What’s just been voted the world’s number one mountain biking destination? California? No, it’s Scotland actually, in particular the Scottish Borders, right here on our doorstep, which boasts numerous bike centres and trails in a land that is just made for mountain biking.
In fact the rolling hills of the region were already blessed with mile upon mile of wide, sweeping forest trails, as well as sinewy tracks that snake through the trees, but under the brilliant 7Stanes project mountain biking was actively encouraged and new trails marked out. New facilities mushroomed across their network of biking centres across Southern Scotland and now it's the best place for mountain biking in the UK. Period.
The most famous of the 7lanes centres is Glentress in the Tweed Valley. Last year saw the opening of the glitzy new £8.5m Peel visitor centre here, turning a great centre into mountain biking heaven, with a bike shop, changing rooms and a great café laden with local produce. You can also hire a bike here and all the gear you need, and Glentress have recently added new sections of blue (moderate) trails to go along with the existing green (easy), red (difficult) and black (severe) routes, as well as a skills park.
No expert, but always up for a challenge, I headed off on their blue route. Until recently the only way up to the top of the trails used to be on a fairly dull and steep forest track, but the new single track is much more interesting. It takes a little longer, but the gradient is easy and you get to bash through the woods, taking on the optional skills tests on the way. This makes going uphill for a lazybones like me actually quite fun. After pushing past the Buzzards Nest Car Park – an even easier option if you drive up here with your bike – I worked my way around the meandering blue route, taking in then new ‘Blue Velvet’ and ‘Berm Baby Berm’ sections – great fun, and just enough to get the heart racing without having to worry about the technical terrors around the next corner.
Back at the Buzzards Nest I decided to take on the challenge of the red route back to the café and my waiting venison burger. The relatively relaxed berms and clear paths were instantly replaced by thick tree-root-studded tracks, rock hazards and steep descents. Without another biker in sight, it was just sweaty, heart-pumping me hauling my bike through each challenge. I employed a mixture of skills I’ve learned over years riding around the world, along with that priceless, impossible to teach, commodity – sheer luck – to avoid coming off. This is seriously fun biking.
Perhaps the best introduction to Glentress and the other biking area in the Tweed Valley, though, is to come up here for the ten-day TweedLove Biking Festival, held between May 26 to June 5. There are myriad events, from family rides and women-only coaching, through to slalom events and overnight adventures. So if you had no idea just how good the mountain biking is in Scotland then head north and find out for yourself. What are you waiting for?