8 of the best natural riding routes in the UK
© Flickr - Hefln Owen
Ditch the trail centre, grab your map and take on a real mountain biking adventure.
Fancy pushing your mountain biking to the next level? Then why not ditch the familiarity of your local trail centre, break out the maps, and get exploring. There’s a world of raw, natural trails to explore away from the world of sanitised, man-made features begging to be explored – and we guarantee that your riding will be all the better for tackling them.
1. Torridon, Scottish Highlands
If epic landscapes are your thing, the circular route around Sgorr Ruadh near Torridonin the Scottish Highlands will fulfil your desires. A long, technical climb will test your leg strength, and there’s even a hike-a-bike section to give you the full work out.
Make sure you catch your breath at the top though, as the long, flowing descent will take it away. Fast, smooth sections give way to technical rock slabs and steps as you lose altitude and drop back to the road.
The trail was made popular by legendary rider Steve Peat in the video he starred in 2014, and although more people are aware of it now, its relatively remote location means it’s unlikely to get crowded any time soon.
2. The Cairngorms, Scottish Highlands
Scotland has so many amazing riding spots, and the right to roam laws mean you can ride pretty much anywhere, so it’s hardly surprising that it’s sprung up on this list for the second time.
The Cairngorm trails can be reached from just outside the town of Aviemore, and generally require cross-country style riding across the flat valley bottom before beginning technical but achievable climbs up the mountain side.
The pay-off is a selection of trails that run fast and flowing through low pine forests that, if you’re fortunate enough to ride on a warm day, make the place feel more like the Mediterranean than the Scottish Highlands.
3. Quantock Hills, Somerset
The Quantock Hills in Somerset offer a seemingly endless supply of hidden valleys with short but sweet technical descents followed by challenging climbs back to the top. You can easily lose yourself for several days here and never ride the same route twice.
Wide and fast trails criss-cross the plateau at the top, and it’s worth pausing at the trig point to take in the views and a snack or two.
If you do fancy something a little more constructed, a downhill zone weaves natural trails with man-made features that are technical enough to challenge the most skilled of riders. There’s even an uplift service to ease the pain of repeated climbs.
4. Hebden Bridge
The picturesque town of Hebden Bridge is an excellent base from which to explore the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire. The hills and valleys surrounding the town are awash with bridleways which are legally accessible for bikes, so there are actually hours of riding to be had literally on the doorstep.
We’ll accept that technically these bridleways aren’t completely natural. However, they are often partially cobbled and very rocky, so if you like the feel of stone beneath your rubber you’ll love riding here.
The town is also home to Ed Oxley, aka Great Rock, an experienced mountain bike coach and guide that can help you up your skills and discover the riding the area has to offer in one go.
5. Snowdon, North Wales
This well-known peak may be beloved by hill walkers who flock here all year round, but it also offers the kind of challenging, fun and natural descent that’s relatively rare outside of the Alps.
Getting to the top requires a long push and hike-a-bike, but the payoff is a thrilling descent down the shale-filled slopes of the Ranger's Path.
It’s worth noting that there are restrictions in place regarding when mountain bikers can ride on Snowdon, with no riding between 10am and 5pm from May 1 to September 30. These tend to be peak times for walkers and to be honest you don’t want to be dodging ramblers on your way down anyway.
If you do fancy riding Snowdon the summer, the best bet is to hike up before dawn, watch the sun rise, enjoy the ride and get down in time for breakfast.
6. South Downs, Sussex
A hop, skip and a jump outside of London lies the South Downs, and miles and miles of bridleway trails to play with.
In the wet, the chalk can get slippery, but on a dry day, you’ve got miles and miles of rolling countryside to play with. Don’t expect anything too steep or technical, but do expect plenty of flowing fun.
The South Downs Way is a route to tackle if you like long, cross-country routes with (or without) the odd pub stop. The trail is 100-miles long, point-to-point between Winchester and Eastbourne, and takes in some beautiful scenery along the way. Finish at Eastbourne and you can end your ride with a dip in the sea.
A note of caution; the flint nodules embedded in the chalk are sharp and a recipe for punctures, so make sure you bring spare inner tubes and a puncture repair kit just in case!
7. Sticks Path, Lake District
The Sticks Pass is one of the best natural riding routesaround Helvellyn, one of the highest mountains in the Lake District.
On the way up, the climb starts fairly gradual but becomes technical, steep and challenging the closer you get to the top. The riding is raw and natural, involving wet, craggy rocks and scree and boulder-strewn paths to pick your way down. It’s a true test of skill, but with an incredible amount of fun to be had in the process.
The route is still relatively quiet, particularly in comparison to the steady stream of bike and pedestrian traffic crossing the even popular Nan Bield pass.
8. Elan Valley, mid-Wales
The Elan Valley in Wales is a National Dark Sky park, so although you’ll be riding during the day, that gives you some indication of the remoteness and wildness of the place.
Located in the very heart of Wales, there are many potential routes criss-crossing the valley which take in in rolling hills, flowing descents and natural technical sections. It’s a good location for a bothy biking adventures, which also gives you the chance to do a little stargazing.
The visitor centre in the Elan Valley boasts a cafe and information hub, and makes a good place from which to start and finish your ride.