This Issue: Offas Dyke, Shropshire and Slaley Forest, Northumberland.
Offa’s Dyke, Shropshire
This is a fantastic longer lane in the heart of Shropshire. It is particularly suitable for the novice green laners out there. The first couple of sections are pretty straightforward and follow the Off a’s Dyke footpath. They consist of farm tracks with solid bases and a few puddles.
The views as you ride are good, and it’s great to think, in the back of your mind, that you are following Offa’s Dyke for a good section of the ride which is steeped in history. There is only one real tricky section for novice riders, but if care is taken this shouldn’t prove too much of an issue.
Be warned, the short 100m-or-so section is rutty and pretty muddy. It may be worth walking it to the gate to make sure you are comfortable, as once in the ruts you will struggle to turn your bike around. So, it’s better to be safe than sorry and end up dropping your steed.
The first part of the trail does not seem to have a name and does not follow Offa’s Dyke immediately. The track is indicated by a byway sign which is good to see. Not all legal trails have signage. The track starts on a 4×4 farmer’s track and heads slightly uphill on a hard-compact base. There are farmers’ fields either side.
The going is fairly easy and I’d class it as a grade two in terms of difficulty. It was wintery weather when I did the lane and there were a few icy puddles knocking about but nothing deep.
The track heads around a slight right-hand bend and continues pretty much the same as it starts, you can see it stretching out into the distance and it’s possible to pick up some speed on this section.
The base is hard compact with a few loose stones. There are rolling hill views all around. You soon approach a larger looking puddle, it has a solid base and is easy to ride through and is approximately knee-deep. Continue to the tarmac road.
Turn left onto the tarmac and immediately right back onto the trail. The track starts as a wide solid base and quickly turns right. You are now following the Offas Dyke path. The going is fairly easy and there are great views to the valley on the right.
The trail continues winding its way into the distance. You soon come to a gate. Just keep going. You will reach a point where the solid track you are on heads to the right, and straight on is a snottier looking 4×4 track with ruts.
Make sure you head straight on here, down the rutted muddy track. This is the byway and you are still following the path of Offas Dyke. Here, you have a choice. Pick either the left or right rut or be brave and try and ride the motorbike rut in the centre of the track.
They’re all pretty similar and it’s down to personal choice. When you reach the next gate, pass through it into the farmer’s field. The track heads to the right and continues slightly downhill.
The track is wide and muddy but with a solid base. There are drainage channels every so often and these pass over the trail at an angle. Make sure you hit these square on so as not to cause the front wheel to slip as you bounce over.
At the bottom of the farmer’s field, the track veers right and left. Keep going all the way to the end. When you approach the house, the exit gate is just to the left. Exit onto tarmac.
Slaley Forest, Northumberland
The route through Slaley Forest is fantastic and covers a variety of terrains and difficulties along the way. Unfortunately, some of the sections have seasonal TROs, and some sections are not suitable for beginners.
These have been detailed, so please read the route description carefully. There is no excuse to be caught on the TRO sections out of season. There are plenty of signs as you proceed, so in theory it should be difficult to get lost.
The route starts off as a great moorland track as you pass over Blanchand Moor. As you approach the forest at point five on the map, you have the option to head left. This section has a seasonal TRO, and is also not suitable for beginners.
Beginners should continue straight on and join the sections between points five and 12. They then have the option of turning right and heading to point 13 or continuing straight on and heading for point 10 on the most direct route.
The seasonal TRO sections are fantastic and only for the more competent riders out there. Expect single track in places, lots of mud, ruts and generally harder going than the rest of the routes marked. When riding, it’s obvious why they have seasonal TROs on these sections. In wet winter weather it would be far too easy for these routes to become impassable and would result in too much damage to the land for them to be kept open.
There are lots of offshoots to the legal tracks. Please keep to the legal tracks only and don’t be tempted to play off-piste. This route offers a fantastic 15.5km route and it would be a shame to lose it for miss-use.
Head up the tarmac single track lane to the gate. Proceed through the gate and continue a few metres along the tarmac. You will see the lane forking off it to the right. It’s a well used 4×4 track and starts with grass in the middle with shallow ruts.
It soon opens up as you proceed across the moorland. It’s a typical moorland track with a hard-compact base and a few loose stones and occasional puddles. You can see the track winding its way into the distance so can get some speed up.
There’s nothing technical really, and it’s ideal for beginners. Head through a gate and the track becomes more graded now as you approach the house in the distance. As you get closer slow down, you will head downhill to a large-looking water crossing that you have to ford. It’s caused by a stream that runs next to the trail and is about knee deep and not too difficult.
You will see a track heading to the right and to a gate. You can exit the trail here if it’s not for you in any way. Everyone else bear left and continue along the trail. The route continues as a well graded track, heading slightly uphill and round to the right.
There are a few loose stones and water washouts but nothing serious. You follow a wall on the right with the moors to the left. There appears to have been lots of grading going on. Head through the next gate and you will see a track heading off to the right here, continue straight ahead (there’s a ‘no vehicles’ sign to the right). It becomes a lot rockier, so enjoy yourself as you bounce over them.
After the gate, keep going across the moor. The track is well-used and not overly difficult. Still ideal for beginners. There’s a few loose stones but fantastic fast riding can be achieved as you can see well ahead. You are literally riding in the middle of the moor, with no walls as you progress. Seems to go on for miles this bit. After a few bends, you head towards a gate. You can now see Slaley Forest in the distance.
There’s another track heading off to the right. Keep going straight. The track doesn’t change. Still well graded with a few shallow puddles along the way. Keep heading towards the large forest in front. Pass a track to the left which is off-limits and keep heading towards the forest.
As you approach the forest keep an eye out for the track to the left. This is a no access track between 1 May – 30 September and is for motorbikes only. You will understand why if you ride this section for about five minutes. It deteriorates into a single track on the other side of the forest.
As you enter the forest there is another gate. Go through this and on to a forest track that runs between the forest. It’s well-graded and obviously an old logging track. It’s easygoing as you ride between the trees.
Leave the ‘tunnel of trees’ and it isn’t really apparent which way to go as there are no signs here. Keep going straight, don’t take the left into the trees. You now have moorland on your left, trees on your right. After approximately 300m there is a track to the left leading away from the trees.
Take this. I’m not sure as to the lack of signs here as everything else over the moors appears to be really well signposted. Continue to the gate on the edge of the moor. The track becomes more rutted and technical with some deep muddy puddles. There is a sign on the gate stating the seasonal TRO.
Turn immediately right after the gate. Again, there is a lack of signage, and there are tracks heading to the left and straight on, but these are out of bounds. This bit is fantastic, but definitely not for beginners. It soon turns into a single track with lots of ruts and technical bits.
The forest is still to your right, moorland to the left. This is definitely not for 4x4s anymore. It’s slower going now as you pick the best route through the rutty sections. Fantastic views to the front and left and lots of stones, mud, puddles and ruts are the order of the day.
Take care as there are several tricky bits, but it really depends on the route you pick as you ride down the trails. On the steepest part of the hill it gets pretty technical with some large rocks to bounce down (this is ace going back). The ground is soft as you proceed onwards, hence the seasonal TRO. Continue to gate at the edge of the forest.
Head through the gate and you now have a wall on your left. It’s pretty tight down this section and there are lots of ruts to negotiate and very little space to do much else bar ride straight on. Singletrack all the way to the end. Wire fence on your right, high wall on your left. Proceed to the crossroads.
Head straight on to form a loop, but this does take in another seasonal TRO section. If you’ve just completed the last section, then I am assuming you are aware of the dates. Go through the gate and continue along a wooded section.
The trees are different here, being very widely spaced so there’s plenty of vision through the trees to either side. The track is fairly easy but does get muddy in places especially where the logging vehicles have driven. Pass a couple of obvious left turns but these are just more logging tracks.
Continue straight on until you see a track doubling back on the left with signs denoting this is another seasonal TRO section.
It becomes pretty muddy on this part and it’s easy to understand the seasonal TRO. It becomes a single-track in places and there’s lots of mud and muddy puddles. The track narrows as you proceed along it, eventually becoming a wide single-track type trail. Continue through the gate and you are back on the main trail. Turn left.
This is a well-used graded track for the most part. It’s easy to pick up speed so be careful. You will soon pass the track you have used at point 11.
Continue going straight. The trail becomes a bit more of a sandy base in places so take care as sand has a tendency to drift into mounds.
Soon you will pass a track on the left and the trail suddenly turns into a graded forest track with a hardcore base as you proceed through the trees. It can be very fast along this section.
At the end, turn right along a well-graded solid compact road suitable for cars. Keep going. You are back to near point five.
Turn left. Proceed along the well-graded wide road until you reach the end. Be wary. You can get speed and there are several, deep water splashes. Some are deep. You have been warned. I nearly went over the bars going through one of them.