I know for many, positives are a hard notion to associate with 2020, after all, it’s been a year of mixed emotions, frustrations and denial of basic freedoms we have come to expect.
However, within the thick fog of doom and gloom, there have been green shoots of positivity, breaking through loam, pushing organic matter to the wayside, enabling creativity and escape. Myself and several others have found a sense of normality, plunging edges of tools into various soil types, resurrecting trails that have been removed or damaged by planned forestry work and mostly, holding onto something that was a regular part of life pre March 2020.
This is not to say it has been easy and straight forward. Watching the Commons debates, broadcasts, reading legislation and guidance, looking for answers and adapting plans, in order to remain operational on the trails. It’s fair to say over the past 9 months we could have been shut down by land manager, land owner, council or government at any moment. On top of this, with a boom in cycling, that surpasses that of the 2012 Olympics, the trails have never been busier. Riders of all flavours and aspirations have been forced to spend more time locally and therefore, the wear on trails has been significantly over what we would expect from a typical year. Throw in 2/3rds of our main trail, the Longslade, being shut from August to December, this erosion and broadening of lines was accelerated.
Trying to repair the damage from increased wear, whilst looking to bring back 2/3rds of a trail hidden by forestry work, at the same time as doing essential work on a entirely new trail was a huge undertaking. Those who stepped up the mark and put their time, energy and money (tools, travel) on the trail, we are extremely grateful and wish we could provide more than simply a thank you.
January started with a great turnout & then things changed….
From the end of March till late May/early June, the tools were down. With riding encouraged by the movement and still possible, this provided 2 months where the trails were at the mercy of tyres, at a time where travel was all but banned. Dry conditions prevented deep wide mud ruts from appearing, aiding the team when they returned to the trail head.
With 8 miles of trails as Aspley Woods, there is plenty to do, with regular calls for more features/options, getting both trails maintained to be fully operational is a challenge, especially when for the most part digging is done on every third Saturday. This is supplemented with Tuesday nights, normally a couple of hours, however, in real terms, time on the ground is limited and simple projects take considerably more time and man power than is often appreciated. From the trail builders side, even though we may know the area, soil composition and other factors of an area we are working in, it is only when the spade, mattock or trail tool enters the earth, you are able to see how long the project may take. Sometimes, that five minute clean up or drainage chanel rapidly consumes 30 minutes if not more.
June to August – Completion of the Danesborough Trail
The Danesborogh Trail, circumnavigating an Iron Age fort and incorporating a series of existing trails, has long been on the cards, to offer an alternative to the Longslade Trail and lengthen the permissive trail offering.
New trails can be a nightmare.
I thought they were supposed to be fun?
Virgin land, sign offs from land mangers and owners, including ecological impacts taken into consideration and a workload that far surpasses maintaining a trail or altering an existing line. As the Danesborough showed, the first 50 meters were bliss, as we made rapid progress in early 2019, only to be hit hard for the next 50, with root bases and flora that made every few inches a real battle. Theres a reason this two mile stretch of trail took 2 years to link up and made rideable. That swamp you all love to hate, trust us when we say it was never our intentions to run it through there, but the local wildlife have to be worked around.
As you can see from the above, developing a permissible trail isn’t simply a case of dig where you want.
Our second summer on the Danesborough, the final sections and long climb were priority, whilst encouraging riders to get onto the trail and land mangers to mark it with posts. A testament to the volunteer team, the work achieved was staggering, and unless you were present, its hard to express how hard people pushed themselves.
Bobs Drop was incorporated into the trail, with a blue flow on top and optional climb to ride both added. This cut off the section of Bobs drop after the drops, replacing with a long catch berm, however, this brought the historic trail into the permissive network, giving it a future.
Boot camps, outdoor gyms…. come with us for half a day and we’ll make sure you’re begging for an ice bath and cold beverage.
August – The Longslade is shut
It may come as a surprise to some that our opening of the Danesborough within a week of Longslade being shut, was sheer coincidence. We felt very lucky that we were able to do this. The trails exist on an commercial forest and every few years, there will be activity. Time to dispel a myth, the forest was here long before the trails and we as riders are guests on their land. Many areas aren’t able to have a trail network recognised by land owners, something that should be respected and nurtured.
2/3rds was shut
Mike (head of Woburn Bike Trails) worked with the land manger to establish a diversion, I went out and taped off many areas, given we wouldn’t know when the machines would be entering each trail section and above all, we don’t want anyone coming to harm.
Throughout this period we have been keeping Trail Forks updated, allowing us to push people to the maps for GPX files to follow and a visual representation of what can be ridden. We took this opportunity to head into Merlin for some much needed TLC, as well as spend 2 days of the main berms of Spooky Woods, reestablishing the original berms, as part of IMBA Europe’s Take Care of Your Trails September. The climb out of Empire drop, second descent of Spooky, end of spooky, bottom berms of Jack Munti, long climb of Danesborough (section 7), Green eggs on Danesborough all had time repairing, maintaining or enhancing.
November – The start of Longslade’s Return
As soon as the logging and collection machines had exited the land, we sought permission to enter and get to work. Devastation in the Harpers section, the felled and cleared area of land meant a real challenge, a bleak landscape reminiscent of result of warfare at the turn of the last century, it provided challenge and opportunity in equal measure. With a few features remaining visible, namely the ascent/decent on the small Ridgeline, it was possible to find some of the existing trail and link work from this.
A new ridge section was designed, with stage 1 now operational. Linked up to Jamster, which was half thinned and along to Endor, 3 full days were required to make this happening, including a night. Based on our schedule above, that would take some 9+ weeks, however, a combination of annual leave and furlough was utilised to make this happen. A handful of volunteers used 3+ days of additional time to accelerate the process.
With this section now back in use, the team headed onto the remainder of the trail, predominantly using Tuesday nights to work backwards along closed sections of trail. Finding, clearing and making sure the trail is back to its previous condition, if not better, comes with its own set of problems to solve by head torch. By mid December, head torches were no longer required with 10+ lights that could be mounted to trees, tools and tripods in order to give greater depth perception and overall trail context. More investment, but in doing so, a more efficient way of working.
Finally, a week before Christmas, our final dig day of the year, we were able to open the Longslade once more from start to finish. Yes Peacocks remains shut for the time being, but given the riding community some 4 miles of trails back was an epic achievement.
A task we expected to last well into the spring months
How was this achieved?
If theres one thing that 2020 provided was an army of new volunteers, of all ages, backgrounds and riding ability. With working from home becoming common for many and weekend trips being cancelled, the trails have never had so many people willing to commit a day to digging. There’s a lot to be said for a diverse digging crew, reflective of the user base, as unlike a jump line, the XC based trails attract a much broader selection of riders, from balance bikes to 170mm enduro rigs. Catering for all isn’t a possibility, but creating something that all skill levels can appreciate is possible, and only through a broad base riding and feeding back.
Furthermore, the willingness for people to come back after a tough day on the trail is testament to their character and we hope to see many retuning in 2021.
The Night Dig
What was once a 2 hour dig, has in some instances become a 4+ hour session. Both in the summer months and lately, the depths of winter. Whereas in 2019, these were 1 man or 2 at a push, 2020 saw up to 10 turning out on a school night to dig. Creating a mini Saturday dig day and enabling much greater quantities of work to occur. On more than one occasion changing the Saturday plans, as the work was 80-100% completed on the week night.
And finally TRASH
I’ve been one of Trash Free Trails A-Team since 2018 and this year saw a marked increase on trail litter appearing on the marked mtb trails. Unfortunately, the vast majority consisted of beer bottles/cans, coffee cups and takeaway/convenience food packaging. Items, on the whole, you don’t associate with riders. I’ve picked up in excess of 400 items from the trails this year and have resorted to carrying a dry bag at all times, as what was once found on a trail ride every now and again, has developed into finding at least 1 item every ride.
We are more than trail builders at Woburn Bike Trails, we are custodians of the woods we dig in and though on average we dig only a handful of hours each week, look to leave the place clean and in the best condition possible each time.
To top of the year of Mike was recognised by IMBA Europe as Male Trail Advocate of 2020
We have our plans for the opening months and look forward to seeing you out on the trail. We always enjoy having a chat with every rider we come across, and the easiest way to find out more is to speak to us on your ride, rather than via social media. Better still, join us on a dig day
Thank you to everyone who lifted a tool in 2020, we hope you had good break and see you back out on the trail on Saturday 9th January, our first dig day of 2021.
Woburn Bike Trails is a volunteer trail team, headed up by Mike and James, with no outside funding. I say no outside funding, as the trail team fund themselves, from the tools used (and broken) on the trail, to their travel, materials used for marking, reinforcing…. essentially if anything is required outside of hoggin (a type of stone chip supplied) and marker posts, someone internally pays for it out of their own bank balance.
For more info on Woburn Bike Trails Click HERE