Secretive billionaire Mike Ashley could be in line to take over bargain outdoor retailer Mountain Warehouse.

According to financial pundits the chain, currently owned by private-equity investors, is sniffing around for potential buyers and the reclusive former boss of Sports Direct International is at the front of the queue.

Mr Ashley currently owns outdoor clothing brand Karrimor and has a 29% share in troubled retail group Blacks, which runs the Millets, Blacks and O’Neill outfits. Blacks this month said it would be shutting 45 of its stores and warned investors it would be likely only to break even this financial year.

Mike Ashley recently sold 43 per cent of his Sports Direct company, giving him a tidy £929m. He is known to be looking to invest in other retailers. Takeover Panel rules prevent him making a bid for Blacks for six months. NBGI Private Equity, which has controlled Mountain Warehouse since 2002, is looking for a buyer for the company. It is expected to make profits of £2.4m, 13% of its turnover, on the year just ended.