It’s easy to create amazing bike parks in the Alps: simply hitch a ride to the top of a ski lift, and then cut a track back down to the bottom. In those surroundings, it cannot fail to be epic – but what do you do if your mountains are more like molehills?

In the UK, we don’t have 3000 m peaks or an extensive network of ski lifts; what we do have is a passionate riding community with a ‘can do’ attitude. As a nation we no longer lead the way in sports. Tennis? Maybe. Football? Not any more. Cricket? Who cares! In competitive mountain biking, however, we can still hold our own. How is our lowland island producing legendary champions, and why is the UK going crazy for mountain biking? Well, we don’t have alpine terrain, but what we do have trail centres!

Trail Centre Story-7614

A trail centre is exactly as is sounds: it’s a bike park without the ski lifts, filled with long and lovingly crafted singletrack loops featuring-thrill packed descents (and fun climbs too)! With ribbons of waymarked trail that can be ridden all year round, easy-to-follow directions, and plenty of engaging obstacles like jumps and drops to test your nerve, it’s mountain biking for the Xbox generation, squeezing maximum fun into a two-hour ride.

It all started way back in 1997 when arguably the first ‘trail centre’ opened up in Coed-Y-Brenin, Wales. Red Bull sponsored an 11km stretch of ‘purpose built’ trail, and it caused a storm of interest, becoming a mecca for riders young and old. If you hadn’t ridden the Red Bull, you were nobody. The seed had been sown, and the concept spread like wildfire all over the country. Over the next eighteen years trail centres sprang up throughout the nation, transforming sections of once-sleepy forests into action-packed venues where shouts of joy and howling brakes rang out through the pines.

With a wide range of trails in one place, trail centres are the perfect destinations for mixed-ability groups. No longer would friendships, or romances, meet an angry end as ‘less enthusiastic’ riders were dragged round an arduous 40km loop. With choices and bail-outs everywhere, it’s easy to make the day as hard or easy as possible. Parents can enjoy watching their kids shred the skills loops before grabbing a sneaky lap of their own while the kids excitedly devour baked potatoes in the cafe. For the first time, riders of all abilities could share the love of biking together, all in one place – it was heaven!


True, trail centres may be destroying our map-reading abilities, and some riders no longer explore outside of the man-made trails – but let’s face it, leisure time is getting shorter and shorter. When we ride, we want to maximise our bike time, packing in as much fun as possible. Not only that, but as we reach the end with massive grins and covered in grime, there’s always the opportunity to enjoy a piping hot coffee and meal at the well-stocked trail centre cafe.

Trail centres have attracted a new generation of rider, putting the UK firmly on the global map. If you’re planning a visit and want to see what trail centres are all about, our UK team has hand-picked a few highlights that should be on any itinerary.

Trail Centre UK

BikePark Wales: Merthyr Tydfil, Wales

BikePark Wales is new to the scene, but has quickly become one of the most popular trail centres in the UK. It’s a full-scale mountain bike park with enough variety to keep the fittest riders busy for days. With twenty-nine waymarked trails, an awesome cafe and bike shop, and an easy pedal up, there’s something to suit everyone from the beginner to the most ambitious huck wizard. For the gravity-focused, there’s also a fast van uplift. Bike Park Wales is a one-stop thrill ride. (Website)

Cannock Chase Trail Centre: Cannock, England

Situated deep in the Midlands, Cannock Chase doesn’t have a lot to work with elevation-wise, but the new 24 km ‘Monkey Trail’ or the classic 11 km of ‘Follow The Dog’ squeeze out every last second of fun from the small hills, providing plenty of intermediate-level action. It has become salvation for those who live far from regular MTB destinations, and is a cracking day out. For those who like getting air time, the DH trails of Stile Cop are not far away. (Website)

Glentress Trail Centre: Peebles, Schottland

The original, and still a classic. With over 65 km of purpose-built trail, Glentress attracts over 300,000 visiting riders each year and provides entertainment for riders of all abilities. The red-graded Spooky Woods descent is legendary within the riding community, and its freeride park and amazing Blue Trail make it a ‘must do.’ With a well-provisioned bike shop and cafe on site, it’s the perfect place to spend a weekend. (Website)

Hopton Woods Trail Centre: Shrewsbury, England

Hopton Woods is the home of mountain biking in bike-mad Shrewsbury. This centre offers a different, more natural feel, complete with an XC Loop, Blue Trail, and full-bore, hang-on-tight downhill tracks. The jumps are big and the fun factor is high; ride your bike like you stole it and you will have a great time. (Website)

Trail Centre UK

Laggan Wolftrax: Laggan, Scotland

If you love rocky, natural trails, then Laggan Wolftrax will rock your world. The infamous 6.4 km Black route features some of the toughest natural rock features you will find in the UK, while the 15.2 km Red and extreme 3.6 km Orange trails are rock-strewn, jump-filled shred fests. Laggan is the closest you will find to natural mountain riding with the comfort of a cafe at the bottom. There’s also the hidden Brown trail, but shhh… don’t tell anyone we told you! (Website)

Words & Photos: Trev Worsey

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