Sweet & Spooky - Glentress and Innerleithen - Dirt

Mountain Biking Magazine



Sweet & Spooky – Glentress and Innerleithen

Quietly boasting the most advanced trail building techniques in the UK and offering as diverse a range of riding as you are likely to get in one area, we flew north to Edinburgh and then drove south along the Tweed to shoot what’s going down in Glentress.

They’ve never really done smooth in the Tweed Valley, the sheep saw to that, but there is no longer an absolute reliance on the textile industry in this area, and in any case ‘smooth’ is now the new ‘rough’, as Cashmere, Cannondales, bunkers and bunkhouses power the economy, bringing in the bread and butter to this famous fishing valley south of Edinburgh.

The river, the Tweed that is, is still the dominant natural feature in this area of the Southern Uplands, but the birds in the sky will tell you that recently there are new lines, new directional markers to follow. The new network of mountainbike tracks, which form just one area of the ‘7 Stanes’ network of trails in the Border area of Scotland, must from the sky seem quite like striking circuits arcing amongst the Douglas, Caucasian fir and larch trees. Some people would say naturally occurring, because man has made them, some would say man made because they have not been formed by sheep or shifting currents. But whatever your opinion they provide dazzling descents on which to test your bike…any bike.

So one valley, one Stane, but two forest blocks; Innerleithen and Glentress. The former has the Traquair trail, two to four hours of rewarding technical riding, and being roughly twenty kilometres means you can now safely wear an open face helmet on this hillside. Of course Innerleithen is infamous for downhill and the town recently launched the Red Bull backed descent, it’s not pretty–pretty. Further north and Glentress is the nucleus of bike activity in the valley with purpose built, all weather routes classified from easy to severe. Two riders, Emma Guy and Tracy Brunger, have built up this centre from which not only a network of trails begin but also in which a bike shop, hire, uplift and famously a café, form the focal point of everything two wheel in the area. With a bounty of bikes, trails and black pudding everyone it seems is talking about ‘The Hub’.

Without getting into the politics of the whole idea of creating a variety of trails that will suit all abilities, the Glentress Red route is twenty first century mountainbiking, mixing up the geomorphology with the earth sculpting abilities of the bucket of a seven and a half ton digger…why have a thirty second BMX run when you can have three minutes? But then you’d get the wrong idea of this place, for the track steepens after this well known section known as Spooky Wood, with more rock, and a little later, about three minutes later, roots and bridges. And you’re still descending. You’ll have spent forty minutes getting to the top with some technical climbing in places but it’s a lot more worthwhile than waiting forty minutes in an uplift queue talking about derailleurs or Britney Spears.

The Celts of course are responsible for the naming of much of the places in these parts. A ‘Rig’ up this way is neither articulated nor powered by pedals. What though will historians make of place names evolved from Glentress’s Black run? The Mustard Snake, Soor Plooms, The Wormhole and Black Dog? Spooky Wood though is just that – a spooky wood and no doubt similar to how our nomadic ancestors saw this area in Mesolithic times. Down the road at Innerleithen in the Traquair Forest the trail descriptions are a bit more straightforward. The opening ‘Stell Burn’ climb presents a smooth singletrack with tricky rock sections, whilst at half distance ‘Minch Moor Descent’ is a bermed singletrack with easy jumps and later super fast singletrack descents. Simple enough to imagine, it was and is an area where possibly peat–wallowing, antler rubbing aurochs, elk and deer live. This requires a bit more imagination until you get on to the hilltops. The Traquair loop concludes at the ‘Plora Craig Contour Trail’ technical on a steep rocky hill, providing ‘black grade trials sections and difficult rock steps’. I’m sure you get the picture.

OK, but what about downhill? Well down at Innerleithen the latest Richard Hamilton construction will have you hitting rocks and roots loud enough to scare the ferrets off a rotting lamb before launching into the sunlight at roughly twenty metres per second. It’s an uncomfortable out of comfort zone experience, with very little mud (hell, it’s only about 13000 years ago since the ice buggered off from here leaving the valley devoid of nothing much else other than rock). And there’s more. By the end of the year this hill will stand four downhill runs, although there are already many more if you tap into some local knowledge, but nowhere quite like this, although some riders might like to enquire as to the whereabouts of the golf course runs. Whatever, the tracks on the eastern valley are anchor points for world downhill and any rider that wears kneepads should be able to say “been there”.

Sightseeing? Traquair House is the oldest inhabited house in Scotland and open to visitors, inhabited by the Maxwell Stuarts who have lived there since 1491…you know the next line. A little closer to the downhill runs the Traquair Hotel was previously run by a right strange pair and recommended only on comedy value but now there are new owners so things may be a little less ‘Faulty’! There’s the exotic weaves at Ballantyne Cashmere factory if you fancy or some gardens and tearooms, Walkerburn even has its very own fancy goods shop and Innerleithen some strange stores. And if you find these things unnecessary then an evening at The Corner House with steak, chips and Guinness is about all I could recommend.

Can you get there in time? Three hours by van for those of you living north of Manchester. By plane from a London or Bristol airport, it’s a 55 minute flight. For example (booked a couple of months in advance), 16th July would have been £12.99 each way and £40 for car hire. It’s an ace place with a great vibe, the best tracks, marvellous food and easy to get to. The towns and villages are well–weird with strange goings on but there’s always Edinburgh close by for a sleepless night out. a

Quietly boasting the most advanced trail building techniques in the UK and offering as diverse a range of riding as you are likely to get in one area, we flew north to Edinburgh and then drove south along the Tweed to shoot what’s going down in Glentress.


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