Cardinham trail center – the new hub for mountain biking in Cornwall

words & pictures: Russ Speller

The story so far.....

Looking at completion in mid November the team at Cornwall’s Cardinham site of the Lanhydrock trail hub are working flat out. The plans set out earlier this year were really something to shout about so in early September we went up for a sneak preview of what’s on offer to see just what Hugh Clixby (creator of the legendary “Monkey” trail at Cannock Chase) and the Forestry Commision have been up to.

The Cardinham site is set in a valley close to the ancient cornish town of Bodmin and will be the first trail center in the county. The location consists of steep valley sides populated by no less than 6 seperate woodlands with a total valley depth of 70 meters from top to bottom. The beauty of it is the geography – “its not too dissimilar to the Forest of Dean, you don’t actually need to have 2000 feet of mountain to play with, yet the valley at Cardinham really is quite differect to a lot of places” says Jon Fairhurst, the Forestry Commission project manager. The trail currently under construction at the moment is the Blue Route and will be a fully surfaced trail constructed of natural material imported to the site. The material being used is going down and holding and draining really well.

cardinham-cycle-trails-os.jpg

“The first trail due for release in this three year project will be the Blue Loop” says Jon “after that it’s down to whatever is left in the budget”. The construction team have been thankful that local riders have been giving the nearly finished parts of the build the chance to bed in minimising the costs to their very limited budget ”the message is it’s really great this is happening and to see it going in but please just don’t ride it yet”. Budget seems to be the key challenge for the team here after the tenders came back with a lowest figure of £850,000 to realise the full dream of the Cardinham trail center – the team are currently working with less than half that figure to get things underway. So at this point the skills area, which is estimated to cost around £60,000 has had to be shelved. But this really shouldn’t put riders off. Our guided tour of the build so far promises much for both the intermediate and advanced rider and the greater support the Cardinham build is given then the greater the funding opportunities.

In order to expand the build at the Cardinham site the project is currently looking at additional forms of funding from sponsorship – this will help manage both the exisiting shortfall and future maintenance of the trails on the site. “There is a big initial capital investment but this funds the project for three years after this the costs of maintenance are down to the Forrestry Commission” adds Jon “So we will also be looking at a volunteer group if possible”.

The trails

cardinham-1.gif

Our first walk through suggests the route under construction is certainly going to be a laugh and a challenge. Locally there is no comparison between the trails at Haldon at Exeter, Cardinham certainly promises to offer more without the need to go “off piste”. It is evident from the route that we walked that Clixby’s Forest and Environment Contractorshave taken real care in considering how the trail will flow and how the rider can carry speed in sections. “The mindset has been to allow people of all abilities to enjoy the location and have fun in the woods and not to build the biggest and scariest hazards whatever they happen to be” naturally the current route being built is not for those new to bikes or mountain biking, that focus will remain at the Lanhydrock side of the site. Jon explains “I’m really chuffed with what we’ve achieved here so far, I’ve managed to ride it once and I have to say it’s really nice”, he continues “we’re usually more about getting people out into the woods on their bikes and not just for mountain biking per se, but this really comes close to the real thing unlike some other site such as Moors Valley”.

Jon explains that the build aims to use as much singletrack as possible with limited fire roads. The basic blue route is going to be 10-11 km, “but we will be able to add in red sections with push up options that you will be able to session and mix your trail up. It will be good for us to include something for more advanced riders in the red sections also”.

The build

cardinham-2.gif

After the original scoping work and feasability study placing the trail corridors on the site the Forestry Commsion have brought in contractor and trail designer Hugh Clixby. High-profile projects from his team to date include the 38km Dalby red route, the new Kitchener trail in Sherwood Pines and the high-level, high-exposure and high-fun Altura trail at Whinlatter complete with the Rough Riderz descent. He is working the Cardinham site designing within a 30m corridor keeping the best possible lines for the site. It’s a general approach that works with nature and is also not too prescribed allowing for the builder who is also a mountain biker to have the flexibility at work to keep the flow the pace and the fun in the trail. Jon explains that there is the challenge however of the girlfriend test on the blue trail build. This simple test asks the builder to think “if I bring her riding here will she want to even look at a bike again” if the answers no then it’s not blue.

The aim of the project is to try and look at Cardinham and think “what is Cardinham and who is going to ride here?”. There will be a couple of tough climbs but on the whole smaller climbs will be built into the trail and therefore won’t put off riders, but with keen interest from pre-exisitng rinding goups such as Cornwall Freeriders the suggestion is that there will be some challenging riding, whilst encourging what is a growing and accessible sport for the county.

From the perspective of the builder……

hugh-clixby.gif

One of the key highlights from talking to Hugh (just talking to me makes you want to dig up your own garden) Clixby - the builder of Cardinham – was his first mention 2.2km decsent from top to bottom in one section of this loop. When asked about what challenges the build has presented Hugh highlights the steep elevations on which he is working before finishing “but this is really a benefit, the beauty of this site and it’s geography is that you could be anywhere. We arrived on site the other day and it was raining but warm, and with the steep valley we could have been anywhere. We could replicate some of the 30-40 meter shutes like you find in France, if there’s money left in the budget we can do a few things like that, this could be a bit like Morzine.” It’s clear that Hugh thinks big and is really embracing the opportunity as the contractor at the site, it was at this point that it became clear that the budget shortfall is the only thing holding the build back.

When asked about what his thought processes are when working the build Hugh answers “natural, that’s my big thing. It’s a bit like a blank canvas on this hillside which is going to have some blue tabletops and rollers to tweak a bit, but on the whole we are going for the natural feel and trying to work with the landscape and not trying to create the landscape”.

Our final question for Hugh was set to pin out exactly what to expect from the build, from the horses mouth as it were - we asked what is the main attraction at Cardinham for the serious mountain biker? “It’s less far to go to Wales” Hugh joked “But in all seriousness this won’t be hugely different from South Wales as it’s got the same geology. Those that travel up 3-4 times a year can cut that down to once a year with this trail center. It’s not gonna be a half way house it’s going to be a proper trail”.

The healing process of the material means that over time it will become much faster allowing riders to carry speed so from day one of the release of the site to the public later this year the Cardinham trail build really promises much, with much to get excited about.

Grading

cardinham-3.gif

Anyone who has ridden the many trail centers across the UK and beyond will notice what would seem to be a gross disparity between the trail gradings from one site to the next, with the simple comparison being between Thetford Forest Black route in Suffolk and Skyline Trail at Afan South Wales – both locations are owned and operated by the Forestry Commision yet both are completely different trails. Jon’s take on this is simple “you can and I have spent hours discussing this with people” he begins, “a green trail is [the forest road], a black trail is death or risk thereof, and blue and red is everything inbetween”. He goes on to explain that the truth of the matter is that a blue trail and a red trail can often overlap depending on how the rider chooses to tackle it and for this reason these trails allow riders to ride either within or outside of their comfort zone. A simple example being that of Spooky Woods at Glentress, Scotland – a fully surfaced trail which if taken steady is good to get your descending and berm skills up, however if taken fast you definately will be leaving terra firma and will need to know how to land on the pain of injury. Jon sums up “it’s down to the rider’s pace and how they carry the flow through the trail”.

Help yourself Cornwall….

Cornwall really needs a maintained hub and focus to encourage and grow the sport of mountain biking. The hope is that Cardinham and Llanhydrock will provide this. The county has many beautiful and challenging coastal routes but the bottom line is that these are not technically legal to ride, and addtionally there is limited riding on Bodmin Moor. Poldice Valley offers some truely cracking and challenging riding with routes such as Billy Brays and Ridge Racer but requires local knowledge to get out and enjoy these routes – something pushed forward and encouraged by ride groups such as North Coast MTB, Cornwall Freeriders and of course local mountain bike guides such as Cornwall Roughtracks.

There is a stark feeling within the community of existing riders that Cornwall County Council don’t do enough to engage serious mountain biking both as a recreational sport and source of tourism, although in the same breath it must be said that there are plenty of leisure routes in the county for families. To encourage and develop the sport in a county that uniquely has nearly every other form of adrenaline sport on offer seems to be the obvious solution. It will be down to the community, council and the keen volunteers to support and push the Cardinham trail build forward in partnership with the Forestry Commission and their contractors.