afternoon...I was sitting at work counting down the hours till the weekend, the van was packed and I was ready for a weekend of guiding in Exmoor. But what to do tonight..perhaps an adventure was on the cards… I looked at my phone...Quick check of the weather and I was in for Cheddar Gorge!
5pm came around and I was out the door and on my way to cheddar. Home of succulent cave aged cheese and spectacular views.
We arrived in cheddar at 8pm, quick stop at the chippy to pick up dinner and we were heading up. We climbed the South side of the gorge, the start was fairly technical climb but good to stretch the legs after a day sitting at the desk.
The sunset came and went and we still had a descent to reach our bed for the night. We chose to head down the bridle path that crossed the gorge and heads over the road to the North side. Our eyes gleaming as we came across a technical rout covered descent that would easily home to some off priest tracks in Morzine. With light nearly gone we squinted our way down, wishing we had packed lights but enjoying the technical natural descent. O man was it fun!
We climbed up the road, careful not to be mowed down by the boy racers of cheddar testing out their new 2 strokes. We climbed up the back and over to the top of the South side again. Luckily the weather was on our side and we bedded down under the stars for the night.
We woke up at sunrise and climbed up to the West side of the gorge, looped over to the top. The views were amazing, we could see over to the Quantocks and the beaches at Bridgwater Bay. Our final descent started down a wide open track, with tonnes of line choice and a wicked couple of natural features, finishing with a technical rocky descent.
We finished at the car park at 8 and that was that...off to Exmoor. I’l be sure to be back to Cheddar soon!
After a winter spent dreaming of dusty trails, Trail Unknown started the 2018 summer season off with a guided weekend linking some of the best natural trails the UK has to offer in the hilly heaven of Devon that is Exmoor National Park.
The idea of Trail Unknown is to find an amazingly beautiful area in the UK such as a national park or area of outstanding natural beauty, where we know there is a mysterious maze of magnificent single track. We put on a professional local guide who knows how to link the most talked about and least talked about tracks in the area. We get a load of awesome riders to join us who are supposedly customers but feel like mates, provide lunch from local produce and enjoy a full weekend of the best riding ever with not a worry in sight. We even throw in a cheeky uplift from a local farmer sometimes. For 50 squidders a day, you can't go wrong.
It all began on Friday morning, meeting in the quaint English town of Porlock. Now if you've never been there, you must think of mega old pubs, colourful tea houses, little cottages, sea views, friendly old people who make delicious cheese and cider, deer, the second highest point in the south of England, soo many trails, and dreamy combes. A combe 'is a short valley or hollow on a hillside or coastline, especially in Southern England.' Exmoor is full of magical combes that twist and turn with the hill, where the ancient woodland is epic and the ground is just like the best ground ever to ride, so loose and yet with so much grip. Oh baby, it's all about the combes..
The riding in Exmoor is such a treat and blessed by over 500 meters of altitude at the legendary Dunkery Becon. From there you have a huge selection of sweeping trails from the open moorland that take you all the way down to sea level, through many a combe and sometimes with a few cheeky stream crossings that are always a fun challenge.
With no set path to any of our trips (it's in the name - Trail Unknown), we ride something for everyone. The beauty of natural style riding is that you ride the tracks at whatever speed you like, however playfully you like and it will always put a big muddy smile on your face.
After a morning enjoying the hills, what more could you want than to turn up to a serene spot with lunch laid out ready for you? Because that's the kind of service you get with Trail Unknown. Cake and all.
Where else could you finish the weekend but at the tea house for some scones, clotted cream and jam. A massive thank you to Dan French for a fantastic weekend of tasty trail selection, to Mark Brewer at Exmoor MTB Uplifts, to Joey Millward at Millward Media for the pics and videos, and to everyone who came and made it one of the best Trail Unknown weekends so far. If you'd like to join us on our next trip, see our dates below.
At last year’s South West Outdoor festival, Hugo was so inspired by Jamie McDonald's talk on running across Canada that - having never run more than 6km before - he borrowed a pair of shoes two sizes too small and ran a full trail marathon on Sunday up and down Cheddar Gorge. Respect.
Read Hugo's full story below, it's ridiculous.
Being easily influenced is not a great trait for protecting your family’s honour. Sadly, at the South West Outdoor Festival 2017, I was that man. There we were, fresh from having thrown majestic shapes to the 7 piece ska band Crinkle Cuts, we decided to settle round the fire.
The idea was brief but powerful. The Cheddar Gorge trail marathon was the next morning and hey, a marathon can’t be that difficult, right? Fresh from a round of beers and with the taste of curry on my breath, I reasoned that:
A. A marathon couldn’t be that hard
B. I was promised an onion bhaji if I finished
C. I was easily influenced and in need of an adventure
The inevitable happened and I woke up confused with Marathons on my mind. I found an undefended can of beans and set off in search of running shoes. 1x pair of shoes that were two sizes too small later, I found the organiser man who gave me a free entry because there would be no way I would finish..thanks again Relish The Great Outdoors. I settled in for my pre race poop having just signed up to race. To my horror, the gun went off and I burst out of the portaloo pulling up my trousers to get stuck in.
Except I didn’t.
I ran the wrong way.
The crowd were on hand to laugh at me and point me in the right direction. I died a little inside. But I was still excited, ambitious and full of the desire to get this over and done with.
And so I ran.
And it hurt.
And this was only 15 minutes in.
6 hours later I was a changed man. But heading across the finish line. Broken, full of self loathing, and boasting the only case of a 23 year old with rapid onset arthritis and joint failure.
Like an angel from the mist, my bhaji man emerged (everyone else had left). Soggy and dissappointing to most, it was the greatest thing that had ever and will happen to my mouth. I ate. I cried. I regretted.
I would do it all over again, a thousand times over.
Hugo and I will be at the Top of the Gorge festival this year doing mountain bike skills sessions and encouraging people try out our mountain bike challenge course! Use promotional code TRAILTEN for a 10% discount to the Top of the Gorge festival 22-24 June, or code TOTG1 for a free tshirt.
I often love to ride without earphones in and enjoy listening to the sound of the birds singing, tyres ripping, Hugo whooping or even to take a moment to appreciate the deep quietness of the forest. But then there are other times, where the sound of sweet, sweet music in my ears is perfect for keeping my legs spinning and my heart boogeying!
That’s all for now folks. Keep supporting your local live music venue and bands! Make sure you know what guided mountain bike trips we’re running this year and enjoy riding your bikes to your new music.
For this installment of our 'Through the eyes of local' blog series, we asked local rider Jacob Martin what he loves about riding the Pembrokeshire National Park and why it is definitely worth a visit with your bike.
From all across the county on any day the cloud has lifted high enough you can see a long set of unique hills. The highest point stands at 536m above sea level and one of the rocky outcrops about half way along was found to be the origin for some of the stone used to build Stonehenge.
The Preseli Hills, or Mynyddoedd y Preseli as they are known in Welsh, are the home to some amazing cross country mountain biking which ranges from fast flowing natural singletrack to technical rocky climbs. This riding is on the bridleways and forest tracks that lace the hills and nearby Gwaun Valley. For those of us lucky enough to live nearby there are some great rides to do for an evening but there are also plenty of longer rides that can fill your day. The ridge ride is a nice ride that takes you from one end of the Preselis all the way to the other with views all the way to Snowdonia and even Ireland on the clearest days!
As a local, where would you recommend a visiting rider to go for an awesome day's ride?
If you want to ride the Preseli ridge it is best to start in the small village of Rosebush taking the bridleway past the old quarry, through Pantmaenog forest and out onto the hills. You can then follow another bridleway obviously marked on an OS map (OL35) east along the full length of the hills towards Crymych. Alternatively for a shorter ride you can turn off at the halfway point.
There will be amazing views North across Cardigan bay and up to Snowdonia and one of the spectacular rocky outcrops you pass by is where the stone for Stonehenge came from as I mentioned earlier. You can then take the small and quiet country lanes back to the start where you can have some food in the small village pub called Tafarn Sinc. This ride is a total of about 15 miles and is great for any rider with mid level fitness and experience.
If you have a mountain bike then you're probably wondering where to ride it next, maybe dreaming of Whistler bike park or other such adventurous locations. Unfortunately most of us have to make the most of riding in the UK, which is actually pretty great, and after reading this you'll hopefully think about visiting Dartmoor National Park.
There are a few reasons one would consider Dartmoor to be an exceptional place to ride mountain bikes*.
One, space and variety. An expanse opens up before you on Dartmoor, as far as you can see are hills, tors, rivers and forests all waiting to be explored. Bike down the side of any tor and there's a plethora of line choice; miles of unscathed single track, drops and natural rock gardens just wait to feel the bite of a tyre and the wind of your passing. There are trails on Dartmoor on par with many bike parks I've visited, and not only that but there is the freedom of mixing up paths and trails occurring so frequently that it's your own bike park to create. There's no chosen route for you, merely a destination, it fills you with a sense of freedom and excitement which I genuinely have not felt when riding anywhere else.
Freeride ain't dead. Here is a place where you can drop into gulley's, off tors, hit gaps created over thousands of years, there are even abandoned quarries if you're ballsy enough. My point is if you want to get radical you can, and easily. It's a playground for the brave and there's plenty of apparatus. The sheer brilliance of it is that how crazy you get is really down to how crazy you want to be, envision it and you can probably find it!
Downhill exists too, in the form of Gawton Gravity Hub. 5 tracks are on offer in this rock studded descent of the Tamar valley, flowing a path of adrenaline all the way to the bottom. Where from Thursday to Sunday the uplift service will whisk you back up to ride it all again. The team and tracks here are simply fantastic, care and love are put into this place all year round to change the tracks up and maintain them for everyone who rides them. A jump run co exists with the downhill tracks so there's really something for everyone here, be sure to visit it if you're in the area.
Yet another virtuous trait expressed by the open moorland is that one can ride for almost any length of time. I'm not saying you must embark on gargantuan epics across the moor, you could go for a 20 minute spin instead; or literally anything in between. Because there is such a density of paths it means you can customise your ride length to almost any degree, whilst finding specific trails is harder you're almost sure to come across single track, free ride and everything in between on any one tor. Wide open paths provide the perfect carpet to practice your wheelies, and rock drops can help test your suspension.
The final reason is that Dartmoor is simply a beautiful place to ride a bike. In the summer beautiful flowers erupt from the ground and explode out of the plants, creating a truly brilliant scene on the moorland. Autumn will bring a dull purple grey to the wilds of the national park, this brings a sombre mood and it'll start getting muddy up there. Whilst winter can bring snow, and it's great fun if it does, it will more readily bring lots of mud and can make some paths useless. Spring will start to dry out the trails for what will hopefully be a summer of shred. Views from the top of tors can have you looking at lakes or forests, or rolling hills tailing off into the distance ; the variety in the landscape is spectacular and makes riding on Dartmoor a really special occasion. You're riding on land that has survived thousands of years in a relatively unscathed way, most of Dartmoor was originally forest (the riding would be even better!), and you can feel the energy of the place motivating you to push your riding.
It's a truly special place for mountain biking and it simply cannot be praised highly enough, I hope this has you stoked to ride it!
For more information on the riding in Dartmoor then get in touch, we're more than happy to point you in the direction of some good trails, suggest a guide for the day or let you know about our up coming trips to this beautiful National Park!
This piece was written by local shredder Mick Turner McKinnel. If you fancy writing about your local spot then get in touch.
* Please only use approved routes for mountain biking.
All that's good about this spectacular mountain!
At the start of summer we headed over to Snowdon. So iconic it's got a national park named after it. Here's all that's epic about this monster and why it should be at the top of many mountain bikers must ride list!
1. THE TRAILS
The Rangers Track is up there with the most varied descent in the UK. The top starts with a series of huge stone steps, cross the train tracks and you're into warp speed, dodging rocks and flying down shaily shoots. Then your into the fast open grassland where you can weave and pop through the natural rollers of the mountain top. With no time to recover and just about time to slow down you fly into a steep rocky descent where speed is your friend...but the wrong line choice could see a nasty end to your days ride. After a few tight and technical switchbacks the mountain mellows out. You've thamed Snowdon and you're rewarded with some beautiful flowing singletrack with steep banks that you can hop and rip round. The Rangers Track is truly awesome. You can also ride Rhyd Ddu which is very gnarly and quite dangerous. The Telegraph valley that veers off Rangers is another great descent that's fast and flat out. Finally Ilandberis Path which is the easiest way up, however its wide and quite strait so unless you just want to brake your speed PB I'd stick with the other tracks for the descent. Each are different and super fun.
2. Its a true adventure you can do in an afternoon
The climb of Snowdon is hard enough without a bike. Throw in some gale force winds and a bit of sideways rain and you're in for a real mission. To me this just adds to the adventure, some parts you're going to need to hike a bike, especially if you go up Rangers Path. Be prepared, capable map reading, plenty of warm clothes, first aid and snacks. People are caught out on Snowdon each year and you don't want to be amongst those! On a good day you can go up in about 2-3hrs and down in about 30 minutes. But my advice would leave plenty of time though as the weather can change quickly. Plus you'll want time to absorb those beautiful views at the top!
3. The Epic views that are just so bloody epic
I've been up Snowdon when you can hardly see your feet let alone the views. It's a luck of the draw.. when the weather is bad you'll have less traffic on the trails..but you might get frozen to death. Luckily these pictures were taken on the worlds most perfect of days, thank you once again riding gods. You can see Ireland, Scotland, 24 counties of England, 29 lakes, 17 islands and the Isle of Man.................. Not bad eyy!
4. The SCale
It's rare in the UK to feel like your in the middle of no where. With mountains surrounding you.. unless you head over to Scotland. You sure feel humbled by Snowdon. At 1085m she's a beast! Going up Snowdon will get your adventure buds tingling and be sure to make you want to head out and ride some natural epics rather than a day at the bike park.
5. The Story
This is mountain biking in its rawest form. You'll meet some interesting people at the top of Snowdon, the varying terrain, the beautiful views and some seriously fun trails. Legend has it the giant Rhitta Gawr once ruled the land but killed by King Arthur he now lies under Snowdon. This place is truly special and the fact you can only ride it at certain time periods of the year makes it extra special each time you go! I can guaranty plenty of high fives and near miss stories to share over a well earned pint at the Cwellyn Arms.
Thanks to Veloccino, Will Priest and Will King for the pictures
Hugo and Tom are trail hunting fanatics, travelling around the UK to find the best and most beautiful wild riding locations for their mountain bikes. We write about our findings and provide professionally guided mountain bike trips to our favourite spots. We're also big believers in outdoor education for children.