This story of gravel riding begins with familiar shouts of ‘Ey’ up me duck,’ but the noise quickly fades as you escape into the woodland. No more concrete or cars; from here it’s all about the quietest and most hidden tracks, trails and B roads of Nottinghamshire, aka Robin Hood’s county and it is ripe for discovery.
The birds sing and the leaves crackle under your tires. The horizon is littered with headstocks that now lay dormant, monuments to a history of manual labor that died out decades ago. These former pit villages and colliery towns are linked by bridleways, long since forgotten by most of the county but prime terrain for gravel riding. Waterways and railways, once crucial for transporting coal, are thrown into the mix and have now been claimed and repurposed for cyclists and hikers. For those that want to criss-cross the county from Mansfield to Nottingham and everywhere in between, expect surprises around each corner. You’ll come across stretches of pristine white roads, secret swimming spots, sweeping mellow singletrack and tucked-away corners that allowed Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men to hide out.
Calling this a collection of gravel rides along mineral lines would not be too far removed from the essence of these wide-ranging gravel bike tours. At its most basic, these are a collection of B roads and gravel roads (from now on known as ‘Groads’) that carve a virtually traffic-free route across the whole county. Spanning the entire landscape of Notts, the tales of Robin Hood, DH Lawrence and Lord Byron can be retold as you cruise across the county.
From grand estates for the nobility, which have retained pristine gravel throughout their grounds, right through to the desolate pit tips, Notts delivers prime terrain for leisure, lending itself to supreme gravel grinding and mountain biking. The most family-friendly gravel ride heads out from the postcard-perfect town of Southwell and cruises along the Southwell Trail to Sherwood Pines, taking in the most rural side of the county.
If you are looking for more of a challenge, you can break out of the county lines into Derbyshire from Langley Mill train station, where relics from the textile industry stand in stark contrast to the unspoilt nature. The Notts Circular is a stellar option to discover the area surrounding the UNESCO City of Literature from a 360 degree perspective. So while great novels have been penned in this county, now it's time for you to write your own epic on two wheels.
Fittingly for one of the flattest parts of the county, this tour takes you out the postcard-perfect town of Southwell and straight onto the pristine Southwell Trail. There's a great lollipop-shaped loop that takes in Eakring (for plague-related history and the UK's first ever commercial oil well in Dukes Wood), Bilsthorpe, a brief dalliance with Sherwood Pines and Farnsfield before rejoining the Southwell Trail.
It's a really family-friendly tour that stays pretty dry, even in the grimmest conditions that winter throws at us.
When passing Eakring keep your eyes peeled for the Mompesson Cross – it's in remembrance of a certain Reverend Mompesson who moved to the village from Eyam after he'd made some valiant efforts to contain the plague. When he moved to Eakring, the local residents were convinced he was carrying the contagious plague and forced him to live and preach on the outskirts of the village. (Although, to be fair, the agricultural outskirts of Eakring are probably the nicest place to live!)
End the route with a coffee and cake at one of Southwell's many, many cafes. If you run low on energy while out riding then The Veg Shop in Farnsfield is your best bet.
It'd be easy to say that this route is rendered complete by the surprise sight of a little ice cream shack with an honesty box for payments, but really it's a tour that's worth riding due to the sheer number of lesser-known bridleways and gravel farm tracks that link some of the cutest villages around.
While the track that skirts along the River Trent is a real treat but perhaps it's the woodland that greets you immediately upon departure from the car park at Burnt Stump that will win you over first. Despite their proximity to Nottingham, these woods are woefully underused by gravel riders but offer sublime terrain.
Later on there's a short and steep climb out of Woodborough but you'll take a left at the top and turn onto a lush bridleway along Fox Wood that gives you an exclusive balcony-style view of Calverton. From the 1950s to the 1980s the pit in Calverton employed more than 1500 people and the village rapidly expanded to house the workers, who were arriving from all over the UK. Naturally, as the mining industry dwindled, so too did Calverton's population, and by the time the mine closed permanently in 1999 there were only 50 workers left living there.
To sum it up, this ride is as varied in its terrain as it is in its elevation. The lumps and bumps are all worth it though - it's not necessarily the Nottinghamshire that you know, but those views from the tops on the return leg of the ride are pretty nice!
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Let's face it, the flat lands of Notts can sometimes feel a little, well, flat. That's when it's time to break out the county lines and head to hilly Derbyshire for a ride that'll continually surprise you with its diversity.
This at times hilly gravel route escorts you along the finest gravel tracks, farm roads, towpaths and former railways that these two central counties have to offer.
The biggest hills come about a third into the route with the ascents of Middleton Top via the incline up to Black Rocks from High Peak Junction – worth every drop of sweat for the panorama (and the subsequent dead-straight descent is a rapid one!). Most of the towns you'll pass through are well known for the textile industry that began here in the late 1700s and was a burgeoning source of employment and wealth for centuries. As you'll see when you hit Cromford, a lot of the mill buildings have been repurposed for small businesses and cafes, and the beautiful architecture has been lovingly retained. (Don't just take our word for it though: parts of it are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
You can expect a lot of history and hills on this premium gravel ride, as well as more concrete signs that the UK is successfully repurposing its industrial heritage for recreation – the High Peak Trail and cute Cromford Canal are prime examples here.
In short, a hilly tour that delivers such great views and a bit of a challenge.
Old railway lines, a former abbey, Robin Hood's old haunts, and Sherwood Pines - these are the definitive ingredients to elevate this family-friendly tour into one that'll keep you all entertained for its entirety.
Super varied as you head out from Mansfield towards Vicar Water (cafe stop here!), you'll be riding in the shadow of a former pit and your eyes will be drawn to the sight of the pretty impressive headstocks at Clipstone Pit.
After a dalliance with the mellow gravel of Sherwood Pines you'll turn northwards towards the Major Oak (where Robin Hood & his outlaws used as a meeting spot to plan their ambushes). A quick look around the giant tree before more bridleways escort you to Rufford Abbey (yet another potential cafe stop). From here you'll cruising back towards Mansfield via Eakring and Bilsthorpe on a disused railway that's supreme for gravel grinding.
This tour is largely traffic-free and the presence of the Major Oak at exactly halfway on the route provides the perfect setting for a mid-ride break. If you've got time it's worth skirting around Rufford Abbey to watch the cars go through the ford - somewhat hesitantly!
This is the sort of grand tour that'll see you raving about it for weeks. The amount of gravel and traffic-free, virtually unknown bridleways and b-roads will make every minute worth your while.
It does look like a big day out, but don't be alarmed. A large chunk of the route (from Skegby to Rother Valley Country Park) predominantly follows disused railways (first the Teversal Trail, then the Five Pits Trail, then the High Peak Trail), so you'll find that the distance ticks off rapidly.
Pristine gravel eventually leads you onto the Chesterfield Canal for a sublime, leisurely cruise along this little-known waterway. It's very cute but there are some hikers on sunny days. After Worksop, you'll pedal along more twisting and turning singletrack and bridleways that transport you from one of Nottinghamshire's scenic gems to another. We're talking Clumber Park, Rufford Abbey and Sherwood Pines.
Cafe stops are in great supply along this whole route. It starts from Mansfield train station, and trains from Nottingham arrive twice hourly (Monday-Saturday, fewer on sundays) but there's only designated space for 2 bikes on each train. Some friendly conductors might let you off though if you're in a bigger group.
Slightly more unkempt gravel, this shorter Nottinghamshire loop throws back the curtains on a much lesser-known part of the county, where pits and pens once reigned supreme. It's prime literary terrain with both Lord Byron and DH Lawrence having penned some of their greatest works here.
The former colliery town of Hucknall is the starting point and it immediately launches you into the woods along the Linby bike trail. As we're in Notts and not Tuscany, you might not be expecting such white roads, but you'll be surprised. After Newstead there's a short, sharp hill that's a good challenge in Annesley Woods and then you'll be back on pristine gravel. (Ok, fair enough, sometimes it is a little muddy).
It then loops on bridleways past Annesley Hall and America Farm before a long and pretty cool gravel descent to Moorgreen Reservoir. Take a moment before the adrenaline rush to enjoy the view.
After a dalliance on the banks of the reservoir, the tour twists and turns its way back to Hucknall and Linby along bridleways and farm tracks. A real taste of nature in a world where heavy industry once dominated.
Trains depart twice hourly from Hucknall to both Mansfield and Nottingham. Less frequent on sundays. Check out the train times here:
This premium gravel route sets off from Nottingham train station and promptly escorts you out of the urban jungle and onto the riverside. It winds along the river and takes you through the beautiful Attenborough Nature Reserve–the sort of riverside gravel track that you can soar along, but it does get busy on weekends.
From Long Eaton you take a right turn and follow the Erewash Canal until Eastwood. It gets more and more scenic over here, with a littering of small villages. For a while you'll follow Sustrans Route 6 through the grounds of Lord Byron's former home at Newstead Abbey (well worth an ice cream stop here), before some diverse (and more undulating) terrain takes you to Sherwood Pines. From there, you'll cruise along former railways before rejoining the river at the beautiful village of Fiskerton and weaving your way back into Nottingham along the River Trent.
So many options on route to shorten it - you could even take a train home from Newstead (once an hour on the Robin Hood Line) to halve the route.
It's fair to say that this circular tour is pretty extensive and represents the ultimate one-day tour to discover the literary and industrial heritage of Robin Hood's county.
Reaching Nottingham station is simple from all over the UK, as it has direct trains to London, Birmingham, Sheffield etc. But for the local trains if you're planning on a get-out clause from Newstead then check out the times here:
Exploring the southeastern part of the county, this tour couldn't be much flatter or more family-friendly. The tour heads out along the Grantham Canal towpath before a pin-sharp lane (the former A46) whisks you along to the halfway point via the idyllic Car Colston village with its ancient common and grazing cattle to Café Velo Verde. Their soy milk turmeric latte delivers the goods! Bike parking, a great atmosphere, and generous portion sizes are a given.
From here you'll wiggle back via Gunthorpe and the River Trent before a quick detour into Colwick Park and a swift return to Nottingham train station. Sorted!
It might not immediately strike you as an industrial route, but the Grantham Canal goes back to 1797 when it was first built to transport coal, so you can see that the pits & pens have really left their marks on Notts' landscape. For the literary ones amongst you, local author Alan Sillitoe wrote Saturday Night & Sunday Morning about the life of a young Raleigh bikes factory worker. Actually a great book that you could happily read on a bench on the banks of the River Trent when your legs need a break from pedalling.
Both the outbound and the incoming route go through the National Water Sports Centre. If you're lucky you might catch some of the top UK athletes practising their disciplines (the white water rafters have some nifty skills!)