Video: Creating the UK's first Trail Centers in 'Trail Tales' Ep1.

Feb 5, 2021
by Orbea  

So often we ask ourselves what makes a great trail. Perhaps the real question should be who makes a great trail?



In "Build it & they will come" we rewind back to the mid-90s. Twenty-five years ago, a small group of pioneers realized that mountain biking didn’t have to simply be about riding what was already on the ground. They decided to create their own trails. More than that, they wanted to build trails that could be enjoyed by everyone: singletrack that was challenging and fun for beginners and experienced riders alike.

The vision of riders like Dafydd Davies in Wales and Rik Allsop in Scotland changed the riding landscape in the UK for good. The trail center was born.



A quarter of a decade later we revisit their handiwork to ask what the key to the trail center’s longevity has been. We discover everything that makes mountain biking great: flow, community, and passion.


In 2020 there exists over 2,500km of purpose-built trail in the UK, ridden by millions each year. Build it & they will come.




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39 Comments

  • 43 6
 People are always asking the question of what will make them a better mountain biker, the correct gear, the best suspension, will this make me faster, how to ride best lines etc.....and I often think, get down to your local trail on a cold wet Sunday morning, and help dig....if you put blood sweat and tears into the trails you're going to be riding then all of a sudden, everything else is insignificant because you have a new appreciation for it, a better understanding, and that should make you a better mountain biker.
  • 3 0
 Totally agree, once Covid is out of the way hopefully volunteer programs will restart with an emphasis on dig days. We were looking to restart ours in 2020. Unfortunately Covid and the restrictions that followed put paid to that. The FC estate and the miles of trails whilst valuable is difficult to sustain especially with the record number of visitors see in the last 12 months. Volunteers and community involvement will play a vital role in maintaining the network.
  • 8 0
 I always wonder about this. I’ve been riding about 20 years and have done maybe a weeks worth of trail work. When you have kids and run and business, riding is what you want to do in your spare time not digging. Do trail builders hate people like me? Or maybe when the kids have grown I’ll be digging everyday? It is an interesting facet of mountain biking, because in other sports it simply doesn’t exist. I’ve never wondered about building a tennis court or footy pitch.
  • 5 0
 @witica: I would say you represent the vast majority of people. Sure there's dedicated groups out there who find the time to do more but I tend to find that involves working on their own spot rather than being part of an organised group or activity run by the FC. I think for those guys FC volunteering might not be cool enough or too prescriptive e.g, we're not building gap jumps, we're going to be working on the drainage today.

Personally, if I was working in a high pressure job Monday to Friday and all week I'd been looking forward to getting out with friends or alone to ride my bike, get my thoughts in order etc. I'd probably rather do that than pick up a shovel or a rake. For us who organise these things (under normal circumstances) fully appreciate that. I'm paid to do it, volunteers aren't its your time do with how you want.
  • 2 1
 Getting involved in digging trails is without doubt a positive thing to do and it might help you be a slightly better rider. But riding with clear goals and quality practice is what will make you better.
  • 1 0
 @witica: Trying to do some digging or trail cleanup is solid. I'm kind of like you, though, that I only have so many days I can ride and be outside.. and I want to generally be riding on those days.

My thinking is that everyone can give back in different ways... the main thing is to give back. So while digging frequently doesn't currently fit into my schedule, taking my son and his friends riding and helping to develop our young rider scene does (I also coach NICA).

I'm also very active online with helping local riders and visitors to the area to get resources and become more knowledgeable about our area (because I can do that as part of my work day while I'm sitting behind a computer screen).

I look forward to a day when I have enough free time to spend more time building trail, but until then, I'll try to find other ways to give back that fit into my life.
  • 6 1
 @witica: It is worth listening to the HTK podcast Sam from Rogate did on the subject. His point is that it isn't just about the shovel or the pick, it is doing something to make the mark that Mountain Biking leaves on the community that bit better - making sure that before you leave the carpark, you collect any litter; if there is a carpark voluntary donation collection point, instead of buying a coffee at Starbucks on the drive over, stick the coins in the box; behaviour towards other users of the land; adopting a local cause that is important to the village that hosts the trailhead.
Your point about the football pitch is interesting. A mate of mine is heavily involved in kids local football leagues - his biggest frustration is that most parents will not give their time up to help with all the little tasks that make the league happen for their kids - they just want to consume, someone to provide it all for them. The scene where he lives has forgotten that the whole thing is built on the back of people giving up their time, starting from building the original pitches and changing rooms, the coffee mornings, raffles and fairs to fund it. Approaching the local businesses to fund a bit of kit. It is all done by the few that realise that it all sits on the back of those who do make it happen by giving up some time so that others can assume it will just happen
  • 2 0
 @witica: not hate but sometimes a bit frustrating.

Think of it this way. If every rider that used the trails in a particular site could offer 1 ride worth of time a year to digging then trail groups would probably struggle to find enough work to keep them busy. Never underestimate the impact one person's help can have on a small group who turn up rain and shine week after week. An extra pair of hands to push a barrow for one morning, or to help shovel a pile of trail surfacing, move those rocks etc.

I challenge anyone to say they can’t give up 1 ride to help.

On the subject of life getting in the way I was involved in starting our trail volunteer group in 2002 before I had kids. I’ve had to back off at times but remain involved now my eldest is nearly 16.

For me it’s a release as satisfying as riding and I’ve passed on riding to build more times than I can count. Everyone has different priorities and need though and that’s cool. It shouldn’t be about judging people.
  • 1 0
 Or ride natural trails -
  • 7 0
 Investing in new trails? How about maintaining existing trails? Nature does interesting things.There is always an element of upkeep needed no matter how sustainable the design is. Well designed and long lasting more important than new, no?
Stagnation addressed by tweaks to existing features rather than miles of rutted puddled wheel gobbling newness? Trails built not dug.
  • 5 0
 That's the reality. Spent the most of the last few years working on drainage, only to see it fill up again during winter. Its an relatively inexpensive way (although knackering) of maintaining the trails, it just goes unseen.
  • 1 0
 Here's a global call of respect directed to our local trailbuilder associations in the Lower Mainland and surrounding areas of BC. They do an incredible job of maintaining our existing trails and responsibly adding new ones. So to all of you that are part of the Fraser Valley, Tri-Cities, North Shore, Squamish, and Whistler MBA's, thank you so much for all your work.
  • 6 1
 Dafydd and Sian are legendary. It's not just trail centres, either. A lot of the stuff we built in the early '00s in the Surrey Hills with the permission and assistance of the FC, Hurtwood Control and National Trust was directly influenced by their work, Ian Warby's work at Firecrest MTB in Wendover and others. There are trails here that still run sweet because of the hard-won wisdom of these three when it comes to building a trail be that works with the levels of, ahem, moisture we have in the UK. If we'd built stuff to IMBA standards of the day, we'd have struggled. Dafydd's work on armouring and drainage and Ian's Performance Cues theory really helped us build or maintain stuff that still works today.
  • 4 0
 Inspiring stuff. The community aspect can easily be overlooked however it is vital to a successful and sustainable trail network.
  • 2 0
 anyone ever ride Coed Y Trallwm near Builth Wells? I read somewhere that this was one of the first 'trail centers' in wales. Last time I got told to clear off by the land owner though as they said no-one was paying the carparking fees!
  • 1 0
 I rode there around 1998 and I don't remember a car park if that helps...
  • 1 0
 @Bob-Agg: sounds like the carpark both came and went since your visit!
  • 2 0
 Looking forward to more episodes. It is satisfying to help build and repair trails so worth volunteering a little. I'll be back doing it after lockdown and will try to make it more regular. And if you can't volunteer become a member of your local organisation and help financially if you can.
  • 6 1
 'A quarter of a decade'?? Who signed that off?!
  • 1 0
 Brings back memories of riding Coed Y Brenin for the 'first' time circa 2001 after having to quit riding around '92. All of a sudden I thought 'I used to race here!'. I think racing in the UK was the first piece in the puzzle in terms of allowing mountain bikers to explore different parts of the country legally. So as well as the likes of the people in this video, big thanks to people like Adrian Walls, John Baker, Dave Mellor and Tim Bungay for example for putting on races that would create a flourishing race scene and start trail access / building discussions. I did my first trail building work at Eastridge circa 1991 I guess?! That was for a race there.
  • 1 0
 Yes trail centers have got way better, but they like to call it sustainable, some are, others not so much?
But over use of the best trails destroys them, yes maintenance helps, but takes a understanding how trails will wear out with heavy usage, too know how to make them sustainable!
Drainage is an important element of this. but trails with rain ruts & puddles were badly though out from the start?
  • 11 8
 Many trail centres have become stagnant, not investing in new trails. despite increasing the costs to park.
  • 5 3
 Outrageous, pure greed. It's definitely impossible their costs could have increased with the surge in interest.
  • 2 0
 FC trails, Forestry Scotland/England and NRW are government agencies which is where the budget for investment comes from. Income levels often more than pay back the the budget but that pays into a lot of things that the benefit the taxpayer in other ways. Private enterprises are often better places to reinvest in their trails.

I totally get your point, we never get the investment we want, feel we need, because of the nature of the organisation. There isn't a day that goes by where I think 'if only we could cut a new line here', or 'Make use of the gradient over there', believe me its as frustrating for us on the ground as it is for you who look forward to getting out at the weekends and feeling less than inspired. And after the last 12 months and the crazy visitor number the trails are worn out and appear neglected, despite what people might think at our site we're out most days trying to do something.

There are plusses though, it will always be there and accessible (major pandemics aside) There are miles upon miles of trails, mtbrs always want new it's in our nature, working alongside the timber industry, sometimes that's possible when reinstatement isn't viable, sometimes it isn't. Believe it or not we're still better off than lots of other countries in terms of trail networks and access to them. Hopefully after covid there will be a new focus on trails (of all types) and investment.
  • 5 1
 @gkeele: It's been happening for a long time prior to that surge though. Parking costs at the Forest of Dean have more than doubled over a 10 year period up to 2019. Many other trail centres that I've visited have seen big increases in parking costs that were always justified by saying the money would go into developing new trails. By and large this hasn't happened. I'm all for paying towards the upkeep and development of trail centres, but charging people £7 to park on site just encourages people to find a free parking spot nearby and ride from there. It seems very counter productive to me.
  • 1 0
 @commental: Yep I understand your frustration, but I can only refer you back to my first paragraph. I would love the ALL of the car park revenue for the trails, play areas, car parks, walking trails etc. But I know i'm going to get a % of that for all of that (once staff wages are paid for, vehicles maintained, buildings etc). And you're right investment isn't keeping up with demand, but look at the size of the estate, visitor numbers have increased year on year, it's just this year they've been astronomical as time outside is more precious.

It's a Govt Agency part of DEFRA. Forestry is massive contributor to the UK economy not a drain on it. So the benefits aren't just directed back at site level, it is what it is. All I can say the local sites don't decide on pricing that's a national decision based on budgetary controls, what I do know is how hard the local team work at the FOD and how much they care and how much they want to engage with local volunteers etc.
  • 3 0
 @gandalfsdad: Let's hope that the Govt recognize the benefits of investing in these sites as part of the initiative to get more people out exercising. It would be nice to think that some more funding will become available for future development. I'm not holding my breath though.
  • 1 0
 @commental: Seems obvious doesn't it?
  • 2 0
 @gandalfsdad: I think another problem is the often poor decisions made by some local authorities around trail centre amenities. Just look at Glyncorrwg. Last time I went there it was like a ghost town in comparison to it's glory days.
  • 2 0
 @commental: And yet if it wasn't for Whites Level, Blade and Skyline, the campsite and shop who would be attracted to that area? I think EU money at the time helped put that place on the map. On a personal note, Whites is my favourite trail, that's the first place i'll be returning to once the lockdown is lifted.
  • 1 0
 @gandalfsdad: This made me teary. I emigrated to flat old Minnesota in 2017, and I dream of Whites Level. My ashes will be scattered on Windy Point one day.

Before I left though, Glyncorrwg was definitely seeing a drop off in rider numbers, and the car parks at Brechfa and Abergorlech were definitely quieter than they once were. As much as I love it, I do wonder how many riders are now pulled to BPW instead of Afan, despite the extra cost. I enjoy the Glyncorrwg climb, but if I was given the option of paying 30 quid to get driven to the top as many times as I like, I'd most probably take it so as to maximize my time heading downwards. BPW is incredible, don't get me wrong, but I do fear that the other trail centers in South Wales will fall into disrepair due to lack of use as the flashy allure of BPW is just too strong.
  • 1 0
 @MumblesBarn: I've heard and experienced the same. The last time I was able to visit the car park at Glyncorrwg was deserted. Cwmcarn though the next day was packed. I do think BPW has had an impact.
  • 1 0
 @MumblesBarn: I love riding at Afan. Bpw doesn't do it for me. Last summer as soon as lockdown in Wales was over I was there. Managed three sunny Saturdays in a row. W2. Sitting here in Bristol just waiting...
  • 3 0
 THE BLADE and WHITES LEVEL at GLYNCORRWG great trails .....
  • 1 0
 Although I think the deforestation because of tree disease has really impacted Whites Level. So much speed and momentum has been lost on the final descent, due to all the dirt being washed away and more rock coming to the surface. It's a real shame.
  • 1 0
 Build trails and you’ll realize there is nothing more satisfying than building something that brings people real joy (and of course yourself).
  • 1 0
 Trail centres are fun, I dont want to sound elitist but they create a section of MTBer who only rides trail centre. And we know what those people are like.
  • 1 0
 what are they like ?
  • 1 0
 Ysbrydolus!

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