Train to trail — Exploring the UK's bike parks by rail

Mountain Biking Collection by Katherine Moore

For complete beginners to lifelong riders, bike parks or trail centres are fantastic places to spend a day in the dirt. Luckily, in the UK we’re blessed with plenty of them. Typically set in forests or moorland, they feature networks of graded, purpose-built trails that cater for a range of abilities, and usually are accompanied by some great facilities to help you enjoy your ride; bike washes, toilets, car parking and the all-important trail cafe.

Yet one of the aspects that makes these centres so brilliant — their remoteness — can also be their downfall. Suppose you don’t have a car, or want to cut down on using it? Or perhaps you’ve already ridden all the trails in the centre and want to branch out a bit?

That’s why I’ve created this Collection, linking major train stations to these MTB meccas, so you can travel all over the country to sample the best built trails, as well as the natural bridleways, byways, singletrack and gravel roads that lead to them. While there are many, many more trail centres to explore all over the UK, this is a Collection of just a few with some alternative routes to get there, car-free.

The Tours in this Collection vary in length and suitability for different ability levels, though they can all be modified to suit your ambitions. From easy riding like the trails in Cornwall to the more challenging trails of Dalby Forest and Glentress, could you be inspired to try somewhere new?

These areas all boast brilliant riding both within the centres and around them, so I’d really recommend taking a few days if you can to make the most of your trip. You’ll find plenty of campsites and other accommodation options nearby too.

Although a lot of these routes could be ridden with a rigid mountain bike, you’ll definitely be more comfortable on a hardtail. It’s worth remembering that most trail centres offer bike hire, so why not ride to one and then treat yourself to an upgrade for the day?

Although one of the major benefits of trail centres’ purpose built trails means that they can be ridden year-round, the best time of year to ride these Tours is in the summer months when the surrounding natural trails have dried out as some of these areas can be pretty boggy when wet!

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

  • Difficult
    05:16
    38.2 mi
    7.2 mph
    2,825 ft
    2,525 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    Nestled on the southern slopes of the glorious North York Moors, Dalby Forest is a Forestry Commission maintained attraction for many outdoorsy-types. For off road cyclists, you’ll find six different trails from family-friendly green to expert-level black, bike hire and a great trail centre cafe, what’s more to love?!To take in some of the North York Moors as well as this brilliant trail centre, I’ve proposed a route from the train station at the coastal town of Scarborough that crosses the moorland to deliver you to Dalby Forest. You’ll find a campsite at the end of this Tour if you’d like to overnight here, plus you’ll find many other campsites, guesthouses and inn rooms a short ride away. Why not stay overnight for a full weekend of exploring the trails here before heading back to Scarborough or another station?Although the route heads directly west out of Scarborough town to the moorland, there’s nothing stopping you pedalling to the seafront to see the seaside first, especially to enjoy a cuppa in one of the cafes there! Then climb up onto the moors taking the Cinder Track out of town onto the Moor to Sea Cycle Route, which will take you up Lady Edith’s Drive before peeling off the road through Raincliffe Woods on singletrack. The steep climb comes after you cross the North Back Drain and the River Derwent, straight up into Wykeham Forest via Lang Gate. On a quiet and expansive network of forest roads, you’ll rumble along the tops now as you continue west to the edges of Dalby Forest. Descend down on the fire roads to the trail centre to start, where you can not only enjoy something to eat and drink in the cafe, but scout out the trail maps too. We’ve suggested here that you do a lap of the red route, although you should make your own decision based on your ability, experience and confidence. You might want to start with a blue rated trail and work your way up, for example. At 21.3 miles (34.3 km) long, the red route I’ve suggested is a long mountain biking trail, so make sure you take plenty of snacks and water with you. There are lots of options to take shortcuts or turn back if you find you’ve bitten off a bit more than you can chew! The route is mostly singletrack with some fun technical sections including drop-offs, rock gardens and some fun berms.To check out more about the different cycle trails and facilities at Dalby Forest, visit forestryengland.uk/dalby-forest/cycling-and-mountain-biking-trails.

  • Intermediate
    04:27
    32.7 mi
    7.3 mph
    2,025 ft
    2,025 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    A loop from the county capital of Stafford, this mega 32.7 mile (52.6 km) takes in some of the very best mountain biking trails in the Midlands and is not for the faint-hearted! Cannock Chase is a well-known area for riding, nestled between Stafford and Birmingham, offering a great network of trails not only for mountain bikers, but for gravel riders, walkers and horse riders too.You’ll need to be an experienced mountain biker to tackle this route, which features the red rated (or difficult) ‘Follow the Dog’ and ‘The Monkey Trail’ courses. If you’d like to visit the area and are less confident, there are loads of fire roads too and some more intermediate blue rated trails for you to try. Leaving the town centre of Stafford from the train station, after a few roads you’ll hug the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal on the towpath, a flat and easy start (and later finish) to the route that’s traffic free. After crossing the main road through Milford, you’re at the edge of the Chase, where you start to climb up past Oat Hill. Take the Sherbrook Valley Trail to the east and then south, climbing up to the high point of The Butts. Next you’ll cross the road over Penkridge Bank and join the wiggly red-rated trail ‘Follow the Dog’ to reach the Birch Valley Forest Centre, or trail centre hub, where you’ll find Cannock Chase Cycle Centre and the cafe too. Surely time for a snack, right?Now you’ll be in the thick of it, and you have the brilliant singletrack trail of ‘Follow the Dog’ to enjoy first, which leads to ‘Follow the Monkey’ on the other side of the Hednesford Road.This second trail is more technical and demanding, and if you really want to go for it then there’s even a few black-rated sections (severe/expert) that link back up with the main trail. Expect challenging drops, exhilarating jumps, tricky rock gardens, and boardwalks.
    After the whole ‘The Monkey Trail’ loop, rejoin ‘Follow the Dog’ for the second half, rejoining the Sherbrook Valley Trail after the ‘Evil Slab’ section. From here you’ll make your way back to Stafford, following Sher Brook to start, gently descending off the chase. Then you’ll rejoin the way you left the town before, taking the towpath back along the canal to the train station.
    This is a big ride for a single day, so if you’d like to camp on the route and enjoy it over two days, you’ll find a good selection of campsites, holiday lets and even glamping pods close to the trail centre.

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  • Easy
    01:04
    8.88 mi
    8.3 mph
    725 ft
    575 ft
    Easy mountain bike ride. Great for any fitness level. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Despite its steep river valleys, unkempt moorlands and incredible coastal landscapes, Cornwall is often overlooked when it comes to mountain biking. Although trail centres here tend to be small, there are a few great places that are well worth a visit.The neighbouring trails of the National Trust Lanhydrock Estate and Cardinham Woods are just some of those. Very easily accessible from Bodmin train station, both feature brilliant cafes and ample parking, and you can also hire a bike from Lanhydrock if you don’t have one of your own. Start by leaving the centre of Bodmin town to ride to the Lanhydrock Estate to the south-east, taking a cycle trail off of the road to cross over above the A30. Although you’d need to pay to visit the main house on the estate, you can enjoy a drink, meal or snack at the Park Cafe before you hit the trails.I’ve proposed a loop of Blazley’s Trail here (2 miles or 3 km), which you can easily find by following the signposts. It’s a blue-rated trail, so you’ll need some previous mountain biking experience, but it’s nothing too strenuous or challenging. Make sure you check out the skills loop here too. The next half of the ride is a short pootle on the lane away, over the other side of the roundabout. Descend down to the car park at Cardinham Woods, where you’ll find the 7.5 mile (12 km) Bodmin Beast trail. Again, this is a relatively easy blue trail, with plenty of berms and flowy sections. I’ve ridden it fully loaded on a gravel bike so you should be fine! After finishing your lap of the Bodmin Beast, make sure you visit the quaint Woods Cafe for some refreshments. If you’re doing this route as a day trip, it’s a short pedal back into Bodmin, or you can stay overnight at the campsite marked at the end of the Tour, ready to do some more laps the next day! Find out more about the two trail centres here: nationaltrust.org.uk/lanhydrock/features/cycling-at-lanhydrock-cornwall
    forestryengland.uk/cardinham-woods/cycling-and-mountain-biking-trails-cardinham-woods

  • Difficult
    05:12
    39.7 mi
    7.6 mph
    3,250 ft
    2,825 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    A mecca of South Wales mountain biking, the Afan Valley hosts no less than two trail centres, both with a cracking range of carefully crafted trails that cater to all abilities, as well as a network of fire roads and natural trails.Although Swansea is closer to Afan, I’ve proposed a route from the major city of Cardiff, where you’ll enjoy some marvellous hilltop gravel roads on the way and perhaps a little less time on the train! Start from the central train station in Cardiff on the 40 mile (63.9 km) route, following the well-marked Taff Trail out of the city heading north alongside the River Taff. Continue to follow this to Pontypridd, where you’ll leave the flat behind to ride straight up a steep street out of the village and follow the lane to the gravel roads that cut across St Gwynno Forest. After crossing the Maerdy Road, carry on along gravel fire roads past the wind turbines and the beautiful blue waters of Lluest-Wen Reservoir, over the Rhigos Road and into the Afan Valley from the north. Pass Glyncorrwg village and the first trail centre as you ride south. Here you’ll find an excellent cafe and bike shop, plus two red trails and a black trail (more information here afanforestpark.co.uk/1870). You’ll finish at the Afan Forest Park, where you’ll find another bike shop, hire centre and cafe. The trails here range from green (family trail) to black (expert) so there’s something for everyone (more information here afanforestpark.co.uk/1869).If you’re looking to stay the night after your ride to spend the next day on the trails, there are a few good campsites and guesthouses locally to choose from in the valley.

  • Difficult
    03:19
    23.9 mi
    7.2 mph
    1,925 ft
    1,925 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    For anyone living in London or the South-East of England, the gorgeous Surrey Hills are the go-to for cracking mountain biking trails. With a number of built trails on Holmbury, Pitch, Winterfold and Leith Hill, there’s more than enough for a great day’s riding. Besides the built trails, there’s also loads more natural riding, gravel roads and linking bridleways to explore. This circular route makes it easy for you, starting and finishing at the train station in Dorking, a direct route out from central London. Covering 23.8 miles (38.4 km) starting by traversing the North Downs Way before heading south for the Surrey Hills, it's a great choice for a big day trip, or a more leisurely-paced (or more sessioning on the trails) weekender. You’ll find a brilliant choice of campsites, guesthouses, hotels, and youth hostels including Holmbury St Mary YHA all within a short riding distance of the trails. From Dorking, head out west, ramping straight up onto Ranmore Common on the North Downs. You’ll follow the route of the North Downs Way to start (check out more here komoot.com/collection/914765/the-best-of-surrey-and-kent-off-road-north-downs-way). From this high vantage point you’ll enjoy spectacular views to the south, over the hills and trails that you’ll soon be right in the heart of. After taking the trail alongside Ranmore Common Road, drop down off the hillside via the unpaved Drove Road, past the pretty village of Abinger Hammer and up between the houses as you start to climb up to Holmbury Hill. There’s no less than three built and fully waymarked trails here for you to enjoy; Barry Knows Best, Yoghurt Pots and Telegraph Road. Although you can ride these on a rigid bike, you’ll really appreciate some suspension here. Take a single run of each or loop back for multiple runs. The next leg takes you up to Leith Hill, where you can take the Summer Lightning from the Leith Tower at the top all the way back down to the north off the hillside. At 2.3 miles (3.6 km) it’s a trail that just keeps on giving! The final section of this Tour takes you back to the train station in Dorking around the outskirts of Westcott. Check out more about this area of trails here: surreyhillsmountainbiking.co.uk.

  • Difficult
    04:31
    26.8 mi
    5.9 mph
    2,900 ft
    2,700 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    A haven for mountain bikers in the Scottish Borders, Glentress Forest is one of the 7stanes biking centres in Scotland, with trails for everyone from novice to pro. Yet there’s more to the area than just these adrenaline-inducing trails, with an amazing selection of natural trails on the doorstep. You can make the most of these spectacular natural ways by linking the nearby train station in Galashiels with Glentress. Of course, the most direct and easy way to link the two would be to follow the valley road, but where’s the fun in that?! On this Tour you’ll join the Southern Upland Way, pass over the well known Three Brethren Summit, climb up to Minch Moor and blast down the hillside trail into Innerleithen, taking a quick cuppa before completing the last leg along the River Tweed cycle path to the trail centre at Glentress. From there, it’s up to you!As the 26.8 mile (43.1 km) route is a bit of an effort in itself, you might want to consider staying a night or two locally to make the most of this area. You’ll find campsites nearby, plus bunkhouses and MTB-specific accommodation in Innerleithen. To make the journey from Galashiels to Glentress, first head out of the town on the cycle path to Clovenfords, joining the road to the base of Craig Hill. The double track gravel road takes you up the lower slopes heading south-west, heading up to the Three Brethren summit to join the Southern Upland Way.Ride to the west over Broomy Law and Browne Knowe to Hare Law, where you’ll circle round to summit Minch Moor. From the cairn at the summit, it’s a relatively non-technical but a little rocky descent all the way down the hill to the town of Innerleithen in the valley below, and one you won’t forget for a long time! The last stretch from Innerleithen, after stopping for some refreshments perhaps, is an easy, flat stretch along the cycle path that follows the River Tweed. Finish by crossing the main road into the Forest, where you’ll find the trail centre complete with a bike shop and hire centre, cafe, bike wash, showers, lockers and changing rooms. Is this the best trail centre going?Find out more about mountain biking at Glentress here: forestryandland.gov.scot/visit/forest-parks/tweed-valley-forest-park/glentress

  • Intermediate
    03:16
    26.1 mi
    8.0 mph
    2,575 ft
    1,950 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Personally, I think that Lancashire is one of the most underrated off road destinations in the UK. Not only does it boast some corking built mountain biking trails like those at Gisburn Forest, but also some incredible linking bridleways and byways that tell a story of the region’s industrial past. Nestled on the easten flank of the Trough of Bowland, Gisburn Forest has no less than four cycling trails, rated from green to black, which means that there really is something for everyone.This Tour will take you to the trail centre at Gisburn Forest Hub so that you can choose your own trail, via a spectacular off road route from the heart of the city of Lancaster. For ultimate accessibility, the route starts at the central train station, and although you possibly could do a round trip in a day, it would be pretty challenging, so I’d recommend an overnight stay to make the most of the riding here. You’ll find plenty of campsites in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, as well as inns and guesthouses to choose from. Head out of Lancaster to start the Tour along the cycle path through Quay Meadows and parallel to the River Lune heading north-east. You’ll rejoin lanes after the village of Caton to pass through Brookhouse to take the Quarry Road. This turns into an unpaved road as you climb up onto Caton Moor, then descending a short while into Roeburndale to cross the river and pick up Salter Fell Road. Also known as Hornby Road, this has to be one of the most incredible stretches of gravel doubletrack in the country. Crossing right over the moorland along the same path as the Witches Way walk, you’ll be plunged into a remote landscape that seems totally contrasting to the bustle of Lancaster just a short time ago. As you approach Slaidburn at the other end of the road, you’re very close to Gisburn Forest. Take a detour to visit Stocks Reservoir and the visitor centre there before arriving at Gisburn Forest Hub, where you’ll find facilities including bike hire, a cafe, toilets and parking. At Gisburn Forest there are four trails, the blue rated Bottoms Beck, the red trail The 8, easy green-rated forest trails and black-rated sections off the main trails. As always, ride what you feel comfortable with and progress up through the difficulty levels as you warm up. For more about trails here, visit: gisburnbiketrails.com/trail-info.

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    7
  • Distance
    196 mi
  • Duration
    27:04 h
  • Elevation
    16,225 ft

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