This little mountain bike “course” (they call it a course not a trail) is about 140 miles from my house. I was never going to drive there but as I was in Essex for a few days I thought it would be rude not to go check it out – after all it was built for the 2012 Olympics and I had seen on the the telly!
Hadleigh Park is not particularly easy to find – I am sure that they will sort that out in due course, it just needs a couple of better signs. Now once you are there, its not even obvious that you have arrived (again some big signs would be good) or it doesn’t even at a mountain biking location. They could learn a lot from Cognation who do a great job at the Welsh trail centres of making you feel like you are at a MTB location. They could do with this more so at Hadleigh, especially in the absence of any mountains or even a forest to get you in the mood.
The empty car park, the children’s playground and cafe – it didn’t quite feel right. Oh wait, there’s a small pump track, this must be it.
Once the bike and I were ready I headed off looking for the trail – er? Where is it then? No signs! Well something that looks a bit like a sign, but nothing very obvious. Then I found the short skills loop – this is OK. Apart from the huge drops! I was OK on one of them, but this is not built for a beginner to learn on. But where is the course?
At last there it is…
Now its a Thursday afternoon in Essex, and I guess I wasn’t expecting to see many people but there were I think about 5 people on the course.
I didn’t know what to expect so when I saw sprawled in front of me some wide open spaces with sandy coloured routes snaking through it I immediately thought it looked simple and functional. Well it was anything but simple!
The blue and red options intertwine around the park taking you sharply up and down at times – I think the 5km route had me climbing around 200m. Without a dropper post on my hardtail I found a saddle height compromise that gave me some respite on the short sharp climbs and just enough “clearance” for the tetechnical drops.
Some of the black sections wouldn’t have been out of place at Coed-Y-Brenin, requiring some commitment to tackle. While they were short obstacles they definitely had some punch to them.
Some nice features like tunnels, switch backs and some linked berms kept it interesting but all in all it was rather an odd experience.
Its possible to make some wrong turns or miss out sections, but due to the low volume of traffic and the open spaces you can easily see if anyone is coming the other way.
The trail itself feels like a country park walk. The almost 100% hard packed route will stand the test of time and still feels very new; if this sounds ideal it wasn’t. The gritty surface didn’t provide much confidence in the corners and my rather chunky High Rollers slipped and skidded about quite a bit in the turns. It didn’t once feel natural – my preference for trails and a natural trail this most certainly isn’t.
I don’t want to dis it too much as it was good fun, but this is a course and not a trail. This was definitely built to test athletes and your fitness and not really to put a grin on your face, like a Welsh trail centre such as the aforementioned Coed-Y-Brenin. There is quite a lot packed into the small estate and if you want a work out, go on a hot day like I did!
It was fun and I’m glad I made the little extra effort to pay it a visit but it was just a little too contrived for me.
- I enjoyed my visit and would recommend you ride it if you have the opportunity
- I wouldn’t drive 140 miles (and back) to ride it
- The “black” options are worthy of their label, be careful
- Concentrate or you will miss bits or end up riding the wrong way
For more info:
- The Hadleigh Park FaceBook page has lots of photos.
- The website is a little empty at the moment but I am sure there will be plenty of information there soon enough.