CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Surrey Life today CLICK HERE

Mountain biking in Surrey: from Summer Lightning to Barry Knows Best via the Yogurt Pots

PUBLISHED: 13:02 04 September 2012 | UPDATED: 13:27 28 July 2015

Mountain biking in the Surrey Hills ~ from Summer Lightening to Barry Knows Best via the Yogurt Pots

Mountain biking in the Surrey Hills ~ from Summer Lightening to Barry Knows Best via the Yogurt Pots

The Surrey Hills are a mecca for mountain bikers. Here, Surrey Life beauty editor Adele Mitchell, a keen mountain biker herself, brings us a fascinating insight

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine August 2012


It was several years ago now that I took up mountain biking: I love being outdoors, there was a mountain bike available to me (my husband was already riding) and, as further incentive, I was promised cake on top of Leith Hill.

It didn’t take long, however, to realise that Leith Hill was much bigger than I was in more ways than the obvious ‘highest point in south east England’ one. “I won’t take you anywhere too technical,” said my other half, while bouncing off logs, disappearing over drops and rolling up near vertical climbs. Meanwhile, I rode into one of very many stones and fell off. Mountain biking’s thrill-a-minute gauntlet had been well and truly laid down before me.

In the frame
Mountain biking – off-road cycling – originated in California in the 1970s. It wasn’t long before bikes specific to the sport were developed with suspension forks, disk brakes, 27 gears and knobbly wide tyres. Soon, every component on the bike – from the wheels to the seat post to the pedals – could be adjusted or upgraded to improve performance. They are strong enough to withstand rapid descents over rocky ledges and gnarly roots but, crucially, light enough to make slippery hill climbs that little bit easier. Sometimes, though, it can be slightly worrying to know that the bike carrying my 63kg self down the root-strewn vertical face of a gully, through the muddy puddle at the bottom and up the other side, weighs just 10kg. So far, we’re both still in one piece!

But it’s not just about the bike. Regular riding builds cardiovascular fitness, strength, balance and co-ordination as well as delivering a big adrenaline and endorphin fix. And while anyone who can ride a bike can have a go, it takes skill and experience to get the most out of the more demanding trails – or at least get to the bottom (or the top) with a smile on your face.

Here in Surrey, it’s no secret that the Surrey Hills – and particularly Leith, Holmbury, and Pitch Hills and parts of Winterfold – are regarded as one of the best areas for mountain biking in the south east. Across this spectacular landscape, the singletrack trails that riders love – most started life as animal tracks – wind their way through ancient woodland and follow the steep contours of the hills. Many have been named over the years – though don’t expect to see any signposts – so that riding from Summer Lightning to Barry Knows Best via the Yogurt Pots makes perfect sense to those in the know. Furthermore, no two rides are ever the same: trails that are fast and fun to ride in the dry become slippery and unforgiving after rain. It is also an ‘open all hours’, year-round sport: high-tech LED helmet and bike lights have helped make night riding increasingly popular. Day or night, this is a beautiful area to enjoy. “Why would I go to the gym when I can be out on the hills, working out with my friends?” says Suzanne Cain who lives locally and rides every week. “We’re so lucky to be able to spend time in such an amazing place.”

Another person right at the heart of the local scene is Howard Wagstaff, who owns mountain bike store Pedal & Spoke in Peaslake, between Holmbury and Pitch hills. “The average rider is male, 35 to 50 years of age,” he says. “But locally there are children and teenagers who ride and groups of women too.” He likens the relaxed atmosphere to that of a ski resort. “Everyone wants to talk about what happened on their ride, which trails are riding well, how their bike is handling: there’s a real community feel.”

The store sells and services bikes and equipment but with the hills on his doorstep Wagstaff often finds himself helping visiting riders. “I’m used to lending tools for emergency repairs but I was a bit surprised when one guy turned up and admitted that he’d actually forgotten to bring his bike. Luckily, we have a few for hire…”

Pedal power
The sport’s popularity benefits other local businesses and charities, too. Peaslake MTBO is a twice-yearly mountain bike orienteering event that raises funds to support Peaslake’s village school. “We average 200 riders for each event,” says co-ordinator Martin Cade. “It appeals to riders with all levels of experience and there’s a great atmosphere. The last MTBO took place on spring’s wettest day but still nearly 100 riders took part.” I can confirm this because I was one of them: wringing my rain-soaked socks out after three hours of riding.

At the local shop, Peaslake Village Stores, they’re used to serving up supplies to Lycra-clad customers spattered with mud. “Mountain bikers keep the shop going,” says Trudy Robinson of Peaslake Village Stores, where many riders stop for a break. “They keep us busy at the weekend and that helps keep the shop open for locals during the week.” With so much energy-sapping riding to enjoy, food is at the forefront of most riders’ minds and the shop sells around 300 cheese straws a week (nothing tastes better after a couple of hours of thigh-burning riding!). And by using local meat and bread to make sandwiches and pies, there is a ripple effect that benefits other local businesses as well.

On the trail
However, not everyone in the villages welcomes the weekend influx of riders and the sport has had a noticeable impact on the local environment. As a result, the Surrey Hills Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) board has created a working group with the local landowners, users and businesses to progress the proactive management of mountain biking in the area: a sport that they recognise is here to stay.

The Friends of the Hurtwood is part of the group and a registered charity that supports the management of the 2,500 acres that cover Holmbury Hill, Pitch Hill and parts of Winterfold. Chairman Peter Copping says: “We promote responsible riding in order to reduce the impact both on the local environment and other users. For example, visiting riders are encouraged to park in the car parks and new, unsanctioned trails are forbidden in our code of conduct.”

Meanwhile, a grant from the Surrey Hills board has allowed local volunteer riders from Hurtwood Trails and experienced trail builders to specifically engineer some of the Hurtwood’s most popular trails to withstand heavy usage without causing environmental damage. “This is an ongoing issue but the work on the dedicated trails has taken mountain bikers away from the paths used by other visitors to help enable everyone to enjoy the hills,” comments Peter Copping.

Seven years after my first ride, I am still enjoying every challenging minute of riding in this wonderful area. And that cake at the top of Leith Hill is always worth the climb.


Because you need to be as fluid with the lingo as you are on the trails!

  • HARDTAIL: Bike with suspension on the front wheel only. Light, agile and thrilling to ride – but also a bit bumpy.
  • FULL SUSPENSION: Front and rear wheel suspension to soak up the aforementioned bumps. Favoured by endurance riders as well as old blokes with bad backs.
  • CLIPPED IN: Being attached to the bike via shoe and pedal to aid impulsion. A great idea until you have an off (see below).
  • OFF: Falling off. Can be an ENDO (over the handlebars), a FACEPLANT (landing face first) or an overbalanced DAB (putting foot down). In short, all best avoided.
  • GRANNY GEAR: The lowest gear available on the bike and, for the feeble of leg, an essential on a steep incline. AQ
  • SINGLETRACK: A flowing trail that is one bike wide, which should be navigated as quickly as possible, resulting in a big, endorphin-fuelled smile.
  • LINE: The quickest route through a singletrack – so long as there isn’t a slightly deaf Labrador lolloping along it already (in which case, you just have to wait).
  • TECHNICAL: A challenging singletrack, or – let’s be honest – anything you’re not quite skilled enough to ride yet. For some, this includes the first puddle they encounter in
    the car park...


Road cycling in Surrey: our county’s Lycra revolution


Mountain biking contacts:




REFRESHMENTS: | (see website for servery opening times) |

More from Surrey Life


The new hotel is set to open in spring 2019 and will be located in the heart of the vineyard, offering sweeping views over the North Downs Way.

Read more
Yesterday, 10:53

From Santa’s Grottos, to Victorian Christmas markets and late-night shopping, we’ve covered what’s on in Surrey this season

Read more
Yesterday, 10:47

Whether you're looking for fine dining, pub grub or exotic dishes, eating out in Surrey has something for everyone. Here's our guide to the best local restaurants and pubs

Read more
Yesterday, 10:41

Having bloomed in Brighton’s restaurant scene over the past decade, The Chilli Pickle opened its second site in Guildford this summer

Read more
Mon, 14:32

Historic Royal Palaces and IMG have announced that Kylie Minogue is the first headliner confirmed for Hampton Court Palace Festival 2019. These will be her only London shows of summer 2019. Here’s how you can get tickets

Read more
Mon, 12:56

Enjoy this linear rail to ramble section of the Thames Down Link route taking the short train-ride from Box Hill & Westhumble to Ashtead before walking back

Read more
Mon, 12:13

Great things to do in Surrey this weekend (16, 17 and 18 November): art exhibitions, walks, concerts, theatre, places to visit and other events and ideas.

Read more
Friday, November 9, 2018

We round up 10 of the most beautiful photos of Surrey shared on Instagram this week…

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

It’s that time of year when our beautiful countryside is alight with the colours of autumn. Here, we pick out some of her favourite spots to enjoy the seasonal splendour – as well as some perfect places for a post-walk refresher

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Found on the stretch of the River Thames between Weybridge and East Molesey, Sunbury-on-Thames is blessed with a village feel where it meets the water. From antique hunts to the joys of river life, here are a few of our favourite reasons to visit

Read more
Monday, November 5, 2018

Verity & Violet are Loui and Jess – a singing duo from Surrey who specialise in blending vintage classics with modern favourites. The two have achieved success in the capital, but are now hoping to attract an audience closer to home

Read more
Friday, November 2, 2018

With the Christmas celebrations seemingly starting earlier every year, it all feels a little too ‘soon’ sometimes, but what if you want to look your best for Christmas & New year celebrations and are considering having cosmetic non-surgical procedures? The Bella Vou Pantiles Clinic offers surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures and treatments from a purpose-built private clinic in the heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells

Read more
Thursday, November 1, 2018

Living in England’s most densely wooded county, it’s always a pleasure to witness Surrey donning its autumn finery. Here’s some of the best places to do just that - plus a few pub pit stops to enjoy on route!

Read more
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

We are regularly reminded of the high cost of housing with statistics revealing that only one in three millennials will be able to afford their own home during their lifetime and that most will remain in the category known as Generation Rent

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search