Mark TaylorChristopher SomervilleNathan Kingerlee
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Is This Trail for You?

Posted on September 29, 2020 @ 1:24 PM in Mountainbiking

Is This Trail For Me?

In last month’s blog, we listed some important advice for new mountain bikers. This month, we’re doing a run down of all Northern Ireland’s official MTB Trail Centres, so the new riders amongst you will get an idea of where you can plan your next trip – and, maybe where you should give a miss for now.

It should be noted that as a general rule of thumb, blue MTB trails should only be tackled my riders with moderate experience and red trails by those who have a lot of experience. Black trails should only be ridden by riders who have years of experience.

 

 

Barnett Demesne MTB Trails

Barnett is located at the centre of Belfast and ideally situated for new mountain bikers. With the shortest trail length of any of the other trail centres, one could mistakenly assume that short equals easy.

The trails at Barnett Demesne are incredibly impressive as they manage to pack in a huge amount of riding into a relatively small area. They’re also ideal for all abilities, with 3.4km of green trails, 3.9km of blue trails and 1.5km of gnarly red trail. If you’re in two minds about whether to step up for the red trails, you can expect a few more heavy-duty rock drops, a boardwalk and a short log ride.

It should go without saying that the jump park at Barnett is also only for extremely experienced riders.

Blessingbourne Estate MTB Trails

Located amongst the stately ground of Blessingbourne Estate, the trails here are a fantastic opportunity for riders to get their first taste of a red trail. With 8km of red and 4km of blue, it is super popular with local cyclists as a spot to shred a few laps quickly and has enough variety to make things interesting.

There is almost no climbing at Blessingbourne which means fitness levels aren’t inhibiting to new riders and – as with all of the trail centres – there are plenty of chicken runs if you find that you aren’t ready for some of the features you’ll encounter on the red trails. Don’t be surprised to find you have to do this a few times as the red trails also have a number of more severe optional black features!

Blessingbourne also has a pump track on site, as well as multi use green trails around the Estate, so it’s perfect for all the family.

Castlewellan MTB Trails

Northern Ireland’s most popular trail centre, in terms of visits per year. Castlewellan is another trail centre with a range of trails that will be suitable for anyone. The 4km of green trail will suit children and anyone unfamiliar with a bike, as it hugs the trail around the lake. With only one slight climb on the north side of the lake, this is one for the whole family. It’s also worth pointing out that Castlewellan Forest Park has one of the world’s largest hedge mazes, the Peace Maze. After you’ve had a spin, why not check it out?

A step up from this is Castlewellan’s 4.5km of blue trail which will introduce you to rollers and a few small rock drops before merging back onto the green trail and bringing you back to the trailhead. This is very manageable for anyone with limited to moderate experience on a mountain bike.

The red trail is a different story to that at Blessingbourne. At 19km it has a substantial fitness requirement before you even begin to look at the features. With incredible panoramic views that make those short (but gassy) climbs worth it, the red also shows off the full spectrum of features one could want at a trail centre. There are plenty of rock gardens, drop offs, tabletops and more to keep the adrenaline up so it’s advisable to wait until you’re finding blue trails fairly easy before tackling Castlewellan.

For the hardcore mountain bikers, Castlewellan MTB Trails also has two black trail options – 'Dolly’s Chute' and the always popular 'The Great Escarpe'. Obviously only tackle these if you’re an experienced mountain biker. And even then, caution is advised!

Davagh Forest MTB Trails

Davagh Forest is often referred to as Northern Ireland’s hidden jewel in the MTB scene. Located outside Cookstown, visitors may be surprised when they arrive to find a trail centre with over 20km, a skills park and pump track, some great accommodation and the incredible Dark Sky Observatory (opening on 16th October!)

For those just starting out mountain biking, there is a gentle 3km green trail near to the trail head that takes you along some wide off road trails. Adult beginners may find this too easy, but they’ll be compensated with the stunning beauty of Davagh Forest.

The blue trail (measuring 7.5km) is one of the more challenging blue trails in our list, but all the more enjoyable for it. You’ll climb as you leave the car park and continue to do so, navigating some great rock features, and will have your handling skills tested on some mini switch backs. The back half of the blue trail is a bit more flowy and gives you a nice opportunity to build speed. If you’re tackling this, don’t forget that we’ve all got off our bikes when we hit something that looks a bit too tricky. There’s nothing wrong with that!

Davagh’s red trail is a tour de force of how to build great trails in epic environments. After a challenging climb up the ominously named ‘Widowmaker’, you get to explore some heart-pounding single track offering plenty of berms, sharp descents, rock drops and more. Whilst challenging, the red is certainly manageable for non pro riders, provided you have some experience on red trails before. Just make sure to bring a friend with you for this one, as there are a few rock slab features (Eagle’s Rock anyone?) that are worth giving a miss until your skills have grown appropriately.

Don’t forget to give the Stream Trail a visit while you’re there – and check out the fastest times on Strava if you fancy a challenge!

Rostrevor MTB Trails

Northern Ireland’s most famous trail centre. Rostrevor MTB Trails rightfully deserves its reputation as the jewel in the crown amongst the official trail centres, packing a hefty 27km of red trails along some of the most beautiful scenery on the island.

With no green or blue trails, Rostrevor is probably worth giving a miss if you are new to mountain biking, or even if you’ve only attempted blue trails before.

For those who have ridden a red trail before and are up for a challenge – expect everything you’ve read about in our previous trails and more. Rostrevor starts with a leg burning climb of about 5km, first on fire road and then on switch backs. While you can stop to catch you breath as often as you want, this is also a good reason to have either an e-bike on your ride or a moderate level of fitness.

 

When you reach the breath taking (literally!) #KodakCorner, allow yourself some time to enjoy the epic views of Carlingford Lough and the Mournes, before moving on to a variety of ascents and descents that will skirt along Slievemeen, Slievemartin and beyond. The features you encounter may not be as sizable as those you’ve met elsewhere, but as you feel the burn of 20km+ of climbing, you’ll need experience and concentration to maintain your flow.

Rostrevor, similar to Castlewellan, is also home to a black trail route – this one a more substantial 19km. This trail navigates a heart-racing section of technical singletrack to meet the return route along Kilbroney Valley back to the trailhead and is a much more challenging route only suitable for experienced mountain bikers.

We can’t forget the two purpose built downhill trails; Mega Mission and On the Pulse also require a high level of technical ability to manage the compilation of jumps and boulder fields you’ll find here.

Looking for more information on trail grade specification? Check out our descriptions on MountainBikeNI!

Ethan Loughrey
Ethan Loughrey  Mountain Bike Officer

Hardest thing about Mountain Biking? Definitely the trees.

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