[words by Steve Thomas]
The UK is now sweetly and boldly tattooed with varied autumnal colours and has deep veins of trails weaving their way through the very best of these. Some of us may want to lie in hibernation and simply wait for those beautiful and dry trails and days of summer to return, and who can blame them?
However, for some of us, it’s the autumn rides that mean the most. It's the season when days are coming defiantly shorter, and the winds and the rains howl louder and harder, making it a season that really needs to be made the most of – because one storm is all it takes for those last leaves to become trail grease.
The obvious and boldly embroidered reason for riding in the autumn lies in the rich colours, and in the UK the landscapes become covered in a magical red, gold and green seasonal carpet. That said, there is more to riding in autumn than simply those jaw-dropping colours, and I guess it can be so sublime that we sometimes struggle to tune in to that.
The amazing and varied flora and fauna that exist on this isle make for a ride through Mother Nature’s finest kaleidoscope and one that changes with every shortening day that passes.
Autumn also marks the end of summer, which means the scorn of winter looms large, promising cold hands, iced-up and wet feet, runny noses and endless bike washes. For many, it also marks the end of the racing and serious riding season, making it the last chance to ride a saloon in so many ways, too.
If you fancy experiencing the beautiful British autumn landscapes on your bike, we've listed the many great and colourful rides to go. Without further ado, here are ten of the finest places to ride offroad during this time.
Exmoor & the Quantocks
Steve Thomas autumn riding 3, by Steve Thomas
Although technically speaking Exmoor and the Quantocks come as separate packages, they are so closely related that they can be mixed together, much like a fine gin and tonic, and when served up as a weekend double shot they truly are all the more intoxicating.
This area has long since been a go-to destination for riders from the Southwest and played a key hosting role in the early days of mountain biking.
With a mix of open moorland, forest and coastal trails, sweeping descents and seriously steep battles against the gradient this daunting duo makes for some great autumnal riding and witnessing the seasonal colours.
komoot collection by Barney:
New Forest, Hampshire
New Forest is an extremely pretty place to visit at any time of the year, and no more so during the autumn when its landscape turns to a pick-and-mix-like selection of bold autumn colours.
There are miles of a great mountain bike and gravel routes to be ridden here, many of which are way-marked or have GPS tracks available online.
In such a popular area it’s highly recommended to stick to riding the well-trodden and known cycling-friendly options – and during the autumn New Forest has perhaps some of the prettiest trails in the deep south.
Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire
2021 fod launchpad countdown reopen James Addison, Chairperson of Dean Trail Volunteers riding Launchpad. Credit - Forestry England.JPG, by Liam Mercer
With a long and twisted trail network, its dedicated biking facilities and a neatly woven carpet of mixed trees the Forest of Dean is a great place to overdose on seasonal colours, and it’s hard to escape them.
Here you can knit trails together to ride for almost as far as you like, and without ever being exposed and out of reach. This is ideal for autumnal fun and for beating off the encroaching night, should you get caught short – which is easily doable given the fine ales and local hostelries tucked away in the area.
As a group of famous locals once sang about the autumnal riding here it’s “Unbelievable” (at least we can but assume that’s what EMF was on about).
Cannock Chase, Staffordshire
With an extensive maze of well-drained flat and rolling trails, Cannock Chase is well suited to gravel riding and non-technical mountain biking, and during the autumn it’s almost on fire with seasonal colours and glows.
The Chase comes fully wall-to-wall carpeted in bracken and heather and is heavily studded with a varied and colourful mix of trees, all of which blend together seamlessly during autumn.
There are also dedicated MTB trails and a trail centre on the Chase, which makes finding routes and cakes easy.
The Long Mynd, Shropshire
Steve Thomas autumn riding 4, by Steve Thomas
The flat-topped and open trails of the Long Mynd are smothered in heather and bracken, and you get broad and sweeping views in almost every direction from its open top, which is a real treat on an autumn ride.
Dive down into the valleys and “batches” and it’s much like riding through a revolving tunnel of seasonal colours if you can take your eye off the skinny trails to appreciate them that is.
The natural trails here are superb for mountain biking and great for gravel epics – as you can link in the neighbouring hills for big days out if you wish.
The Elan Valley, Mid Wales
Steve Thomas autumn riding 1, by Steve Thomas
Festooned between forests and moors the Elan Valley is a classic old-school mountain biking destination and is also well up for gravel rides.
As soon as you leave the small town of Rhayader behind and head deeper into the valley you’re surrounded with scenes that could have come straight out of a Victorian picture book, which comes largely thanks to the dams and the tree-lined valleys.
The Miners Trail offers up exceptional seasonal outlook, although you’d struggle to ride a gravel bike down it.
Snowdonia, North Wales
Snowdonia is stunningly beautiful and great for riding at any time of the year, although during autumn the cocktail of open moorland, mountain trails, and the amazing mix of old trees make for something extra special.
There are many marked trails here, and countless accessible forest fire roads too, which are well-suited for gravel rides. Betws-y-Coed is the tourism hub, and is really amazing during the autumn, while Beddgelert also makes for a great ride out of the base.
The Peak District, Derbyshire
2022 uswe hajker winter pack riding 2.jpg, by Liam Mercer
With its high rise and open trails, the Peak District’s grander reach slowly and gently tan and fade during the autumn, and from these lofty perches, you glimpse down into the golden brown etched valleys below, all of which have trails running through them. The Hope Valley and the trails leading out of it are especially sweet at this time of year.
Whilst it’s long been known for great natural mountain bike trails there’s plenty of tough gravel riding to be found here too.
The Lake District, Cumbria
During the autumn the Lake District is arguably the prettiest place in all of England to be for the seasonal colours, which is why photographers flock here during this extended golden hour.
It’s hard to go wrong when looking for colourful autumn Lakeland rides, although Kentmere and Grizedale really stand out and contrast each other’s palettes during this time – be that on gravel or mountain bikes.
The West Highlands, Scotland
Scotland’s bonnie West Highlands have some of the most imposing scenery and terrain in the UK, and the 96-mile-long West Highland Way takes in most of it. Running from the northern fringe of Glasgow all the way to Fort William, the well-known hiking and cycling path weaves right through the best areas.
This is one of Scotland's most accessible and attainable adventure routes, and can it be carved into prime cuts by using the rail network if you so wish. There are plenty of facilities along the way, so it’s well suited to a weekend bike packing adventure, be that on flat or dropped bars, although do note that the climb over the Devil’s Staircase is a bit of a carry followed by a bone-shaking descent.
Remember that the seasonal glory passes slightly earlier way up here than it does further south, and if you do just take on one section of the route then make it through Rannoch Moor.
komoot collection by Barney:
You might also like: