East Midlands Easy Route – pdf
Total Ascent: 131m
East Midlands Medium Route – pdf
Total Ascent: 347m
East Midlands Tough-ish Route – pdf
Total Ascent: 443m
Living in that interesting mountain biking ‘black-hole’ that is North West Leicestershire (the Bermuda triangle bounded by junctions 23 and 24 of the M1 and junction 13 of the A42) longish, challenging local routes are desperately difficult to come by.
While Charnwood Forest has a few concentrations of well horseridden field-edge/farm track bridleways (with occasional opportunities to divert onto short sections of woodland singletrack) – it’s invariably necessary to link these sections with quite busy road miles. That’s not to say the likes of Gracedieu, Swithland and Martinshaw Woods aren’t blessed with some really sweet trails, which make fine evening rides in the sociable company of several ‘Singletrack’ regulars, a regular feature of my mid-week riding – but the variations are somewhat limited.
Over the past few years I’ve adapted and extended a medley of rides on the boundaries of Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire (aka The National Forest) that are interesting enough to make you feel you’ve done a hard day’s riding – but not so daunting as to put off newcomers or less experienced riders.
The going can become very heavy during winter months, but with a little planning it’s possible to ride here all year – provided you accept the need to factor in a bit more tarmac than you’d perhaps prefer. Well, that’s the downside – the upside is that the area is well served with bridleways, the trails tend to be quiet and relations with horse riders and landowners are excellent. While we can’t claim the dramatic scenery of the Peaks or the concentrated dense forest of Cannock, the countryside is well wooded and pleasantly rolling, and there are climbs which demand not only stamina but also some technical skills too.
The area is undergoing considerable change (for the better) as the new National Forest is being progressively developed. Public access is a key strategy in the project and already new riding opportunities are appearing. Since recreational horse riding is very popular in the area, riders’ wishes are being taken on aboard by the National Forest team, and this can only benefit us bikers, as more bridleways are created. As usual, we’ve given you a choice of three routes: two are based in Ticknall – a very attractive South Derbyshire village, home of the late Ted Moult, famous for his homespun radio philosophy (and Everest Double Glazing) and now the access point to Calke Abbey. The village itself is
conveniently accessible from both the A50 and the motorway network and apart from a resurgent village store (hot drinks and food) there are two welcoming pubs – both of which provide good, reasonably priced food (take your boots off.) There’s a large, free Village Hall car park with excellent toilets, boasting a copious supply of hot water – a perfect base for your ride.
It’s probably worth mentioning Calke Abbey again. It’s a former large private estate, the home of the Harpur-Crewe family, which had fallen into decay, before being acquired by the National Trust. There are hundreds of acres of open
access parkland, but the major interest is the house itself, which is a ‘time capsule’. As the Harpur-Crewe family slipped into terminal decline (the last survivor being a confirmed bachelor), rooms were simply closed off. It took many years for the NT to catalogue and organise the contents but now the house is open daily and well worth a visit. Many parts of the house are just as they were in the early 1900’s and provide a real insight into estate life. Perfect if you want to combine a family day out with riding. There’s also sailing on Staunton Harold Reservoir, the delights of Staunton Hall
and Craft Centre (Stables Tea Room) and Donington Park within a couple of miles. ‘Round Robin’, the first (easy) ride is ideal for beginners/family groups and stays in rideable condition most of the year – there’s only a very small amount of tarmac linking the off-road sections, and by and large it’s quiet and largely unaffected by traffic. Total distance is about 15km. and taking less than two hours, it’s an ideal summer evening ride.
The second is my Ticknall Tour – the best combination of bridleways, RUPPs, gravel surfaced lanes and Forestry land the area can offer, with some very enjoyable wooded singletrack, sandy climbs and gravel descents and bags of opportunities for further exploration. I can’t in all honesty call this ‘hard’ – but it’ll bite you back if you don’t treat it with a little respect. (32km. And allow 3-4 hours)
The final ride (Rushcliffe Loop) takes in the compact network of bridleways centred on East and West Leake in South Notts – a little tricky in places, with a couple of short, stiff climbs and almost certainly heavy going in winter months. There are couple of welcoming pubs that do good food enroute and a cosmopolitan mix of takeaways and pubs in East Leake village, which is the ideal base for this ride. (25km and 2-3 hours)
Here we go then on the Ticknall Tour…
We (myself, Chipps, Steve and Cy Turner) were very fortunate to be blessed with a dry, sunny day to photograph this ride after a spell of biblical rain. I was frantic with worry that the whole ride would be ruined by pits of glutinous mud. Well, mud there was – hey this is an English winter – but none of it so heavy as to dull our pleasure or force us into
re-routes. In many respects a fine patina of slime adds to the experience; it certainly makes picking lines crucial and knowing when to put the power down does help to keep you upright (although there were a few comedy dismounts during the day)
Our first hurdle was at the bottom end of Gorsey Leys, it’s always damp here even in the height of summer, but the Forestry have been logging recently (which is probably when the secret ‘Shore’ sections were discovered and dismantled) and there’s a devastated 300m section of former fireroad that demands considerable effort to navigate before getting back onto the good gravel surface. Ignore the tempting singletrack on either side of the bridleway…
Shortly after this we had our first puncture (the thorny victim was Cy – who had managed to forget to pack any spare tubes). Still, time for a chat overlooking the twee St Brides barn conversions that have all but replaced working farms around here.
Question: Why does he need a ride on mower when his lawn is only 20m square?
Possible answer: It came with his Aston Martin DB9. Who knows? We press on in sociable rather than race mode – with plenty to talk about; the excesses of the previous night, Cy’s second prototype Cotic full sus bike, the excesses of the previous night…
The low sun’s watery light and the carpet of yellow leaves made for wonderful scenes and there were several ‘photogimping’ stops – “just do that bit again”, “err can you do it again please”, “just one more – and DON’T look at the camera.”
Up past the monster (the pikes not the pool) Pike pool at Seven Spouts passing yet more barn conversions, over the road, down past ‘Hangman’s Stone’ (on a new Bridleway) and a long smooth cruise via a small wooded section to rejoin the road at Milton. Left and then next bridleway right.
This is known to me and my chums as the ‘bastard sandy climb’. You’ll soon realise why. Not steep, not long, not technical, just very unpleasant. Right at the woods facing you and enjoy the 30+mph downhill. Watch for stray pheasants and men with guns. Turn left and climb the tricky bridleway along the edge of the wood and then enjoy the twisty, rooty descent to Cherry Tree Cottage. The bridleway actually crosses the lawn – but there’s a more interesting alternative of uncertain legality which crosses back to the bridleway lower down (a bit of a ‘Wall of Death’ this one, though – watch the swamps and the drop to the stream…)
Rejoin the Repton road and turn left up a track (recently diverted from OS map) and right through field gate. Now for a bit of fun; this bridleway (sheep trail) is probably the narrowest in the world. – it contours around the hillside for a mile or so. It’s off camber with a steep slope on your right and overhanging trees to force you off balance, added to that it’s
only about 9in wide…
Back onto tarmac and through the hamlet of Bretby. Can I suggest a diversion here? The Garden Centre at Bretby has an excellent café attached, good value, monster portions – just be prepared to be the youngest there by a good many years (yes – even me.) They don’t seem to mind muddy boots either.
Retrace your steps and carry on through the grounds of the former Orthopaedic Hospital (more barn conversions) via an interesting descent and climb and then over what was a racehorse training gallop (filled with off-cuts from the Pirelli tyre factory in Burton) and down the very tricky, rutted, wide descent. There are options here – either right and through
Hartshorne village (pubs) or as we did, left and then tackle the gruelling tarmac climb up Greysich Hill.
You now take a left fork down a broken, muddy, off-camber track past, yes you guessed, yet more barn conversions to join the excellent Permissive Bridleway that runs the entire length of Foremark Reservoir. There’s good views across towards the Peaks and the massive Toyota factory in the middle distance. Cross the road at the bottom of the drive
and re-join the bridleways to take you back to Ticknall.
Hopefully during the ride you’ll have noticed the extensive woodland that’s being developed here as part of the National Forest. Given that the area is already very popular with horse riders, we hope we’ll soon be enjoying many new trails.
None of these routes are ‘epics’ in any sense of the word, but they all offer the best of legal local riding. All the routes are well used by generally friendly horse riders and relationships with them and local walkers and farmers are reassuringly cordial.
Those of you who are ‘local’ will no doubt be queuing up to tell me that I’ve missed the best bits out… I’ve been riding around here for many years and I’m well aware of all the other ‘secret’ spots that local riders enjoy. I’m also aware of the recent problems in Robin Wood associated with unauthorised ‘North Shore’ development. Hopefully local riding
won’t suffer following that. The remedy is in our own hands.
Give them a go if you’re nearby or passing through – but be careful you don’t fall into the ‘black hole’.
Ticknall village is conveniently close to both the A50 (A514 Melbourne turn), A42 (J13 – A512) and M1 (J 24/24A) Careful crossing the Swarkestone bridge – it’s mighty tight in places. Nearest fuel is four miles away at Tesco in Ashby (24hrs) where there’s also a cheap in-store café and a MacD’s on the adjacent A42 junction.
The Ashby TIC is the nearest – 01530- 411767. There’s a wealth of non- biking activities in the area from coal mining history, via canals to restored steam railways. Twycross Zoo (Brook Bond Chimps) is nearby too
B & B’s
The Staff of Life (www.thestaffofl ife.co.uk – 01332 862479) does good food and accommodation. The Chequers Inn (01332 678113) also advertises B &B and there are any number of good hotels and B & B’s in nearby Melbourne and Castle Donington which thrive on the Donington racetrack.
The Staff of Life (See above) has an extensive menu ranging from cheap and cheerful to pretentiously pricey! (You’ll need to take your muddy boots off at the door – but it’s otherwise very welcoming) The Village Store on the main street has recently been taken over by a couple who seem very keen to please – you can get hot drinks and food
there. We can thoroughly recommend the Bretby Garden Centre Café (01283 703355) Cheap, good and plentiful fresh food and home made cakes. Slightly off route, but well worth a detour are the Staunton Stables Tea Rooms (01332 864617)
Bike Shops in Burton and Ashby are the nearest – best come well prepared, especially if its hedge cutting season… Leisure Lakes at Breaston are open on Sundays, too (01332 872 947)