Simon de Burton

Why Britain is best explored by motorcycle

Why Britain is best explored by motorcycle
Image: Superior Motorcycle Adventures
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With the emphasis on staying on home turf this summer rather than enduring the risks and administrative tribulations of holidaying 'overseas', many of us are heading out in search of parts of the country that we previously never bothered trying to discover. And what better way to find pastures new than by motorcycle?

That's the thinking behind a fledgling business called Superior Motorcycle Adventures that aims to give riders, be they experienced or relative novices, the chance to explore rural Dorset on roads that are distinctly less travelled - in other words, the tracks and byways that were once plied by cattle drovers and journeymen but which, in a surprising number of cases, remain legally open to vehicular traffic.

Often narrow, overgrown, washed-out and rocky, they are not places where many urban 'SUV' owners would wish to venture - but they're ideal for lightweight trail bikes. The area's surprisingly extensive network of 'legal' trails was partly discovered back in 1980 by a motorcycle enthusiast called Ian Rennie after he read an article published 52 years earlier about an event called the Arbuthnot Trial.

Inaugurated after the Great War in honour of Rear Admiral Sir Robert Keith Arbuthnot - a pioneer motorcyclist said to have gone down with his ship at the Battle of Jutland in 1916 while sitting stoically astride his trusty Triumph - the trial required riders to climb natural hills and travel some of the roughest tracks in Wiltshire and Dorset in pursuit of a trophy formed in the rear Admiral's likeness.

Exploring the Jurassic Coast

Having recognised a photograph used in the article as showing a spot high up on the Fovant Downs near his home, Rennie decided to ride up there to see how much things had changed. And the answer was 'hardly at all'. After more than 50 years, the panorama was very nearly identical and so, with remarkable determination, he tracked - down some of the original Arbuthnot competitors, painstakingly identified the areas that had been used for the original event and re-instated it.

It continues to be held each September and covers more than 50 miles of trails in the area, some of which are, coincidentally, included in the Superior Motorcycle Experiences tours which were the brainchild of motorcycle-mad pharmaceuticals tycoon Dr Geoffrey Guy (also known as 'Dr Pot').

Guy was reported as having made £65.9m earlier this year from the sale of Cambridge-based G.W. Pharmaceuticals, which he founded in 1998. After securing a Home Office licence to grow cannabis in England, the firm went on to pioneer marijuana-based medicines, including the multiple sclerosis mouth spray treatment Sativex.

The 'SME' base at Chapel Marsh Farm in Beaminster, Dorset (which is part of Guy's impressive Chedington Estate) offers a range of high-end accommodation for riders taking part in the events, which are generally capped at groups of eight, with each rider being provided with a Royal Enfield Himalayan, a forgiving, 410cc, single-cylinder trail bike with modest power but good off-road capability.

The courses are run by James Page and his sister, Emily, both of whom are experienced off-road motorcyclists whose gently progressive teaching method means even those who have never ridden a motorcycle on the rough quickly gain confidence.

To assess initial skill levels, riders are taken to a flat field where basic manoeuvres are carried out and instructions given on how to tackle different types of off road terrain, how to fall-off without injury - and how to subsequently return the bike to an upright position.

Once everyone has shown a general level of competence, Page and sister lead the riders out on to the Dorset lanes for a ride of around 80 miles of on and off road adventure that's regularly interspersed with deviations that take the group into hidden parts of the county, often with spectacular views and no one else in sight.

Good weather on the day I took part meant we were led to a remote hill near Cerne Abbas where we were met by chef John Jones, an exceptional culinary talent who has spent much of his career catering on megayachts and who whipped-up a superb alfresco lunch which we ate in the warm sun, with the well-worked Himalayans resting quietly at our sides.

If you like motorcycling and find yourself stuck in the UK this summer, there are probably few better ways to explore our green and pleasant land.

Packages range from £175 for the one day 'trail school' in Dorset to £985 for three-day trail or road tours of the county. Four days in the Pyrenees starts at £1,195. Full details at

More off-road motorcycle adventures in the UK

1. (BMW-backed). Wales.

2. Norfolk

3. (Honda backed). Exmoor

4. (Yamaha backed) Wales

5. . Wales.

6. Wales

7. Adventureridingacademy. Easy Sussex

8. Shropshire