Easter weekend saw Liam and I head up to the Tweed Valley in Scotland for a couple of days mountain biking. Our base was the campsite at Glentress Forest Park, where we camped with my tent and “the van”. It was to turn out to be a fantastically enjoyable weekend of trail-riding in glorious sunshine (the locals informed us we were very lucky to have such weather!).
One We set off early on the Friday and arrived in Peebles at lunchtime. After spending a while driving around attempting to locate a supermarket, we gave in, swallowed our pride, and asked a local.
“Ask that mum, Mums know where the supermarkets are!”, Liam told me.
Shortly afterward, we were in Sainsbury’s, stocking-up on essentials to add to the veritable selection of meat we had acquired from the Tebay Services’ Farm Shop. “Officially the most picturesque services in the UK”, Liam asserts.
When we arrived at the campsite, we struck a deal with the owner to park our van and pitch our tent for £50 for the two nights. Not bad, we thought. The camp was made, the bikes were prepared, and we were promptly off for a lap of the Glentress Red Trail.
We were both mightily impressed with Glentress, upon our first impression — helped, no doubt, by the summer-like sunshine drenching the valleys and blasting through the trees in the forest. The red trail (as well as the blue and the black) rose up a long but interesting climb from the visitors’ centre to the Buzzard’s Nest car park. There are some interesting little optional technical challenges and logs (“skinnies”) to try out on the way up. From Buzzard’s Nest, the trails split, and off we went for an exhilarating excursion along the 18km Red Route.
Upon returning from our first ride of the weekend, we headed straight into Peebles, the nearest village to Glentress. First order of the day was for me to buy some cycling glasses as I had forgotten mine. Leaving our bikes locked up at the bike shop, we then went on a wander through the village, stopping at the Green Tree Hotel for a couple of pints with the friendly locals. Following that, a stroll down to the River Tweed for an ice cream. Peebles really is a beautiful place.
The evening was spent getting showered, barbecuing venison kebabs, beef burgers, sausages, collecting firewood, and getting a fire started to stay as warm as possible as the sun receded and the clear sky allowed the temperature to drop significantly.
Liam had given me the heads up before we left that the sky would be clear and that there was a pass-over expected from the International Space Station. So I packed my DSLR and tripod for the trip so that I could do some star trail photography.
Unfortunately, (as well as my glasses) I forgot my remote release — essential for executing long-exposure shots on continuous drive! Regardless, I set up and shot the fly by of ISS by holding my finger on the shutter for several minutes.
It didn’t turn out great, but I captured the space station streaking across the sky nonetheless.
After hitting the sack primarily to keep warm, I awoke in the middle of the night very cold indeed. When I finally arose as the sun started to come out, I discovered why the chill had become so noticeable… my tent had a layer of frost all over it! Breakfast scoffed and it was time to head off on the (overused word alert) epic 27km Black Route. There was plenty of climbing, but it was totally worth it for the views and the descents. Rocks, roots, berms, technical climbing, singletrack, gravel, mud — it had it all. Oh, and its outline looks like a dancing chicken.
The black-graded trail begins with the same climb as the red trail that we had tackled the day before, but the black continues on further and ascends higher, to a point with a fantastic view of the surrounding area.
Some of the descending on the black route was simply spectacular and exhilarating. There were a few sketchy moments on loose rock and through bad line choices, but the adrenaline was well and truly pumping as we worked our way down well selected natural-feeling routes, zipping in and out of the forest.
There was even a section, some locals informed us as we began it, that was a “real bike-breaker”. “You’ll want to take a break about half-way through it, because your arms will be pumped and you’ll not enjoy the second half if your hanging on for dear life.”. We threw ourselves into it, sight obscured by vibration, the clangs and bangs echoing through aluminium tubing as we clattered our hardtails over terrain that would test the damping of even the most expensive full-bouncers. Catching up with the group we’d met at the start we agreed with their assessment of the trail’s trials; “so this is the half-way rest point then?” “Och, nae! We rested way back there! We stopped again here ‘cos he’s got a puncture!”. Oh.
Towards the bottom, the black route rejoins the red route for the final stages of what was a marvellous morning of mountain biking. The original plan was to have lunch and then see if we had it in us to head over to Innerleithen and attempt the red-graded trail there. However, with the heat, the climbing and the distance of the black trail we were pretty exhausted. After a filling lunch from the trailhead café, a relax at the camp, and based on a recommendation from a random couple, we decided to head out and do Glentress’ Blue Route in the afternoon. From the description we’d heard, it sounded like what it lacked in technicality, sketchiness and distance, it would make up for in smooth, flat-out, fun. We weren’t wrong.
It’s not the longest, and the first half wasn’t terribly interesting — certainly not as far as Liam was concerned (“this can’t be a blue!”), although I enjoyed some of the technical climbing unique to this route — but beginning with a section called “Blue Velvet” (“‘Blue Silk’, more like!”, based on how smooth it was), the descending was a blast for a rider willing to pedal hard, pump the trail, and boost the jumps. There was even a section that had “optional black features” — rock jumps and drop-offs to the side of the trail, that could be avoided by those taking it easy. Of course, being a “beginner trail”, one has to hammer it with caution along here, being ready to slow down or stop for those going slower or with small children. At one point I came flying off an “optional black feature” to discover, mid-air, a mother and small child stationary just beyond my landing area, distracted by the goings on above them in the Go-Ape course that crossed above the trail. Fortunately, slamming on the brakes upon landing, and them shuffling sideways, I passed-by safely. Something to be aware of!
That concluded a spectacular Saturday in the saddle. All that was needed to top-off the day was a shower and a taxi into Peebles for some beer and a hearty meal: Haggis, Neeps & Tatties — it’d be rude not to!
The riding on Glentress’ way-marked trails really is fantastic. I’d recommend it to anyone and I’ll certainly be back myself.