1 Swinley Forest, Berkshire
The perfect starting point for a novice, though some rides here will test experienced bikers, too. There’s a beautifully-crafted network of trails in this 2,600-acre pine wood and newcomers might like the fact that it has fewer hills than some areas. Riding permits: £2 a day on-site (www.gorrick.com/swinley/index.php).
2 Coed Llandegla, North Wales
A stunning private wood with many fine trails that include a teasing 12-km beginners’ ride. After a gentle uphill section comes the joy of downhill, with taster-jumps offering spice. Bike hire available (www.coedllandegla.com).
3 Glentress, Scotland
Described as “the UK’s number-one mountain bike destination” by Ian Warby, trail expert at the influential cycling organisation CTC, (www.ctc.org.uk/mtb), Glentress is one of Scotland’s famed 7stanes top-level biking centres (stane means stone, symbolic image for these seven southern Scottish biking centres). Great facilities, with trails from beginner “green” routes to fearsome top-level “black” runs (www.forestry.gov.uk/glentress).
4 Grizedale, Cumbria
The North Face Trail at Grizedale Forest in Cumbria sounds disturbing, but its 16 kilometres offer much of what mountain-biking’s all about: fabulous views, testing climbs and technical excitement. There are also forest sculptures in in the unlikely event that you get bored. Search “Challenge Trails” at the International Mountain Biking Association’s website: www.imba.org.uk.
5 Machynlleth, Mid Wales
The cycling landscape around Machynlleth is wonderful and the Cli-Machx trail through Dyfi Forest provides a gorgeous 15km round trip, with eight tricksy berms, or banks, at the end. “You’ll probably be screaming,” muses Guy Kesteven, professional bike-tester and trail adviser to Wales Tourism (www.mbwales.com).
6 Coed y Brenin, North Wales
Hailed as the birthplace of modern mountain bike centres, this cycling oasis offers a café, bike hire, changing rooms and six trails, from the easy to the beastly. The testing 9km Temtiwr trail includes high-speed downhill zooms and will take up to an hour. Click on “Coed y Brenin” at www.mbwales.com.
7 Fort William, Scotland
The craggy tops surrounding this town in the Scottish Highlands play annual host to the Mountain Bike World Cup. Try the 15km Witch’s Trail, starting from Nevis Range ski centre car park and climbing towards fast, rocky descent sections. Breathless in all senses. Tough, technical, terrific (www.ridefortwilliam.co.uk).
8 Calderdale, Yorkshire
The Mary Towneley Loop near Calderdale offers a heart-thumping challenge because of both the distance – around 47 miles – and the fact that you cross the Pennines twice. Described respectfully by Karl Bartlett, chairman of the International Mountain Biking Association UK, as “the more serious kind of mountain biking” (www.nationaltrail.co.uk and www.idonohoe.com).
9 Kirroughtree, Southern Scotland
One of the lesser known of the 7stanes (see listing for Glentress), Kirroughtree offers buzz-inducing trails through forest and open country, from easy to oh-my-gosh. The latter includes the 31km Black Craigs trail, littered with section descriptions such as “Heartbreak Hill” (www.7stanes.com).
10 Sky high
Heli-biking is a new craze open to bikers with a passport. Sling your bike on a helicopter, whizz uphill, then hurtle down under the influence of gravity. It’s really catching on in such countries as Canada, New Zealand and Nepal. A 3½-hour heli-bike ride near Mount Cook, New Zealand, costs £75. See www.helibike.com.