It’s a trail described as “one of the jewels in the crown of UK mountain biking”, but the campaign to repair it is being backed by horse riders, runners, ramblers – and the BMC’s Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million campaign. We speak to mountain biker Chris Maloney about why it's so important.
Compared to the likes of Kinder Scout, Stanage Edge or Mam Tor, it is not exactly one of the Peak District’s ‘household names’ – but among some people, it’s as famous as it gets.
Cut Gate is a four mile long, sinuously winding trail connecting the Langsett and Derwent reservoirs via wild valleys, tumbling becks and high heather moorland. It’s a bridleway, and so legally accessible by mountain bikers and horse riders, but this is no heavily engineered highway – for much of its length it’s a rugged ribbon no more than a couple of feet wide.
The long, out-and-back nature of the trail means it can get overlooked by walkers and the general public, but for many mountain bikers its combination of challenge and wildness makes it a revered singletrack route (see this video to give you an idea.) It’s also highly valued by horse riders, forming part of the Kinder Loop, and often used by fell runners. But this popularity has come at a cost.
Mountain biker Chris Maloney is the man behind the Keeper of the Peak Twitter feed, which shares information about the condition of biking trails across the Peak District. Along with Peak District MTB and Ride Sheffield, he has been instrumental in raising awareness of the parlous condition that sections of Cut Gate have descended into.
Parts of it are boggy morasses and erosion of the surrounding heather moorland has become a serious issue.
Following the initial efforts of Chris and his fellow campaigners, the BMC and its charity have now thrown their weight behind the campaign to repair Cut Gate and it is one of the 13 main projects featured in the Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million appeal, which aims to combat erosion in iconic landscapes across the UK.
Over the next year a grassroots multi-user coalition, the Peak District National Park and Moors for the Future will work with the Mend Our Mountains team to drive a £70,000 fundraising campaign for Cut Gate. In common with the wider appeal, it will launch publicly at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival on March 9 – 11.
It is an exciting example of different outdoor users coming together behind a common cause. Campaigns like this represent an opportunity to promote dialogue and understanding between outdoor enthusiasts, whose interests are more often aligned than opposed. We spoke to Chris to find out more about he sees this vision unfolding.
Cut Gate is one of the most readily accessible yet remote trails in Britain. You get up there and there is just a feeling of huge isolation; it’s as far removed from civilisation as it’s possible to be on a mountain bike in the Peak District on legally accessible tracks.
The route itself is a single ribbon of beautiful, technical, scenic singletrack across high moorland. It is one of the jewels in the crown of UK mountain biking. Almost every month it pops up in the mountain biking media in ‘Top 10’ listings and the like, and barely a week goes by without someone asking about its condition on Twitter.
But it is also a very significant route for other users. It’s regularly used by fell runners and as a bridleway it’s very important to horse riders. That popularity has taken its toll.
Back in 2016 I said to Peak District MTB ‘shall we do something about Cut Gate’? Then together with Ride Sheffield we put together the ‘Cut Gate Path’ booklet. Then we bounced that around ramblers, climbers, horse riders and so on. Just to say what ‘do you think’? What would be the ideal solution?
Cut Gate passing above Mickleden Beck. Photo: Sim Mainey / Radventure.cc
People unanimously said ‘yes we need to do something’. Then last year the BMC and the Access and Conservation Trust came on board and put their weight behind it by incorporating Cut Gate into the Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million campaign, which we’re thrilled about.
Mountain bikers started off the conversation. But now the fundraising campaign is bringing together bikers, walkers, climbers, horse riders and runners. I don’t think we have seen anything quite like it before.
About three quarters of Cut Gate is rocky, resilient, gravelly track about a foot wide. A lot of it is on bedrock, which is really nice to ride over. But as you go over the crest of Margery Hill it levels off and two streams cross it. There is a natural bowl in the landscape here where the water pools and you have a peaty bog about six metres wide.
What people do is work their way down the streams then jump over it. But in the process the erosion is spreading over the heather moorland through braiding and we’re seeing really bad damage.
Cut Gate never seems to dry out anymore. In the past it used to dry out in the summer, but in recent years there has been a lot more wet weather which has exacerbated the erosion. There is a permanent wet line on it and two particular sections are just boggy morasses – we have names for them like ‘The Bog of Doom’ or ‘Notorious B.O.G’.
It is vitally important that the repairs don’t harm the character of the trail. All we’d like to see is the lightest of touch of repairs to the boggy sections, a thin ribbon of slab work. It is vitally important that the character of the trail remains intact and that it doesn’t become sanitised.
The mountain biking community is developing a growing awareness of the impact we cause. We work closely with Ride Sheffield and Peak District Mountain Biking (PDMTB), and we all work together to promote responsible behaviour.
The BMC is a great blueprint for what we’d like to be achieving in the mountain biking community. The advocacy model the BMC has championed for many years and their approach to improving access is what we’re aiming for.
Mountain biking is growing in popularity. As it does so we recognise there is an increasing potential for conflict, tension and misunderstanding with other users. We want to promote good behaviour because it is complimentary to achieving better access and makes for more harmonious relations with other outdoor users.
Part of one of the notorious bogs. Photo: Sim Mainey / Radventure.cc
The mountain biking community is at the heart of a lot of good work in the Peak District. Peak District MTB does loads of advocacy and volunteer maintenance work such as the Cutthroat Bridleway, which Moors for the Future have just started doing professional work on. Ride Sheffield has crowdfunded mountain biking routes around Sheffield like Lady Canning’s and has developed partnerships with the likes of Sheffield City Council and the Eastern Moors Partnerships.
I’ve never met a mountain biker who goes out wanting conflict with people. Where there is bad behaviour it’s usually through lack of understanding.
There is bad behaviour from all types of outdoor user. I was riding my bike by the side of Ullswater once and a walker held out his two poles so I couldn’t get past. I wasn’t going fast. All he did was get our backs up and no one came out of it happy.
If two kids are fighting over a piece of paper it tears. But if we work together we can have a greater understanding of the aims and intentions of other groups and we can work collectively to drive more responsible behaviour and better, sustainable access for many.
The Cut Gate campaign is an opportunity to unite behind a project. I don’t think anything quite like this has happened before. It’s about bringing the outdoor community together. We’re all out there because we love the place, after all.
Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million
Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million is the new BMC campaign to raise £1 million to repair paths across the UK's 15 National Parks.
If you love the outdoors, we're asking you to support your favourite mountain by taking part in our crowdfunder.
You’ll be helping to heal the hills – and get some amazing rewards.
WATCH: Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million