Since moving to Liverpool a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been checking out all the mountain biking trails within easy reach. Having already ticked Gisburn, Llandegla and Lee Quarry off the list, next up was Cannock Chase in the midlands.
Despite being a Bank Holiday Monday, it only took us an hour and fifteen minutes to get there from Liverpool, and not being far from the M6 (junction 12), it was easy to find.
There are two red graded XC mountain bike trails at Cannock that can either be ridden separately or as a full 24km circuit. ‘Follow the Dog’ is the easier of the two and starts at the Birches Valley Forest Centre and main car park. It’s an11km loop for intermediate riders with some easy-to-ride jumps, drops, rock gardens and boardwalk sections along the way. You can either ride it alone or in conjunction with ‘The Monkey Trail’, which joins it half way round, offering an additional 13km loop of more challenging terrain, with optional black graded sections.
While ‘Follow the Dog’ was a pleasant cruise along some nice flowing singletrack, for me, the highlight was definitely ‘The Monkey Trail’. It starts with a short steep climb known as the Lung Buster but soon levels out into a nice winding climb through the forest, with plenty of switchbacks. After the undulating ‘Roller Coaster’ section you arrive at the start of ‘Deer Skull’, which is a fun blast down the other side. After a short stretch of fire road, you join ‘The Original Monkey’, where things start to get interesting. After climbing for a bit, you arrive at the first of the optional black sections, ‘Singe Noir’. This starts with a tricky ‘qualifier’ drop, then straight into a steep rock garden that bends round a tight corner. If you’re still on your bike by this stage, the rock garden ends with another drop, just to test you that little bit further! It’s harder than it looks (not that it looks all that easy!) and you have to be a pretty competent rider to nail it.
After watching a couple of people stack or bottle it, I decided to skip that bit and take some shots of Dan and Dave making it look easy instead. Although I hadn’t officially ‘qualified’ to ride the rest of the black, I did anyway, and found the rest of it much more manageable. It was still pretty technical, with more steep and hard to negotiate rock gardens, and big drops, but nothing as daunting as the initial section. If you don’t want to ride the black line, you can just continue down the red, which I believe still has plenty of technical features, but just not quite as gnarly as the black.
After a while, the black rejoins the red, but there is still plenty of fun to be had. I particularly enjoyed Upper Cliff, which is a fast flowing descent with plenty more drops and rock gardens. There’s also another optional black graded rock garden known as the ‘Black Rocks’ that you can hit for an extra challenge.
Unfortunately the Lower Cliff section was closed for repairs and improvements, but that also looked like great fun.
At the end of Lower Cliff you cross the bridge back over the road and railway line and rejoin the Follow the Dog Loop. I enjoyed the second half of Follow the Dog much more than the first and there are a few more technical features to keep it interesting, such as the ‘Evil Slab’ – a big step up – and ‘Werewolf Drop’, neither of which are as scary as they sound!
In addition to the XC trails, there’s also series of downhill trails at the neighbouring Stile Cop bike park. We didn’t have time to go there this time, but will definitely be checking them out next time.
Overall, I really enjoyed our ride at Cannock Chase. For a part of the country that’s fairly flat, they’ve managed to create some pretty decent downhill sections, and there are very few grueling climbs. In fact, I only remember one section that felt like a bit of a slog and have since found out it’s appropriately called ‘Cardiac Hill’.
It was fairly busy in places, particularly near the start, but given that it was the May bank holiday, that was to be expected. There were also a few sections closed for maintenance that looked like they would have been good, so I’m definitely looking forward to going back again when it’s all open. And next time I’ll qualify to ride the black section properly!
Have you ridden the trails at Cannock Chase? How do you rate it? Share your thoughts below…