A forced work shut-down means you have to take holiday when it’s not always convenient, last August was just that for me. I was saving for a trip to Australia so couldn’t afford a proper holiday and my mates were off to Morzine two weeks after the shut-down and I couldn’t get the time off work for that, or afford it.
I had toyed with the idea of a tour of bike parks in the UK but the weather forecast was for rain so I had decided against it……until the first Monday morning of the break, I still couldn’t decide what to do so in a mad fit, mid-morning I bundled Stumpy, Desmond and my camping gear in my Peugeot 207 and set off for Scotland
Monday - Loch Lomond National Park I didn’t stop until I got to Loch Lomond National Park, where I camped by the shore of a Loch for the night. It was a Caravan Club site, so a bit expensive at £21, but a nice enough place with decent facilities. One thing I wasn’t expecting was the mozzies! Which is something that I experienced all my time in Scotland, midges and mozzies, I was bitten, a lot!
It was a fine dry night with a beautiful clear morning. I set off for Fort William first thing. The scenic views just kept coming, and were superb. I’d not visited this area before, and was totally blown away by just how beautiful it was, especially around the Glen Coe area. So we can excuse the midges and mozzies!
I decided to find a campsite before I rode at Fort William, to make sure I got a spot as it was very busy with tourists. The first site I viewed was small, very cluttered and in a town, so I continued looking, settling on a fab site, Glen Nevis Self-Catering Park with the backdrop of Ben Nevis one way and forest and hills in the opposite direction. It was reasonably priced, around £12 and very good facilities and an onsite shop, plus intermittent wifi. I set up camp, then set off for finding Fort William downhill.
Tuesday - Fort William was very busy, mainly with tourists and some mountain bikers. The weather was sunny and dry. I had a chat with a local guy in the car park, funnily enough he was from a town not far from my home town of Banbury, he’d lived in Scotland for about 7 years and had a full on Scottish accent. We chatted about local rides.
You can buy a single ride in the gondola to the top of the mountain, it costs around fifteen quid with the bike, so I opted for that. I don’t like how the bikes hook up to the gondola, you have to have your bike up on end with the rear wheel in the air and it hangs off the gondola by the pointy part of the seat, a bit tricky but anyway it was fine. I stopped at the World Cup start gate, took a photo of Desmond, whilst I was doing that it started to rain.
The restaurant and viewing platform at the top of the mountain overlook the first section of the downhill run, so you really don’t want to fall in front of all those people! I managed to stay on the bike for the first section, but by then the rain was heavy, with big big droplets. I rode the easier sections, and scooted down the rest of it on my arse, there’s not really anywhere to push down as the grassy banks are very rough, steep and boggy, and with the heavy rain it was tricky. The track is very steep and very rocky, not sure why I thought I could ride it tbh! I’d walk down, check out a section, think oh yeah I can do that, only for it to be too steep to push back up, which was annoying. But still, I had experienced a World Cup run, and after seeing it had even more respect for the DH riders. You’ve gotta be fully committed to ride this.
The rain was still heavy by the time I got back to the bottom, with no signs of the clouds moving, I packed up and went back to my campsite. Good job I did, it rained for hours. It was a wet and windy evening with the rain clearing by nightfall. The view was so beautiful looking out of my tent on to Ben Nevis.
I decided to not return to Fort William the next day, but move on in my tour, I wasn’t sure where but thought it would be cool to ride down from the top of Mount Cairngorm. So set off directly East, for the Cairngorms. As I was driving East, I recognised a trail centre sign the young man at Fort William had told me about, I didn’t really understand what he was saying because of his accent, but this is what he had mentioned. It was a nice sunny day by now, so I pulled in to the Laggan Wolftrax trail centre.
Wednesday - Laggan Wolftrax You can see the signpost from the road, very understated for just how fab this riding was. The car parking cost around three quid with the riding free. The cafe is pretty cool, serving home made fayre and selling insect repellent! There are toilets in the cafe. The center is run by volunteers via the Laggan Forest Trust, and it’s not only for bikers but walkers too. And what a credit to them, it really is a fabulous little place.
I decided to take the Lower Red Run, of which the first part is uphill to the top. I rode and pushed, it took around half an hour, perhaps a little longer, but was totally worth it for the ride down. The trails pass through rocky heathland and rocky outcrops, and it’s nearly all single track with some man made features so subtle you’d think they were natural. There’s some jumps and sweeping berms lower down on the run too. It was nearly all downhill, only a tiny section to pedal uphill, but nothing much. I enjoyed this run so much I just had to do it again.
Put it on your ride list.
I continued my drive to the East of Scotland, there was some good scenic views but the further East I got the less pretty, I’m not a fan of the tree-less heathlands.
I stopped off in Aviemore, again it was very busy with tourists. I went into the tourist information centre to see if I could find out if there was a local downhill bike park. Alas the assistants said there was none. So I continued my journey to Mount Cairngorm.
Wednesday - Mount Cairngorm on reaching the mountain, which was a little misty, I made my way with Stumpy, to the train station ticket booth, where they informed me that they didn’t take bikes. I had read they did, but anyways, I couldn’t persaude them to let me take him. The scenery wasn’t pretty enough for me to hike, so I packed up and left.
I so regret not going to Glen Coe instead of the Caringorms. A definite for my next trip.
By now it was getting to early evening time, so I really needed to find a campsite. I eventually found one on a farm by a river, Inver Mill Farm Caravan Park. Again it was nice, not much for views except the pretty river. But it did have a train line running beyond the woodland the other side of the river, hence a little noisy. But the facilities were good, and it was cheap, around £10.
The next morning I set off for the Inverliethen Downhill trails, on recommendation from a friend. Taking the long road south, I passed many familiar signposts from my motorsport past, Dunfermline, Edinburgh, Knockhill, which brought back a lot of mischievous memories.
Thursday - Inverliethen Downhill I spent quite a bit of time locating the trails, only to learn the uplift no longer runs, and that it was a bastard push-up, so headed for Glentress Forest.
Thursday - Glentress Forest There is a fab visitor center at Glentress, with restaurant, bike shop, toilets. Plus an on-site camping and glamping facility. I set up camp, then went to explore the trails on Stumpy. I took the blue trail, it wasn’t a difficult ride up from what I remember, and at the top I found the free-ride area, so spent quite a few hours messing around there. From the free-ride park, you can chose which trail you take down, I took the blue, and it was a really good single track flowy downhill run.
Once at the bottom I walked the fire road up to the free-ride area again, and had a play, taking the blue trail down to get back to the bottom. I also discovered you can drive the fire road up and park at the free-ride area. The parking cost was £7 for the day at the visitor centre or at the free-ride area, and riding was free. The free ride area is quite big so you can while away some hours there to practice your riding skills. The lines run from beginner to advanced, so there’s something for everyone.
I spent the night at Glentress. And having to juggle my tour in line with the weather forecast, to stay where it was sunny, I rode Glentress again on the Friday. Friday, late afternoon, I set off down south towards Danny Harts Descend Bike Park.
The campsite the bike park had recommended was a field, on a small holding, with a one chemical toilet. I did fancy that so made my excuses and went to find somewhere with more facilities. Eventually finding Hetherick Caravan Park. The people were nice, the park had good facilities, washrooms, laundry etc. No views though, but it didn’t matter, I just needed a place for the night. It rained most of the night, but by morning it had cleared up and I headed to the bike park.
Saturday - Descend Bike Park was only around fifteen minutes from the caravan park. I had booked a slot online, with up-lift, which includes the Hamsterley forest parking fee. I was intending to do the one dot black runs, but accidentally got on the three dotters, which were beyond my skills level. So had to watch where I was going on the next run.
There was a mobile mechanic on site, so I got a new rear mech cable put on Stumpy, whilst riding Desmond.
Danny’s dad was driving the uplift, he was a laugh, and I got to sit in the front with Danny too, so a special treat for a downhill fan!
I walked the push-up a couple of times, as I was getting lost, as usual and not finding the uplift spot, the push-up isn’t too bad, nothing like Aston Hill!
I stayed on the one dot run, I think called the Main Line, it’s quite good for a novice, and runs in to a two dot, which I mostly managed to do at speed.
I had a bit of an off, coming from a drop into a berm, I clipped my pedal on the side, which stopped the bike dead and me going OTB. I pulled my bad shoulder a bit, but worse it dinged my lower and upper fork. Not the end of the world, just looks a bit shit.
After that run, and a sunny day until then, the heavens suddenly opened with torrential rain, so I called it a day. It was around 16:30 so the uplift had stopped anyway.
Definitely somewhere to return to soon.
Due to the weather patterns, I decided to head directly West again, to the lake district, Whinlatter Forest, which had been recommended to me by some lads at Descend. It’s rather scenic around there, and I found a camping spot at a rather nice pub named the Wheatsheaf in a small village near the Whinlatter Pass.
Again the people were nice. I had my first proper meal, instead of Pot Noodle, at the Wheatsheaf, which was excellent. The facilities were good, the views were nice too.
Sunday - Whinlatter Forest After a good nights sleep I headed for the Whinlatter Forest visitors center, only around fifteen minutes from where I’d camped, on twisty mountain roads. This is the best equipped facility I been to, in all my days riding. The visitors center is pristine, the car park is pristine, the trails were pristine, the fire road was pristine! There’s obviously a really good manager handling this Forestry Commission site.
The car park had the latest technology, number plate recognition, so you drove in, and paid when you left, no ticket buying. The restaurant served good food, the toilets were clean, I can’t express enough how impressed I was with how the whole facility was run. It was busy with day trippers, taking hikes and walks.
For the biking, there is a blue North route up the mountain, then a blue on the South side of the valley. One was better than the other, but I can’t remember which, both were good though. And both, you have to climb, then there’s a really good flowing descent. It can get quite slippery at the top on the damp mossy rocks. Again all single track, and really worth a visit. It is apparently Englands only mountain forest. It’s scenic, reasonably quiet and fun riding down.
Highly recommended, and definitely on the return list.
I set off the next morning, via Kirkby Stephen to visit one of my old muckers from Renault F1, into Wales. I found a campsite on a working farm not far from LLandegla Forest. Probably a bit of a mistake camping on a working farm, as the 300 sheep had had their lambs taken away that day, and bleeted all night long, luckily the farmer provided ear plugs. It was a sad sorry sound, and I felt very bad for the sheep.
The facilities were good again at this site, it cost around £10 for the night.
Monday - Llandegla Forest has a restaurant, bike shop and wifi. I think there was a parking fee of £7, but no cost to ride. I took the blue trail, which I got rather cheesed off on as it went up and up for ages, then you find the descent and think yes this is gonna be good, only for it to go up and down, up and down. I got really lost, seriously lost at one point, I was on the red then the black, then lost on the fire road, then it started raining heavily, still lost I was starting to get worried, eventually seeing a rider in the distance, so I was able to return to the red run down to the trail center.
There is a skills areas, not very big but big enough to spend an hour or so. I didn’t check-out the free ride centre, but I hear it’s quite good.
I was totally pissed off with all the uphill riding, I’d been there around four hours, so gave it up as a bad job and moved on. If you’re into cross country it’s probably really good, the downs were all good runs, but too short to enjoy, before the next up! But I was lost, so probably I didn’t have a good experience because of that.
I made my way south, by the time I got near to my next riding venue, it was raining heavily. I found a campsite on a farm, again it was aroud £10 for the night. It had shower and wash facilities, which were fine. But the site was really small, and I had to camp on an incline, if you’ve ever done that you’ll know how uncomfortable it is!
Tuesday - Black Mountain Bike Park was not far from my campsite perhaps ten minutes. There was no uplift on this day, and only two other bikers were there. In the now hot sunshine, the push-up was quite long, but worth it. It was around £10 to ride, you put your money in an envelope in an honesty box, with the waiver form. The blue run down was excellent, I did it twice and was then so knackered after poor sleep for a week, that I decided to return home.
Another for the ‘must return’ list
So that was my week away, it was pretty tiring with all the driving, setting up camp, lack of sleep and riding. I returned home to my comfy bed super stoked but totally worn out!
I’d been to eight campsites and ridden seven new-to-me trail centers. It really was a staycation to remember. It’s a shame the weather was so unsettled, I’d have been able to plan better if it had been a settled sunshine period. I will definitely do it again, returning to some of the above sites, and including some new ones, especially Glen Coe and perhaps Innerliethen, as I hear the uplift has resumed now.
In all, with diesel, camp fees, food and bike park costs I only spent around £350, so it really was a cheap holiday.
I wouldn’t want to do it with someone else, for two reasons, 1) If I felt like a lie-in, instead of riding I did and 2) I’m so slow at getting up the hills on my bike!
Summer 2018 here I come.