Being a good spokesperson!
Ride a bike around your lawn and you’ll soon see how your grass churns up. Multiply that by hundreds – sometimes thousands – and it is easy to see how unofficial bike tracks can cause real damage in the countryside – and that’s just to the land. We’re blessed that we have a right to enjoy responsible access across Scotland’s countryside – but that doesn’t extend to riding roughshod wherever we choose – not least of all because some riders try to create their own trails and obstacles, damaging property, endangering livestock and threatening the habitat of some endangered flora and fauna. We’re not being killjoys here. Luckily, we have what many claim to be the world’s best mountain bike trails – there to be discovered and enjoyed year round – without endangering any one or any thing. There are some crackers that grab the headlines: we take a look off the beaten track to discover some of the best …
Mountain biking is big business in Scotland. It attracts many thousands of visitors every year – from home and abroad – and the investment in equipment, accommodation, food & drink and retail is massive. Current levels put the the market at around £250m – with forecasts for that to increase to well over £400m in the next decade.
We’ve spoken with a few biking pals who have shared their top 4 trail locations – all official and all brilliant for the facilities they offer.
Highland Wildcat Trails associates with the Sutherland clan emblem – a wildcat. The Clan Chief’s Gaelic designation is “The Great One of the Cat” – and people of Sutherland origin are known as Catachs. Similar to the Clan, the mountain bike centre holds to the motto without fear. It is easy to see why! It features the longest descent in the UK – from the summit of Ben Bhraggie (1,300ft) to sea-level. In just over a decade, Sutherland Estate has driven the initiative – creating a community company with the estate’s support that has now invested £600,000 to create over 18Km of fantastic trails. They know they are off the beaten track – 50 miles north of Inverness – so anyone visiting has to travel a distance. To win awareness and customers they’ve gone the extra mile. They’ve developed a world-class facility with trails built to the highest quality. In creating a Highland mountain bike destination, Highland Wildcat is complimented by further trails – at Kyle of Sutherland (Balblair and Carbisdale), Learnie Red Rock and Abriachan. They’re all within easy traveling distance – creating a cluster of cycling opportunities. The results? They’re attracting ever-increasing numbers that benefit many local businesses. Their trailhead is not a remote outpost – but within the village of Golspie where you’ll find eateries, shops, accommodation and other attractions – the most notable and magnificent of which is the Clan Sutherland seat, Dunrobin Castle. The local beaches are some of the best and cleanest in the Scotland. Enjoy!
The South West
Just an hour’s drive south of Glasgow – off the A76 (Dumfries to Kilmarnock) – is Drumlanrig. It is the most natural trail centre in Scotland with a grand entrance to reach the trailhead. Green, blue and red trails branch out from Drumlanrig Castle allowing all abilities to explore the grounds. At the castle, you’ll not only find Riks bike shed – offering bike hire, servicing and expert advise from Rik and his team – but you will also discover superb facilities that support a great day’s biking. Riding here will take you through some of Scotland’s finest scenery and, just as with Golspie, the mountain bike trails are about supporting rural tourism. This is an area of Scotland through which most will blast heading north or south on the M74. The trails have provided a fantastic reason to take time out and explore the area. As their own website claims – if you want to dive down a mine, journey back in time at a railway museum, visit a festival or go bargain hunting – you need to make tracks for this neck of the woods in Dumfries and Galloway. The Drumlanrig trails were first developed in 2002, but year-on-year investment ensures new challenges are designed and added. Rik is the master trail builder of Drumlanrig and he provides excellent tuition and skills sessions – with prior booking. There are old-school technical trails, single-track routes and swooping family tracks that take you through the estate’s wonderful woodlands as well as onto quiet country roads. And there’s no need to fear the mud. Back at the castle are showers and a bike wash – all available in the Stableyard. For more on the trails, click on Drumlanrig Cycling and Mountain Biking Routes.
Smack in the middle …
The most easily accessible trails for the vast majority of Scotland’s population can be found in the central belt – and none are better than those on and around the Callendar estate – just south of Falkirk. The area has a brilliant selection of trails – from Green to Red – for riders looking to build their confidence, skills and endurance. Very much targerted at new and intermediate mountain bikers, you’ll find a well surfaced network branching from Greenrig Car Park with its bike shop and wonderful Canada Wood Cafe. The network of single track trails complements the existing walking and horse riding routes. Family friendly trails through attractive woodland, each is graded: The Canada Trail is an easy route, suitable for most cyclists. The Craigieburn Trail is a little more of a cycling challege – and will help to burn more calories! For something more exhilarating, there’s The Auchengean Trail and, for those looking for some tight bends and rollers, try The Kilbean Trail – accessed from the Lionthorn car park. The trails are well constructed and maintained by Bespoke – a community group that has entered into a contract with the estate to manage a network that includes the mountain bike trails. Whereas the Golspie and Drumlanrig trails are very much about sustainable rural tourism, here ‘community support’ is the key. The majority of the work is suitable for volunteers and, over the years, many school leavers and university students have had the opportunity to gain practical, hands on work experience. If you are interested in helping, please use this link to contact Bespoke. And if you’re interested in more cycling in the area, please follow this link which takes you to The Helix website. The Helix park connects to over 500km of cycleways across the Falkirk area as well as to two National Cycle Routes and the John Muir Way.
At the heart of the Cairngorms National Park is BIKE Glenlivet. You’ll find not only fast flowing singletrack trails – superbly built and well maintained – but also a wealth of supporting outdoor activities … perfect for an escape from town and city life. We’re back off the beaten track – and these trails help to attract and support tourism in this spectacular and wild corner of Scotland. The estate has more than 20,000 hectares of woodland and rolling moorland to explore. Glenlivet is a very special place – mixing breathtaking scenery with a unique heritage and culture. If you’re visiting, you’ll discover historic churches, art & craft galleries, local restaurants, inns and coffee shops … their attraction all helping to support the area’s economy. Back on the bikes, the 9km blue trail is a great introduction to cross country riding. Perfect for novice to intermediate mountain bikers – although experienced bikers love it too – it’s a fun packed friendly route. There are climbs … but you’ll be rewarded with great downhill sections of sweet, flowing trail with some exciting features. Their 22km red trail provides challenges for the experienced and includes over 6km of single track with adventure a plenty – through Beaton’s Boys, the Gully, Smugglers Wynd and the Double Grinder! The Coffee Still Cafe offers a friendly welcome – and provides a delicious range of food and drink. And if you’re looking for something a little stronger, a visit to the Glenlivet Distillery is a must.The supporting facilities are first class including bike hire, toilets, a bike wash and much more. The nearest bike shop to Glenlivet is Base Camp Bikes, in Grantown-on-Spey (01479 870050).
PLEASE BE AWARE! The Glenlivet mountain bike trails are closed until Easter to allow for essential tree felling works of diseased trees to take place over the winter. You can read more here and keep updated by following their facebook page. Throughout this time, cyclists are welcome across the wider area and suggested routes can be found here. Be sure to check the trail conditions ahead of your visit as all trails can be hit hard with snow!
Photo (above, middle) courtesy of http://cyletherapy.blogspot.co.uk/
Any cyclist worth their clips will be aware of the iconic trails provided by the 7stanes. They’re world-class mountain biking centres that span the south of Scotland. Their award-winning trails offer some of the best mountain biking and attract riders from all over the world. Here’s a whistle-stop …
Glentress, near Peebles, is an incredibly popular mountain biking heaven – just an hour outside Edinburgh. It has challenging trails for the experts, as well as easy routes for beginners. Also in the Borders is Innerleithen, renowned for its four downhill trails. It is a thrill seeker’s dream. There’s also an excellent red-graded cross-country trail. Newcastleton – deep in the southern Borders and on the edge of the Kielder Forest Park – has fantastic trails – suitable for all levels – but few crowds. Bikers reckon it’s the ‘best-kept secret’ of the 7stanes.
On the west, in Dumfries & Galloway, you’ll find some of the very best: Kirroughtree, in Galloway, is in a league of its own boasting trails for all, from gentle family routes to technically challenging singletrack for the pros. Near Dumfries you’ll discover Forest of Ae with a superb variety of green, blue and red graded trails, an extreme downhill section for the serious experts, and a skills area for honing your technique. Mabie, caters for beginners right through to the most experienced riders: there’s a skills area and great trails that snake through the woods. Dalbeattie has a relaxed feel – but the riding is far from dull. It’s renowned amongst the 7stanes for its technical trails, granite features and great coastal views.
Glentrool, in Galloway, offers fun routes for families and beginners, a great blue-grade trail and a long forest road-based ride, all with stunning scenery.
So saddle up, get out there – and enjoy all that Scotland has to offer.
Thanks for reading!