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FOREST OF DEAN | LIFE IN THE ENCLOSURE

Life on and in the inclosure has become one strange old mix. A place that has more than one identity, it’s not just a destination as much as some want it to be, for this place is not an enclosure with a clear inside and outside. Never has been. Ripping in a track can still be a simple business and, but for the bloody mindedness of those who in the past have been over eager to spoil the fun, the power lines have remained largely intact. Ski Run, and parts of Sheepskull might now be a Forest brand but these were beads laid by the pioneers of forest two–wheeled life. Cut these roots and they will bleed for they are the two–wheel lifeblood of this inclosure. Without them it becomes yet another town centre full of tourists, and the blue run will become that same washed out slow slugging storm drain that’s a feature of any other forgotten designer trail centre. Top–up tans don’t come cheap.Precious? Too right. This has become big business. The opening of the bridge across the road marks a turning point. Forward – that’s the only way it can go, for now at least, bigger, faster, longer and probably pricier, cosier. Chocolate on your mochas, dust on the track and regular heavy traffic. Was mountainbiking ever meant to be like this? Even on the downhills you are now filtered into a car park in the same way as any town centre. By trail or downhill you’re either in a one–way system, cul de sac or ring road. You won’t plunder gold here, it’s too overworked. The art of getting lost has no place in the Sallow Vallets plot.

The jumps, once random and made of sticks and shit, are now of imported stone, smooth and schemingly positioned. There’s a feeling even the diggers have been forced into changing their ways. The unsystematic has become strategic. The coffee, once deliciously dirty now comes in a variety of forms, there’s even fairy cakes on the counter. “This place could be brilliant”. It was brilliant. It is brilliant. Makeover, tarmac, menus, service and overcomplicated smoothies…the diggers, the real mountainbikers, actually might have been pushed to the fringes removing (as the inclosures act had previously done) the right of the locals to carry out such activities. The trail is now being blazed elsewhere as the inclosure, sorry destination, has an eye on a new designer trail centre template making it all so easy – uplift, showers, shopping, events, video and a wood burner. My how we now live. Still, managing crowds might yet be more important than managing the wood pile. The once popular nearby sculpture trail slips into decline.

Suitably urbanized, signed and surfaced, the inclosure has developed into the perfect moutainbike model. Smash and grab a thirty minute loop without getting muddy, jump in a van for a warm shuttle to the top of the two hundred foot hill, have your pasta on a plate next to a warm wood burner whilst your puncture is being fixed. Once a salty old place, the café remains a sweaty, steamy port in a storm, especially on wet and windy days. Of course there’s a degree of mild xenophobia from the locals, some might even feel it’s no longer home given the crowds of tourists, yet its kept its soul and the hosts are an affectionate bunch as you’ll ever find. As for riding, it’s almost unrivaled in its diversity. Immense hosts, countless lines.

Now largely cultivated, for students of sketch it still offers rich pickings, with some wonderful moments of root chaos. But oh for a famous summer in which the fake will bake leaving the lines to show through, water to pour in and the café to remain the inglorious mud pit on those wonderfully wet winter days, when the tourists have buggered off taking their rubbish and high fives with them.

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