Words by Beth Bryn Hodge. Photos by Chris Goodman.
Sometimes I feel that I do my mountain bike a disservice. After a heavy work schedule this summer my Ritchey P-650b has sat patiently waiting to be taken out and given an airing. As have I. Having heard so much about the incredible riding Scotland has to offer, checking out the award winning 7stanes trail centres seemed like a great place to start ticking off the Scottish MTB bucket list.
The word ‘Stane’ is a Scots word for stone, and a different stone sculpture reflecting a local myth or legend is found at each venue. The trail centres are dotted around Southern Scotland, close to the English border. Easily drivable in a day from the South of England or if you’re lucky and live North, you could be on one of these sweet trails within a few hours. Alternatively, a flight into Edinburgh or Glasgow and a quick pick up of a hire car is easy enough.
Each centre has its own unique character, some determined by the landscape it’s been built on, and others determined by the hands who built the trails. Each centre has a mix of trails suitable for everyone and most have facilities for a well-deserved brew (beer or tea) for after ride rehydration purposes, bike shops and washing facilities for you and the bike. Trails are graded from green being family friendly, moving up to confidence-building flowy blues, challenging and fast technical reds to the blacks and oranges at the pointy steep end of the spectrum. I mainly rode the red routes at each centre, with one or two black sections thrown in when feeling a bit more rad. Here’s what me and the P-650b thought of the 7stanes centres. Spoiler alert- they’re all wicked.
Glentress & Innerleithen
Mention Glentress to those who know it and the words ‘Spooky Woods’ followed immediately by a massive grin is likely to come up. Riding both the blues and the red route at Glentress followed by a jacket potato the size of my head was an epic start to the 7stanes journey.
As soon as you start climbing out from the trail head you really notice the work done to make everyone feel welcome here, the initial climb being smooth and wide, becoming more challenging as you tip onto the red route. The trails here are steeper compared to the other 7stanes and you really do get a lot of downhill bang for your uphill pedalling buck. Steeper trails also mean incredible views over the Tweed Valley when topping out on forest clearings.
Glentress is coupled with Innerleithen, known for its 4 downhill routes and big loop Minch Moor XC red route.
Favourite trail: Spooky Woods, for the air time and feeling like a mega-XC pro. SEND IT!
A rockier affair is to be had at Kirroughtree with more pedalling required for your free ride.
The trail cuts up the valley before doing a sharp U-bend back down the other side, take the black loop all the way up and you’ll be crossing into Glentrool territory with the appropriately names ‘Heartbreak Hill’ testing your legs and your lungs in equal measure. The red route is peppered with some interesting optional black features including granite slabs and rocky drop offs, snaking wooded ascents and super-fast and fun red/blue trails to get you back to base.
Favourite trail: The White Witch, for the moss-covered forest floor and rooty trail to keep you on your toes.
Mabie was the first of the 7stanes centres, and is still used as a testing ground for trails before they’re built in the other Stanes. This means that Mabie features an incredible diversity of trail type, and you’ll see some ghosts of trails that once had the starring role. Fast flowing red sections feature huge rollercoaster berms, wooded super narrow singletrack and rocky exposed moorside. You’ll hit nearly the top of Marthrown hill before flying all the way back down again via Heaven’s Gate. Keep in mind there are a few cheeky steep sections to go up but without a doubt, Mabie wins my heart as the best of the 7.
Favourite trail: All of them, but- Descender Bender, for the flow.
A totally different day out, this one. Dalbeattie is known for the ‘rock,’ and this description is certainly accurate. It’s rare to get a stretch of trail here without having to overcome some sort of technical feature which are peppered (generously) along each section. The main feature in Dalbeattie however is ‘The Slab’, a 15m long slab of granite rock that certainly isn’t for the faint hearted. Trails are linked mostly by double track fire roads which snake through the gorgeous forest and provides a welcome bit of relief from the concentration needed on the challenging singletrack. Spooky Woods II features here. Towards the end of the red loop you’ll find awesome snaking trails and features that make you really fly. Keep your eyes open for the red squirrels!
Dalbeattie also features an awesome skills area and you’re riding north shore as soon as you hit the start of the trail, immediately making you feel like a 10-year-old again. Win. Note, the café at the car park is only open from Thursday – Sunday, but the chippy in nearby Dalbeattie village centre is a worthy refuel point.
Favourite trail: Rock don’t roll - the only trail I could ride without putting a foot (or two) down….
A change in pace at Glentrool. A small trail centre with a few green and blue runs isn’t the main attraction here. The Big Country Route is the star of this show, no singletrack but near enough 58km of gravel forest roads and big views over Galloway’s lochs and hills to boot. Fast descents past remote farmhouses and bothies dotted in amongst the forestry. Take a butty and enjoy a picnic stop half way round.
Favourite section of the route: Old Edinburgh Road, for the amazing views.
An incredible snaking climb gets you elevated pretty quickly at Ae, meaning that the fast and furious rewards come in pretty quickly. Tight berms and table tops make the starters, before the mains of the super tight weaving trail of Granny Green Luv spits you out into the amazing countryside where wind turbines are two a penny. Snaking trails hug the hillside and drop you down into the turnaround point where a very pleasant gentle hair pinned ascent gets you high before reaching the drop in for Omega Man, by far the best trail out of the entire 7stanes. Fast and fluid with plenty of opportunity for air time it’s really a work of art. Ae features a bike shop and café.
Favourite trail: Omega Man, ten times over. The final run that makes you feel like a pro.
A gentle and quieter affair compared to its six cousins, Newcastleton’s trails take you through some of the most beautiful woods in the seemingly never-ending Hidden Valley. Little wooden balconies and bridges criss-cross over several wee ‘burns’ before reaching the bottom where a double track brings you back up to descending altitude. The Dead Man’s Quarry climb is hardly a climb at all and before you know it you’ve got some more flow ahead with small sections of fast and fun singletrack.
Favourite trail: Swarf Hill, short and sweet but so much fast fun through the trees.
Visit the official Scotland Forestry webpage to find more information and maps of each trail centre.
More of Chris Goodman’s photos can be found on his Instagram account: @uninspiredramblings