What’s your favourite type of mountain biking at a trail centre? For me, it’s swooping, flowing, berm laden singletrack – and Glentress in the Scottish Borders has this in spades.
Over the last year or two, I’d seen pictures of friends spending time mountain biking at one of the 7 Stanes MTB Trail Centres. It looked to be good fun, but other than that I knew very little about the 7 Stanes.
Before researching further, I thought that the 7 Stanes was either 1 trail centre, or 7 located in a fairly small geographical location. Realising that they were actually spread over a greater distance, making a central base to visit all 7 in a week a bit laughable, I put out a request for recommendations and narrowed the choice down to 2 centres – Kirroughtree and Glentress.
Glentress won out in the end. It looked good. There was an awesome looking apartment within cycling distance on a disused railway track, the price was right and it was available the week we wanted.
At the end of September, we headed north across the border with waterproofs and thermal base layers packed. I optimistically threw in my suntan lotion too (being fair skinned and easy to burn), fully expecting it to stay in my bag for the week. The reality was that the waterproofs and thermal base layers stayed packed – we were lucky enough to visit on one of the warmest, sunniest weeks of the year.
With the recommendation from our hosts that Glentress could keep anyone happily occupied for a week, we headed there on our first morning. Not knowing how tough the grading system was here, we chose the blue circuit – advertised as 16 km with 60-80% singletrack. Perfect for us to get going.
I live in a hilly area of Yorkshire, but admittedly have always been slow uphill and lack power when climbing. Getting going at Glentress proved to be something of a shock to my poor legs, it’s a steep hillside. However, they have made the climb to the top as friendly as possible. The blue, red and black circuits share most of the initial climbing and the trails weave up through wooded switchbacks on a smooth, well packed surface. By my 4th visit here, I was actually starting to enjoy the climb through the woods….just a little!
Reaching Buzzards Nest car park, the trails split. With the blue taking its own path through the woods, I expected some easy cycling. Technically, it was not difficult, but with the trail continuing to meander up to its highest point, it still felt tough on the legs for a non-climber like me.
Eventually, reaching the highest point (and with some glorious views on the way up), it was time to enjoy some downhill action. This is where, for me, the Glentress blue circuit really came into its own.
Full of swoopy turns, well surfaced trails and berms which brought a smile to the face, the blue circuit downhill section was fast and flowing. Exactly my sort of trail.
With sections named “The Motorway” (fast singletrack), “Blue Velvet” (smooth, flowing, pump track action), and “Berm Baby Berm” (says it all), I was in mountain bike heaven.
The following day, I set out on the red circuit. It was a slog to the highest point (Spooky Wood) but worth every effort and not just for the views. The Spooky Wood descent was another fast and flowing section. There were jumps (thankfully with rideable chicken runs to the side) and another series of the well made berms I love so much.
With a big grin on my face, I set off down the next section of red, expecting more of the same. Sadly, the lower down the hillside we went, the more gnarly and technical it became. By the 4th downhill section, I’d had enough of navigating over washed out tree roots (mental note, anyone who describes a trail as “rooty” is describing something which I would not enjoy”).
By now, I’d realised that Glentress is served by lots of fire roads, meaning that a) there are lots of escape routes back to the cafe and b) there are lots of options to put a circuit of your own together, taking in all your favourite parts. That’s what I did on my next visit – and I was in berm heaven!
Most articles I’ve read about trail centres have focused on the gnarly technical aspects and what the red/black circuits are like with very little about how they work for riders who love riding off road on fast, flowing, less technical trails (usually blue grades).
Glentress has the blue grade perfectly thought out. It’s long enough and with a high enough proportion of singletrack that you know it was not just a token gesture.
I’ve been to other trail centres where the majority of the blue circuits are dull rides on fire roads – with little singletrack and no progression to help you develop enough skill to ride the red circuits. However, the Glentress blue circuit is interesting enough that most people we spoke to over the week recommended getting on it for some fast and fun riding.
I had high hopes that on the basis of Glentress, the other 7 Stanes trail centres would have approached their blue grade circuits in the same way. Unfortunately, a quick look at the maps of a few dispelled these hopes rapidly – they seem to be much shorter and with much less singletrack – although I admit that without visiting them, I’m unable to review how they are in reality. It will be interesting to know.
For comparison, the following is a run down of the advertised blue circuits on the individual 7 Stanes trail centre websites:
- Glentrool – 9km, 65% singletrack
- Kirroughtree – 10km, 50% singletrack (plus 4km, 15% singletrack add-on)
- Dalbeattie – 14km, 40% singletrack
- Mabie – 10km, 25% singletrack
- Ae – 13km, 30% singletrack
- Glentress – 8km lower, 80% singletrack plus 8km upper, 60% singletrack (total 16km, 60-80% singletrack)
- Newcastleton – 9.7km, 40% singletrack
I can ride technical trails to some extent and have enjoyed red circuits at some trail centres. However, I enjoy the mental relaxation which comes with riding smooth, flowing, well thought out blue trails.
On that basis, maybe a future post will be a review of blue graded circuits at other trail centres – just for those of us who want something fun and interesting, but not too gnarly.
In the meantime, Glentress, I take my bike helmet off to you.