Over the last few months I’ve been managing to ride Glentress fairly regularly and have got to know the trails pretty well – something I appreciated recently when, having forgotten that the clocks had gone back, I found myself blasting down in near darkness, trying to beat the sun.
I feel really lucky to have such a great mountain biking centre nearby and love being able to rip down its awesome trails able to anticipate (almost) every drop, berm and exposed root. However, as good as it is to ride reassuringly familiar local trails, I also love to visit new ones and test myself on unfamiliar terrain. After all, it’s very well to tear down a trail that you know like the back of your hand, but an altogether different matter to do the same on a trail that you haven’t ridden before.
As Dan and I have family in Liverpool, we spend quite a lot of time down that way, and whenever possible try to tag on a bit of mountain biking. As the journey down takes you through Dumfriesshire and The Lake District, there are plenty of places to stop off at en route, with loads more within easy reach of Liverpool. On our last trip we stopped at Ae Forest in Dumfriesshire so this time decided to head for Whinlatter in The Lakes.
It might sound crazy but, although I’ve driven up and down the M74 and M6 countless times, I’d never actually ventured deeper into The Lake District before. I was immediately struck by how beautiful it is and I couldn’t wait to get on my bike and view it all from above.
Having seen and heard great things about Whinlatter, I’d been desperate to visit for some time. Resisting the temptation to ditch the bikes and follow the Gruffalo, we decided to ride the red ‘Altura trail’, which consists of two separate loops of around 10km each.
We took the North Loop first, not for any particular reason other than we happened to find its starting point first. After a challengingly steep climb near the start, it’s a steady ascent to the top at 500m. From here you’re rewarded with an exhilarating descent, which takes you through rocky and forest sections before you pop back out into the open for what has to be the highlight of the entire trail – a fast and flowing section of swooping berms and jumps cut into the steep valley sides. The views are fantastic but it’s a good idea to keep your eyes on the trail if you don’t want to launch off into the valley below! There are also some optional black sections to dip into on the way down if you want to test your skills a bit more.
The loop ends up back at the car park, which is great if you need a toilet stop or to pick something up from the car before continuing onto the next loop. Or, as I imagine is fairly common, repeating the one you’ve just done!
The South loop is slightly longer (10km as opposed to 9.5km) and a little less technical than the North but still equally enjoyable. The trail snakes relatively gently up the opposite side of the valley via a series of tight but easy-to-ride switchbacks, making it far easier on the legs than parts of the North loop climb. And if fatigue does start to set it, the stunning views should help to distract you from any lung or leg burn. There’s also the option to start the descent early but it’s well worth continuing to the top for the additional descent and incredible views from Hospital Fell Ridge.
After a bone-shakingly rough (especially on a hardtail!) cobbled section at the top, the trail winds through trees and heather, and over patches of exposed rock and loose shale, which keep you on your toes. The lower section is a fun blast through open hillside with lots of nice berms and jumps. And then, before you know it you’re back at the car park, desperate to go again.
I like trails with a defined climb and descent, and you certainly get that on the Altura Trail at Whinlatter. Nothing irks me more on an unfamiliar trail than preparing for what I think is going to be a decent descent and then after a couple of hundred metres, finding myself climbing again! For the most part the climbs on both loops are interesting and, although challenging in places, rarely feel like too much of a slog. And, when you get to the top, you’re treated to long, varied and great fun descents. The fast open bermed section on the North Loop was a definite highlight, but by no means overshadowed any of the other sections.
The nice short loops mean you can mix and match your ride and do as little or as much as you want. It’s also never too far to get back to the centre if you have any mechanical problems, with either your bike or your body!
Whinlatter is definitely up there with one of the best UK trail centres I’ve ridden, and while it may not quite steal my heart from Glentress, it could certainly become a love rival if we were to become better acquainted.
Where’s your favourite place to mountain bike? I’m keen to hit up more new trails so would love some tip offs!