Again it’s listed as a Gravel/Hybrid/MTB but the tracks and green grade cycle route we’ve used for the forest sections offer simple, unchallenging riding on all-weather surfaces. That makes it great for an introduction to gentle off-road riding and off-piste adventuring whatever age and experience your group is. Unfortunately the number of busy, fast roads in the area mean we wouldn’t advise trying to create an on-road alternative to this route, though.
While it’s only classified as a B road it’s best to take care on the road south from Thetford town centre as it can be busy at times. Particularly at the south end where you pass a supermarket and fast-food restaurant. The bike path starts just before the roundabout, though, so you’re soon rolling along parallel to the main road, which is still noisy but safe and with an unspoilt forest view if you look left.
From the bike path you join the now quiet road through the village of Elveden. The name points to the woodland fairy folk having had a significance here for millennia before the planting of the modern forest in the 1920s.
The village also has a large hall which is home to the Guiness family and their excellent farm shop, restaurant and recently opened Dog and Scone tearoom which is great for an early stop. Keep an eye out for the spectacular Corinthian column war memorial too.
Elveden also gives its name to the Center Parcs holiday complex that you’ll pass after taking the bridge over the A11 so again be aware of increased traffic on this stretch of road at times.
After a couple of km you’ll turn right off the road into the Forestry Enterprise section of the forest which has an open-access policy for riders. We’ve plotted our route to intersect with the Green (suitable for all ages and experience levels) graded Shepherd’s Trail to keep navigation easy.
This will wind you gently in an anti-clockwise direction on a variety of simple purpose-built singletrack trails or broad fire roads back to the Forest Centre at High Lodge. Here you’ll find a picnic area, café, toilets, play areas and the start of all the official cycle routes through the forest. There’s a car park here too if you’d rather just drive to the centre and start your ride from here.
From the centre you have a choice of taking the Forest Road or the first 2.5km of the Beater MTB trail. This is a Blue rather than Green trail, but there’s nothing more challenging on the sandy singletrack than a few roots and a couple of tight turns, so if you take it steady it’s a lot of fun.
Follow the trail around to the visitor centre road and turn left to the forest road. Then cross straight over into the forest and follow the fire road straight ahead until you meet the quiet wooded road to Santon Downham. This village was expanded with some rather utilitarian-looking grey houses for forestry workers when Thetford Forest was being created in the 1920s, but the heart is still a lovely collection of traditional brick and flint cobble cottages.
Follow the NCN 30 signs to Santon Warren out of the far side of the village and over the white iron bridge across the River Thet. This featured in episode 50 of the famous ‘Dad’s Army’ Home Guard sitcom, a top-rated TV show with regular viewing figures of almost 20 million in the UK through the late 1960s, ’70s and ’80s; it’s still shown globally to this day.
At this point you’ve got two choices. The official route stays on the road for a km after the bridge before turning right into the warren, following the fire road to the main road crossing and then heading east out of the forest.
Alternatively, you can hook out and back along forest tracks and a short section of quiet road to the prehistoric site of Grimes Graves. We’ve fully detailed the story of this fascinating prehistoric industrial site in the description for Route 1, but with more than 400 mine shafts and linking underground galleries used for flint mining it’s well worth a detour.
Some of the shafts and galleries are still accessible to climb down, but only if the English Heritage-curated site is open. Check visitor times before you make the trek round to the far side where the gate is or just take a look at the heathland site from the open south side.
After carefully crossing the main road follow the broad, but very quiet road 3km eastwards, making the most of the last bit of tranquil, forest bathing on this loop. Turn southwards to roll gently down and then up again to the beautiful unspoilt village of Croxton with its circular church tower and traditional cottages. Cresting the open farmland to the south you’ll roll under the A11 and then back into Thetford ready for some food, your next cycling adventure or both.
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