Saturday 7 September 2019

Daily photo - 7: Mountain biking in the Forest of Dean

It's that time of year when the cyclocross season starts and I become interested in all things biking off-road. In reality I should do this sort of thing all-year round. There are lots of opportunities, given all the gravel races, summer cyclocross and mountain bike events taking place. It's just difficult to fit everything in though, especially as I still like to ride on the road. And I have to fit in other things like everyday life too.

Today, I took myself to the West Country and checked out mountain biking in the Forest of Dean trail centre, between Gloucester and South Wales.
As my journey started later than planned, I got stuck in slow traffic on the M4 motorway and I arrived there late in the afternoon, so by that time I only really had time to ride on the Family trail.

That was fine for me as I am planning to do a cyclocross race tomorrow, so I wouldn't really want to tire myself out. This Family trail is part of what used to be the Severn and Wye Railway line, so the trail is wide and well surfaced.

As the trail gently undulates through this ancient forest as you head northwards you see various sign posts with the names of the former stations, and you can imagine what the place must have been like back in the 19th century when this area was associated with mining.

Overall, Forest of Dean is a scenic and quite undulating part of the world, with lots of forested areas both inside and outside the trail centre. In some parts you get wild deer hanging around, as well as lots of pigs and wild boar. Some may find that quite fun to see, though being a bit of a scardy cat I didn't feel comfortable with that and was worried that I wouldn't be able to ride away quickly enough if I needed to! At least there was a variety of trails and directions to choose from. It's a great place to spend a weekend - not necessarily spectacular like nearby Wales, but still pretty nice.

What to expect at Forest of Dean
  • The trail centre is based around the villages of Cinderford to the east, Coleford to the west, and the central village of Cannop.
  • There are pay-and-display car parks dotted around the different sides of the forest, though the central part would be just north of Cannop, near the cycle centre.
  • Accessing the mountain bike trail centre can be done by bike via one of many cycle paths. 
  • I parked on a dirt track in the village of Parkend, next to a playing field and cycled a couple of miles to the Family trail at Cannop Ponds.
  • The family trail is 11 miles (17km) long and can be ridden by people of all ages. I saw quite a few parents out with children aged around 5 or 6 years old. I don't imagine they did 11 miles though!
  • Other trails start from the cycle centre - the 7-mile (11km) blue Verderer's trail which is fast and flowing with berms; the 7.4-mile (12km) red Freeminer's trail which is single track and rooty; a downhill run, and a pump track where people of all levels can practice.
  • At the cycle centre area, just north of Cannop there is also a cafe, toilets and a bike-wash area.
  • You can stop and picnic in different areas, though one of the most scenic parts is the picnic site at Cannop Ponds.
  • Try to stick to the designated cycle trails and avoid riding on footpaths. The walkers don't particularly like it, and in fact one local told me that some people have been known to leave broken glass as a way to let cyclists know they should not be on that trail.
  • If you are going on the other trails like the blue and the red it may be best to buy a map from the cycle centre as trails aren't always that well sign-posted and the last thing you want is a puncture or a ripped tyre because you got lost!

Off-road biking trails

Ride from London to London-by-Sea (aka Brighton) off-road

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