The North Face trail

Bikemagic Bikemagic

tnf_trail_jez1_lo (20K)

Did anyone order a berm?

tnf_trail_jez3_lo (6K)

tnf_trail_snowman_lo (5K)

(Left) Over the boardwalk (Right) Don’t fancy yours much

tnf_trail_jez2_lo (13K)

Quite a view

tnf_trail_sue_lo (6K)

tnf_trail_woodcutter_145 (8K)

(Left) Sue Thomas officially opens the trail (Right) The penalty for running bar ends on risers is quite severe

We’re almost blasé about new Forestry Commission trails opening in Wales or Scotland. But a new trail in England is still something of an occasion, and The North Face trail in Grizedale is the first purpose-built trail in the north-west. It’s just been officially opened (although you’ve been able to ride it for a while) which seemed as good an excuse to go and check it out as any.

Grizedale’s an interesting location for this kind of trail. Lying between the tourist hot-spots of Coniston Water and Windermere, you wouldn’t think it’s the kind of place that would need to pull in more visitors. And the roads on the way to the visitor centre don’t seem to lend themselves to the thousands of riders that are likely to descend on any new trail centre. But what we’re really interested in is how it rides…

After a polite pause while former XC National Champion Sue Thomas performed the symbolic cutting of the, um, inner tube, we were off on the just under 10 mile forest loop. The first thing that struck us was that the bit of forest we were riding through was good old “proper” forest, with a variety of wibbly wobbly deciduous trees arranged entirely at random. We’ll be honest, we were expecting a slight sense of pine plantation could-be-anywhere familiarity – the old-growth stuff definitely adds character, though.

One fairly familiar element is that, in common with many other purpose-built trails, most of the height gain comes up front – The North Face trail essentially goes up, does lots of undulating and traversing high up and then swoops back to the centre. There are nine distinct singletrack sections across the ten miles, with the first climb being one of them.

It’s a fairly mellow gradient, easy if you just want to drift up but worth attacking if you’re feeling fast. There are plenty of twiddly bits to keep things interesting, including several wooden bridges. Later in the trail you’ll encounter some very extensive boardwalk sections, some with alternative skinny lines, several with drops and wonky cambers to keep you on your toes. There’s also the occasional wooden berm to liven up some of the corners. We’re not quite so sure about these – the boardwalks do actually bridge squishy bits of ground, so they’re not completely gratuitous, but the berms seem to be just an end in themselves. Fun, though…

A lot of the trail is out in the open, to the extent that it’s actually quite a shock to get into some dense woodland towards the end. The singletrack sections have a pleasing variety of pace – some earlier purpose-built trails manage to feel like the same section most of the way around, but each section of this one manages to feel distinctly different from the others. Some are slow and tight, some are fast and sweeping.

There’s a fair bit of rock around the place, and a lot of the trail is surfaced. It’s mostly pretty well run in, although a couple of stretches were extremely sloppy when we rode it. Trail builder Russell Burton told us that some sections had suffered from recent freeze/thaw conditions that had “exploded” the surfaces, but that they’d bed back in with use in a matter of days. So there’s your excuse for another lap sorted…

£167,000 has gone into this trail, thanks to The North Face, Rural Regeneration Cumbria and the Forestry Commission. Graeme Prest from the Forestry Commission said: “The North Face Mountain Bike Trail is an important development for Grizedale and the Lake District. About a quarter of the people who visit the Forest go cycling and this will provide an exciting new route for them to try out. We are delighted with the support we have had from The North Face and Rural Regeneration Cumbria that has made this new route possible.”

Keith Byrne, the Sales and Marketing Manager of The North Face, said: “With the growing popularity of mountain biking in Britain there has been a real need for a top quality purpose built track in the Lake District. So we have been really pleased to sponsor this new trail. Grizedale provides a spectacular location for a mountain bike trail so I’m sure The North Face Mountain Bike Trail will be a big hit with people visiting the Forest.”

There’s plenty of other riding both in the forest, and the visitor centre has a café, shop and bike hire centre (with the ever-useful jetwash). And there’s talk of another, more technical, trail in the forest too…

tnf_trail_marker_145 (6K)

Vital statistics

  • Location Grizedale Forest Park, Cumbria
  • Grade Red (difficult)
  • Length 15.5km (9.7 miles)
  • Features Boardwalks, wooden berms, log ride, drops, rock sections
  • Further information www.forestry.gov.uk/thenorthfacetrail
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