So the plan was to ride my retro hardtail loaded with overnight kit for three complete days, about 35km per day, and spend two nights camping in Exmoor. This wasn't to be epic wild camping, bivvying on a bed of moss, drinking from a mountain stream and foraging for breakfast that I often read about, no, this is Entry Level bikepacking. Accessible bikepacking. Wild camping is all well and good but it requires a certain amount of tactics and planning that I didn't want to get into this time, particularly packing up early in the morning, something I have never been good at. “Early” for me and “early” for landowners likely to catch me differs by about 3 or 4 hours so for this trip, campsites were on the card.
I also couldn't face packing all the food I needed for three days - dehydrated meals or tastier, but heavier boil in the bag meals - either way they add to the bulk of stuff to be carried. And for lunch? Would sandwiches I prepared on Friday night still be edible by Monday lunchtime after three days in the summer heat with no fridge? No, my plan was to mix up a little bit of campstove cooking with eating at pubs or tearooms on the way.
Exmoor was a perfect location for all of this. Only an hour and a half’s drive from home in Bristol, I could easily get there in time for a full days riding on Saturday without a ridiculously early start. In terms of all the creature comforts mentioned above, Exmoor has it all - villages such as Exford, Withypool and Winsford are all within striking distance from anywhere and all boast places to eat. There are enough campsites around, all big enough to find your own space even if its busy. And of course, the riding. If your looking at this website, chances are you are already acquainted with the trails on Exmoor, but the variety and quantity is immense. Woodland singletrack to high open moorland stone tracks, views over the coast to Wales, wild ponies and a real feeling of being out there.
Bike and Kit
My companion for this trip, was my 1992 Orange Prestige with upgraded Pace RC35 forks and sporting state of the art V-brakes. While retro MTB fans usually give me an approving nod when seeing me out on this, others may think this a strange choice, but I wanted to use this because it had lugs for fitting a pannier rack to use the equally ancient pannier luggage I already had, as well as double bottle cage mounts. Nowadays I realise there is a plethora of bike luggage out there that will fit everywhere on your bike without special frames or mounts enabling me to take one of my more modern, more comfortable bikes instead but I figured I would give the old Orange its day. This bikepacking has become its sole raison d’etre and besides, the more sedate, less gnarly pace of a bikepacking trip I think suits its old school geometry and style.
My setup was basic, being summer and with the aforementioned pubs, I didn't need loads of kit: sleeping bag in a dry bag on the handlebars. Stem pouch with inner tube and tools. Tent poles just in the bag they came in strapped to my top tube, 2x water bottles underneath. Pannier rack with top mounted pack containing the rest of the tent, sleeping mat, waterproof jacket and gas canister. 16L Camelbak with clothing, titanium mug, stove and food (some noodles, dried pasta, pitta breads, chocolate spread, porridge pots and coffee).
My route was part stuff I knew, part stuff I didn't, with as much off road as possible - I wasn't making any concessions due to the bike I was riding.
Day one’s gentle start was the perfect introduction to the trip with a flat track through the beautiful woods near Dulverton - under a canopy of trees, surrounded by thick green vegetation and riding along side a tinkling stream, it was hard to believe I was in England.
After a gruelling half hour push up a grassy potholed track, I had never before been so pleased to see a section of road, and a nice 4km flat section let me take my helmet off and cruise along with the wind in my hair, enjoying the view, the peace and quiet and the expanse of this section of Exmoor, accompanied by the highland cattle, running along the moor beside me, long blonde locks bouncing lazily like some 80’s shampoo TV advert.
The rough track down to Withypool that followed showed me that a descent that is a blast on a lightweight full suspension bike, hopping and bouncing over the ditches and rocks may not necessarily be as much fun when ploughing down on a fully laden old school hardtail with 50mm of front wheel travel. But as I was to discover, the reverse would also be equally true.
The fun descent into Exford was a new find for me, setting me up nicely for the pints and hot food awaiting me at the White Horse pub in the village, handily serving food all day.
Westermill farm campsite is huge, so much so that despite one field being booked out for a private party and the one field where fires are allowed being pretty full, I still managed to get a whole field to myself, carefully pitching my tent next to the sole tree to ensure it was in the shade of the morning sun. Walking to the shower block in bare feet, I really wished I had packed some flip flops...
The first off road section of Day two was a real treat, taking me northwards towards the Doone Valley. A fairly smooth but fast track, I'm sure it would seem tame on any other ride but it was spot on today. Shortly after this came the only bit of the whole trip where I was worried I might go the wrong way. I went the wrong way, and getting back on track involved 15 minutes of dragging my bike uphill through thick, tussocky, slightly boggy grass. Only a couple of contour lines and mere millimeters on the map but felt like such a struggle!
The path along Doone Valley was as amazing as the times I'd ridden it previously, but perhaps looked even more stunning on this gorgeous summers day. So many potential spots for a swim or a picnic or just a nice walk and I really wanted to come back and enjoy the valley at a slower pace, instead of racing through on a bike not able to look at much more than the ground in front of me. Such was my euphoria in this spot I crossed the footbridge to the tearoom at the campsite to enjoy the surroundings for longer. A pot of tea and a bacon baguette later and I started chatting to the lady who runs the place. She told me she came here on holiday several years ago and had also fell in love with place and and told the owner she didn't want to leave. “Don't then” he had replied, and offered her a job. She’s been there ever since. I told her I wanted to come back later that summer with the baby that we were expecting, as our first camping trip - she said that she had other regulars who first came here with a months-old baby and have been coming back every year since. I had a good look round - the site was massive and plenty of corners to try and hide away from others with a crying baby.
I climbed up to the the Culbone Inn for some liquid refreshment and then came probably the sketchiest descent of the whole trip heading towards Poole Bridge. Short, but steep and littered with loose rocks, I thought this really isn't the terrain to be riding this sort of bike on. No dropper post, hard narrow tyres, steep head angle etc etc and all this extra weight in places I wasn't used to. I probably should have walked it but either momentum or bravado kept me going and it was all I could do to just sit back as far as I could, hold on and just hope muscle memory would guide me through rubber side down. It worked, just..
That night I was one of about 5 campers in the expansive Poole Bridge. I camped at the far end, and whilst riding my bike barefooted to the toilet block, again, really wished I had packed some flip flops. As I had forgone a fire the night before, I was keen on one tonight, and finding the dying embers of the previous campers, for the first time in my life, got a fire going without even striking a match.
Straight out of the campsite, Horner Woods served up some sublime singletrack for breakfast, long, narrow and flowing alongside the stream. From there came a long series of steep uphills to Dunkery Beacon, reminding me that if two days back to back hadn't already killed me, Day 3, The Day Of Climbing would do. A couple at the Beacon took my photo and seemed impressed with my efforts; the ride down made it all worthwhile and seemed to go on forever, and although possibly the least technical descent off the top, was perfectly suited to my setup.
Not fully acknowledging the steep road down to Exford that would need to be climbed up again after, I made a last minute decision to detour there (again) for lunch, this time in a tea room rather than the pub. I watched another cyclist arrive with a bike bearing luggage, although not as much as mine, so I figured he probably wasn't camping. I got chatting to him and he was nearing the end of an epic John o’groats to Lands End bike ride (staying in BnBs mainly) - riding around 100 miles a day, it really put my efforts to shame, but having said that, he seemed equally impressed with me for riding almost all off road, and choosing Exmoor to do it in - from his experience, the hilliest place he had ridden on his journey since Scotland! (He obviously bypassed the Lakes then…) Just goes to show, a challenge is in the eye of the beholder, or something like that.
A hidden and eerily quiet but beautiful section of the River Exe eventually led me to Tarr Steps, definitely not quiet but still pretty stunning. The tracks round here are a bit confusing with the official bridleway crossing the river twice at deep fords. As in shoes and socks off, knee-deep wading deep. Nice in summer, not so good when riding around here in torrential rain in winter (another story…), and I managed to miss what may the best bit that I had ridden on that aforementioned rather soggy day. I made up for it at the Tarr Farm Inn with an ice cold pint and then went for a paddle - stepping gingerly over the rocks and pebbles, I wished, for the third time, that I had brought flip flops with me.
With just one tedious road climb and a descent left, I wanted to make this moment last, so went to buy an ice cream. I managed to persuade the stall holder to let me have 20p off the cost of one as that was all the change I had left on me, but any hopes of lying by the river to eat it were dashed as he seemed to want to chat. Ah well, the least I could do after getting a discount ice cream. We talked about local riding and Australia, where we had both spent considerable amounts of time and about the reality running an ice cream stall in an idyllic location.
Finishing back in Dulverton at the end of three days and the bottom of a long descent that just got faster and faster as it progressed felt like it necessitated some sort of high five or celebration but alas there was none to be had. My reserved woo-hoos were for me alone and there wasn't even a post ride pint or cake. The cafes were all starting to close and it felt like a bit of an anticlimax, but I guess I’d had my celebration at Tarr Steps. I didn't really want to go home, and dreamt of just carrying on riding, just keeping going until either the weather broke or my wife demanded I went home. Still, that's one of the signs of a good ride, leaving you wanting more. I had discovered new tracks and new campsites, had some good chats with inspiring people and spotted other places for further exploration. I had proved to myself that I could ride 100km over 3 consecutive days, navigating without the use of a GPS, and how straightforward it all was, luckily with no mechanicals or other problems. So many possibilities for upping the ante - next time I could go for more days, go harder and longer on a full sus bike or go somewhere completely different and unknown (up north?) - or I could just do the same thing with the wife and daughter or friends, and show them the delights of simple bikepacking with pubs and campsites (and pack the flip flops next time).
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.
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.