New mountain bike trails opened this summer at Sutton Bank in the North York Moors.
My son, Bertie, 11, and I tried them out, combining two of the loops to make up a 10-mile circuit. We began with a quick zip around the Cliff Trail which has the easiest, green grading. Once or twice Bertie had to get off to push briefly but in general the track was, indeed, simple to negotiate and suitable for pretty much all ages. The three-mile route takes you through a still forest of fir trees, winding and gently undulating throughout. We could see where the forest floor had recently been removed to make way for the new gravel surface.
Emerging from the trees we found ourselves literally just a couple of hundred yards or so away from the visitor centre at the start. We turned away from it to pick up the 5½-mile blue Fort Trail, the main course after our aperitif. At Dialstone Farm we branched off onto a bridleway and then back onto the quiet road which you could always use as a more direct and smoother route from the centre.
Once the trail reaches the escarpment it really comes into its own with endless views views over the plain towards Boltby and Thirlby and beyond. As we rested on a sultry afternoon all we could hear was the clicking of crickets. Taking time to enjoy the vistas we continued as far as High Barn then began a dramatic descent of the escarpment. We passed the remains of an old quarry then stood up from our saddles and used our knees as extra suspension as we edged down through the bracken. A high bank protrudes into the middle of the scene like a watch tower.
At the section of the ride described on the map as the “Stairway to Heaven” the trail became something of a trial and we largely pushed our way back up the incline. A couple of far more professional-looking riders did the same, though, which made us feel better. “How was the red route?” I asked one of them. “Mega!” he simply replied, a broad smile across his face and mud spattered on his shorts. The red route takes you an additional – and demanding – 17½ miles around Boltby Forest and, for us, was best left to another day and probably another cyclist.
Back on the top of the escarpment we followed the route of the Cleveland Way back towards Gormire Lake and the visitor centre. Our mini-expedition concluded with a narrow, windy track through the trees which was great fun and reminded us of our initial green route. Before we set off home Bertie did endless loops of the new skill circuit which is targeted at much younger riders and novices but was being enjoyed by all ages.
Our verdict? The two trails we tried provide a great introduction to Sutton Bank especially for visitors with insufficient time to explore the region on foot and who have some experience of mountain biking. The Fort Trail has magnificent views but is a little uneven in places and the ascent from the bottom of the escarpment is challenging.
Making the grade
Adrian Carter, of Pace Cycles, which has assisted in the development of the cycle trails, says: “Sutton Bank offers the rare opportunity to adventure in the countryside on natural trails which are man-managed.
“The trails are all graded according to ability, and the surfaces prepared where necessary, so they’re suitable for everyone from the complete beginner to the most experienced mountain biker. With six road-cycling routes and many quiet country lanes we can offer something for both the road and off-road rider which we believe is unique for a trail centre in this country.”
Sutton Bank Bikes, which is based at the Sutton Bank National Park Centre, together with staff from the park have spent over two years developing more than 28 miles of dedicated trails around the centre, including three off-road trails, a skills park for younger children, six road routes, and a cycling shop including bike hire.