Experience Wye: woodland mountain bike loop
Although not very long, this route packs quite a punch, with some tricky trails and 455m of steep climbs and descents along the way, placing it firmly in the mountain biking category.
It may only explore a small compact area, just east of Wye village, but the trails wiggle around, searching out the more fun and challenging riding, whilst also exploring some beautiful quiet countryside and some wonderful views too.
The ride starts from the centre of Wye village and is immediately out into the Kent countryside and the Garden of England. Not only are vast swathes of land here used for farming and commercial nurseries, but the natural fauna thrive too, with a rich variety of plant and animal species flourishing.
In the spring and summer months, the flower-clad grasslands burst into life with bees and butterflies with many of the UK’s rare species of plants, such as the cyclamen and even the lizard orchid being found here. This is therefore the ideal time to visit, especially if mountain biking, as the North Downs are made up of chalk which are extremely slippery when wet. Sheltered tracks beneath tree coverage can take a while to dry out and busy farm tracks can get waterlogged and muddy during the winter months.
This route largely avoids the more problematic trails, and holds up pretty well in the wet, but the last couple of descents can be tricky, so take extra care towards the end of the ride.
This is one of three routes starting from the Cycling UK EXPERIENCE hub in Wye.
Start as you mean to go on
The bridleway guiding you out of the village crosses the agricultural ‘garden’ providing the chance to warm your legs up before a steep, rooty climb heads up into the trees for more wild and natural surroundings. You will be doing well to clear the climb as you search for the sweet spot between power and traction while trying not to stall or spin out on the roots. Keep something in reserve though, as there is still some more work to be done as you meet the road, for a final effort to get to the top along the tarmac. Of course there is always an easier option - up the road for the whole way - but that's obviously less fun, so take your pick!
At the top, you dive back into the woods and off-road on an old byway track which offers a fun reward for your climbing efforts as it glides down the hillside on a gradual descent, enabling you to ride with little effort and let your legs recover.
Be ready to slow down for horse riders though as you enjoy the flowing track. It pops you out of the trees and weaves between a hedged-lined track, before diving back down for a final flurry to Pett Street farm. A rough and broken track will direct you back up the far hillside – challenging enough when dry and loose, but even more so when wet and slippery.
Gaze out across the Crundale Downs
After joining a byway to go over the top of the hill, you descend a lovely singletrack trail to emerge by an 11th Century church, St Mary the Blessed Virgin Crundale. Located here on the hill, in an isolated position, which may be indicative of a pre-Augustinian site of pagan worship in Saxon times, it’s situated in a lofted and isolated location, so the seats make for a great place to rest and properly take in the views out across the Crundale Downs.
You will have to provide your own trail refreshments though, as there is nothing available while out on this route, other than the sweet trails, lovely views and quiet countryside on offer.
Once rested and back on the move, be sure to engage concentration levels for a short, loose singletrack descent that welcomes you back into the ride, and now follows along the open hillside with beautiful wildflowers lining the trail and a multitude of butterflies flittering up into the air as you cruise by.
Back by Pett Street farm again, you start to head back up the climb you tackled earlier, but fear not, as this time you are quickly turning off and following a flatter track alongside a wood, to effectively continue along this quiet valley, offering lovely views out across the land.
The Devil’s Kneading Trough
Past Coombe Manor, a concrete track leads you up to The Devil’s Kneading Trough, the largest and most famous of the steep-sided dry valleys that characterise the hills of the Downs.
A better option than the roadside viewpoint is to follow the route which heads north of the North Downs Way trail, across the top of the Wye Downs, following a lovely smooth singletrack path worn into the grassy hillside. The views open up as you go, providing an amazing panoramic sight over and beyond Wye.
The Wye Crown
Just beyond the kissing gate, where it becomes a footpath, is the Wye Crown; a hillside carving cut into the chalk of the North Downs above the village. The origins of the Wye Crown go back over a hundred years to the early twentieth century when Wye was home to a thriving agricultural college.
Keen to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, the college’s principal came up with the idea of carving a crown into the hillside above the village. Tommy J. Young, the college’s lecturer in Surveying used the vantage point from the fields below to guide a team of students armed with flags to mark out the symmetrical shape, taken from an 1887 florin (an old British coin). Once marked out, it took 35 students over 4 days to move 7,000 barrow loads of turf, soil and chalk to create it.
Illuminated by 1,500 fairy lights, the King was able to view the spectacle from nearby Eastwell Manor, and in 1937 electric lights were used for the coronation of King George VI.
As cyclists, you are diverted off around a rough field-edge, but it soon becomes a nice singletrack trail along the edge of the woods until you re-join a byway descent you ventured along earlier in the day. This time you bear left at the fork on this sweeping trail, grind up a steep climb that will test weary legs, and then back down a rough track with ruts and drops, to challenge your bike skills. In the wet this can be very slippery!
It certainly gets the heart pumping, but you can chill out and spin along the country lanes afterwards, enjoying the views and winding down from the end of your exploration. There is one last sting in the tail however, with one last grind up a tarmac climb, which rewards you with a blast down the steep, rooty climb which started your day. With gravity on your side it means there is more effortless cruising back down into Wye to finish the ride. You might not have ventured very far, but you’ll certainly feel like you’ve had a good workout and explored this quiet corner of beautiful countryside.
The development of these routes has been funded through EXPERIENCE, a €23.3 million project co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF, €16 million) through the Interreg VA France (Channel) England Programme 2014-2020, boosting visitor numbers in six pilot regions across England and France. This project will harness the experiential tourism trend to extend the season (October – March), generating 20 million new off-season visitors spending €1 billion across the Channel region by June 2023.