Having explored some of the more remote and mellow venues in Northern Ireland, Ewen Turner turns his attention to Rostrevor, the biggest and baddest of the trail centres. In search of steep downhill trails, long flowing descents and plenty of technical riding, it definitely doesn't disappoint!

Our Northern Ireland journey took as far and wide, warming us up gently on the western venues of Davagh and Blessingbourne before heading back over to the east coast to visit the legendary Rostrevor Forest. 

For many, if you have heard of one Northern Irish riding venue it's very likely to be this place, home to Red Bull Fox Hunt, the Vitus First Tracks Enduro, and probably responsible for creating some of the areas best riders.

Our arrival in Warrenpoint showed us yet another side to the country, with coastal views and a Victorian style seafront promenade. It's a busy place and has a holiday feel in the sunshine. It's clear this place was also a thriving holiday destination before the troubles, and there is even an old open air swimming pool on the sea front. The hills rise straight from the edge of Carlingford Lough, a fjord cutting deep into the country, bring the sea far inland. Looking like a Tweed valley by the seaside, pine forests dropping straight into the water, it's a bit Scottish, a bit Scandinavian, it's certainly impressive.

Checking in at the Whistledown Hotel, we settle into sea-view rooms before checking the quality of the Guinness at the bar (it was excellent) and discuss plans. Rostrevor has many facets, and with a large trail centre combined with uplift and downhill tracks, there is plenty to go at.

Our first exploration takes us to a familiar bike friendly environment. We are welcomed into a free car park, with plenty of space, a cafe, bike shop and hire centre, all the infrastructure you would expect from a good trail centre. Rostrevor has 27km of red trails and 19km of black to keep riders busy along with two purpose built downhill trails.

Local Nukeproof rider Kelan Grant has been making waves in the international Enduro scene over the past few years, and he cut his teeth here on the trails of Rostrevor. He fills us in on some details before we start.

'Rostrevor what can I say? In my opinion, it's the building blocks to what is mountain biking in the North. Kilbroney mountain offers some of the most exciting and challenging terrain the small little Island of Ireland has to offer.

For me, this is where I train, progress and put in some ground work pre-race season. It's funny how I travel across the world to race some of the worlds finest Enduro stages and still get super stoked for a wet slippy day on Rostrevor. Enduro is loud and proud in Rostrevor right now with marked red and black loops 40km+, orange DH tracks and local loamy rocky built gems, someone new to the area would need a full week to cover all the trails on the hill.'

Pedalling up and out of the trail centre, it's the inevitable climb and drag up the hill, but the beautiful forest and fresh feeling trail takes the sting out of the ascent. The aim is to crack on to the now infamous Kodak Corner and see what all the fuss is about. As we wind our way up the hill, we reach the top car park and the drop off point for the uplift service that we intend to make full use of the following day.

From this top car park, the trail continues to wind sinuously, ever climbing up above the sea, offering fantastic views in the gaps between the trees. Finally, we reach what is instantly recognisable as Kodak Corner. The trees finish, the trail turns, and the views open up in an enormous vista over Carlingford Lough. The drop straight to sea level only increases the sense of scale and making all seem bigger than it is. Having been photographed so much, the only option is to look for a different angle, and our photographer Ben is sent monkeying up a tree in an attempt to capture that 'Kodak Moment'.

A bite to eat and the trail beckons us onwards. Up and up we head high into the hill before dropping round the back of the summits and the descents begin. I've mentioned it in previous articles on the Northern Ireland, but the quality of trail building is truly excellent. It's a particular style, but an excellent example of machine built trails. The rocks that make up the geology of the area are used to good effect, and the black run uses these to add interest, and sometimes terror to the flowing feel of the descent. Endless bedrock fins, lips and wall rides adorn the trail ready to catch out the unwary or foolhardy. Keep your focus up and look for the opportunities and these rocks become kickers and tools to launch over the rough, or rail round corners on the high line, rewarding the daring and creative rider.

As the trail drops ever lower and heads back toward the start, we leave the black trail behind and the red takes us home. The rocks are fewer, although they are left to guard what seems like every corner. Enduro lines are discouraged with the positioning of large immovable granite blocks firmly secured to the mountain itself. As the speed ever increases, the consequence of catching a pedal on these protective sentry rocks grows, making the trail more serious than it perhaps should!

Pedal or pump? That's the question, as the gradient needs just a little more effort to get to that sweet spot of velocity. Every roller and corner encourages more input, more pump, more pedals. Despite the smooth nature of the trail, it's an absolute gem. It's a big loop, but judging from the forest, we've only scratched the surface of what's on offer. Time for a refuel and a chat with the guys from East Coast Adventure who run the uplift, hire and bike shop.

East Coast is the go-to location for all things outdoor in the area, not just bike related, but water sports, climbing and accommodation. You name it; they can sort it, exceptionally friendly and helpful folk, which has been a theme of our trip really! Great people.

There are also Enduro trails to be found, as the area has had plenty of racing over the years, and it's not hard to ride along with your eyes open looking for fresh cut lines. Kelan fills us in on the race scene:

 'Glyn O'Brien and Vitus First Tracks team run a staged Enduro race in the area every year, known to be the best race of the full series for the trails alone. With Kilbroney cafe on hand for post ride snacks and East coast adventure centre to keep your bike in tip top condition, you can't go wrong. Without fail Nukeproof Bikes and East Coast holds the Irish national downhill championships or a round of the National series at Rostrevor annually. A race that always delivers a mix of marked orange "On the pulse" downhill track and man made goodness from the peak of Kilbroney Mountain. A small push after the uplift drop of but worth the effort. A weekend with your mates a nearly fast downhill track and a timed run at the end. Ideal!'

The following day it's time to load the trailer and take full advantage of the uplift service on offer. While some UK venues have pretty good uplift, Rostrevor can put most to shame. With a tarmac road straight up to the top, it takes almost no time at all to ascend the 250m to the drop-off. We're told on any day; riders could get eight uplifts in the morning, same again in the afternoon. The maths is simple, 4000m of drop in a day. That's some healthy descending stats. With improved access to the top of the hill, they would have the drop for a World Cup downhill run; the hill is big!

From the top we have two official options, On The Pulse and Mega Mission, It's clear that Chainreaction has plenty of input here! These are classic bike park trails, with big berms and even bigger jumps. They are different from the usually root infested UK downhill trails and are attempting to replicate some Whistler style park runs. They are a lot of fun but have some very steep lips and some dangerously gravelly corners ready to catch you out. After few runs of these and we were looking for what else was on offer.

With a look along the fire roads it's clear that there is more to go at here, but not in an official sense. No signs, but evidence of plenty of riders using a much larger network of trails, the Bins trails are mentioned, providing more traditional rough downhill tracks. It's clear that users of the uplift do not spend all their time on the two bike park trails either! It would be great to get more official trails developed and promoted.

Up above us, a trail has been closed; it turns out this is the infamous Red Bull Fox Hunt route. Each year hundreds of riders start from the top of the hill and race downward chased by Gee Atherton. Carnage ensues, and in a Megavalanche style, riders race shoulder the shoulder down the whole hillside. Kelan has just returned from the Megavalanche, but how does that compare to the Fox Hunt?

'Ahh, the Redbull Fox Hunt what can I say about this race some day I plan to win this race, but it's hard to plan you're run down a hill when 400 other riders all have the same intentions. I never go into this race with much of a schedule or game plan half the time you're just straight up winging it. I think I've done this race twice now and been wiped out pretty bad both times. Just like the Megavalanche the mass start is intimidating and scary only with the Fox Hunt everyone speaks English and probably lives a few doors down from you. Great race to finish the season on, a true test to who can conquer the Kilbroney Mountain the fastest. Sharp elbows plenty of watts and just get stuck in. I think as long as this race is running I will always finish my season on it! Such a buzz!'

With excellent infrastructure, tonnes of trails and a fantastic bunch of people, Rostrevor is a great all round venue. Easy access from either Belfast or Dublin Airports, or ferries (thanks, P&O) from Stranraer or Holyhead, make it pretty accessible from the mainland, or further afield.

Thanks to East Coast Adventure for sorting us out so well. They can pretty much sort out anything you need for outdoor activity and accommodation. Added to that they are a great bunch and extremely passionate about developing mountain biking in the area.


Thanks again to Mountain Bike NI for a great trip and showing us the best Northern Ireland has to offer.

Thanks to Kelan Grant, who rode with us in spirit due to his car breaking down, but gave us plenty of local knowledge!


By Ewen Turner
Ewen Turner is a self-confessed bike geek from Kendal in the Lake District of England. He runs a coaching and guiding business up there and has a plethora of knowledge about bikes with an analytical approach to testing. His passion for bicycles is infectious, and he’s a ripper on the trails who prefers to fit his working life around his time on the bike.