Easter weekend. Four blissful days off, and the perfect time to head off for a mountain biking adventure. And of course eat a whole lot of chocolate!
Bank holiday weekends are also always a gamble; it’s probably going to rain in the UK at some point over the weekend everywhere, so can you get a lucky break and find a part of the UK with less rain than the rest? Some careful consideration of the long range weather forecast later, and we decided to head to Peebles.
Peebles lies about an hour south of Edinburgh, and is probably one of the best towns to live in the UK if you love mountain biking, as far as I can tell. The riding in the area is outstanding, and endless. Just down the road are the Glentress and Innerleithen trail centres, part of the 7 Stanes trail centre network. There’s also an incredible network of local trails. Ride up or down pretty much any fire road or trail, and you’ll see options snaking off left and right all over the place.
The area itself is very bike friendly, with a strong community around cycling. The closest I’ve seen to it is Whistler in Canada, where nearly much everyone rides. On the trails round Glentress and Innerleithen, there were groups of lads, groups of lasses, families, couples, kids having coaching sessions, and loads of boy and girls on bikes. This mountain biking community spirit has led to the development youth coaching groups, and also the Tweedlove cycling festival which hit the international stage in 2014 when the Enduro World Series came to town.
If you’re riding in the area, and you’re only used to riding in the South East then be prepared for a bit of a shock to the system. It may not be the Scottish Highlands, but the mountains are certainly big enough! I’ve not been riding as much as I should or want lately, and boy did it show. However, by the fourth day of brutal climbs I actually think my legs were a bit stronger.
The descents were amazing. I swear in the last 4 days my riding has come up a notch. The trails were steeper, wetter (we didn’t miss the rain completely), rockier and rooty-er than anything I’ve ridden in a while. I don’t know what changed, but something has. It just clicked in my head and suddenly I’m getting air off jumps, flying off drops, and nailing corners that used to scare the hell out of me. My actual elevation isn’t massive, but now I’m excited when I come across features, rather than terrified.
In short, everything has become much more fun, I’m having a blast playing on the trails rather than just riding them.
We also tried a couple of the Enduro World Series stages, in advance of our plan to ride the EWS Xtra day in May, where some of the trails will be kept open for a day after the race itself. Suffice it to say that although there were a couple I loved and could handle, some of the others were crazy hardcore. One in particular was steep, muddy as hell, riddled with slippy roots and looong. I didn’t manage much of that one, but it’s good to save something for next time, right? 😉
It’s hard to pick favourites, but here are my top 4 trails.
1. Spooky Woods – You face a long climb of the Glentress Peel carpark, but it’s gradual winding single track for the most part through beautiful woods. From the top, there’s a long flowing trail with berms, rollable drops and small tabletops. It’s fast, flowing and FUN!
2. Innerleithen XC – Don’t let the cross-country name fool you, this trail is more technical than a lot of the routes at the Glentress centre. There’s a long, long, long climb up from the carpark, and on the way you can expect some hard steep bits, and technical sections that really test your stamina. The view from the top, however, is stunning. The descent is worth the climb, starting out in the open then dropping through into narrow single track, with plenty of tricky but fun rock features on the way down. The optional black section is worth a look too, so save some energy for that if you can.
3. Deliverance – This black graded trail is like something from the Alps; it’s not super technical, but it’s long and fast. You pick up speed almost without realising it, and whizzing down a little valley with a river in the centre and pine trees either side, you almost feel you have the whole place to yourself. Beware; the climb back out is called Redemption, and it’s very very long. Still, that gives you time to contemplate the lichen-draped woods that surround you.
4. EWS Lang Whang, Day 2 Stage 4 2014 – There were quite a few Enduro World Series stage trails to be found about the woods, and with the maps up online most of them are pretty well ridden. Lang Whang heads from the top of the hill outside Peebles right down to just outside the town itself, so was the perfect route home. It starts out on a gravelled trail, then snakes into some beautiful twisty single track, then into steeper, tricky, rooty, muddy stuff that’s a bundle of laughs. I wasn’t going fast, but I loved every minute.
In short, 4 days of riding was incredible fun, but not long enough! Next time, I plan to come up for a week at least and ride more of the locals trails. The other plan is to get a job in Scotland and move to Peebles. Don’t laugh, I’m only half joking!
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