by Ben Haworth
Report and pics from Neil Cain.
In 1998 a young Ian Warby approached the Forestry Commission about an awkward piece of woodland too steep to be of commercial use. With some fast learning about sustainable trails, a lot of hard graft and input from a world-class downhiller (Rob Warner helped to design the infamous Black Run), Ian converted a forestry off-cut into one of the premier mountain bike centres in the south east of England, and introduced Aston Hill into southern mountain bike folklore.
Ian moved on after nine years successfully running Aston Hill, and a local shop took on the lease. In 2008 the reins were passed over again to the hastily formed volunteer Aston Hill Committee who have since have been running and developing the centre with the Forestry Commission (FC) and, more recently, the financial, administrative and legal clout of the national cycle organisation, the CTC.
Aston Hill is now open 7 days a week with a pay-to-ride scheme operated by the CTC. All the trails are being constantly tuned, with some exciting developments in the pipeline.
The park’s events are pulling in riders from all over the south, and the cross-country (XC) loop is used by at least one pro-level XC racer as a training circuit. It’s fair to say that Aston Hill, once again, is one of the top bike parks in the southern region.
The Aston Hill Bike Park is situated just outside Wendover in the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Beauty. The park features five graded downhills, a 4X track and a two-part XC loop: it is a great venue for riders of all ages and abilities with something to challenge everyone, but is more suited to competent riders during the winter months.
The Red Run doubles as the downhill for the XC loop. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s easy. It’s not as steep as the other tracks, but it does contain a few surprises to keep riders on their toes, with off-camber rooty sections and technical switchbacks. This run is used by riders getting used the to steeper, tighter riding of Aston Hill and is a great trail to build skills in an environment where you can ride safely and as fast as your confidence allows. There are changes afoot here: keep an eye on www.rideastonhill.co.uk for details.
The Black Run is the oldest and probably the most popular trail at Aston Hill, and for good reason: it’s the steepest trail of the park. While DH3 and 4 have steep sections, the Black Run stays steep from the moment it starts right down to the drop into the bus stop at the bottom. On the way down you’ll encounter bermed switchbacks, roots, drops and steep off-camber sections, before merging with DH4 for the final 30 metres.
DH3 is probably the fastest of the five runs with bigger, sweeping turns interspersed with rooty sections. The top section is a gentle slope through the woods with a few small table-tops, before some big bermed turns into the steeper section of the course. While not as sheer as the Black Run, it still has plenty of challenge with fast off-camber sections and rooty drops, before a set of tighter switchbacks at the end.
DH4 uses the same start as the Black, Red and XC runs, but gets down to business a lot early – it branches off almost immediately and heads down from there. As a course it’s somewhere between the Black and DH3 in terms of its technicality and speed and features a large drop halfway down.
DH5 (4-2-3) Built in summer 2009 by World Cup rider John Holbrook, it was the course used for the 2009 Southern Downhill Championships. Keep an eye on www.rideastonhill.co.uk for developments.
The 4X course, with a mix of doubles and table tops, and the infamous road gap two thirds near the bottom is still a regular venue for riders with cameras capturing their mates boosting off the head-high lip. The 4X is high on the list of projects to undertake in the future – with funds and some hard work it will be restored to its former glory.
The XC loop is separated into two distinct halves with a combined length of approximately six miles. The first half starts off with a singletrack loop which is rooty, swooping, undulating and testing, before the second half which consists of the Red Run downhill followed by a steep, switchback climb back up before some more swooping, undulating singletrack to finish off. It’s currently in a state of change – expect some serious improvements over the winter of 2010.
Parking is onsite with room for approximately 60 cars, paid through the CTC at www.ctc.org.uk/astonhill, which also covers your riding day pass. Further parking is available at Wendover Woods’s car park.
Accommodation, food and drink:
The nearest towns are Wendover, Aston Clinton and Tring. While all three have B&Bs, Wendover and Tring have a greater variety of eateries and places to stay. For the nighthawks among you, it’s worth noting that several pubs in Wendover and Tring have late opening, but the nearest clubs are in Aylesbury with most locals choosing to take the 40 minute train ride into central London.
Aston Hill Mountain bike club has a BBQ on site during the summer at the weekends. The very good ‘Café in the Woods’ is over the road in Wendover Woods and provides a warm welcome whilst serving coffee, tea, hot and cold sandwiches, and cake.
If you’re partial to your ale, it’s worth noting that there are several very good micro breweries in the area, with Tring Brewery and the Chiltern Brewery springing to mind. A lot of tucked-away local pubs carry beer by at least one of these and they’re well worth a snifter. Using Aston Hill as a base, it’s very easy to put together a good XC route using the local rights of way to visit a few.
From the South:
Get to junction 20 of the M25 and take the A41 north towards Aylesbury. After approx. 16 miles take the second Tring exit, signposted Tring, Aston Clinton, Wendover and Whipsnade Zoo. Take the first exit off the roundabout at the top of the sliproad, signposted Aston Clinton and Wendover, and follow the road towards Aston Clinton. After approx. 400m turn left, signposted Wendover. The road winds up a hill and into a 40 speed limit – just inside this speed limit there is a turning left, signposted Wendover Woods and Aston Hill. Take this turn, drive up the hill past the golf club and you’ll find Aston Hill on your left (this is the road that the original Aston Martins were tested on – have a look at the small plinth by the Aston Hill entrance).
From the North:
From the M40: come off at junction 9, signposted Bicester and Oxford. Turn left, towards Bicester. At the next roundabout, near Bicester Village retail park, turn right towards Aylesbury. This road is the A41 – you’ll need to follow this all the way through Aylesbury and out the other side. Once past Aylesbury, follow the A41 (now a dual-carriageway) to the exit signposted Tring, Aston Clinton, Wendover and Whipsnade Zoo. Take the fourth exit off the roundabout at the top of the sliproad, signposted Aston Clinton and Wendover, go over the A41 and follow the road towards Aston Clinton. After approx. 400m turn left, signposted Wendover. The road winds up a hill and into a 40 speed limit – just inside this speed limit there is a turning left, signposted Wendover Woods and Aston Hill. Take this turn, drive up the hill past the golf club and you’ll find Aston Hill on your left (this is the road that the original Aston Martins were tested on – have a look at the small plinth by the Aston Hill entrance).
From the M1:
Leave the M1 at junction 11 for Dunstable and turn right, towards Dunstable. Follow the A505 through Dunstable on 30 limit dual-carriageway. In the centre of the town the lanes will merge – keep going straight. At the traffic lights in the centre of town go straight over, signposted Tring. This road is the B489 – stay on it out of Dunstable, over a single mini roundabout and a pair of mini roundabouts by a car dealership, past Ivinghoe Beacon until you reach a T-junction. Turn left here, signposted Tring. This is the B488 – follow this over two roundabouts, through the outskirts of Tring and past the small industrial park. When you reach the roundabouts over the A41, take the third exit off the roundabout signposted Aston Clinton and Wendover, go over the A41 and follow the road towards Aston Clinton. After approx. 400m turn left, signposted Wendover. The road winds up a hill and into a 40 speed limit – just inside this speed limit there is a turning left, signposted Wendover Woods and Aston Hill. Take this turn, drive up the hill past the golf club and you’ll find Aston Hill on your left (this is the road that the original Aston Martins were tested on – have a look at the small plinth by the Aston Hill entrance).
The postcode is HP22 5NQ
Googlemap says that it’s here:
The nearest stations are Tring or Wendover – see www.nationalrail.co.uk for further information.