The weather forecast was rain, rain and rain for our long weekend in Scotland. But guess what: The gods love us and we were lucky. The odd spot of rain now and again, but we had pretty good riding conditions for all 5 days, some mechanicals (two dropper posts sank, one bottom bracket broke and the average amount of punctures) and only one trip to the hospital (the gigolo needed to look some nurses deep into the eyes).
Day one: Mabie
We all, except Russ, Dean and Dave from the forest, arrived later than planned. The journeys were without incidents, only the occasional burning car or bus at the side of the road, but it is quite a distance to Scotland. Against all odds we had blazing sunshine and the trails were dust dry. The red trail is fun with berms high like walls. I opted mostly for the bottom lines but DanW, young and daring, flew over the top: the first victim of the trip, fortunately he did not break anything. Dean and Dave took good care of me and since the blues had a lot of punctures we did not arrive so much later at the car park. We stopped in Castle Douglas and bought dinner and drinks for the night. Jason had organized a bunk house for all of us in the Activity Centre at Lock Ken. The kitchen was small, not really big enough for 18 people, but we managed to feed everyone: Pizza as a starter, then spaghetti Bolognese, made from scratch by SteveW and ice cream for pudding
Day two: Kirroughtree and Dalbeattie.
Rain in the morning, with the hope of drier conditions later in the day. We decided to have a second breakfast in the visitor centre in Kirroughtree until the rain would clear and we were successful. DanA accompanied me around the red trail (black trail was closed). With the ground wet, I found it much harder than Mabie and towards the end I really lost my ability to make any sensible decisions anymore. After lunch, by then in warm sunshine, we headed for Dalbeattie. I could not face the red trail and decided to have a relaxed cool down on the blue option. TimK came with me since a cricket injury (I did not know that cricket can be so vicious) played up. The blue trail is very much like the fire roads in the FOD, but still Tim and I had a good time. We discussed everyone in the club and then the rest of the universe and spiced the ride up by doing some bits of the red trail. This time it was PeteN who decided to inspect the ground more closely and bruised arm and shoulder. Dinner was waiting for us in the activity centre. Not haute cuisine but good enough and we did not need to do the washing up. We finished the day off with drinks at the lake.
Youtube video of Bigfoot on the Slab: http://youtu.be/pmq6HvEmUWs (Thanks Traindriver Rob!)
Day three: Glentress
When we woke up, it was raining hard. Jason decided that we would be better off to skip Ae since it is an exposed trail and head for Glentress with its all-weather trails. The trails and facilities there are splendid, even changing areas and showers. DanA did with me the first half of the blue trail whilst the rest of the group tackled the red one. We split at the buzzard car park and Dan did then the red bit. I extended the blue with some green bits. Blue and green are great fun, smooth and fast, nothing scary except a wooden bridge right at the end which scared the sh…t out of me, but when you are on it you need to get down somehow. We all met up again at the coffee shop. I took advantage of the showers and had a chat with two mountain biker ladies from Glasgow and a lady from Germany. You see I took my time to give Dan enough time to clean the bikes. We were staying in Innerleithen. Half of the group was in the Brake Pad apartment and the other half, including me, in the Tweed valley bunk house. That bunk house was amazing. A fully equipped large kitchen with all the trimmings, fitness room, pool table, dining room and sitting room. It was simply too good to be left therefore we had Chinese take away and watched a film afterwards (‘Law Abiding Citizen’, not sure whether I should recommend it. Quite on the gruesome side).
Day four: Glentress and exploring.
I left the boys to do Glentress again and went exploring. In Scotland you have the right to roam, i.e. the country side is open to walkers, cyclists and horse riders. I took the Southern Upland Way to reach St. Mary’s Loch. Hard work since boggy and mostly uphill, but amazing views and completely lonely. At the start of the trail I chatted to a farmer to make sure that it was allowed to ride on the footpath and he was the last person I saw until I reached St. Mary’s Loch. From there I continued to the Megget reservoir and after being soaked to the bone by a relatively short but sharp shower decided to loop back. I thought I could just roll back on the road, but there were some hills in between me and my destination. When I arrived back at the bunk house I was covered in sheep poo, seriously tired and happy. One by one the gentlemen arrived. The whole group met in the pub and MattR had the chance to tell the story how he slipped on wet roots and ended up in hospital. In the same pub was an American mountain biker who did something similar, was treated in hospital at the same time as Matt and had a stitches and a plaster on the other arm. We all ended up in our bunk house after collecting different take away options.
Day five: Innerleithen and Newcastleton
Some decided to just go home, others did Innerleithen and DanA and I went to Newcastleton. We approached Newcastleton on a single track road through remote and bleak landscape. Newcastleton feels like the end of the world. After lunch in the little coffee shop in the village it took as about 30 min to find the trailhead. It is charmingly unorganized. On the latest map the trail head is marked at Dykecroft, about 10 min out of Newcastleton by car. When we arrived there a piece of paper told us that all trails start now in the village square. Back to square one therefore. Whilst we were setting our bikes up, two mountain bikers arrived, one with quite a head wound. He forgot his helmet and fell. Then they got both lost big time. They were not too pleased about all that. Following pieces of paper stuck to lamp posts we found the beginning of the red trail. It is completely new near the village and looks hardly used. Next thing we saw, was a cyclist walking his bike back, one wheel strapped to his back. He sheared a screw off. By then I felt a little bit unsettled. I thought: Is this trail the destroyer of cyclists and bicycles. Will I survive? I did. We had three hours of major fun. This trail has plenty of North shore. The Hidden Valley is a hidden gem. You won’t be surprised that I had to walk some bits, especially a longish bridge with deep drops on both sides. My legs turned into jelly. I felt like crawling but had to get the bike across. Dan was really worried that I would fall off the bridge. I must have looked scared to death. I know I will do it next time, or not? I want to go there again. For me this was the most endearing trail, remote, not really organized and it had a wild feel to it.
When we arrived home, it felt like we had been away for weeks. Time stretches when you have fun.