If you fancy a trip out to the countryside and want to have a go mountain biking (don't let the name put you off), there are a number of good spots within a two hour range from the centre of London.
1. Bedgebury Pinetum
The first I'd recommend is Bedgebury Pinetum near Tonbridge Wells. It's just off the A24 and has an on-site bike hire shop to suit a large range of ages and sizes. Quench Cycles also offer coaching and lessons for those in need of some tips or advice on which routes to choose for your ability. There's also Go Ape nearby for younger kids and those who don't want to cycle.
The Pinetum itself is beautiful for walking with numerous picnic spots. The riding trails are graded Green (Easy), Blue (Moderate) and Red (Difficult). Signs are clearly labeled at the start and end of each section, although some attention is required to follow all the routes correctly. The trail direction is one way and overall these are quite easy trails - a good place for beginners as the terrain is predominantly flat but can be testing if doing the longer loop. Parking is around £6, but that covers the entire day.
2. Swinley Forest
Secondly, there is Swinley Forest near Bracknell - a Forestry Commission site with Go Ape and excellent facilities, including play area and rest rooms. The car park is only £2 and the trails begin at the same place and cover a variety of distances. Red is the hardest and is only reachable once some of the blue is completed. These trails are smoother than the rougher terrain of Bedgebury Forest and will really test your confidence and commitment. Of course you can also just ride at a low speed. Swinley Forest is really good for both beginners and those with a little more experience. Remember to take water with you as all routes lead away from the shop.
3. Friston Forest
Friston Forest near Eastbourne has a small bike shop on the A259 and a bike car park. The trails are always changing and are well-maintained. I've always found them easy to follow and last time I discovered new trickier trails branching off from the main lines. A map can be bought from the shop and you may be able to hire bikes (but check before you go). There are 13km of fire roads (these are simple logging, dusty roads) and mountain bike specific tracks. I'd recommend Friston Forest for more experienced riders as some trails are quite steep and generally a bit rough.
4. The Devil's Punchbowl
The Devil's Punchbowl near Hindhead has a large network of trails and is a hot spot for the adventurous mountain biker. Routes can be steep and challenging but they guarantee a huge grin factor! Car parks are near Pirbright or Thursley on the A3. This is another trail for the more experienced rider.
5. Bewl Water
Bewl Water has a loop around the reservoir which I've heard is good for families but can get very wet and busy during the holidays.
Dorking in Surrey and Peaslake Village are also popular spots for serious and keen mountain bikers. The trails are not signed, so I'd advise going with someone who's been before, as the hills are steep and long and if you don't know the way then you may not fully enjoy the hills on the way down!
Some shops like Pedal and Spoke offer group rides on a Wednesday evening and some clubs will also take people out in that area, such as Redhill MTB club. Singletrack School offer guided rides and instruction for all levels of rider and base their rides in the Holmbury, Peaslake area.
North of London, I've had some lovely rides around Woburn in Buckinghamshire, but it's worth going with people who know the area, as the routes have been linked together and getting lost in the woods is easier than you think! Check out the Woburn Mountain Bike group for the latest info on trail conditions and good loops.
Stay safe, always tell someone where you are thinking of riding and take the proper spares and supplies. The experience of exploring new areas on a bike is extremely liberating so get out and enjoy!