With over 40 square miles of ancient woodland glades managed by the Forestry Commission, we head to the fabled Forest Of Dean downhill trails to see what’s on offer in the Gloucestershire hills.
How to get to the Forest of Dean
Getting to the trail centre is easy. For those coming from farther afield, the M5 will be your guide. Pop in the Forest of Dean postcode GL16 7EH to get to the trail centre car park.
The Cycle Centre opening times are Winter: November to March 9am to 5pm, closed Tuesdays. Summer: April to October 9am to 6pm. Parking at the centre is pay and display, £3.00 per day Nov – Feb and £3.50 Mar – Oct. Not too bad.
Check out the map below where you can see all the XC and DH routes at the Forest of Dean.
If you’re looking to make a weekend of it and need accommodation, check out forestholidays.co.uk for cabins.
This site has some of the best trail facilities in the UK with bike hire, a decent cafe and a well stocked bike shop. There are bike cleaning facilities and, more importantly for riders like us, there is a well established uplift service.
FlyUp Downhill run uplift services both here and at Gatwon in Devon and are regularly fully booked come the weekend. Unfortunately, we forgot to book our uplift passes in advance.
However, whilst they are busy, there is the option to pay-per-ride on the day when there are spaces available on the van. At £2 a time this can work out as economical if you plan on stagger your use of it and brave the 15-20 minute push up track to the summit.
“…any space on the uplift mate?”
The guys took great care of our bikes, the service was friendly and there was an atmosphere akin to being with the naughty kids on a school trip on the ride up to the top at the back of the bus.
This was a better service from what we have experienced with other uplift services, mentioning no names *cough* France.
All of the downhill routes start at the top, somewhat obviously, and then spread out across the face of the hillside with varying degrees of difficulty and slipperiness of root (we’re looking at you Mr Rooty!).
We quickly found our favourites and it was tempting to session these all day but when we branched out we were pleasantly surprised by tracks such as Ski Run and Endo as well as the final descent on the blue route which snakes around the whole of the Forest of Dean. Don’t let the grades put you off, that blue was kick ass!
The hillside is easily navigable due to the fire road snaking up the hill. You will find yourself at this fire road regularly and can access all of the trails from here, whilst catching your breath in our case! In all instances the trails will come out back at the trail centre and its a choice to push up or pay from there.
The clear favourite on the day was ‘Corkscrew’ which like most of the trails begins at the very top and splits off from other ‘Three graded’ trails after the first thrilling section of jumps. It takes a muddy but rooty run down the side of the mountain, taking in a few larger table tops and drops that won’t challenge the average rider.
This trail can easily be done on your downhill bike but was just as easy for us on the enduro bike too.
Tyre choice at the FoD DH trails is important as you will be getting to know the muddy, rooty and slippery track extremely well.
We regretted running Ardent’s on our enduro bike, they could not handle the mud and left us scrabbling for grip, especially on the myriad of rooty sections the forest throws at you.
We fared better on Maxxis Minion’s (supertacky) as these could clear the mud more easily and dug in through the corners better. Next time we will come back a mud tyre; a Muddy Mary or maybe even a Swamp Thing would be a better choice for this, and for us, tyre choice can really make or break a day here.
One of the trails which put the biggest grin on our faces was the Freeminer Trail. We cheated a little and joined it near the end where it meets the uplift road. Starting here you can quickly pick up speed, with a little help from your pedals, into a long, very flowing series of berms and table tops. These can be attempted by anyone but will only really be enjoyed at speed! See if you can get a bit of air here. We did. Maybe.
This part of the trail drains well thanks to a hard pack surface and is a great first run to get yourself accustomed to at the start of the day. The rest of the DH routes are very muddy.
For our money the biggest challenge was the ‘three graded’ GBO track which certainly left us feeling foolish, we were lucky enough to witness local rider and 4X champion Katy Curd coaching a promising youngster here. What a lucky kid.
This track finishes with a series of large dirt jumps and a road gap for the more adventurous and/or speedy.
Its tempting to sit and watch locals rip this apart from your armchair in the car park but we would recommend giving it a go at the earliest opportunity. The downhill trails reminded us of summers in Morzine, briefly, before we heard the Drum ‘n’ Bass emanating from the locals in the car park again.
There is no denying that this is a downhiller’s wet dream (remember those tyre choices!) and whilst you can ride this on a 6” Trail Bike (and we did, for our sins) it is far more enjoyable on something bigger.
There are cross country routes, or at least we presume so from the level of Strava 29ers cruising around the car park looking for networkings opportunities, but this is a undeniably one of the best DH trails in the UK.
Bring your body armour, your full face and even your neck brace to really get the most out of the Forest of Dean. We will certainly be back as soon as possible. As soon as it is drier.
We leave you with some assorted photos from our eventful day.