Guest Blog: Thetford Forest – another perspective
I recently read Ben’s review of Thetford Forest and, as a former East Anglian and Thetford regular, thought I’d add my own take on it.
There’s no denying the Norfolk / Suffolk border (over which Thetters sits) is not exactly a mountainous area. Compared to somewhere hillier, such as Essex, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s flat. There’s not even any rocks.
However, Thetford’s strength lies in endless flowing singletrack, which snakes through the forest in great abundance. You could ride at Thetford for a day and not cover the same ground twice, yet spend 90% of your time on swooping, wiggling, well-drained trail. And it does drain exceptionally well, almost to the point that it’s better after some rain to help keep the sandy dust down (not to be sniffed at in our UK climate). It’s a genuine year-round venue.
Thetford is also surprisingly challenging. Nick Craig apparently described the first NPS race he did there as one of the hardest he’d ridden. Why? Think about it: you’re gunning through tight, sweeping trails with no let-up, trying to drop the person behind or catch the one in front. Then you hit a fireroad – this is where you can get past, or you need to defend your position – so you’re sprinting for the next stretch of singletrack. You need to be on the gas, all the time. It’s brutal.
Then there’s the infamous bombholes that intrigued my Californian cousin while we were riding there several years ago. “What actually made them?” he asked, after dropping into several during our singletrack loop. “The Luftwaffe” I replied. The place has history.
As Ben has already described, marked routes were introduced a some time back, and Lime Burner in particular uses a lot of sections that were previously personal favourites. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the excellent TIMBER group, the fragile sandy surface didn’t cope well with the extra traffic and, in places, what were svelte sections of sinuous singletrack have reached motorway proportions, which has also hampered Thetford’s near mythical ability to shed water. The Beater copes with this a lot better with a graded surface, but off-piste is where the real charm lies.
Local knowledge will help you fully appreciate Thetford as getting lost is easier than falling off a log, and tracks also tend to ‘migrate’ and change regularly; moto enduros were still carving out fresh trails until recently, and the locals do a great job of opening up old trails to use in winter races and the annual Dusk ’til Dawn.
But let’s not beat around the bush here: Thetford is not vying with British Columbia as a global MTB hotspot. It is a one trick pony where your downhill rig will die of boredom, an enduro bike will see you grinning like a loon on the downs (and good training pedalling everywhere else) and a 29er will see you rolling the whoops like a boss.
Thetford is – to me – an amazing place to ride bikes, especially when everywhere else is soaking in after winter rain. What it lacks in height gain is more than made up for by grin-inducing, all weather trail. And, ultimately, isn’t that what it’s all about?
(Just don’t go there while it’s raining – the sand becomes a grinding paste when soaking wet)