For those who have not had the pleasure of visiting Dalby forest, it is a Forestry Commission managed forest situated north east of Pickering and the charming village of Thornton Le Dale in North Yorkshire.
DDG have been visiting the area for over 15 years and it has been fascinating to see its development for mountain biking especially, but more recently in attracting families from all over the region to spend a precious day of their weekend making the most of the various attractions and activities.
It’s approximately a 45 minute drive from central York, or an hour and a quarter from Leeds, and entry for a car is £8, which may sound a lot but for the range of entertainment on offer this is good value in our opinion. Year passes are also available for £48 which make sense for frequent visitors – plus they give you discounts on other activities such as Go Ape (on site).
Driving through the tree lined roads to the main car park it is obvious that there has been a huge amount of investment in the visitor experience. With ample parking situated next to one of the largest visitor centres we have seen at a Forestry Commission site, we found a space in the busy car park and pulled up.
The most obvious thing to hit you is just the sheer number of people unloading/loading bikes in the car park. The biking draw is undeniable here. More importantly you’ve got everyone from families with kids on stabilisers and balance bikes to couples, XC riders, more hard-core enduro riders to lads on hire bikes just having a crack. We even spotted a former Pro Downhiller cruising about on his trail bike…
So we followed suit and started our own unloading! A balance bike, a 16inch kids bike and the new MTB ready to see dirt for the first time. Plus a buggy for the newest DDG family member…
After the usual faffing with bikes we headed straight to the bike hire shop run by the excellent Dalby Bike Barn. They offer all types of hire from trailers & tag alongs to MTB’s plus prestige models.
There’s toilets here and a small cafe too which is handy as the visitor centre is the other end of the car park.
After that we headed off to follow the 3km family trail suitable for walking, jogging, biking, wheelchairs and also buggies thankfully.
This section forms the Gruffalo Spotters trail too so in addition to the old style carved wooden Gruffalo, now you can download the app and get animated augmented reality creatures from Julia Donaldson’s book popping out of the ground and prancing about on your tablet or smartphone screen. It’s very well executed and you can even take photos of the little ones next to all their favourite characters. Very clever and something to keep the youngsters motivated to keep walking or cycling if they flag! There’s also clues to spot along the way with little viewing points to try and spot characters from the book.
The 3km trail is fantastic as it is all flat bar two well designed ramps to access the lower section or climb back up. It’s well surfaced in stone so still ‘offroad’ but fine for all manner of small wheeled bikes/pushchairs etc. It can also be used as a jogging route if you like, and if you take the optional ‘long’ option you add another km or two with a small section of singletrack to enjoy on the bike and a bridge perfect for a game of Poo – Sticks in the woods. There is a couple of small uphills to climb if you do the extra loop, but nothing too long or strenuous if they are walking or able to pedal themselves (we may have assisted with a push for our intrepid Balance Biker!).
We stopped off on the return leg to the Visitors Centre to have a go on the bike skills area too. There’s three sections to this with the closest to the family trail being the most basic – a short pump track type course. It’s still a little challenging for small cyclists as the main corner sweeps round on a downhill gradient and we witnessed a few pick up too much speed and miss the exit and fly off into the undergrowth! The balance bikers found it easier with feet close to the ground.
After another lap the fireroad section lead us back towards Dalby Bike Barn, and we passed on through to the main Visitors Centre. Housed inside there is the Forestry Commission (FC) Cafe serving all your dietary requirements – Coffee, cakes, snacks – all the essentials! The quality is good, although many families seem to bring a picnic to keep costs down.
Also inside is the gift shop (only open on weekends) and an indoor area with FC staff providing information, and there’s also often some basic kids activities to keep them occupied if the weather is bad.
Beyond the centre is the children’s play area, and this is really where Dalby comes into it’s own. To say it is large is an understatement, but it’s not so much it’s size that sets it apart, more the sheer range of different sections and equipment that will keep your little ones occupied for hours!
There’s an outdoor terrace with a bike ‘park’ to store your steeds while you eat or play that overlooks the play area. But once the kids are loose you may not see them for a long time if you’re not keeping a close eye out. There’s wooden trains to climb on, mini huts, swings, climbing frames, slides, a balance trail, more slides, tree shelters, in a seemingly never ending selection of play stuff. The stream also runs alongside the park so in summer be prepared for some paddling.
North Yorkshire Sport have partnered up with the Forestry Commission and also run family activity days in the fields next to the play park offering a load of sports to try out. Add in regular Park Runs on site as well as the popular Go Tri mini triathlon events and you can see what a hub of activity Dalby is.
Whilst the kids hit the play park overseen by Chief DDG I ventured off to try the new mountain bike on a section of the red graded route. The continuous investment in the mountain bike trails means that Dalby has a range of trails from the 3km flat family route we did, to the 34km red route to the 6.4km black graded World Cup route (the site hosted a World Cup XC round in 2011).
Numerous routes start with a hairpin laden climb opposite the main car park, and a word of warning, if you have a child on a trailer or bike seat, or they are pedalling but aren’t used to off-road biking, steer well clear of these trails! I’ve watched many an argument escalate as a keen Dad tries in vain to ride this section with an unsuspecting child being thrown around on the seat behind. It’s not a family trail that’s for sure. I followed a blue/red loop taking roughly an hour which had some straightforward gentle climbing, some fireroad linking sections, a couple of downhill singletrack sections and to finish the choice of a newish roller-coaster descent, or the longer and more taxing red final descent. When I visited work was underway adjacent to a fireroad section developing an extended off road alternative which will give that section a little more interest. Great to see the ongoing development.
Dixon’s Hollow (accessible by car at the Adderstone Field car park) is a self contained Bike Park with jumps, a 4X track, pump track and north shore trails. Definitely worth a visit if (anti) gravity is your thing. It’s also reached as part of the full red route.
I can’t do the trails justice bearing in mind my short foray out and back, but there was enough to keep me interested for a short blast, with a huge amount more on your doorstep if you want a bigger challenge. If you tackle the full red route they recommend allowing up to 4 hours.
I met the others back in the car park, they had killed loads of time in the cafe and play park, but it was time to leave! The mini DDG bikers had done a fair few miles, and played relentlessly for a couple of hours, with food and snack breaks we had spent most of the day outside.
Overall we cannot recommend Dalby Forest enough. If you want to spend a day outdoors at the ‘Great Yorkshire Forest’ there’s so much to do – we just scratched the surface.
Gruffalo Spotters Trail/Walking Trail
Biking (on the Grufflao trail)
Mountain Biking – Family trails through to Red and Black runs, Skills Area and Bike Park
Huge kids play area with loads of interesting and innovative features
2 x cafes
Bike shop & hire
Special events (recently they held a Fantastic Beasts screening and camping event)