Gisburn might feel like it’s in the middle of nowhere, but it’s an award-winning focus point for all sorts of riders. We hit its rollercoaster trails to find out why
As gravel rattles off wheel arches, the long fireroad drive to the Forest Den car park could be straight out of any of your favourite freeride DVDs. That 15-minute journey down twisty dry-stone-walled lanes places it dead centre of the Pennines on the Lancashire-Yorkshire border. That’s half an hour from UK component heroes Hope, who’ve been a big part of the trail building here and who sponsor one of the latest downhill sections. It’s classic Gisburn too.
Rolling off the fire road and into the tight-packed forest, the first few corners are relatively flat. But then the trail steepens and corkscrews, picking up speed and throwing you into a series of aggressively tight, tyre-growling berms. It’s not just the rapid-fire banked turns you’ve got to be ready for either – I’m trying to keep young local hotshot Joe Flanagan in sight when the next deep-scooped berm fires us into a line of three immaculately crafted tabletops. No blown-up lips or rutted landings here, but rock solid takeoffs topped with neat rolled kickers.
While the sudden appearance of these jumps is a shock to me, it’s obviously not to Joe, and he vanishes into the tops of the trees before eventually dropping back on to the last bit of landing slope and then firing up out of sight again. We’re not going to miss the opportunity to play here for a while, so we take the knowingly created cutout back on to the fireroad to repeat the flight-time fix a few more times.
Last time we were up here we met two of the main reasons that the Forestry Commission, er, commissioned bits are so sweetly sculpted and radical. Behind the levers of the excavators were the Hemingway brothers. Local legends of anything two-wheeled, front wave Megavalanche riders and frontrunners in the most extreme two-wheeled event we know (Google ‘Erzbergrodeo’ and you’ll see what we mean). Basically, these boys know what serious thrill riding is all about and they know exactly how to deliver it with a digger.
Hop it, don’t Hobbit
There’s a point when you know you’re getting sketchy, and after some seriously tweaked landings, Joe finally extends his next run into one of the three dropaway exits to this section. Again, these aren’t for the wary – a series of chainring notches on the big lump of rock on the inside lip shows that those riders too scared to commit at speed have been rewarded with some serious teeth grinding and the kind of nearly over-the-bar rear wheel kick that can seriously stain your shorts.
Off the drop and you’re back into another stack of seriously tight berms through mossbearded trees straight out of Mordor. It’s line choice not Rings that’s ‘precious’ here though, as you slot through the entry trees and into the 4X style finale to the Hope Line, doubling or rolling depending on your skill level but having a damn good time either way.
We’re way ahead of ourselves now though, as the whole point of mentioning Hope in the first place was that their marketing star Rachael Walker is the one leading us through the freshly laid car park, past the farmhouse visitor centre at the start of the trail and straight into the ‘Swoopy’ section of Gisburn’s genuinely all-weather two-wheel thrill fest.
Low sun flares down the singletrack, blowing up deep puddles like crystal fireworks as we pump and pedal along the flowing trails. Unfortunately overnight storms have hidden some tree-leg treachery and Rachael goes down hard on a big wet root, slamming her knee into her bar end. As much as she tries to ‘WTFU’, she can barely ride as it balloons up fast. So it’s back to base for an ice pack and time for Joe to take the lead round Lancashire’s finest manmade trails.
Big fun buffet
There’s a hell of a lot to go at here too. Even if you’ve seen shots of sections like Hully Gully, nothing can prepare you for a valley full of berms higher than your house. Rolling through the boulder markers at the top of the Bigfoot slab takes some commitment too, but don’t forget to take a few seconds to stop and drink in the stunning scenery of the surrounding fells and Stock reservoir, and potential views as far as the Lakes or back way into Yorkshire in summer.
The full-on DH lines are currently closed as they’re rebuilt even bigger for summer, but the suspension and spine testing slabs of the upper loop, the quarry playground, the root fest of ‘Home Baked’ and the retro balance and balls test that is the North Shore section give a comprehensive skill and fitness workout that feels way longer than 18km.
There’s even a thoughtfullyleft-natural sodden swamp and shonky bridge section just after Hully Gully to help you appreciate just how crap riding here would be if it weren’t for all the Forestry Commission investment and thousands of volunteer builder hours that have – literally – been sunk into this place.
The ever-changing design of the trail makes it a great place to visit time and again too, as you learn what comes next and how to work your way through it, gaining speed and skill each time. No wonder it’s a popular coaching destination for top skills teachers like Pro Ride Guides and Great Rock.
If the riding is good enough to keep us grinning even when sleet is rattling off our faces and feet are too numb to clip into pedals, then it’s certainly worth taking a turn down the Postman Pat roads to find it, wherever you live. We’ll certainly be hitting it a lot more frequently with the rest of the northern test crew in future, whether it’s for merciless kit testing on the relentless rocky sections or just blasting the berms and kickers for fun until we can’t take any more seriously techy fun.