Aston and Lockerbrook – and Peak District MTB

“We’ve been doing this for over 10 years now, and have we actually, truly achieved anything?”
That was the awkward question that came up during our September committee meeting, and despite a resounding response of “yes, of course we have!” the very fact that the question was asked was a thought provoking one.

We have long list of achievements we can point to in that ten years should you wish to find out for yourself – Cut Gate, Rushup, Roaches, Whinstone Lee Tor, better relationships with landowners, an influential voice on various bodies – but the reason the question was asked at all was to do with a couple of things going on right now, close to the mountain biking heart of the Peak District.

You’d have to live under a rock to not have heard about what’s happening on Lockerbrook, and Aston bridleways, but in recent weeks work done on these two bridleways has raised noisy alarm in the Peak District MTB community and beyond. It’s easy to understand why. Both have had significant mechanical work done. Both are becoming unrecognisable from what was there before. Both are much loved mountain bike routes – albeit for different reasons.

Locked on

Well let’s start with Lockerbrook. The bridleway runs through Forestry England and Severn Trent property so there’s immediately some inbuilt fun with knowing who to deal with, but the most recent work is on behalf of Forestry England (FE), who are felling trees in the land around the path in work that is five years late.
In order to do the work, they need to get equipment in and to do that, they have prepared the path – widening, installing water pipes for drainage and putting a surface down. FE have been proactive in talking with us about it, and have diligently responded to our questions whenever we have asked them for updates. While we might not always be happy with what’s being done, they’ve been very transparent and have taken on our comments. It’s a plus that locally, our FE contacts are big mountain bikers too. It’s another plus that the work is being done by well-renowned contractors, Clixby’s, who members of both the PDMTB committee and wider community both speak very highly of from experience. As such, we remain cautiously optimistic that when all the work is done on Lockerbrook, though it will undoubtedly be different, it may not be ‘worse’ – and that we may even be able to get some good outcomes from our ongoing dialogue with them.

At the heart of this is a tricky pill to swallow: that hillside is an active forest. When the trees reach maturity, they will be farmed. Forestry farming equipment is big, heavy and wide. Damage to the overall area is minimised by using rights of way. In the grand scheme of things, the work they do to make the RoW passable will be seen as an improvement by a large number of influential users, but for a community that has “made a sport out of riding dilapidated paths”, it’s an uncomfortable change. Where do we go next then? Well that is a question, and literally too. Without the fun of Lockerbrook where do we go? This is the core of our next discussions and one which FE are willing to open up. Project 22% looms large in our minds… “what have we actually achieved?”
Remember, FE also said they would maintain the character of the trail AND they’ll be looking closely at the work done when it’s done – so a lot of good could come from this currently alarming work.
Look at it this way: if we as PDMTB don’t think that way, we’d might as well give up now.

UPDATE 11/10/2023 – Lockerbrook latest:
– As the wet autumn weather has rolled in, work has been paused on the hill as the site is too wet
– Work will resume in spring
– The closure will be lifted in the coming week
As anticipated, the wet weather has brought an early pause in forestry works on Lockerbrook Heights, and contractors working on behalf of Forestry England have pulled out until ground conditions improve in spring.
FE are expecting the surface to bed in, though it is currently very wet. This surface has been put in solely for the forestry ops and it will be reviewed after they are completed.
“We’ve already talked about our hopes to engage FE in a debate about other access available on the hill,” says Peak District MTB chair Chris Maloney, who is leading on the discussion with FE “They’re open to this – and our contacts there are all very experienced in establishing mountain bike provision in sites elsewhere so they know how the community can help; we’re looking forward to seeing where this goes.”
We’ll keep you informed.

The recent state can be seen in this video (10/10/2023) posted by D. Vincent (credit above image) on our Facebook group.

Raiders of the Lost Park.

Next up: Aston Bridleway.

Now this came as more of a surprise. One of our Facebook group members shared a (brilliant) photo of a mini-digger seemingly crawling its way up the grassy slopes below Win Hill, leaving a trail of two metre wide soil in its wake. In the foreground, a lone rider seemingly escaping the relentless gravelling machine like Indiana Jones escaping that massive boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s a very, very evocative image and almost perfectly encapsulates the essence of how PDMTB started out; campaigning against the ‘sanitisation’ of trails , and sure enough it triggered a chorus of anger on Facebook and elsewhere.

Photo Credit : A. Muscroft – From Peak District MTB Facebook group 17/9/2023.

Asking a few questions, we understand that it’s the work of the landowner to provide better access to his livestock up the hill. Patchy landownership on the lower, wider, more hard-wearing track down the hill mean it’s less simple to surface and work the path to allow for farm vehicle access.
Again, the manner in which it was done raised alarm – nobody knew it was going to be done, not least the Peak Park, who we almost assumed would be informed of such impactful works.
But here’s the rub; your second tricky pill to swallow.

Are they impactful works in the grand scheme of things? To us, the mountain bikers – they absolutely are. ‘Another trail sanitised’ screams Facebook. But again, for the horse riders, the walkers, and importantly on this path, the landowners, they aren’t. In fact, quite the opposite: they’re an improvement, by all accounts.
Where are DCC in all of this? Well as the highways authority they have an obligation to maintain the trails, and in this case the landowner has done that for them. In a cash strapped local authority world, who’s side are they going to come down on if we were to put in an appeal, even if we could? And there’s the question; why would we bother when arguably this was always a steady up, that in places did need some proper work doing?
We’re caught in a bind.
“We’ve been doing this for ten years…”

So what do we do with these two particular cases? Well the fact is that there’s little we can do, even if we wanted to. In our latest committee meeting we talked about both and what we should do. And we’re already doing it. On Lockerbrook, we are in active dialogue with Forestry England and eager to open up the debate about new access on the hill. On Aston, we’re not able to do much – but we’ll be interested to see how it carries on – maybe those swamps on the Roman Road will get sorted?

State at 8/10/2023.

On both, we’re looking at the domino effect – that riders wanting a more challenging ride will go elsewhere. Where? Maybe the Lakes. More likely ‘off-piste‘ – be it footpaths or unauthorised man-made trails. Understandably so.

So we look back to our Working Together proposal. We look to the brilliant work done in embracing the community in other areas and we push, push, push for that better access.
And maybe…just maybe …in ten years time when we ask ourselves “what have we actually achieved?”, it’ll be a long proud list we share.

30 September 2023