- Beyond Hamsterley by Neil Gander
- ISBN 0-9551454-0-6
Hamsterley Forest in the north-east of England is home to one of the country’s biggest trail building projects, with £200,000 spent so far and more on the way. It’s also at the centre of lots of the sort of riding that seems to be termed “natural” these days, even though it isn’t really. But you know what we mean – trails that weren’t built specifically to ride bikes on.
Thus Neil Gander’s Beyond Hamsterley treats the forest more as a portal to the surrounding countryside than an end in itself. It’s a route guide “book” – the quote marks are there because it’s actually a chunky hardback binder containing a loose-leaf route card for each of the 23 routes included.
The routes are spread across County Durham, Northumberland and a bit of Yorkshire, but they’re mostly within an area bounded by the A1(M) to the east, the A66 to the south and west and the A69 to the north, with Hamsterley in the middle somewhere. They’re all graded for length and difficulty from Green through to Black, with an explanation of what that actually means at the front. There’s a sheet of route summaries and then the routes themselves.
Each route is printed on a jersey pocket-sized card, with a proper OS map extract on one side and stats and directions on the other. The routes are plotted on the maps using Tracklogs software, and the printed results aren’t of fantastic quality – the trails are highlighted with a double thick black line which has come out a bit jaggy on the diagonals and the number flags that tie them in with the text descriptions tend to get a bit lost. But you can see where you’re meant to be going and we prefer having annotated OS maps to maps illustrated from scratch. Obviously with routes between 9 and 40km in length, the quantity of text varies considerably – the shorter ones tend to have photos on to fill up the space. You also get a plastic wallet to stash the card in on your ride – it’s still a good idea to take a proper map, but taking one card in a wallet out with you is a much more sensible idea than carting around a whole book. Descriptions are clear, with grid references, distances and landmarks. An accompanying CD with GPS files is available, too.
A nice touch is the route option section for each route. As well as possibly bail-out options, most routes have additional loops and sections that can be added to make them longer. Some of the descriptions are a bit flowery and the author’s writing style is occasionally a little gushing, but that’s a minor niggle. Oh, and the photo on the front cover is flipped – the bikes have the transmissions on the wrong side…