Mountain Bike - Swinley Forest

Posted: Sunday, 28 July 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,

Sir Thomas Beecham is often cited as the originator of the quote, "Try everything once except incest and folk dancing." So with this in mind, I made my first ever visit to a proper mountain bike trail centre today. I was following an invitation to do a tour around Swinley Forest.
Should you have never heard of it, Ride Swinley have the following to say about the area:
Situated to the South-West of Windsor Great Park, Swinley Forest stretches from Bracknell in the north to Bagshot in the south.  It is owned and managed by the Crown Estate and comprises over 2600 acres of woodland and gently undulating hills.
The woods provide some of the best mountain biking in south-east England, with many off-road single track as well as extensive fire road.

The trails through Swinley Forest were originally created and maintained by a group of local enthusiasts known as the Swinley Action Group. In September 2012, the Crown Estates began to close the trails and implement their own designs, this has caused a lot of sour grapes, especially as the new trails were designed without any input from Swinley Action Group. This type of heavy handed behaviour goes against my libertarian outlook and smacked of overly sanitising a natural resource too. However, as some fellow RetroBikers wanted to give the new layout a go, I decided to join them and decide for myself.

Swinley Forest is in easy reach of London, probably little more than an hour by car from my home. But I really wanted a break from being in a car and decided to take the train. It's not an especially long distance to cover, but the branch line service from Clapham Junction to Martins Heron stops at every station which gets a bit tedious. From Martins Heron station it is just 5 or so minutes ride to The Lookout Discovery Centre where all the trails begin and end. 

It was a joy of being able to ride with experienced locals and just play "follow the leader", without any consideration of the route or need to refer to maps.
We started on the intermediate "blue" section, which seemed quite tricky at first, until you got into the flow of all those berms (another first for me). After an hour or so we had covered everything and it was mooted to move on to the expert level "red" sections. I was the only rider on a totally rigid bike, but not wanting to be a party pooper, immediately elected to give it a try. Some of these red sections were quite a technical challenge, narrow, steep, bumpy and twisty too. I took it all at a snail's pace and imagine I must have looked somewhat geriatric, but made it through without any involuntary dismounts.

RetroBikers at Swinley Forest

When we progressed back onto blue graded sections to return to the start it seemed so much easier than just an hour earlier and started to become fun rather than challenging. I can see how with practice and familiarity, the speed of both riding and crashing would begin to climb.

In conclusion, I was pleased to find that there are an excellent mix of trails at Swinley Forest, perfectly maintained and very professionally organised.  It is also unusual, in this day and age, to find a leisure venue that is effectively free too. Or perhaps the Crown Estates have already put up "Wanted" posters for the geriatric RetroBiker who failed to buy a ticket.