Now I’ve been back in Devon a few months I’m beginning to accumulate a good list of fun places to ride. Though most trail centres have their own website it can be hard to find somewhere with all the information in one place. I often find myself wasting a lot of time looking for postcodes and comparing trails vs distance vs facilities. So here I have a round up of, in my opinion, the best places to go for a spin. They are all off road routes but I’ve tried to be clear what type of riding and skill level each is best suited for.
HALDON FOREST CENTRE
Location – EX6 7XR website
Facilities – Parking (off peak £2 – 2hr £3 – 2hrs + Peak times £3 – 2hr £4 – 2hrs +)
toilets, showers, bike hire and mechanic (weds -Sun 9-5) cafe, bike wash, pump track and skills area.
Discovery Trail (Green) – 1.5 miles – Family trail
Spicers Trail (Blue) – 2.3 miles – Easy, wide path
Kiddens Trail (Blue) – 4 miles – Easy. Suitable for all levels as it’s full of humps and berms galore. For the slightly more advanced rider that enjoys a xc trail it can be good fun ridden at speed whilst still doing the main job of being a perfect introduction to mountain biking for newbies.
Ridge ride Trail (Red) – 6 miles – moderate. This is a singletrack ‘proper’ mountain bike trail. Though graded as red it doesn’t include any serious features that you may find in the bigger or more downhill orientated venues. However it is still a really fun, flowy little trail that the builders have done a great job of designing to appeal to a wide range of riders. With experience you can keep a good amount of speed most of the way round with enough roots and rocky sections to keep you on your toes and smiling whilst the hills will ensure you feel the workout. A big selling point for me is that the drainage is fantastic so its completely rideable no matter how much it rains! There is a 1km black section that shoots off halfway round this. It’s essentially a short downhill run with steeper sections over large rocks and roots with a fireroad climb back up to rejoin the red. My advice is if it’s been raining a lot take the short cut out after the roots before the first bend as the bottom turns into a bog!
Unmarked fun – The forest is riddled with miles of unmarked, downhill orientated delights. Narrow and technical they have a great natural ‘enduro’ feel to them with every corner revealing a new surprise! For the more experienced rider they cannot fail to put a huge grin on your face, just prepare to get lost finding your way back to the top, it’s well worth it!
GAWTON GRAVITY HUB
Location – PL19 8JN – website
To ride at Gawton you must be a member. Cost is £40 for an adult, £15 if your under 18 (annually) or you can purchase a day pass for £5 from their website.
Facilities – Toilet, cafe (open 12-3 weekends and holidays) and an uplift run by Flyupdownhill click here for more info on days they operate and prices.
Gawton is a downhill venue so all the trails require a competent level of mountain bike skill and an even higher level of confidence. I would not recommend this venue for beginners or young children.
HSD (Red) – 1 mile – The tamest trail on offer this is a great one to introduce riders to the features of a downhill track with manageable drops and rollable jumps. There are flatter sections inbetween the tight, steep sections characteristic of Gawton so you can regain your composure and unclench cramped hands.
Proper Job (Double Red) – 0.8 miles – A significant step up from HSD! This trail is a lot of fun to push the average intermediate rider up a level. It has larger drops and much more technical sections with the main challenge being the steep and tight switch back berms. Also a much loved track by the more experienced riders making it easy to watch and see how it should be done.
Egypt and Super Tavi (Extreme Black) – As these are a good few levels above my current skill level I cannot claim to know much about them. Expect roots galore, a path only recognisable as they way your actually meant to ride by previous insane peoples tyre tracks, boulders the size of cars that you ride off and north shore that abruptly finishes catapulting you into the sky. If this is the kind of extremes you get your kick from these are for you. Me personally, I’ll settle for watching in amazement.
Nearest Postcode PL19 8PB
Tavi woodlands is a separate venue near to Gawton that is also managed by the Gawton Gravity hub. You will need a pass or membership to ride here but the same pass covers both areas. The trails here are not as groomed with a high percentage of roots and gullys to trip you up. However a lot of work has gone into creating many, many jumps, drops, ladders, switchbacks, rock gardens and every other kind of feature you can think of to maximise air time and fun. There are a few signs but mostly it’s a case of exploring until you find a way to link the sections into a run that suits you. I have recently discovered this venue and am finding it a fantastic place to improve the jumping skills as it has a lot of learner friendly features of varying sizes so you can progress at your own pace. I also enjoy the fact that the trails are all fairly close together so you can watch the advanced riders flying off the many bigger obstacles – watch and learn! With friendly locals, many trails and regular races this is definitely a top venue to get involved with.
SCADSON FREERIDE PARK Facebook page
Location/Facilities – TQ1 1RN – Scadson woods are located between Cockington country park and Preston Paignton. The nearest secure parking, toilets and cafe are at Occombe farm. From here follow the gravel bike/walking trail down into the woods and along the river. When you see a turn off to the left steeply downhill and across the river follow this until you arrive at the bottom of the trails where there will be signs and a map.
Trails – This is a fairly new venue run by a small group called TQ3 Riders. To ride here you need to have membership which is £21 for the year and can be purchased here. A day membership will be added soon.
At present there are 3 trails with the 3rd more difficult trail having multiple options. Each trail is only around 500 metres but there is a convenient, short, steep push up so you can get plenty of runs in 1 day. I find this a good place to go to session your skills as there are a lot of features packed into a small space. The easiest run is doable for most competent riders while the other 2 runs are aimed at the airtime loving rider. With a recent reshuffle in club management hopefully this site will see further development over the summer.
Cockington XC – From Scadson you have easy access to Cockington and a good few miles of easy, wide gravelled paths. Though there is nothing technical or exciting about these paths, due to the near vertical at times nature of the many hills within this small area they do make for a good hours worth of cardio workout. Rideable in all weathers you never have any excuse not to get out on the bike! Alternatively you could just use them for easy access to the Drum Inn Pub for a pint and some grub after thrashing the downhill tracks or as a way to introduce newbies to off road riding. In which case you will also need to make use of the Drum afterwards to get them over the shock of the hills!
TRISCOMBE MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAILS
Location – TA4 3HG
Situated in the Quantock hills the most convenient car park is at Triscombe stone up a narrow, uneven road past the quarry. Nearest facilities are the Blue Ball Inn in Triscombe.
Highly rated by all who have been there this an excellent place for sessioning technical downhill descents. A decent sized area with at least 25-30 runs snaking all down the hill sides. I have so far only managed 1 day there and don’t feel like I’d even scratched the surface of whats on offer. Nothing is signposted here so its a case of exploring by following the trails of those before you or asking the friendly, knowledgeable local riders. All trails seem to lead to the same fire road push up so you can’t get to lost, just be sure to go steady and look before you leap first time down. The trails here definitely lean to the tight, twisty, technical style of riding with roots and natural drop offs being the main course on offer, all with varying levels of steepness dictating the difficulty level. For the more experienced rider this place is A LOT of fun, for the less experienced rider I would recommend sticking to the wealth of excellent cross country riding in the area. Here is a website with a few downloadable GPS routes for around the Quantocks.
Location – A beautiful little wild spot just outside of Exmouth offering open heathland views, forests and pretty hidden streams. There are carparks all around the common but I usually base myself at the Four Firs carpark EX5 1JL as it’s ride next to the Quarry which you can see for miles to find your way back to.
Trails – Much more of a cross country venue this is not for those riders that don’t like to pedal. However as the hills are not huge and the size is limited I find it best suited to a couple of hours blast around rather than an all day epic. There is however a good range of riding on offer for all levels of skill. Wide, gravel fire roads criss cross the heathland in all directions providing fantastic open views for miles on terrain that is rideable for all the family. If it’s singletrack your searching for from four firs car park exit the way you drove in and cross the little lane. Keep to the left of the common, pass the castle ruins then after a couple of kilometres keep an eye out for a singletrack trail heading off to the left. This trail skirts around the perimetre winding up and down providing some fun flowy descents and tricky climbs to keep you on your toes.The end of this trail brings you to a few sneaky downhill jump trails hidden away in the forest. With enough scouting around there is perhaps 4 different routes down to the main ‘jump park’ area here with trails snaking down from every hillside. Hard to resist pushing back up for another run……… several times! From here I am yet to discover the best singletrack route back but if you just keep heading uphill on fire roads you will eventually spot the quarry to orientate your way back. The joy of Woodbury for me is that it isn’t huge so you can just go and play for a couple of hours and find new routes every time, safe in the knowledge that your never that far away from a car park and civilisation. If it all goes wrong this also just happens to be the marines training ground so you know there will be someone around to save you, especially if you happen to be a damsel in distress!
For technical descents park in North Bovey – TQ13 8RB or Lustleigh TQ13 9TJ both these postcodes are for pubs in said villages, there are no other facilities available.
For open moorland and beginner friendly rides park in Princetown – PL20 6QF or Postbridge – PL20 6TH. Both these towns have visitor centres with public toilets, maps and advice. It is advisable to check opening hours beforehand in off peak times.
Trails – If all day epic rides with little signs of humanity are your thing then look no further – Dartmoor is the place for you. Renowned for tough climbs and unpredictable weather conditions it is a place best attacked prepared. A backpack containing food, water, spare clothes, waterproofs, a map, mobile, basic tools and a spare inner tube at the very least should be mandatory. I have had a few personal experiences of braving Dartmoor this winter, each time I have got stuck in bogs so I would say it will be seen at its best in summer. On the 3rd occasion I decided to try out mountain biking in snow! The ride started with glorious sunshine and spectacular views and ended in me nearly getting frostbite in my feet. Midway round the ride I once again got stuck in a bog which then caused my feet to nearly freeze off as I pedalled 7 miles mostly uphill through sideways driving hailstones back to my car. Despite all this it was a day out that I thoroughly enjoyed. Dartmoor rides feel like true micro adventures. They test your problem solving skills and endurance to the limits whilst rewarding you with the best examples of raw wild beauty in Devon, followed by some of the cosiest pubs around to reminisce on your achievements afterwards.
For information and downloadable family/beginner friendly routes visit the Dartmoor National Park website. These routes are surfaced and well signposted so on a warm summer’s day would be manageable by most people with a fair fitness level.
For exploring the trickier singletrack riding on offer I would recommend using a guide book such as South West Mountain biking by Nick Cotton which has routes for Dartmoor, Exmoor and the Quantocks. Or if you’re feeling brave scan the mountain bike forums and plot out some of the many suggested routes on your OS map and off you go.This aptly named Killer loop from MBR is the most highly talked about. Personally I’m waiting for the ground to dry up a bit before I tackle that one!
On that note I’d just like to finish by acknowledging that I am sure there are many excellent riding spots missing off this list but bare with me, I have only been back 3 months so far! Places still on my hitlist for exploration are
- Tavi Woodlands
- Cardinham woods
- O P trails near Taunton
- All of Exmoor!
If anyone has any other suggestions feel free to post them in the comments!