Nine great mountain biking places

Matt Rudd

Finding a mountain bike route that proves to be a good fit for your level of experience is important, if you’re to get the most out of your ride. Matt Rudd does the research for you with a selection of trails ideal for beginners, that have enough options to move up a level when you’re ready.

On a road bike, it’s easier to set out without much of a plan and adventure down new stretches of tarmac, and almost chance upon a great route that fits well within your comfort zone – one road is pretty similar to the next!

However, different mountain bike trails can vary in terrain and technical features such as jumps and berms, so it’s a good idea to do a bit of forward planning – especially if you’re looking to get more into mountain biking.

So with the aim of helping you get as much enjoyment as possible on your next mountain bike trip, here’s a selection of eight of the UK’s best routes for beginners:



No list of mountain bike routes would really be complete without a mention of Glentress and its award-winning trails. Part of the 7stanes network of trail centres, this varied collection of routes can be found just an hour outside Edinburgh, in the beautiful Tweed Valley. The 18km red and 30km black routes are designed with more advanced riders in mind, but there’s a 3.5 or 4.5km green route for beginners, and a 16km blue route for intermediates that provide plenty of fun. Back at the car park there’s a free ride section near the café, with lumps and jumps of different sizes to suit different skill levels – ideal for warming up before you hit the trails.

Click here for a trail map 

North east


Kielder Water and Forest Park sits right on the border between Scotland and England, and features a great range of ride options. There’s the green Borderline trail starting from Kielder Village – a 6km ride following the route of the old Border Counties Railway and back, in the valley of the River North Tyne

Starting from Kielder Castle, the blue Osprey trail offers a slightly bigger challenge, at 20.5 km. There are then three red route options designated as difficult, including the Lonesome Pine trail, featuring one of the longest ‘Northshore’ style wooden boardwalk runs in the country. The Deadwater black trail completes the set, with its tricky rocky sections and jumps.

Click here for a trail map

    Green routes are ideal for beginners. They’re mostly wide tracks free from technical obstacles and big climbs or     descents.

    Blue routes are typically a bit more challenging than greens. They’re likely to feature a few small obstacles and     bits of singletrack, but nothing that a rider with a little experience would struggle with.

    Red routes are for the more proficient rider. They’ll include tricky sections such as jumps, sections of exposed     tree roots and drop-offs.

    Black routes are for the highly experienced rider. Often long routes featuring hard climbs and steep descents     with large jumps often over gaps, and plenty of other features that you really have to commit to with confidence.


Thetford Forest

The terrain to the east of England may not provide the same rollercoaster rides as elsewhere, but Thetford Forest, on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk, offers an oasis of riding pleasure. With green, blue, red and black trail options from 8km to 16km in length, there’s a good mix of open forest fireroad and winding singletrack. There’s nothing too technical to ride over here just yet, so Thetford is a great destination for less experienced riders.

Click here for a trail map


Cannock Chase

This West Midlands off-road playground is well known for its red routes – including the Follow the Dog Trail, or newer Monkey Trail, but also the blue Sherbrook Trail and the easy green Fairoak Trail. All these runs are lovingly manicured by local volunteer MTB group Chase Trails. Be sure to take in the Route to Health green trail, home of unique art pieces crafted by local artists and students, and look out for the Fairy Tree!

Click here for a trail map

South east


Home of the mountain bike course for the London 2012 Olympics, Hadleigh has over 18km of trails, giving you the opportunity to tackle the same technical obstacles that tested the medal hopefuls. As well as the Olympic course (red with black grade features) there’s also a 9km and a 1.3 km green route, both offering views of the Thames Estuary and Hadleigh castle.

Click here for a trail map


South Downs

The South Downs Way is a 155km off road trail that runs from Winchester through the South Downs (the UK’s newest National Park) to Eastbourne. The full route takes in the rolling hills of the Downs, with spectacular views across the Weald, out to Sussex Bay and finally of the white cliffs of Eastbourne. If you’re super fit you may manage the full route in one ride, but most riders opt to enjoy the full route over two or three days.

Click here for a trail map

South west


Haldon Forest or the Forest of Dean are definitely worth a trip if your stomping ground happens to be the South West, but it’s wise not to overlook what Dartmoor has to offer. There are over 350km of byways and bridleways to explore within Dartmoor National Park, with one of the most established being the 20km Princetown and Burrator. The moorland feels like a true wilderness, but don’t let that deter you – the trails are easy to follow and the terrain is easy to negotiate on the whole.

Click here for a trail map


Coed Y Brenin

Coed Y Brenin is the founding father of forest trail centres, but its trails have not grown weary with age. The options are under continual development, so you’ll regularly find a new feature or section to explore. The visitor centre has fantastic facilities for pre- and post-ride, including showers and a bike wash. There are eight trails graded green through to black, but the blue MinorTaur trail is a great option to start with if you’re looking to get a gentle introduction to riding on singletrack. With three loops of increasing distances through the stunning scenery, this option is a great way to progress with enough chance to take in the stunning scenery.

Click here for a trail map

North west


As England’s only true mountain forest, Whinlatter offers amazing views of Derwent Water and Bassenthwaite Lake, and the imposing Skiddaw and Helvellyn mountain ranges.

The red Altura run is shaped like a big figure of eight, so there’s the option to complete half and then nip to the visitor centre for a cheeky piece of cake, before completing the second half. The blue route is just challenging enough to let a beginner feel a sense of achievement.

Why not try the mountain bike orienteering challenge? Find each ‘control point’ along the blue trail, and collect as many punches on your card in the set time.

Click here for a trail map