Last year I rode the Ridgeway and fancied a revisit of the western end so when the Swindon MTB club (whom I guided around Swinley last November) organised an open day of the now completed Croft Trail I thought it would make a good day out to ride a Ridgeway based loop and then Croft.
A little background on Croft; as you go past Swindon on the M4 you may notice MTB tracks on the North side of the carriageway, that is Croft and it is easily accessible from Jn15. Croft is on council land and Swindon BC have given permission for a MTB trail to be built, funding is from donations and over the last 2-3 years and with a lot of hard work from volunteers it is now complete.
Having said that no trail is ever finished and there are already signs of more additional areas (hint; look for a raised wooden section that has ‘Swindon MTB club’ carved into the leading ramp).
So I arrived at Croft at 08:15 to an empty car park (it was somewhat different when I returned) and after getting my stuff together set off with my Satmap to complete a 25 mile loop around the Ridgeway. Riding the Ridgeway on a glorious day is a recommended experience but you have to get up there first, somehow parking at Barbury Castle is cheating so the loop included two really tough climbs but likewise a couple of fun descents and of course wonderful views.
2.5 hours later I arrived back at Croft and realised I might have pushed it too hard, but the smell of a BBQ and a coffee van soon turned my attention to filling my face, taking some energy on board and being sociable. I was taken by the 100+ people present and the numbers swelled even more at lunchtime, I then reacquainted myself with some of the riders and asked Tom of the Swindon MTB club to give me a guided tour.
This will be great when it is finished
It is remarkable what he and the others have done here. Such a small piece of land and yet they have crafted out a 3.5 miles trail, all fully compacted that twists and turns, undulates and moves over a mix of both natural and man-made features. It is all one-way and there are blue and red routes, you will find that the red is sometimes a short cut but via a rock garden or other obstacle. Despite the large numbers on the day, the trail never felt crowded.
Go right for berms, rock garden and bridge
Everything has to be ‘H&S safe’ as it is council land but Tom and his team have been ingenious. There are little rock gardens and kickers where the more confident can grab some air, bridges have been built across a stream and there is the finished section of woodwork. This is quite early in the lap and you enter via a couple of natural berms and small roll in. It is only a foot or two off the ground but you have the options to ride, roll or jump off.
Great fun and I rode around that several times via one of the short cuts on the course increasing my speed and trying to get more air off the end at each attempt.
Get ready to jump off
This is not a highly technical trail with big jumps or complex trial sections (there is a fun narrow rock garden that snakes down a small descent which tests your bike control) but you can have a surprisingly good work out (completing a lap with all obstacles in under 15 minutes is a good effort) and there are plenty of options to redo sections in their own right if you look for the intersecting paths.
Above all else this place is about fun offering something for everybody whatever their skill or experience level, a great alternative to the XC and singletrack that most of us ride, giving riders of all ages somewhere safe to ride, and it will probably introduce people of all ages to having fun on a MTB. This is why above all else it wins.
Another surprise for myself was although I only did 3 full laps, with all the playing around and redoing sections I ended up with 40 miles for the day, so that is 15 miles at Croft alone, and boy were my legs were tired. If you are in the area, I recommend you pop by for an hour and run a few laps, do not expect too much and you will be surprised how much fun you can have.
Parking is free, there are picnic tables available and space for little ones (and older ones) to play. I imagine there will usually be someone on the trail but unfortunately I doubt the BBQ will be there.