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Issue 26 - Get on your bikes

Scotland Magazine Issue 26
April 2006

 

This article is 11 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Get on your bikes

Scotland is adapting rapidly in to one of the best outdoor and dangerous sport destinations in the world. It's right up there with the best for mountain biking, for instance. Lewis Eckett took a crash course

Think of the best mountain biking sites in the world. Where would you go? Maybe you’d visit the Moab desert in Utah, Whistler in British Columbia or even the fabled North Shore, Vancouver. Think Europe and you might opt for Morzine or Les Deaux Alps in France - all, of course, great destinations.

Where else? One of the top five mountain biking locations on the planet is inside the United Kingdom?

The answer is of course Scotland.

Yes Scotland – described as "one of the hottest places to ride in the world", according to an independent report card on mountain biking.

For the past seven years, the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) has been collecting data on the best places to go in the world for mountain biking, and rating the information each year in the form of league tables. Scotland is in the top five and the best outside North America.

But the real bonus for Scottish mountain biking is being voted ‘Global Superstar’ which puts the country even above British Columbia, often seen as the mecca for mountain bikers.

It shouldn’t be any surprise: Scotland was made for mountain biking. From the rolling hills of the Borders to the wild, craggy places of the Highlands and Nevis region, Scotland has got everything to offer. And the weather’s not as bad as it’s cracked up to be either.

The popularity of Scotland as a top biking destination has been mainly attributed to the work by Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) to build seven mountain bike centres across the south of Scotland through the 7stanes project.

Like their Welsh counterparts, the FCS has realised that offering thrill-seeking bikers the opportunity to thrash around in undulating forests and hillsides can have a positive effect on visitor numbers and provide a boost for local economies.

Scottish bikers have been carving out their own trails around the vast tracts of countryside north of the border but now significant funding has been provided to build ever more ambitious schemes. Credit to the FCS for the development of new trails that can be ridden all the year round - an important factor in Scotland's wet climate.

New trails in the Highlands, and great out-inthe- wilds riding opportunities in remoter locations, also helped to push Scotland up the IMBAratings.

Talking about Scotland’s new ‘Superstar’ status, Karl Bartlett, Forestry Commission Scotland’s cycling development officer said: "It is great news for Scotland and mountain biking in general. We've been working hard to build some of the best trails in the world, and it's a great achievement for everyone involved to get this recognition from IMBAand mountain bikers.

“Part of this success is also down to the eager enthusiasm of mountain bikers in Scotland, because they've been working with us to help build fantastic trails and enhance our reputation as a top destination."

Trail centres through the 7stanes have been built in Glentress and Traquair forests in the Tweed Valley Forest Park, and further south on the Border at Newcastleton.

Across to the south west of Scotland, popular trails are up and running at Mabie, Dalbeattie and Ae forests. Galloway Forest Park also boasts a recently opened monster trail at Kirroughtree, and a new 50km touring trail in Glentrool forest is ready for those who want long distance cycling.

In the Highlands, the new Laggan Wolftrax trails near Aviemore are bringing in bikers from all over and the Moray Monster Trails in Fochabers are up and ready for the challenge. A whole host of new routes – the Learnie Red Rock Trails – are opening in the Black Isle, near Inverness, in the Spring.

Back to the 7stanes again where Glentress forest, near Peebles, was voted the best biking centre in the United Kingdom for the second year running, and the on-site café and bike hire centre, The Hub, was given the award last year as Britain's best biking café.

All in all, seven mountain biking centres spanning right across the heart of the Scottish Borders to Dumfries and Galloway have been created through the 7stanes, providing a wide variety of terrain and riding conditions for beginners and experts alike.

But developments on this scale don’t just happen overnight. In the first phase of the project , all the partners joined forces to raise £1 million towards the initiative and match-funding from Europe brought the £2 million project to life.

It doesn’t stop there either, the 7stanes has been awarded further funding so they are extending the network of trails aimed specifically at attracting families and beginners.

Under the supervision of trail master and freerider Andy Hopkins (responsible for the Slab, Kona Dark Side and many other crazy trail features!) the team has created an awesome trail network worthy of world recognition.

Need to know

Flights into Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness are plentiful and cheap via Easyjet and other carriers. Alternatively you can always drive or take the train.

For route details, accommodation and holiday options checkout the following websites:

www.forestry.gov.uk/mtbscotland
www.7stanes.gov.uk adventure.visitscotland.com/activities/earth
www.mbhi.co.uk

Glentrool

Glentrool is located in the heart of Galloway Forest Park. It's a fascinating area rich in beauty and home to the south of Scotland's highest mountain – the magnificent Merrick.

With all that rugged landscape at your disposal then you'd expect a mountain bike trail to be there somewhere! Well... there is but it’s different to the other 7stanes centres. Don’t expect lots of technical singletrack, but a great venue for those who want to simply ride for miles.

Around 50km in total, this trail uses forest and country roads through some beautiful scenery in Galloway Forest Park. This is real out-in-thewilds riding.

Kirroughtree

Three miles away from Newton Stewart in Dumfries and Galloway is Kirroughtree forest offering biking for families through to experts.

Of the four trails to choose from, two (blue and green grade) trails are aimed at novices, children and families, leaving the red and black runs to the more experienced. Black Craigs (black) at 15 kilometres in length includes sections with evocative names such as Jabberwocky, Hissing Syd, Stairway to Heaven, The Judgement and the unique 150m long by 25m wide McMoab – which is a ‘granite whaleback rock of Moby Dick proportions’.

The Red Twister Route at 14 kilometres gives experienced riders some fun singletrack, and for a longer route riders can be combined with the Black Craigs to give an even more challenging 29 kilometre run.

Ae

Ae may be the smallest town name in the UK but it also home to some of the latest trails in the 7stanes programme. The new 18 km Ae Line trail mixes cross country riding with some freeride style jumping.

You’ll head up the glen and tackle some leg sapping singletrack and get some big air on the way down. Look out for the Omega Man section which is towards the end – guaranteed smiles all round! Don’t forget the downhill course too – it’s all practically next to each other.

Dalbeattie Forest

Just 15 minutes drive from Dumfries, lies Dalbeattie Forest where you’ll find the Hardrock, Moyle Hill and Ironhash trails.

The Hardrock Trail, is graded red with a few optional black sections due to the fact that the 7stanes trail-builders have carved out featurefilled singletrack that makes the most of Dalbeattie’s famous granite rock.

The trail stretches for over 18 miles and takes the rider on a thrill a second route that contains some very steep sections, and some wild features like the nerve tingling, downright scary Slab.

Dalbeattie is also home to the Ironhash Trail and Moyle Hill Trail – which are graded green and blue for beginners and families.

There's plenty of accommodation nearby with B&Bs, hotels, guest houses, self catering facilities, plus caravan and campsites in the vicinity.

Mabie

The small but perfectly-formed forest south of Dumfries at Mabie holds five trails The Phoenix Trail is a 12-mile classic woodland ride featuring challenging climbs, rapid-fire singletrack, raised timber trails and much, much more.

Riders who want to practice their North Shore skills can tackle the 'Kona Dark Side' – 2.5 kilometres of black graded timber trail sections to test the best combination of balance and nerves out there.

But Mabie is very popular with families too and boasts a big playpark, which is a big hit with the kids. There are also superb green and blue graded routes – the Big Views loop, the Woodhead loop and the Lochbank loop – to cater for all.

Tweed Valley

With more than 65 kilometres of colour graded trails here for all ages and abilities, the Tweed Valley area is a great introduction to mountain biking for less experienced riders and experts too. The red route offers some of the best fun on a bike and is a fun challenge for everyone who rides it. The black graded Helly Hansen V Trail on the other hand has long been recognised as one of the best trails in the UK, demanding respect and nerve in equal measure to negotiate it’s sinuous 18 miles. Descents like Britney Spears, Boundary Trail, Deliverance complement the steep Redemption climb. Finally a test of your North Shore skills with the timber treat of Ewok Village.

Glentress near Peebles is already a mecca for mountain bikers attracting 1,000 bikers a week attracted to the renowned and award winning Hub Café and bike shop where staff are on hand to serve great food, service your bike and offer expert advice on riding technique and the 7stanes trails.

Traquair forest in Innerleithen is five minutes drive away and contains the Traquair XC Trail which starts and finishes at the Red Bull downhill track and is designed for technical singletrack junkies including a long lasting roller coaster ride with the potential for a big-air finish.

Newcastleton

Newcastleton is a great biking centre for families, novices and those who enjoy a more testing time on two wheels.

The centre has a short red route, two blue routes and a skills loop to learn some of the basics. There's also a black graded ridge just for experts. Only a stone’s throw from the border with England, Newcastleton is easily accessible from the A7 and only one hour’s drive from Glentress and Innerleithen.

Already at the forest is a growing network of walking trails, so apart from biking you'll have other options while you are there. It's a friendly area and one worth visiting.