The great Setmurthy woods debate...
Setmurthy woods lie just outside of Cockermouth. A beautiful large woodland, managed by the forestry commission, and enjoyed by many runners, walkers, horse riders, schools, nature enthusiasts and of course, mountain bikers.
Historically the birth of bike trails in the woods began over fifteen years ago with a group of keen cyclists, who with the support of the forestry commission set off to make and develop some interesting trails for mountain bikers to enjoy. It was a regular occurrence for groups to meet in the woods, spade in hand, and dig routes, jumps and create new downhill tracks, where before there were none.
The true pleasure of riding these 'wild trails', as opposed to an organised trail centre comes from the ability to develop something more extreme, where the trail centre has to cater safely for the masses. Setmurthy is a prime example of this, if you explore long enough in there you will find burms, doubles, gap jumps and drop offs...all these to push and challenge riders, and give the thrill!
None of the routes have names, none of the routes are signposted and there's no maps; Setmurthy hides the tracks like hidden treasure. If you don't know the area you might ride in there for hours and miss some of the main routes. There's nothing better than a guided tour round these tracks by someone who knows it well to show you round properly. Don't get us wrong, Setmurthy also has long wide enjoyable fire tracks and obvious forest routes for a more leisurely cycle through the woods, but those routes are not where the current great debate lies.
So what's the problem? Over the years Setmurthy has become a real destination for people wishing to ride downhill, have fun, and push the limits of their cycling skills. It is a common sight now to see groups of cyclists, parked up in lay-bys, full face helmets and body armour at the ready, preparing to spend a full day riding in the woods. The problem, and therefore the debate is that without monitoring, without regulation, the development of the routes has continued to go on and on. The old school crew of the original digging team have aged and had families, so don't frequent the woods as often, and hence the communication with the forestry commission had halted.
The digging has continued, with no sign of it slowing down or stopping. The insatiable quest for the ultimate extreme jump, or steepest downhill means the development of tracks and trails has become out of control. Many of the tracks cross over causing instant danger to those riding them. The tracks aren't as contained as in the past, taking up more of the forest footprint and spreading over more ground. There's no doubt that the eagerness of the Setmurthy cyclists is to be respected. They do what they do because of a passion for their sport. And don't get us wrong, some of the new routes and jumps in there are superbly built, and add to the woods as a real draw and destination. Ultimately this can only be a positive for the many people who use them, and for Cockermouth as a town for people to visit.
But it was strongly felt by the forestry commission that there has to be some control again, like back in the good old days, so that the beauty and peace of Setmurthy continues to be an enjoyable and safe place for everybody, not just those on two fast wheels.
The forestry commission have very strongly stated that if Setmurthy is to continue to be a bikers destination they need to enforce a halt to the trail building, otherwise they will have to take extreme action and for want of a better phrase, 'bulldoze the trails'. So strong words, but for good reason. If the development and trail building were to carry on at the rate it is, then we agree that it would be getting out of hand. And we certainly don't want to loose this gem on our doorstep.
So two meetings later, between cyclists and the guys in green, and the agreement was made that there should be a nominated few people to act as liaison between the two groups. An agreement was made to lessen the amount of trails, to pull them back into the original designated area, to build them all back up to a high quality standard, and remove the ones that cross over with other tracks, causing any danger. Also that it would be self policed..anyone caught doing any rebel building would be asked to stop, and tracks flattened immediately.
Hopefully this is a real positive step for the woods, and for all those that use and enjoy it. A reminder that we need to have respect for the forest, and be mindful of what it represents. It is more than just an extreme adventure playground. Lets all pull together on this so that Setmurthy can continue to be the fun place to ride down hill that it has become, and enjoyed by all who venture in it!
Anyone wanting to know more about future plans, dig days etc can call in and chat to us in the shop, or request to join the facebook group 'Setmurthy trails'.