Published: 19/01/2014 00:01 - Updated: 13/01/2014 16:22

High trails offer Highland mountain biking thrills

Written byJohn Davidson

A mountain biker heads out on the trails in glorious sunshine.
A mountain biker heads out on the trails in glorious sunshine.

Following the opening of a new mountain bike centre at Glenlivet, John Davidson took to one of the easier trails to see what the venue offers

WINTER might not seem like the most logical time to open a new mountain bike centre with trails that climb to nearly 600m above sea level in the Highlands.

But unveiling the eagerly-anticipated routes on the Glenlivet Estate at the end of autumn in November hasn’t affected the popularity of the new venture.

The newly-built trails, a combination of wonderfully engineered singletrack, a few short fire-track sections and some scintillating features, cover an area that includes Carn Meilich, Tom a’Chor and Carn Diamh to the north of Tomintoul.

It means there’s not only some great riding to be had, but you’ll also get some glorious views – if you can take your eyes off the trail ahead.

I’m no expert when it comes to trail centre riding – I’m usually more of a cross-country mountain biker – so when I headed to Glenlivet I stuck to the easier blue route, a five-and-a-half-mile circuit of Carn Meilich which was great fun without anything technical to stop me in my tracks.

There’s a fair amount of uphill riding but I guess that’s to be expected on this terrain – and it certainly makes up for it with some fantastic flowing sections through the forest.

The red and blue routes start off at the same point, heading up a lovely twisting ascent to the Gauger’s Lookout viewpoint before entering the woods on some nice singletrack that tucks this way and that between tree trunks before a bumpy ride through Ankers Alley.

A couple of bermed corners are great fun and then the two routes split – the red dipping down to the right at a fork and the blue continuing to the left.

I paused here and considered trying out the red but, aware my technical skills aren’t up to much, decided to stick to Plan A and stayed on the blue. I was in the minority today, though the blue route is popular and is even okay for children to enjoy, if they’ve got the legs for a few hills.

A bit of a climb on forestry roads and a short section of singletrack follows before the final singletrack stage round the top of Carn Meilich and home to the trailhead through The Barrel Run. This was an exhilarating flowing downhill for me, now feeling confident enough to tackle it at a decent pace, and it was over all too soon. The joy of trail centres like this, however, is that you can just do it all again.

Information at the trailhead.
Information at the trailhead.

The more difficult red route, which incorporates a number of avoidable black grade features, continues from the split to more or less the summit of Carn Diamh, a spectacular panoramic viewpoint overlooking the Cairngorms.

There’s a “Wee Red” for those wanting to dip their feet in the water – maybe next time for me – and another shortcut option before the final ascent. But most prefer to tackle the full 14 miles of full-on thrills which end with the same Barrel Run as the blue route.

I might wait a while before attempting that one but, having had a taste of what to expect on this initial visit to the new trail centre, I’m eager to boost my skills and take to the trails more.

The centre is a great addition to the outdoor opportunities in the Cairngorms National Park and, judging by its active Facebook page, is attracting plenty of people to the area and the estate, which already boasts a number of waymarked cycle trails and walks.

Once winter is out of the way, the Glenlivet mountain bike trails are only going to get busier, and that can only be a good thing for this particular corner of the Cairngorms.

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