This weekend sees Round 3 of the Mud Sweat & Gears Eastern XC Series at a venue well known to many but hidden away in the depths of Thetford Forest in Norfolk. Fire road 24 just off the main A134 road between Kings Lynn and Thetford at Weeting, is right next to a series of pits and depressions known as Grime's Graves. In total they cover an area of 90 acres. Despite their macabre name, these pits originated, not as graves, but as mine shafts where people dug for flint. The name came later, identifying the area as the resting place of the Devil and associating it with Grim, the ancient god of the underworld.
Back in the Neolithic Age, flint was a vital tool, highly prized for its ability to take a razor sharp edge and its durability. Concentrations of flint were a valuable natural resource and this area of flint in the middle of Norfolk was worked for nearly 1,000 years. During that time over 360 shafts were dug at depths up to 30 feet. From these pits tunnels ran out in different directions to form galleries where the best flints could be mined.
Each shaft and gallery was worked with tools of antler and bone until the supply of flint in a particular hole began to dry up, or the distance it needed to be dragged became too great. At this time the shaft would be closed and a new pit dug. The spoil from the excavations was put into a previously worked out hole, and over the centuries this in-fill material slumped down to give the area its current, distinctive, appearance. The pits would have been wide with natural daylight filtering down to the working floor. However, in the tunnels and galleries, illumination would have come from primitive oil lamps with floating wicks. As well as the deeper pits and galleries there is evidence of shallow, opencast workings. These were only one or two meters deep as people delved through the surface sand and mud to find the flints lying in the chalk layer below.
For mountain bikers this is what gave rise to what are colloquially referred to as the bomb holes in Thetford Forest and is therefore responsible for so much of the venue's terrain highlights. However, it is also the reason why the race organisers have to jump through as many hoops as they do to use that same Forest. MSG have had problems with the Forestry Commission over the use of the original venue, and it has caused a huge headache. However, it would be remiss not to point out that FC have also bent over backwards to resolve the issues, and it is an extremely complicated range of issues that have to be managed to enable the venue's use. Balancing the competing requirements of an operational forest, with leisure, conservation, archaeology and so forth is not an easy task and nobody should take the work that is done on our behalf by these guys lightly. When you step back and look at this ancient monument which has a significance on a par with Stonehenge it is actually a wonder that mountain bikers can race there at all.
Anyway, a classic Thetford course awaits. Low on technicality, but high on whoops, hollows and single-track. If you want to ride it well you'd best be practicing your pumping technique. Oh and by the way, the clue is the phrase for "its ability to take a razor sharp edge". We are at Flint Central, Flint, the capital of Flintshire so whatever you do about punctures, make sure you do it times two!
Racing starts at 10am with the Under 12s and Under 9s racing and coaching session provided by Aspire Coaching. Next up are the Women's races with categories separated by one minute intervals. Laura Sampson and Hollie Bettles are contenders in the Elite/Expert race. Following shortly after are the Male Youth, Juvenile and Open categories with the final race starting at 2pm to include the Male Elite, Expert, Junior, Sports, Veteran and Grand Veteran. Renvale teammates Richard Jones and James Hyde are favorites for the Elite/Expert win but category climber Liam Manser will also be looking for a good showing.
Sunshine and dry conditions are forecast and the racing promises to be hot!
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