Bedgebury Forest mountain bike trail centre review

Bedgebury? Where's that?

Bedgebury is in Kent, not too far from Rye or Hastings. Indeed Rye is why I was there in the first place. I'd been invited to a party there by an ex Top Gear crew member. Now Rye is a reasonable distance from Reigate, so originally I was going to drive. So why when somebody asked how I was going to get there did I reply "by bike" is beyond me. It just came out of my mouth.

Once that's out there, that's it; I'm going by bike.

Getting to Bedgebury by bike from Reigate.

Actually this is an easy thing to do. Sustrans do a number of long distance cycle routes. Here in Surrey I actually live on Route 21, which goes from London to the coast. I've used it a lot, so am familiar with the concept. Bit of light off-road, quiet lanes. I've used Route 21 to get to Gatwick or Caterham, and have always thought of riding further south. It links in with the Worth Way at Crawley, and then to the Forest way at East Grinstead.

From where the Worth Way terminates to Rye is an easy call, and Bedgebury is near to Hawkhead, a little town not far away from where the party was being held. My plan was to have light lunch at Bedgebury, ride the Red, then go on to the party.

The start of the Worth Way at Crawley was a tough find. The first kilometre really has been used by local residents as a handy tip. It's unnavigable really, full of their junk. Once past this slightly alarming section, it is all plain sailing to East Grinstead. Here a quick signposted trip through town leads one to the Forest Way.

The Forest Way.

It was here I teamed up with a local rider, who blasts up and down it as a training section. He passed me at speed, and, well, you can't let that happen can you? I chased him down, catching him at Forest Row, the alleged birth place of the industrial revolution. From there we rode together, talking the talk in a friendly kind of way. He seemed happy to have somebody ride with him, and for me it made the miles zip past.

The Forest Way is much more, shall we say, 'fun' than the rather dull Downs Link from Guildford to Shoreham. These things are all relative though. It is narrow for one, which means it is more like a piece of slightly wide, but straight, singletrack. It doesn't really seem to go anywhere though, and just ended. I'd expected the odd café or signs hinting at local pubs, but no; it's just a family trail.

Forest Way to Hawkhead.

I made my own way from the Forest Way to Bedgebury [Hawkhead], using my trusty Ordnance Survey map. It was alarmingly straightforward, and door-to-Hawkhead took just over three hours. Not bad for a 50 year old on a mountain bike with only a double ring up front. I'm slightly aware that around here Sustrans Route 21 meets Route 18, so it may have been even easier had I bought a Sustrans map. A road bike would have made things even easier, but I don't own one.

I left home at 08:30, figuring I'd get to Bedgebury at 13:00, slow cruise. My wife had set off two hours later - actually things were complicated. My 11 year old daughter had gone off camping the previous day with a friend, and was down near Rye. My son had a test the evening before, meaning ideally we'd take son that day and collect daughter on the way to the party. We were all due to meet near Rye, and go to the party from there.

Hence I was a little time constrained, but not overly fussed at being late. The party was due to start at 2pm, so in theory I'd plenty of time. It was thus rather surprising to see my wife arrive at the A21 crossroads near Hawkhead just as I did, and using the same route. I was happy, she was fuming. Her "navigator" had set the sat nav to bicycle..... She'd taken almost as long to drive in as I'd taken to cycle. There was only an hour in it, over perhaps 50 miles.

I followed her into Hawkhead.

Bedgebury Forest mountain bike centre.

Once I'd calmed my wife down - essentially it was her fault for allowing somebody, who didn't seem to have any sense of direction, to navigate - naturally I left her with a cheery wave and headed back up the road..... By the time I got to Bedgebury I'd done over 60 road miles on a mountain bike. It was also 2pm, the time that the party was due to start. No worries; I'd seen the host shopping in Hawkhead, so he knew I was around.

Naturally I didn't use the front door. I was by now coming in from the opposite side to the entrance. Hence I figured on using a handy bridleway. Indeed I followed one in for about a mile to a gate. A five foot high gate.

A padlocked five foot high gate.

Clearly you are not meant to use initiative to get in. At this point I was a mile down a bridleway; no way was I about to turn back, so over the gate went my bike.

Indeed once inside I found out that the entrance fee is £9.50, which may explain the locked gate. Isn't that a bit steep? For me it seemed so, yet the place was rammed, with the car park full.

The trails.

They have two. A family trail, and a Red route. The family trail looked dull beyond belief. Indeed it was as I found out as the Red trail uses it to link sections. The family route was a road through the forest. Pleasant enough, but dull.

The Red trail it was then. Initially I found this a bit dull. It just seem to meander around a bit, not doing much. Then I realised that I'd joined it half way around, and was perhaps in an area where people catch their breath and move on, a link section. Accordingly I upped the pace and things improved to the point where I started to text people, saying how much fun I was having.

Indeed the trail builders use a cunning means to say when the trail gets fun. Little narrow entrances with slightly alarming names.

Each fun section of trail has a name, along with dire warnings that you may hurt yourself and tough tits if you do. Fair play! I saw quite a few people meandering around on bikes, looking crestfallen that this mountain bike thing is harder than it looks. Naturally I sped up each time I encountered such people. Each time I must have looked the exact opposite of my intention to look cool. You see I'd attached various bits of kit to my bike in an effort not to have to load my pack. After 60 miles this stuff had worked lose, and was rattling like buggery.

In essence my bike sounded like a bag of nails in a washing machine. Worse, my tyres were pumped up road hard, so I was also bouncing around. I'd attached a chalk bag from rock climbing to my handlebars. I used it to carry my trail food, which it did very well, meaning that cycling in I'd not had to stop to eat; just dip and snack.

Quite probably there was a bit of wind blown spittle on my face.

At one point I teamed up with a guy on a full suspension Decathlon mountain bike. I didn't want to - he was wearing ear warmers, but he was lost. Bear in mind I had no idea where I was, and had bags and crap attached to my bike in odd ways, he must have been desperate. He followed me for a bit, but gave up on the tamest downhill run ever invented by man. Never saw him again.

Must add here that the one time I encountered somebody who could actually ride, he gave me a good pasting, hanging on to my tail for ages. I'm not a trail God; far from it. I'm a trail wuss. Some of the riders at Bedgebury were a trifle embarrassing.

The Red'll not challenge the Black route boys amongst you, but give it a bit of speed and it is actually quite fun. It has lose berms, tight berms, and big berms. It has drops and jumps. It has some genius rock sections that can catch you out a little as they are randomly placed on the trail. In essence give it some beans and it is fun. I enjoyed myself hugely.

The Café.

That was until I got to the café.

The café is, in a word, expensive. I work in London, I'm used to £3 cups of coffee. I'm not happy with such, but at least in London you understand the prices to a degree. Why then was a cup of frankly shite coffee in a paper cup and a slice of dry cake almost £5 at the Bedgebury cafe? Greed I guess. Sitting amongst other patrons quite a few had conversations thus:

"Shall we clean up?"

"Why? They just charged us £25 for lunch. Let them do it."

I wasn't the only one alarmed. Add in the £9.50 entrance fee, and Bedgebury seems an expensive day out. As mentioned though, the place was rammed, really busy, so the entrance fee may well be acceptable for a family day out. I was glad I'd clambered in though. As for the café, they seem to be screwing themselves. A lot of people had brought their own food, and it was only first timers like me who were using it. Really, if I go again I'll avoid it.

Actually Bedgebury seemed good value to Bewl Water, another place I'd considered a ride around seeing as I was in the area. To just go and look at the lake costs £15 for a family of four. Is that good value in Kent? I looked on their web site, and wished I'd not. "Lots of interesting things to do at Bewl water! Really, lots of things to do here! Some great stuff!" was the general tone. Got the distinct impression that there was naff all to do there. Luckily seeing as how they want £15 just for me to find out, I never will. I've seen lakes before, quite often for free.

Back to Bedgebury. Indeed as a family we do; we've been a few times, walking and such. It is a great place on a sunny day and I do like it, a lot. It's only just down the road from London really [well, if the M25 is working]. Just not the café. The café is a bad place.


By the time I'd cycled around Bedgebury I was up to over 60 miles. That quick "by bike" answer was now starting to bite. By the time I got to the party I was over 70 miles up, on a mountain bike. Oddly enough I was actually fine, which disappointed the others. They expected a sweaty mess, yet I was able to join in with the fun in my cycling clothes, only partially smelly.

Would I go back to Bedgebury?

Well I do; been a few times over the years, walking with my children. Solo, as a mountain biker? Ah, tough one. I like it, and it is only 50 minutes away. I will, but not to the café, and neither will I pay the admission. I'd park in Hawkhead, use the excellent café there, and cycle in using a bridleway. It looks to be on Sustrans Route 18, so should have a better access point than the one I used.

Would I invite a few mates along, and drive there? Nope - if you were going to that kind of effort, add a bit more driving and go to South Wales instead.

Bedgebury, though, is an ideal trail centre if you've never been to one before. The few people mincing around said it all really. Drop them at Coed Llandegla and they'd be lost, way out of their comfort zones. Indeed if you've never been to a trail centre, then there'd be a great progression here. Do Bedgebury first. If you like that, you'll like Llandegla. A few fast laps of Bedgebury would set you up well for an initial try of the Red route at Llandegla.

It's a great place to encourage your children to ride.

Trail centre progression.

Start at Bedgebury or Swinley. Do the Red at Llandegla, progress to the Black. If you can do that, and enjoy it, well..... off you go! Just be aware that in Scotland they do things differently. The Blacks there are reported to be more like Reds here, down South.

Indeed I'd go further. If you've gotten out of the habit of going to a trail centre, and think that every five years or so it may be fun to try one, well let me tell you! The format of these centres changes every so often. They don't change overnight. And whether they force the pace of bike or rider development, or follow, is a moot point.

But what I've noticed is that if you don't do them for a few years, the next time you go back, the Black route you were so familiar with, may now well be classed as the Blue family trail. That happened to me at Coed y Brenin. I went when it originally opened, on a frankly shite bike. On a crap bike I did the original Black route no problem.

Didn't go back for ten years. When I did the Black was now very much a Black, all rocks. Again I did it, yet somewhere in my head it dawned on me that I'd missed the boat a little. I've not been for two years now; I suspect things may well have changed again.

At Bedgebury there wasn't much evidence of rad full suspension bikes. A 140mm hardtail would be perfect, a susser slight overkill. The trails are largely tame, yet have their moments. Taken slow they're a bit of a bore. Go faster and they come more alive. It's a fun place for a few hours for the average mountain biker, yet a great place all day for the children. I'm tempted to do it on a frosty, snowy day.


The next day I went to Rye. Again I've been a few times. Here, however, I'm bemused as to why. It's certainly nice to look at, and you can wonder around quite contentedly. However nothing escapes the fact that the place only exists to suck money out of tourists. It's full of faux antique shops, selling Harry Potter tat and essentially made to order furniture. There's some good stuff amidst the dross, but not much. The art gallery is great, but the antique shops offer nothing of interest. Certainly nothing you cannot get multiple times off eBay for less outlay.

Much better is Dungeness. That place I like a lot. Go there instead. It's not everybody's cup of tea, fair play. A bit barren. My wife loves it. Indeed whilst there she spotted one of the huts for rent, so that's what she did - called and rented it out for our next holiday.

The M25 near Sevenoaks.

The Highways Agency has spent years widening this section. Traffic has been hell. Turns out all they've done is remove the white line to the hard shoulder and use it as an extra lane, taking the total to four. In theory this is a good thing; means more cars can fit onto the road.

In practice it is a bag o'shite. Car breaks down. Car has to use what was the old hard shoulder. Whoever monitors the road now closes that lane down prior, and then reduces overall traffic speed down to 50mph.

This is great. Being the UK everybody slows down to 30mph to have a look at these poor souls with a hapless puncture. Traffic as a result backs up for miles.

In essence what the Highway Agency have done is create a sometimes 70mph road that is more-often-than-not a 30mph road. On Saturday people were taking 3 hours to do 45 miles. The A25 is faster, and I know a few local people who use that instead, all the time. Rather oddly this explained why people were able to bump into me at Hawkhead - my 50 mile cycle ride had taken me the same amount of time to complete as it had done them to drive 45 miles. A lot of them had sat on the M25 for two hours, doing nothing.

Hats off to the Highways Agency for really screwing things up.

My trusty Tassajara.

It must be an age thing, which may only explain why each time I have a bit of an unusual trip to do, I take my hardtail Gary Fisher Tassajara. To anybody and everybody it is a bright red racer, the type of bike a child would draw. No funny angles, no complicated frame tubes. It's a bike. It's red.

It's a bike I'm comfortable with, even though every so often I do change it's intended purpose. This week, narrow 2.0" Specialized summer tyres fitted, it was a road / trail centre cruiser. True it could have done with a big front ring; that would have made life so much easier for me. Should really have put one back on. Next time out it may well sport road tyres and a rear rack, or then again the fat front tyre could be fitted for winter hack duties. It is always, without fail, the bike that gets fitted with lights for night riding.

I've done some miles on that bike.

Come the winter it becomes my go-to bike pretty much all of the time. At heart I'm not a suspension person. I've owned a few over the years, and still have an Orange 5. The Orange is rarely my go-to bike. Indeed of all my bikes it is the last one out. I much, much prefer hardtails.

And on any trail here in Surrey, it is always the faster bike out of my fleet.


The town is quite small, yet boasts a Waitrose and a Tesco, along with a baker, butcher and grocery shop. There's even a cinema. To be fair there isn't much to do here for more than about ten minutes. The café on the corner is friendly and cheap - it's certainly the best café in town. The one in the cinema is average at best. Indeed the corner café is infinitely better than the expensive Bedgebury one in so many ways. Proper food at reasonable prices; friendly staff instead of surly ones; really good coffee. It's only a mile or so away from the trails as well, and free parking in town.

What Hawkhead does have is money. It oozes money. I live in Surrey yet felt Hawkhead rich. How often do you see a Porsche GT in your town? Or what looked and sounded like an original Ferrari Daytona convertible, in RHD form no less [only 7 were made]. Indeed my 8 year old kind of got bored looking at all the 911's trundling by.

There's a tradition here at Muddy towers. It's only a tradition in my head as my family couldn't give a toss. What is it? Well I like to holiday in a small village, cycle in and buy provisions for that nights' dinner. It makes me feel connected. Hawkhead was good for that too - I was able to buy hand made sausages and enough local food in town to make our evening meal. Sausages with pasta in a rich red sauce. It makes me happy to be able to do that.

Tiny kitchen at the rental property.