Exploring Kershope Forest

Saturday was the Northumbria TRF’s forest trail ride. This took place in Kershope forest which is right on the Scottish border in rather remote part of England with permission from the forestry commission to use their land.

I purchased a road registered Yamaha YZ250 a few months ago but its spent its time living in my hallway or half way up my stairs so far. Now my garage is completed, I was able to resolve the annoying squeak it was making (ended up removing some extremely worn rear brake heat pad/spacers) and could take the bike out and use it properly for the first time. When going to check the tyre pressures I discovered the front wheel has a mousse in it, a rather knackered one at that (which is why the tyre looked a bit flat). It was too late to contemplate doing anything about it and I decided it would probably suffice for the use I’d put it to for now.

On Thursday I joined a couple of others for a trip around the course to check the final route and see that ground conditions were ok. I remembered how to premix fuel, met up with others, did an intricate dance which involved different bikes in different vans and on different trailers and made it up there. The bike started first time which was more than Steve’s recently rebuilt YZ did!

One of the first things I needed to do was jump a bar on a gate and I managed to stall it with one wheel over. This was the start of a theme as my CRM can rev ridiculously low and still pull hence I’m not used to opening the throttle.

For the next gate I decided to try and ride around it and promptly got partially stuck in the ditch at the side as it was impossible to see how deep it was until you were in it.

The next forest roads were pretty much without incident. I wrote about an incline in one of the previous blog posts about this forest and we went up that. The YZ didn’t really notice it was there. I did stall at the top but even then, the bike cleared the steeper top section easily once given appropriate throttle. The ground was a lot drier than it had been previously and a lot less bikes had been over it but even considering that it was clear the YZ is a different breed of bike to the CRM.

Along the next road I went to catch Steve up and noticed that the front wheel went light in every gear which was interesting.

The next piece was a medium and hard group detour off the main trail where it quickly became apparent that it was a bit harder going. I managed to get stuck in a bog, stall several times and then fall down a bank and get the bike upside down. There were also several low pine branches to push through and I got pine needles everywhere including dragged along my neck :/.

Given our experiences (mine in particular), we put that section down as “hard” only and noted the requirement for installation of a pallet the next day to get over the bog.

Further on I was continually stalling in a quarry. We then found the route blocked by blown over trees and had to turn back and adapt the route.

Later we then came to a steep incline off the side of the trail which Steve demonstrated how to ride up. I gave it a go and made it up the first bit to the platform 3/4 of the way up but stalled before I could make the second steep bit. Steve looked dubious at this point but the YZ showed its true strength and despite no run up, clawed its way up the second slope. I doubt the CRM could have done that.

We made a detour off the tracks up onto open felled ground and I managed to get the bike stuck trying to turn around but eventually got myself unstuck and caught up with the others.

There was a lovely piece of trail over some other felled forest but I managed to bounce the front wheel off something hidden in the grass/heather which knocked me way off my intended line and then ended up riding straight into the start of a sudden 4ft deep drainage ditch. I was left standing on the ground with the bike down the hole only supported by the handle bars. Oops. We got it out but it needed a team effort. I wish I’d had my camera.

The final piece of the day was an interesting section which started with open fell, through a couple of bogs into the trees and then through under the trees and back out into a fire break and up a hill through potentially boggy greenery. Somehow I seemed to gel with this section and rode it in a vaguely competent manner.

By this time we were out of time and needed to head back for various reasons so we didn’t get to do a reccy of the second part of the course but that was the simpler part so not to worry. We loaded the bikes back up whilst being threatened by midges and headed back to base in a field near Hexham. A pleasant evening was spent around the campfire.

Friday was marking out day. Whilst my bike was up there, I was asked to passenger in a 4×4 land cruiser with the maps and signs and figure out what markings were needed at each junction. This was complicated by routes we couldn’t get the 4×4 down due to narrow bridges or gates we didn’t have the keys for. We were using stakes with signs with arrows on to mark out and the stakes proved a pain to drive into the rocky ground but we slowly managed and started working through the junction numbers. There was a team of bikes with us helping put the signs in.

It was interesting to talk to Sam, our 4×4 driver who takes the land cruiser around Africa with his sister.

Marking out took an age and by the time we came to lunch, it was late and I also discovered Sam needed to leave earlier than I’d expected. We’d only completed the route I’d done the day before by this point.

After lunch we changed pace and started just leaving the stakes and signs at each junction rather than helping put them in. This was to allow the 4×4 to get a move on around the course so Sam could leave around when he needed to. It all got complicated by more locked gates and the fact I didn’t have a route on the GPS for this section, just my paper maps but we started making good progress.

We did try and take the 4×4 up a trickier route and got stuck and scratched the side of the 4×4. Thankfully Sam had sand plates which got us out but I did feel bad about the scratches. I suspect it will be a talking point on his next Africa trip though.

With a quick detour into Soctland to go around the last trail which we couldn’t make it onto or along, we were back to the start and Sam left to pick up his sister and get to the wedding. I think he enjoyed himself and it was certainly a different day for me and a huge help for us marking out.

There were also teams working on putting out pallets on some of the boggier pieces of the route so we could try and ensure everyone would make it through.

The original plan had been to check out the course but we’d run out of time. I also realised I’d failed to leave some signs on one section but it was agreed we’d sort that the following day. Once everyone arrived back we headed back to the field (only 40 miles but 1+ hours away) and another pleasant evening was spent around the campfire.

Saturday arrived and we got back up to the forest. I teamed up with Steve and we set off to ride the second half of the route which was not confirmed as being marked out 100% correctly. We didn’t have a lot of time so had to get a move on and the YZ performed admirably. We reached a tricky stream crossing and I tried to do things a little too quickly and kept stalling, then dropped it in the stream. Having got out of that with a bit of help from Steve, I then dropped the bike onto a knife edge rock with my knee in the way a couple of metres further up. That’ll teach me not to wear the knee braces and the knee pads did nothing to protect against that kind of injury, ouch :/. Thankfully just bruised though.

After some issues working out the correct direction for the route we made it to the final section that needed marking and got that done, then completed the rest of the route without incident. We arrived back to find everyone had set off as expected.

We decided to head along some of the route to see if we’d catch people up but we didn’t and therefore just had a gentle trip around some of the first section with some of the helpers making it back to the start again to meet the first groups for lunch.

After much debate about whether a second lap would be possible, the time suggested it wouldn’t. Someone had blown up a 535 KTM with it blowing an oil seal and turning into a smoke generator so a team was dispatched to get the bike back to the encampment. We then decided to start the teardown so I set off with Steve to do it along with a quad and trailer to collect the signs. This worked ok for a while with me demarking the pieces the quad couldn’t do on the bike with a paper bag.

Unfortunately the quad wasn’t up to the trailer and had to turn back and we had to start doing things the hard way. The run leaders got back, caught us and started helping demark which speeded things up. A team split off to do the second section, I continued leading the first team.

I came around a corner to find one of my team members standing at the track side with no sign of a bike and the less said about how he’d slid it into the ditch the better I think, we’ll obviously never mention it again.

I got to go through the forest section I’d enjoyed again and the YZ made it look easy compared to the struggle some bikes had :). I stopped on the other side, took the tape down and tried to direct the following bikes. Nick passed me going in the opposite direction to where I was indicating saying “I know, I know” before rolling into a ditch. Some people just won’t listen…

It was then a back to the start once again and the day was complete. Everyone was accounted for, there had been the odd mechanical casualty, the odd person had come off too but nothing serious. Back at the field another pleasant evening was had around the fire. On Sunday I packed up and came home. Some people did go out on trails in and around Hexham but I decided not to push my luck given I was rather tired.

I think a good time was had by all and I’m grateful to Steve and Nic for organising it. I know the amount of work its taken them and hopefully did my bit to help out. I’m also quite pleased with the YZ. It is a bit of an animal, needs a bit of TLC in places (fork seals and front tyre for starters) but is good fun which is what I wanted.

I’m looking forward to the next trip out!