A man and a woman cycling along a mountain bike trail with ferns either side
A man and a woman cycling along a mountain bike trail with ferns either side

4 UK mountain bike trails you really have to try...

Our pick of some of the best mountain bike trails that you might not have heard of - but really should try.

Grafham Water cycle trail, Cambridgeshire

If you haven’t hopped on your bike to explore this glorious 10-mile stretch of waterside trails, then this should definitely be rectified the next time you’re in the East of England.

The main cycle loop at Grafham Water is traffic free, wide, suitable for all abilities and ages and there are plenty of places to stop for a breather without getting in the way of other riders or the occasional hiker. It’s also hard packed, so you can enjoy spectacular views of the reservoir all year round, even in the depths of a wet winter. Don’t be fooled by the East Anglian location, there are a few climbs to be tackled, nothing too challenging or technical but enough to get the heart rate going.

For the more adventurous riders who want to challenge themselves to ride further or on more technical terrain, there are plenty of single-track routes to explore that are properly off road and can get very muddy after heavy rain.

Grafham Water has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest for over 30 years. The western end has a 280-acre nature reserve with ancient woodlands, reed beds and ecologically important populations of several bird and amphibian species.

There are also bike hire places on site if you haven’t brought your own wheels with you.

Bodmin Beast trail, Cornwall

We think the 12km Bodmin Beast cycle trail sets the benchmark for single track trails in Cornwall. It takes you on a snaking tour of the wooded slopes of the Cardinham Valley with a number of technical climbs and descents, tight corners, small step downs, rollers and table tops that get the blood pumping.

Be warned, the trail is exposed to steep unfenced side slopes in places, so this is one for the intermediate and experienced level riders (blue grade).

If you’re looking for even more of a challenge, there are two sections of red grade trail, which loop off the main Bodmin Beast route.

Monsal trail, Derbyshire

Part of the National Cycle Network, the Monsal bike trail is a brilliant way to experience the limestone dales of the Peak District National Park. The trail forms part of a disused railway line, which was closed in 1968 and converted in 2010-2011 into a traffic-free cycle track that runs between north Bakewell and Blackwell Mill in Chee Dale. The route follows the river Wye, taking you through several tunnels, and between steep gorges, through surrounding limestone hills and across the spectacular Monsal Dale viaduct.

It may not be the most challenging of trails – it’s mainly flat - but it more than makes up for that with the mysterious disused railway stations, long, curved tunnels and abandoned platforms, which give a slightly eerie feel of biking back in time.

A major highlight is the Headstone viaduct, a picture-perfect structure that spans the beautiful River Wye. It’s 300 feet (91m) long, with five 50 feet (15m) arches, and is 70 feet (21m) tall at its highest point. As you ride across, you’ll be rewarded with a perfect aerial view along the Upper Wye Valley.

Tarka trail loop, Devon

For a challenge of endurance rather than off-road ability, you’ll struggle to find a better option than the Tarka trail. Inspired by Henry Williamson’s famous 1927 novel, Tarka the Otter, it’s the longest continuous cycle path in the UK and encompasses 261 km of glorious Devon countryside and rivers, and also skirts the edges of both Exmoor and Dartmoor.

The southern loop of the trail incorporates one of the UK’s longest continuous traffic-free walking and cycling paths, with a large section that uses converted railway tracks to take you deep into the beautiful North Devon countryside. It has superb views across the mouth of the Taw Estuary and the full route features several specially commissioned sculptures, benches, and shelters where you can take a much-needed breather.

The official starting point for the 180m figure-of-eight loop is the town square in Barnstaple, just outside the Barnstaple museum of North Devon. Cycle hire is available from Barnstaple or, if you're arriving from the south, from Okehampton.

The UK certainly has plenty to offer mountain bikers. Have we piqued your interest in any of these fabulous locations?

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