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Meet …Life Adventure Centre, Castlewellan

Posted on November 5, 2014 @ 12:22 PM in Mountainbiking

Located in Castlewellan Forest Park, Life Adventure Centre is one of Northern Ireland’s leading outdoor activity centres and with the Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trailhead just 100m from their front door, Life is the perfect place to arrange your bike hire, coaching and/or guiding on the trails. With knowledgeable staff on hand to offer expert advice, excellent showering facilities and tea, coffee or energy snacks available, it is always worth while popping into Life before or after heading out on the trails. 

The Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails themselves have now clocked over 40,000 visits since they opened last year so we thought we’d catch up with Business Director of Life Adventure Centre, Martin McMullan, to find out a bit more about their MTB-Friendly services and the positive impact that these new mountain bike trails have had on the forest park.

Life Adventure Centre Team

So Marty, given that Castlewellan’s new mountain bike trails basically pass the front door of your Centre, have they improved your daily commute?
They’ve certainly made it longer! Our team have always enjoyed the cycle into work but with the temptation of the new trails, we now find ourselves having to bolt on a little trail loop ahead of arriving at the centre!

Have you found more people wanting to get started in mountain biking since all the trails opened across Northern Ireland last year?
The interest in cycling has been increasing over the past number of years and there’s no doubt that the addition of purpose built off road trails has been hugely supportive. The trails have opened up a whole new cycling discipline which has without doubt attracted those not necessarily keen on the traditional ‘lycra clad’ opportunities. We enjoy having the opportunity to introduce many complete novices to the trails either through our Mountain Bike Rental or coaching, then seeing them come back time after time and introducing their families and friends.

What’s your ‘Top Tip’ for those just starting out in mountain biking?
Everyone’s different in terms of experience, ability, goals etc and our key piece of advice is always to participate at your level and only progress at a pace with which you’re comfortable. Access to world class trails alongside high performance equipment and fuelled by the odd video is a perfect motivational combination as long as the wheels don’t come off! You need to work hard to play hard, Danny McAskill didn’t get to the level he’s at in a weekend! There’s no doubting the value of experience in any adventure sport and we enjoy the opportunity to give people a safe foundation through our coaching and get them on the right trail!

Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails

You must be delighted to see so many more people enjoying Castlewellan Forest Park on these new mountain bike trails. Are you surprised by their success?
The trails have opened up the wider park to existing visitors as well as attracting many new visitors that may not have considered the park as a destination previously. There’s no doubt that the numbers are growing and should continue for the foreseeable future given that the ‘word's’ still getting out there. We’re always reviewing what we offer to compliment the trails and enjoy the feedback from trail users… “Best trailhead services in Ireland” apparently! But we’ll not rest yet!

What is the most unusual request or obscure issue that your team has had to deal with since the trails opened?
The trails have brought many people and with many people come many trials, some serious but mostly entertaining and making for some great stories. Common themes revolve around what people forget to bring on their day out to the trails and we’re not talking spare tube or water bottle. We get regular requests for front wheels, saddles, pedals and once or twice… the entire bike less the front wheel, saddle or pedals! Regardless of what it is, we enjoy being able to help out where we can and get folk onto the trails with minimal embarrassment!

Are there any highlights that really stand out in your mind since the mountain bike trails opened in Castlewellan last year?
The trails have many highlights not least what you take from them on every journey and trying to isolate one particular event is quite a challenge. That said one highlight that really does stand out to our team has to be the trail quest that we organised last Christmas, a fun opportunity to get people out on the trails over the festive season. We’ve absolutely no doubt that the participants made the event with all ages and abilities getting stuck in and providing a true reflection of what the trails are all about… some great People, a little bit of Adventure and some mighty Craic!

Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails

Can you describe the Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails in three words?
Mighty…

Located next to the trailhead in Castlewellan Forest Park, Life Adventure Centre offer half day and full day bike hire including shower, changing facilities, coffee and use of the bike wash. Book your Bike Hire Online.

With over 20 years of experience delivering outdoor activities throughout Northern Ireland, Life also offer canoeing, kayaking, bouldering, rock climbing and coasteering to name just a few in the Mourne Mountains. Visit www.onegreatadventure.com for more information.  

Chris Armstrong
Chris Armstrong  Mountain Bike Officer

Chris looks after all things mountain biking in Northern Ireland ...it's a tough job but someone's gotta do it!

Night Rider goes down a 'Storm' at Davagh!

Posted on November 4, 2014 @ 12:13 PM in Mountainbiking

With a massive increase in mountain bikers using the trails at night I decided to hold Northern Ireland's first ever Night Enduro.  Davagh Forest Trails was the venue of choice as it is my local.  Halloween weekend felt like the best time to hold the event and to keep things casual riders could dress up for the occasion. 

Night Rider Davagh Forest

Saturday 1st November 2014 arrived and the day was pretty good.  Unfortunately that night the weather took a turn for the worse.  The car park filled up pretty quickly and with Ivan taking care of registration I headed out with the stage marshals to get them posted.  A quick check of each stage and back to the registration area.  It was great to see so many people dress up and enjoy the night.  Big shout out to Brendan McAleer for his LED covered bike.  We made the briefing quick as the rain had started to get heavy.  Riders lit up the road through the forest on the climb to the top.  Despite the horrendous rain it didn't dampen the spirits of the riders.

Stage 1
The riders left the top carpark on the red trail through the Beleevna section.  A flat start with a slight climb in the middle.  At the split in the trails riders went right into Wolf's Hill a real fun fast section with a nice drop at the top section.  The bottom half is a fast flowy section that could put a smile on anyone's face.

Stage 2
Run Ragley Run is another great section of trail.  Starting on a fast open section with tight fast corners with all sorts of hazards like knee high tree stumps on the inside of corners.  This is a tricky enough section in the daylight when ridden fast but get it right and you can carry so much speed through it.  The trail then levels out with corner after corner making you work hard to maintain pace. 

On exiting stage two riders turned right and took the forest track back up to the top car park. 

Stage 3
This was a repeat of Beleevna before turning left at the split.  Big Wig Jig is another super section of trail that really gets the heart racing.  Tight trees, dips and rollers all the way through to the fireroad crossing and finish of the stage.

Stage 4
This was the longest of the event taking in 3 sections of the red trail.  The stage starts with a fast flowy section then flattening out through the Christmas tree section.  It drops again through the giants bed rocks then a climb across a fireroad junction.  There is another flat section with a punchy climb up to boundary rock.  Steep drop down boundary rock and then a wall ride to the left before the rock sender and into a series of banked corners and the finish.

Stage 5
We were going against the normal trail centre direction of flow for this stage as we wanted to finish at the Trailhead arch. It rides really well this direction and got some great response for running it this way.  It is a short stage with a few tight switch backs in the middle. It crosses the road and finishes with a few mini rollers and run in to the arch.

Davagh Forest Night Rider

In the Male category Kelan Grant (Caldwell cycles) lead from the start and riding out of his skin took the fastest time on every stage for the overall win.

Davagh Forest Night Rider

Ryan Fitzpatrick took second place with a great ride. 20 seconds was all split 2nd to 5th with some really tight racing. 

Davagh Forest Night Rider 

None more so than the battle for 3rd were Carn Wheelers rider Stephen Law took the final podium position from Scott Nelson by just 1 second. 

Davagh Regulars David Burns, Jason Stirrup (Mje), Alan Williamson and David Glasgow all made the top 10 with some great riding. Bob Johnson made the trip from Donegal worth while finishing of the top 10.  Good to see such strong performance from all the local boys.

In the Female category there was some more tight racing from the Muddy Butts crew.  Eileen Regan (Muddy Butts) took first place leading from the start and setting fastest time on all stages. 

Davagh Forest Night Rider

Debbie Irvine (Muddy Butts) still recovering from a serious injury didn't let it hold her back with a strong performance taking second. 

Davagh Forest Night Rider

Third place went to Una Carson (Muddy Butts). 

Davagh Forest Night Rider

A good performance from the Muddy Butts girls showing that having fun can also lead to podiums.  (Any females wanting to get into the sport should look these girls up for help and info into how to get started a great bunch)

The spirit of the Enduro went to Brendan McAleer with his tricked out Vitus bike he literally lit up the trails!

Davagh Forest Night Rider

As always thanks must go to Ivan and my team of Marshals who braved the cold wet night.  Thanks also to www.chainreactioncycles.com who sponsored the prizes and also the goody bags.  Thanks to Meat at Regan's and Timeout Draperstown for the vouchers.  Sperrin Bakery once again for the sausage rolls and soup rolls.  

Thanks to everyone who took part you are all Legends you all made the event!

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Mickey Regan
Mickey Regan  Mountain Biker

I am a bit of a Mountain bike fanatic. I ride most types of Mountain biking from XC, DH to All Mountain epics. I ride mainly for the enjoyment of the sport. Racing only occassionaly to keep me on my toes. For me it doesn't mater if I am ridding off the side of a Rocky Mountain, up to the hubs in mud or on a trail centre all weather surface. Being happy on the mountain bikes in the open air is what it is all about.

Surprise & Delight in Northern Ireland

Posted on November 3, 2014 @ 10:52 AM in Mountainbiking

Any serious mountain biker knows that if you want to experience great trail centre riding in the UK you need to head to Scotland or Wales, or possibly the Lakes or Yorkshire. So when my husband and I had the opportunity to go over to Northern Ireland for a week with our bikes, we weren’t expecting anything particularly amazing.  

Having tried and tested some of the best mountain biking trails in the world such as North Shore Vancouver and the French Alps, and having the Yorkshire Dales as our local playground, we thought we’d probably reached the pinnacle of how impressed you can be with an MTB trail.  I mean, can mountain biking in Norn Iron really be THAT good??

Mountain Biking in Northern Ireland

Photo: Our Babs

We got the ferry with our beloved VW camper Babs from Liverpool to Belfast and after a stop over at Portstewart and the great new fish restaurant on the strand, Harry’s Shack, we made a beeline for Castlewellan Caravan Park which is very handily situated at the trailhead and a wee walk into town for a great feed at Maginns of Castlewellan. £26 for two nights with electric hook up was a bargain and we rolled onto the trails as the sun was splitting the trees.  I personally, as a female mountain biker, have never enjoyed two hours in the saddle more. 

MountainBikeNI, Chain Reaction Cycles and whoever else had a hand in these trails, have created a holy grail of mountain biking perfection.  The beauty of the lakes, the fast flowing loveliness of the red run and the optimum length of these particular trails makes for a faultless MTB experience.   We were on a Lapierre Zesty and a Saracen Ariel and it didn’t take us long to bottom out - things get exciting fairly quickly (White Water Rapide = FAB).

Castlewellan Mountain Bike Trails

Photo: Castlewellan Lake, Co Down

Rostrevor the next day took things to the next level entirely, and as you pedal away from the trailhead things start as they mean to go on for quite some time. This trail climbs and climbs and then climbs some more. But even forgetting that what goes up must come down, the climbs are almost worth it for the views alone, which are nothing short of spectacular. We stumbled upon a sign on a tree which quoted C.S. Lewis as saying ”That part of Rostrevor which overlooks Carlingford Lough is my idea of Narnia“, and we couldn’t agree more. #KodakCorner is thus named for a very good reason, although no photograph could ever really do it justice.  We certainly made a great many attempts.

Kodak Corner Rostrevor

Photo: #KodakCorner, Rostrevor, Co Down

We had purchased MountainBikeNI.com Trail Maps online for each trail centre beforehand to be uber prepared but barely needed them, so beautifully well sign posted were each of the trails.  From extra coloured arrows on the ground to the ‘NEARLY THERE’ painted in blue near the summit at Davagh Forest, it was all finely tuned to provide the best MTB experience we could have possibly imagined that more than lived up to the competition.

Davagh Forest Trails

Photo: Davagh Forest Trails, Co Tyrone

Half the fun is in the funny names for me - Castle Wheelin’, Roll up your Slieves, Berming Rubber, Bourne to Be Wild …how do they think these up?! In terms of best biking, The Fallow and Home Run at Rostrevor were my ultimate favourite runs for sheer flowy, whoopy, forest joy whilst hubbys was the likes of Eagles Rock (Davagh Forest) because he’s an adrenalin junkie and it was so technically challenging. Needless to say I stood back and took the photos at this point.  There really is something for everyone.  

Going on a mountain biking holiday in October has its advantages, in fact, there are so many they must be listed below:

Reasons to go mountain biking during low season

  • You have the trails/caravan parks to yourselves – we met approximately four people on our NI trails jaunt (two of those were walkers who had somehow managed to be strolling along singletrack despite big NO WALKERS signs at each way mark.)
  • Everything is cheaper, if not free – parking, campsite fees all come right down so if you want a cheap, fun holiday this is for you.
  • You get to work off some of that winter blubber.
  • It makes you look dead hardcore.
  • You can often strike it really lucky with the weather – apart from half biking / half walking / half being blown through the eye of hurricane Gonzalo at the top of Slievemartin we had great weather for biking, which brings me to my next point…
  • …you’re never too warm.  Let’s face it, you don’t really want to be mountain biking in a heatwave so the lukewarm temperatures of low season are perfect for staying cool on those lung busting climbs as long as you’re wearing the right gear.

We treated ourselves to a luxury stay and a feed at The Whistledown Hotel in Warrenpoint after caning the heady heights of Rostrevor and surviving the hurricane.  A beautifully situated hotel with fabulous views over the Lough and extremely friendly staff (you’d be hard pressed to find bad customer service in Northern Ireland – it could give America a run for its money).

Mountain Biking Northern Ireland

Photo: Packing up Babs for the journey home

It’s abundantly clear that MountainBikeNI have worked wonders for the mountain biking and tourist scene in Northern Ireland.  If this past week is anything to go by, we cannot WAIT for the next trails to emerge.

Fancy hiring Babs to check out Northern Ireland's fabulous new mountain bike trails for yourself? Find out how at RetroRunaways.co.uk!

Sarah Martin
Sarah Martin  Retro Runaways

Sarah Martin owns Retro Runaways, a self drive Classic Volkswagen Campervan Hire Company in Harrogate. In her spare time Sarah, her husband and 'Babs' (a beautiful, 2010 VW Type 2 Brazilian Bus) head off on some campervan adventures of their own!

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