Trail Report: Adrenaline Gateway, Lee Quarry, Bacup
Words: Eddie Allen | Images: Phil Ingham
The unassuming town of Bacup in Lancashire holds a terrible secret. It's not the fact that it's got the highest density of Fish and Chip shops in the Northern Hemisphere. Nor is it the fact that the local council has littered the place with paint-on mini roundabouts in a subtle attempt to kill non-local drivers.
Above: The mean, moody rocky trails of Lee Quarry are no place for the faint of heart - you'll love it...
Lurking at the back of an industrial estate on the outskirts of the town is Lee Quarry, a huge, nasty scar in the ground, product of some blunt industrial trauma many years ago. Huge cliffs have been hewn out of the hillside. Lonely riverless canyons have been cleaved. At the feet of towering man made cliffs, chillingly deep, dark green pools have collected. Daring sheep graze on the precipice. Birds circle, sounds echo and whip about the place. Tolkien's Mordor springs to mind at every turn (I think I spotted Gollum at one point).
The place is no-doubt an eyesore to any lover of the Lancashire fells and moors. But many would argue that it has a chilling beauty all of its own. Aesthetics aside, Lee Quarry is a righteous playground for mountain bikers, as we recently discovered when we spent an evening on its tortuously technical singletrack.
Officially titled Adrenaline Gateway, Lee Quarry's trails were hewn by Welsh trail wizard Daffydd Davis, and though short, the Red graded route is a short, sharp and rocky lesson in how to pack as much fun and as many challenges as possible into 5km of trail.
Above: The trail, though short, is always narrow and sinuous, demanding full concentration at all times
The trail's character is rough rocky and pretty brutal, with short steep, technical climbs, rock gardens, huge, steep bermed corners and tight singletrack aplenty. For an average but enthusiastic rider like me, the ‘Red' graded route was right out there on the edge of my competence zone, and probably right on the edge of the ‘Red' trail grading. I've ridden Red trails in Wales, The Lakes and Scotland that are nowhere near this is terms of technical difficulty and ‘bottle quotient'.
However, if you're an expert rider and find the Quarry's red trail a piece of cake, there's around 3km of Black graded trail to contend with. But be warned, it's serious, drop your saddle, wear your body armour, check the small print on your life insurance stuff... We're talking extreme rock gardens more suited to a motorcycle trials bike, big drop offs and a section of narrow, rocky singletrack descent next to a big drop that would make Hans Rey think twice. I took one look at most of the black sections and decided that a nice walk was a good option, and still I managed to fall over.
If your balance is a bit rusty, there's a mountain bikers play area at the top of the first section of trail with skinny lines and seesaws to practice on; perfect for honing your skills in a safe-ish environment before trying your hand at the big stuff. Suffice to say I also fell off there as well...
The trail was wet and slippery when we were there but we went back a few weeks later when it was dry and much grippier - though we've had reports that when it's very dry and dusty it can be a little slippery too. Whatever the conditions, best advice would be to run big tyres and balance your tyre pressures so that you've got a good compromise between pinch flat protection and traction.
There are plans afoot for another expert trailbuilder, Rowan Sorrell, to extend the initial work of Daffydd Davis' team and create even more options for mountain bikers. Even as it is, Lee Quarry is a great place for an evening blast. Lancashire has long been an MTB haven, with the abundance of bridleway trails around the Hebden Bridge and Todmorden areas deeply embedded in fat-tyred folklore. Now the area has its own trail centre, things can only get better.
SUMMARY: Not a place to take your kids for a gentle introduction to Mountain Biking. More of a short, sharp shock for MTB repeat offenders. Hugely challenging and enjoyable, but know your limits.