The daffs are out and the lambs are bouncing, but you can forget spring-cleaning – for many of us, this is the season to get filthy. If you're a cyclist and you don't spend most Friday nights shaving your legs, you'll already know where I'm heading, but for the benefit of non-members of the fat-tyre fraternity, I'm talking about mountain biking.
Pedalling along a twisting piece of singletack, wending through woods with birdsong as backing track and no exhaust fumes to breathe in, can be a euphoric experience. And, typically, once you've invested in a bike – either a hardtail or a full-suspension mountain bike – the most you'll have to pay for is parking. For what mountain bike to buy, try our friends at Halfords who are sponsoring this piece. But in the meantime here's our selection of some of Britain's best areas to have fun on mountain bikes.
Swinley Forest, Berkshire
Featuring organically-grown trails that have been converted to a mountain park centre, Swinley now boasts 14 miles of maintained tracks, organised into graded loops from Green (easy), through Blue (harder) to Red (technical). The short Green loop is great for families, while the 6-mile Blue trail is a good option for those new to mountain biking, with enough to hook you into the thrills without being put off by spills.
Coed y Brenin, Wales
Britain's first forest developed specifically for mountain biking, Coed y Brenin remains one of the most impressive MTB centres in the UK, with all-weather routes for all abilities, from easy-peasy Green through to life-flashing-before-your-eyes Black – many with Snowdonia views. Confident riders will enjoy 'Falseteeth', but gentler options include MinortTaur, a new Blue run. To sharpen your skills, check out the new Y Ffowndri Skills Area and Bike Park.
Glentress & Innerleithen, The Borders, Scotland
One of the 7stanes – seven mountain-biking trail centres that span the south of Scotland – Glentress Forest is regularly cited as Britain's best mountain biking areas. Nestled in the embrace of the Tweed Valley, the centre offers Green, Blue, Red and Black graded trails, plus a multi-graded free-ride area. If you do exhaust the opportunities here, nearby Innerleithen has more trails, including a world-renowned Red-graded XC trail that's almost 12 miles long and is 75 per cent single track.
Dalby Forest, Yorkshire
In the North York Moors National Park, Dalby Forest, which hosts a stage of the MTB World Cup, offers a number of loops of differing difficulty. The gentle Green route is family friendly, but can be combined with a Blue to provide a more challenging 12-mile loop. For a stiffer challenge to legs and nerves, have a stab at the 21-mile Red Cycle Trail, which offers plenty of singletrack as well as technical features such as drop-offs and rock gardens. Still too soft? Try the 4-mile World Cup Trail, which a series of unavoidable highly technical features. There's also a skills park and a café.
Surrey Hills, Surrey
A collection of excellent MTB trails roll through the picturesque North Downs around Leith Hill, Holmbury Hill, Pitch Hill and Winterfold Hill. Confident riders will get a buzz from the technical singletrack at Leith Hill, where some routes boast proper nerve jangling 'North Shore' style features (man-made, extremely narrow, elevated wooden bridges), but there are more intermediate-friendly trails available too, including the excellent 'Barry Knows Best' on Holmbury Hill close to Peaslake Village, which boasts some excellent flowing singletrack.
The Quantocks, Somerset
Boasting 60 miles of the best natural trails in Britain, bike-friendly tracks stretch for miles across the hills and through the combes in the Quantocks, with lots of climbing and some classic descents along sensational singletrack. These are shared access trails, so watch out for walkers and be careful not to get lost, but this is a great spot for freerange riders who like to explore rather then do loops of a circuit. Holford is a good access point. A good middle-distance ride is the ominous sounding 8-mile Dead Womens Loop, or for something chunkier, try the 21-mile MBR Killer Loop from Triscombe Stone to Quantock Combe, via the Great Wood.
Haldon Forest, Devon
Set in 3,500 acres of woodland, a short drive from Exeter, Haldon Forest Park offers excellent trails for riders of all experience levels, from the super simple Discovery Trail through to the short but challenging Ridge Ride Extreme (rated Black). The 6-mile Ridge Ride Trail (Red) is fast and technical, with plenty of singletrack, and couple of loops of this makes for a great morning MTB session, which you can sign off with coffee and cake at the café.
Afan Forest Park Mountain Bike Trail Centre, Wales
Close to Port Talbot, Afan Forest Park has five genuinely world-class mountain bike trails – the Penhydd, Y Wâl, Skyline, White’s Level and W² – that snake over 60 miles of singletrack. The tracks feature exposed roots and rocks, and there are a few places where you might lose your concentration thanks to stunning views over South Wales and across the Bristol Channel. For those slightly green to the sport, two Rookie's Trails that run along disused resurfaced railway tracks. You'll find a bike wash and great cafe at the site too.
The Lakes, Cumbria
There are countless mountain-biker friendly trails in The Lakes, most with enough ascent to keep your heart pumping as your eyes bulge at the views. Routes vary from a 5-mile loop around Loweswater through to Back o' Skidda, a 30-mile epic with 4060 feet of ascent. Centres include Grizedale, with its popular 10-mile North Face trail, and Whinlatter – home to the Lake District's longest purpose-built mountain bike trail, the 12-mile Altura Trail, three-quarters of which is singletrack.
Fort William, Scotland
Fort William hosts one of the most popular stages of MTB World Cup each year, but the Nevis Range and Lochaber MTB centre also offer a plethora of cross-country trails to suit all skill levels, from gently undulating green-graded forest tracks through to black-level rocky runs. You can roll around for an hour here, or ride hard all day. The centre is fully kitted out with a café, toilets and parking.