Scene Visit | Wharncliffe Woods, Sheffield UK
A good biking friend of mine has moved from my local area of Shropshire, his work as a scaffolder took him to several locations north of here; Manchester, Hull and Sheffield, to name a few. There was plenty of work around those parts when he moved up there over five years ago and he had a choice to live around any of them. Being a restless kind of character he never seemed to settle anywhere for longer than a year, that was till he found the biking delights of a small woodland close to the city of Sheffield. This place is called Wharncliffe Woods (aka Wharny) and hides a history stooped in world class riders and some of the most tech stuff you could ever ride in a small woodland.
Now, five years on, my friend Coynie is the most settled I have ever seen him, loving the trails, which are literally on his doorstep, vowing never to leave the area due to his total love of the local terrain, so why exactly does he keep rambling on about it so much? I figured I had to go and check it out for myself. We decided on a mid-week shoot, unfortunately Coynie couldn’t make it (we arranged for another ride of course!) so I thought I would meet up with another couple of local Sheffield riders, they also live virtually on the edge of the wood, you may have heard of them; Steve Peat and Josh (Loose Dog) Lewis!
Peaty obviously is a major legend worldwide, so you can just imagine his god-like status in and amongst those parts, he is looked up to, as a kind of king of the MTB scene round there, especially when organizing his annual Steel City race. The race being held on the other side of the road to Wharncliffe, at the more man-made trails center-ish Grenoside Woods. Peaty is now 40 years young, but still ripping, he cut his teeth in these woods, known unsurprisingly as the fastest rider on every trail there. But he is starting to have competition up there, in the form of young Josh Lewis, Josh being best mates to Josh Bryceland (another Wharny regular) not only do they share the same first name, they are also stars of the ‘Ladlife’ viral videos knocking about nowadays, many clips having been recorded at Wharny. Josh 21 years old, also cut his teeth at Wharny Woods, looking up to the big local Peaty for motivation, he is now starting to rip and after managing to finishing 4th overall in the UK’s UKGE after a sketchy season, he is to take on the EWS world in 2015.
It’s pissing down and hailing on arrival and Peaty’s nowhere to be seen at the car park, so I bell him to get the reply, “Noz is here at mine avin’ a brew kidda, we’ll wait till hail storm’s gone then ride down to ya mate” Noz being Josh’s nickname. Soon enough they both arrive, almost a bit like father and son, with the giant 6 foot 5 (196cm) Peaty on his XL Tallboy and Noz 5 foot 9 (175cm) on his Nomad, they couldn’t look more different! “Come on then mate, we’re off to some good bits, then meetin’ track builder lads in a bit” says Peaty after the informal greetings, and we’re off.
So let me explain a bit more about Wharncliffe’s terrain, it has some trails which are nearly un-rideable in the dry, due to their high levels of tech, never mind in the pissing winter rain. For a small area it’s covered in a mind-blowing amount of trails, nothing involving any brought-in stone or easy flowing simple stuff! The first trail we get to Peaty shouts back “Yer not allowed to put ya foot down” I knew we were in for some difficult riding! I felt sorry for Isac our photographer) he was following with a big heavy camera bag on and the trail resembled more of a trials section than an MTB track, massive rocks littered the trail, not a steep trail, just so difficult with the rocks, holes filled with water and even the odd ditch you had to precariously ride over. I think there might have been a couple of bits where my feet were actually ‘on’ the pedals, as the others rode off to wait at the end of that section! Isac hit the deck a couple of times, I knew Peaty and Noz would try and fuck us up from the start, and a good job they did of it too!
Lots of fun was had out on the more rideable stuff following these lads, who just made everything look easy. You can tell that every trail made in Wharny Woods is made with a degree of difficulty in mind, awkward roots and off-camber rocks always being part of the tracks, rather than diverted around, and there wasn’t any noticeable ‘straight Strava lines’ appearing, so as to miss out the trickiest of lines, a sign of a place for proper riders. The trails were all made even more difficult, being mostly dark peat, which made them extremely slimy in the wet, but a good laugh never the less.
Eventually we make it to what can only be described as the centerpiece to the wood, known locally as Mini Whistler or Wharncouver. Now this place really is a sight to be seen and where we met the lads who did a lot of the building. Max Nerurkar and Rob Southern have put a ridiculous amount of work into this place, skillfully digging, carving and shaping the downhills into works of art. I had a bit of a go, then feeling a tad out of my depth put the bike down to admire the trail shredding skills of Peaty and Josh. Josh attacks trails on the verge of too fast, nailing the biggest of scary hip jumps, with Steve smoothly powering his big bike through each and every turn like a boss. It was a real joy to watch the opposing riding styles of these lads as the young Max and Rob spectate in awe, fist bumping and high fiving everyone like it’s going out of fashion. Even with a wood fire going at their trail base we were soon a bit too chilly and decided to hit the local ale house to get some words off the lads
You’re obviously quite an influential person around these parts, but was it round here where it all started for you?
PEATY: Riding in Wharncliffe began for me 25 years ago, I used to live in Chapeltown, which is about two miles (3.2k) away from Wharncliffe. When I first started mountain biking I rode cross country, so I’d ride from home, up to Wharncliffe, then do three laps of the woods which was a 9.9 mile (16k) lap, I used to get home from work and do that most nights of the week.
What was it like back then?
It was all fire roads then, there was a bit of single-track, but mostly rough fire-roads really
Did you get involved in the digging up there back then?
Ha ha, there’s a track in there called ‘Peaty’s Track’, one day we were in there and we decided where the track was going to go and I helped them build the first two corners, then I had to go away travelling and racing for the summer. They carried on and built the rest of the track and someone came along and named it ‘Peaty’s Track’, the builders have given me shit about it ever since, because they built it and I had nothing to do with it really!
JOSH: Yeh, there’s stories about when he used to do the runs then sprint back up by the side of it all day!
How often are you in there when you are back in the country nowadays?
PEATY: I ride cross country in there mainly, so probably three or four times a week.
Which is your favorite trail in there?
Favorite trails are the secret trails (laughter)
When did you notice the large amount of tracks being made around there?
Over the years there’s been all sorts, I mean I first started riding cross country there, then downhill kicked off a bit bigger for me and me and Will Longden spent hours in there, we used to ride over in Grenoside more back then for downhill, we built tracks there years ago. There was a British National over at Grenoside in about 95 I think, it went flat all the way across Grena Wood on the fire road, did a left turn, up a fire-road, then back down a fire-road, a tiny technical bit at the bottom, but that was it.
Have there been any races on Wharncliffe side?
there used to be a lot of Sportage cross country races, NEMBA had downhill races in there, there is actually a track in there called Nemba, but there’s not been races there for a while.
So Noz when you got into it all were you quite influenced by Steve?
JOSH: Yeh big time, I remember the first bike I got, it was a shit bike but it did the job!
Did you always live close to the woods?
Yeh I moved up there about 14 years ago, but I didn’t start doing mountain biking till I was about 13, Steve has always helped me
Do you get involved in digging the tracks?
No not really, these boys do a good job to be fair, I’d like to, but I’m always away at the weekends so it’s hard really.
You do a lot of filming now as well with Bryceland, how often does he hit the Wharny trails with you?
We do rides now and again, I might go over there and do a ride, we just try and put a good weekend together whatever we do.
So what’s the local riders attitude towards Steve
Ha ha, the first time I introduced Steve down to these guys (Max & Rob) down at the spot everyone’s knuckling flat out, but they all knew who he was except this one kid, who said “what’s yer name then mate?” he just didn’t have a clue about Steve and that’s so rare around here. Steve told the lad he was called Dave and the kid was calling him Dave all day!
So when you’re around how often do you get up there?
Most nights during the summer really
Do you think the trails have been important to define you as a rider, to get you to where you are today?
Yeh sure, when it comes to technical stuff it definitely sets you apart from others.
PEATY: I think it definitely defined me too, in Wharncliffe there are trails that have little rocks that you learn to use to help you to carry speed. It’s so technical, it’s real rocky real rooty. Like now where these boys are building it’s really flowy and jumpy, so there’s a good mix of everything.
JOSH: What has happened before is some people had spend ages building a lip of a jump and forgot about the landing before these boys came a long, so the smooth jumps are quite a new thing up there really.
Ok so what about you Max and Rob, how long have you boys been building up here then?
MAX: I rode a lot as a kid around Wharncliffe with my dad and he used to take me to trail centers and stuff. I then got into skateboarding and that’s how I met Rob
JOSH: They are sick skaters this pair!
ROB: Yeh I spent about five years doing that, I live about twenty minutes from the trail spot and Rob lives at mine pretty much, so we just cruise out there every day, do some digging, do some riding. In the winter we struggle a bit, maybe every few days, but in the summer it’s every day.
Do you work at all?
ROB: I did work weekends for a bit.
So when did you start building the trails?
ROB: Well we started riding the trails about two years ago, and Max kind of said “we’ve got some sick trails out here” so we started riding them.
MAX: He got into riding in Thailand did Rob.
ROB: Yeh I’d just got into it over here, then over there I’d seen Steve and them in that Thailand Loose Riders video. So I thought I’d try one of the Thai trails. I rode them so many slams, they were so tech, the guide went over the bars on the first steep corner, it was mental!
So when you first started digging trails were they more techy stuff to start with?
MAX: There were about three trails that were ridden in then, we didn’t really have any idea what trails were like at that time, we’d seen the stuff at the top and just thought ‘that’s just gnarly’. We looked at certain berms that didn’t really work, we made another berm at the bottom of one of the tracks and just kind of built up from there.
So have you put your names to any of the trails there?
ROB: The one they were riding today never really had a name and people have asked us to name it, to us it’s just our trails.
JOSH: Yeh the Wharncouver or Mini-Whistler is just a bit of local hype really.
MAX: There’s about six or seven trails we’ve done, but with help from other people, like the one you were riding was built originally by someone else but fell into bad condition. So like on three or four of the tracks we just went up and built berms and sorted them out with some renovation really. Then there’s another three or four, which we pretty much built from scratch. We’ve had up to about ten people before now shifting dirt on some days, so it’s not just us. It’s just slow in the winter once that grey weather comes in.
Do you have any issues up there with dirt bikes?
MAX: Yeh we’ve had a few run-ins with them, we just stopped them and asked if they can stay away from our trails and they’ve been OK really.
What about the Forestry Commission and land owners, how’s relations with them?
MAX: It’s been alright to be honest, I met one of the women from the forestry about five months ago and she was really chilled out about it. They just ask that we don’t build anything with wood, because if you do they have got to take it down. She didn’t say at any point ‘stop building’, but I bumped into her a bit more recently and she was a bit more like “Things are getting big now aren’t they!” so we gotta be a bit more aware now. And she also said the main thing is that the trails don’t send riders out onto fire-roads for safety of the walkers.
So what about plans for the future up there?
ROB: Well fairly soon after we started digging up there we learnt that it is a plantation area so it’s all going to be felled at some point. We found out it’s going to be done this coming year, but because we’ve been to meetings and got on with them well, they are going to take the trails into consideration. Whereas I think if we’d have been more hostile with them that wouldn’t be a consideration.
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Words: Jim Buchanan Photos: Isac Paddock