ORIGIN - MID 19TH CENTURY: PERHAPS RELATED TO THE PHRASE SPADE’S GRAFT ‘THE AMOUNT OF EARTH THAT ONE STROKE OF A SPADE WILL MOVE’, BASED ON OLD NORSE GRǪFTR ‘DIGGING’
Words by Dave Anderson, photos by Sim Mainey
It’s not an easy place to find. We’d heard rumours of things going down in the woods, steeply down in fact, but skirting along the top path to the crags there’s no sign of the industry that’s been busy sculpting a new trail in here. It’s doubly frustrating because we thought we knew this area pretty well, it’s one of those paths that almost offers a good techy ride, with decent sections that flow between the regenerating birch and oak trees. Except it’s rhythm is broken by intermittent boulders that are just too much to get a wheel over necessitating the need to dismount and carry. With better trails on offer in the valley it was easy to just move on and let this one drop by the wayside.
On the second pass along the same path, approaching from the opposite direction we spot a slight scuff to the leaf litter that’s been disguised with some fallen branches, which in turn unearths a tell-tale tyre mark in the loam below a rock slab when scanning the surroundings. The hillside here is steep, littered with fallen rocks and small outcrops amongst the trees that cling to it’s side. Tracing the line of the faint path that winds it’s way down and through is tricky, both for the incline our flat shoes are desperately trying to grip to, and the effort that someone has gone to to keep the path well hidden.
And then it’s all revealed in front of us, hidden by the steepness of the hill from the path above, a seven metre square of tarpaulin anchored to a small cliff and spreading out over a hand dug trail that plummets down the hillside, over sculpted jumps and into catcher berms. Berms built from the rocks unearthed through the shifting of substantial amounts of soil to form this sinuous line that hugs the hillside. It’s been lovingly crafted to embrace the steepness on offer, flowing from berm to berm as it drops. Red sandy subsoil shouting out amidst the darker loam that surrounds it, like some Andy Goldsworthy sculpture, the summation of some serious graft.
A track that has been built to fill a need. Not some half hearted, badly built jumps, but a concerted combined effort to create a much needed outlet for young talent on progressive bikes which the current trail network cannot hope to satisfy. A labour of love, hard labour and dedication to put the hours in necessary to build something that will last and is right. A doorstep ride to push the limits for riders without the luxury of spare cash and cars to travel to bike parks. Long hours of grafting for a short and steep minute of pushing the limit before the inevitable scramble and push back up to ride again.
It’s the inevitable price of progress, both of bike capability and riders skills. A golden age generation with capable bikes and the skills needed to push them further. Quietly getting on with meeting their needs in the real world, putting the hours in to build the trails, tucked away out of view in woods and on hillsides the world over. Not accepting the status quo, keen to progress further, not afraid to dig and create the necessary challenges to push their limits. A community of riders with the enthusiasm and time to dedicate to digging, grafting, labouring, and toiling. Putting in the hard work for a few minutes of pure exhilaration.
Frequent the websites and forums too long and it’s easy to be suckered into thinking that mountain biking has become ‘the new golf’; the sole domain of wealthy middle-aged, middle-class guys happy to spend their weekends pottering around the local trail centre. A safe experience wrapped up as ‘extreme’ sport, riding the same trails they always have; a lap of the red route before heading to the café to chat about how things were better with V-brakes and hardtails. Commentators commenting on a slanted view, it’s the danger of the echo chamber writ large. But out in the woods the youngsters are just getting on with digging the future, and that future is looking bright.
Thanks to Matt Kaye, Blazing Saddles and Magic Rock Brewing.