Singletrack aplenty at Bedgebury
Freeride area has skinnies and high-level trails up to 2m off the ground…
…plus double berms, kickers, see-saws and all sorts of other stuff
Brand-new visitor centre will have bike shop/hire and café
Every time a new trail centre is announced in Scotland, Wales or the north of England, the cry goes up from residents of the crowded south-east – “What about something down here?” The thing is that most of the funding that gets trail centres built is intended to attract people to rural areas and boost local economies, and if there’s one thing that the south-east of England probably doesn’t need it’s more people. It can probably cope without more money, too.
But the rural developement paradigm looks set to change. The next trail centre to open has been driven by the Forestry Commission, part-funded by Sport England and is in Kent. The new trails and visitor centre at Bedgebury officially open towards the end of May, but we’ve had a sneak preview.
Bedgebury Forest (off the A21 between London and Hastings) is home to two main loads of trees. You’ve got Bedgebury Pinetum, “the finest collection of conifers on one site in the world,” including 10,000 trees and shrubs, many of them rare and endangered – no bike riding in there, needless to say. Then there’s the forest itself, a mixture of old-growth and new-fangled pine woodland. It’s here that the plethora of new facilities are to be found, moving the forest from being the haunt of occasional dog walkers and shouldn’t-really-be-there bike riders to a multi-faceted family attraction.
Of most interest to mountain bikers will be the all-new singletrack trails and freeride areas. The 2,000 acre forest includes two trail loops, a 10km family cycle track and a 13km singletrack loop. And it really is almost all singletrack, at least in terms of riding time – there’s a few stretches of forest road, but none of them last very long. The rest of it is twisty-turny narrow trails through the woods.
When we rode it, substantial sections were very recently surfaced – it’ll need a few hundred wheels running over it to get properly bedded in, some of the corners were a bit sketchy. It’ll also benefit aesthetically from a few weeks of Spring to encourage stuff to grow along the trail margins. All of this is true of any new trail, of course, and the Bedgebury loop is fundamentally sound. Obviously it’ll evolve somewhat as it gets used, and we’d expect some bits to end up getting tweaked, but given that the forest isn’t all that hilly the trail’ll give you a good work-out. It certainly doesn’t lack for corners. Kent’s not known for its boulders, so it’s not a super-technical trail – its difficulties lie in negotiating lots of corners fast.
At its northern extent, about half-way round, the trail passes through an old quarry. This will become an informal play area, with some rolly bits, drops and jumps. The more serious freerider (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms) will find a treat in store elsewhere in the forest, though. Trail designer Mike Tearle (who’s also responsible for developments near Exeter) and his team have put together a very impressive North Shore-style freeride area using materials from the forest itself. The obstacles are arranged down a slope, with the least challenging at the top and the trickiest lower down. That theory also applies within each obstacle, with them generally being harder to get on to than to ride along and get off – if you can get on there you’re probably capable of riding it.
There’s elevated ladder trails going up to about 2m, skinny log rides down to around 4in wide (some lowish, some highish), various drops (some incorporating see-saws), wooden kickers, a three-way discombobulator (that’s a set of linked see-saws for those not au fait with Shorespeak), some rather fine wooden berms and all manner of other stuff. We didn’t ride it, partly because it wasn’t finished but mostly because we’re a bit scared, but it’s all superbly constructed – critical supports are concreted in, everything’s bolted or screwed together so it can be tightened up and the local materials make it look very “at home”. It’ll be getting a coat of non-slip paint at some point, which’ll detract from the natural look a little but will make it easier to stay on – a compromise that seems fairly worthwhile to us.
Next door to the freeride area is another bit of a slope that is destined to be “adopted” by local riders as a dirt jump area – FC will supply dirt and keep an eye on things, the locals can build things there.
The trails start and finish from the all-new visitor centre (of appropriately all-wooden construction). The centre will include a café, bike shop (run by local shop Evenden Cycles) and bike hire toilets, showers, bike wash and so on. It also overlooks a rather picturesque lake. The cycle trails and forest walks all depart from here, there’s access to the Pinetum and a nearby play area with all sorts of climbing structures, dangly rope things and other things for small children to tire themselves out on. The whole thing looks set to offer a very agreeable family day out, no matter how adventurous your family.
The official opening isn’t until the end of May, but the new centre and trails will be open over the Easter weekend – take a look at www.forestry.gov.uk/bedgebury or call 01580 211781 to find out more.