A bit of fun at Haldon Forest
Life has felt like a bit of a slog just lately. I've been working long hours to stay on top of things, have been trying to get all kinds of DIY jobs done on the house and trying to get out on the bike and keep some fitness for the just-passed Bontrager TwentyFour12 event.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not complaining, (well maybe a little bit), but it did make me realise recently that I needed to have a bit of stress-free fun. With that in mind, James and I packed out bikes and clothes into the Land Rover and headed West towards South Devon for a night under canvas and a bit of MTB fun.
James is 8 years old and hasn't done a lot of mountain biking beyond riding around the farm here, so we decided to head to Haldon Forest near Exeter where there is a good selection of family-friendly trails and facilities.
We camped at Exeter racecourse where there is a Caravan Club campsite. It's always fun turning up in an old Land Rover at sites like this; lined with shiny, expensive caravans. We generally draw a small crowd as we pop up the roof tent and awnings, looking for all intents as if we're on safari somewhere :-) That said, it's a lovely location; very peaceful and with very helpful wardens.
Because we hadn't really planned much, we didn't bring a lot of food with us, so we headed to the 'Haldon Forest Diner' next door for something to eat and were pleasantly surprised by the price and portion size! Heading back to the campsite, we sat and chatted, watching the sun set.
The next morning we were up with the dawn and went for a really nice leisurely ride around the racecourse service road. It's about 2 miles around the entire loop, but on smooth tarmac it was just a pleasant plod. We packed camp and headed across to the other side of the road where the 'Route 5 Diner' stands. It's an all-American style diner, complete with a Harley Davidson bike in the middle! The food was superb, and we could both have stayed there all morning, working our way through the various breakfast choices, but the trails were calling.
Haldon Forest is a nice venue. It's high up on the top of Haldon hill, so when you are on the trails, there are plenty of panoramic views. There's a small cafe, kids play areas, a pump track, a skills course as well as walking and cycling trails. You have to pay for parking, but that's it.
With us getting there nice and early, the place was very nearly empty so we unloaded the bikes and I took James around the skills area to give him a couple of tips. It wasn't long before he was nailing the hops, berms and landings and really enjoying it. Haldon has a couple of MTB trails, graded blue and red. I've always thought they were at the tame end of the gradings, but for today that was perfect. We rode out with the intention of hitting the blue trail, but due to a change in route layout we didn't find it, following the red route instead. I was a bit hesistant in letting James loose on the red straight away, but we went over a couple of ground rules and carried on.
As I say, I think the red route at Haldon is more like a 'blue and a half', so we pressed on. I needn't have worried. Before too long, James was shredding the berms and hopping through the rock gardens like a pro :-) He was sensible on obstacles he'd not seen before, stopping to have a look at them before committing and looking well ahead.
We did have a small heart-stopping moment when James hit a rock with his front wheel, lost his balance and went head-first over the bars onto the ground ahead. The bike proceeded to flip over after him and land on top. Thankfully, he got up and brushed himself off. Just a side-rant here: The reason he got up and brushed himself off was because he was wearing a helmet. His head hit the ground, and the bike hit his head; both impacts that would have caused him damage without protection. Parents: make sure your kids wear helmets, and make sure you set an example by wearing them too!
His little OTB excursion did nothing to dampen James' spirits and we carried on round the red trail at a respectable pace. I know plenty of adults who would struggle to keep up.
We spent the rest of the morning playing around in the skills and pump tracks before another lap of the red route, eventually heading home just after lunch.
James has often said he wants to ride more with me, but before now he's been limited to the local flat trails. He's clearly got a lot stronger and quicker in the past 6 months, and I'm happy to say that we'll be venturing out on some more adventurous trails together from now on. We both agreed that we need to make a definite effort to get away and have fun more often :-)