UK natural mountain biking
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The UK's best natural trails

Add these stunning natural trails to your MTB hit list this year.
Written by Matthew Ray
5 min readPublished on
There’s so much amazing natural mountain bike terrain in the UK that’s it’s hard to know where to start, so we’ve picked the best natural trails for your particular riding style – which are you?

1. The winter wanderer: Thetford Forest, Norfolk

When the weather turns proper Baltic then you’re better off avoiding high places and sticking to lower lands – all the pedalling keeps you warm and you’re unlikely to get blown backwards up a hill. Thetford Forest is knitted together with miles of natural singletrack, and blasting down it on your trusty hardtail feels like zipping through the trees of Endor on a Stars Wars speeder.
The standout waymarked trail is The Beater with flowing sections interrupted by technical drops into bomb holes (some of these are actual holes caused by WWII bomber pilots jettisoning loads before landing), and there are many more miles of un-waymarked natural trails on the Brandon side. Always carry a GPS, compass and charged mobile phone as getting lost in the trees is incredibly easy to do.

2. The peak bagger: Rhyd Ddu, Snowdon Wales

This loop from Llanberis, up Mt Snowdon and down the so-called ‘third way’ descent, isn’t for the faint of heart, but the panoramic views are well worth it.
Kicking off with a lung-opening climb to Bwlch Maesgwn, the trail then drops down to Llanberis before heading up into the mountain climb proper. The track up to the summit is steep and multi-surfaced with tarmac, scree, track and rock – get ready to push as well as pedal. Then prepare for a super-steep and exposed 1000m. Use a bike you can shoulder because you’ll be carrying it along the razorback ridge – definitely ‘Type Two fun’. But then the ‘Type One fun’ kicks in as the descent becomes rocky, steep but mostly rideable.
You’ll have a blast but remember this is a mountain so due respect, adequate equipment and emergency preparedness (including carrying a charged mobile) are essential.

3. The rock gardener: Jacob's Ladder, Peak District

If you’re used to well-groomed trail-centre riding then you’ll have never seen the likes of Jacob’s Ladder. Imagine a bored teenage giant hurling stones, rocks and boulders down a mountain gulley for a hundred years or so – the result is Jacob’s Ladder in The Dark Peak region. The terrain requires fitness, nerve, skill and a side order of ‘a bit out there’ to get to the bottom without an OTB (over the bar) incident. It’s not for novices and the scale of the rocky, technical terrain in this area has to be ridden to be believed. Try the route that starts from Hayfield – it's the classic Dark Peak route taking in Jacob's Ladder, Rushup Edge and Roych Clough. Remember, we did say it was difficult…

4. The weekend warrior: The South Downs Way

If you’re looking to make the most of a long weekend and you want a multi-day adventure with sun, fast mileage, easy access to country pubs and a ride that ends at the beach, all without having to bookend it with two long drives, then hit the South Downs Way. The trails run for 100 miles through gorgeous rolling countryside, from Winchester to Beachy Head, up and down the chalk escarpments and ridges of the South Downs. While it’s never really flat, the bridleway is hard-packed so you can maintain a fair lick.
The current record for riding the whole length, twice (there and back again) is held by Josh Ibbett at 17hrs 47 minutes, but the weekend warriors way is to ride it once, west to east, so the wind is predominantly behind you. Take two to four days to do it, depending on fitness levels, time off work and time required for pub stops.

5. The Alpine dreamer: Skiddaw, Northern Lake District

Many MTB riders dream of hitting the Alps for super-rugged scenery, rock-tumbled trails, vertiginous views and leg-burning distances, but you don’t have to get on a plane to enjoy those. You can just get on a train to the Lake District and stand in awe looking up at the summit of the 931m-high Skiddaw. It’s actually not the highest mountain in the Lakes but the steep sides of its grey ‘Skiddaw Shale’ ridgeline summit punch up out of the surrounding low valleys like a ‘mini-Alp’.
You can ride a thigh-scorching circuit with 22 miles of riding and 4400ft of climbing over a mix of double-track trail, natural singletrack, and rocky descents, starting and finishing in Keswick. Be warned, you’ll need fearsome fitness, mountain awareness and emergency preparedness for this one.

6. The trail-centre aficionado: Gypsy Glen, Innerleithen Scotland

Sometimes it’s impossible to resist the attraction of the waymarked and sculptured trails in man-made trail centres. Fortunately there are places that have both, including Glentress on the Scottish borders. Between Innerleithen and Pebbles are some amazing natural trails, boasting high-speed singletrack through the purple heather, leg-shredding climbs through remote hills and close proximity to the trail centre itself. Because these trails are less well known they are likely to be low on traffic and high on adventure. Check out the 18-mile loop for starters.

7. The moorland kilometre-killer: Dartmoor

If you’re the kind of rider who takes great delight in munching through the miles on cross-country epics then head to the South West of England for the massive expanse of Dartmoor. Combining exposed moorland with forested trails and lots of long, hard climbs, it is guaranteed to help you on your way to ‘ultimate fitness’. If wide expanses are your thing then start at Postbridge or Princetown, but if you want to include technical riding and the infamous ‘Nutcracker’ at Lustleigh Cleave then start at North Bovey. You’ll probably need OS Explorer 28 for this one…
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