I’ve just got back from a hard two days of riding in Scotland on the 7stanes trails. I don’t normally get that far north, but with TransScotland looming around the corner, and me having to be in Edinburgh for a conference I couldn’t resist taking my bike. I rode the some of the 7stanes a few years ago while they were still building them and noticed straight away they were very different in character to the Welsh trails with which I am very familiar.

The “difficulty” with places like Afan or Nant yr Arian comes when you attack the trails fast – the tight turns, rocky drops and fast-flowing lines become all the more difficult at a faster pace. But if you want to chill a bit, you can take it easy and go with the flow of the trail. Scotland on the other hand is just difficult. The trails required constant attention and repeatedly challenged my nerve with increasingly large drop-offs, big jumps and fades. Here’s what I got up to:

I pulled up at Glentress on Thursday night and took in a quick lap of the Red route to get my eye in, just making back to the van before it got dark. The Spooky Wood descent was brilliant, and I returned first thing Friday morning to repeat it – knowing where the berms where let me push much more harder the second time. The Glentress Black route was punctuated with the odd hail shower and mini snow storm, but didn’t really present me with any great difficulties, apart from being chased along the boundary track by a Red Grouse (yes, really). I think of the two I prefer the red route though. In the afternoon I headed over to Innerleithen for a loop of Black. The hail had cleared and I climbed up onto Minch Moor in the sunshine, battling against a deceptively strong headwind towards the top. On the descent I discovered what the Black grade means – some seriously committing rocky drops brought me to an abrupt halt a few times, and after looking hard at the climb onto and then off Razor Ridge I thought better of it.

Me on the Slab - 2004

I stopped at Dalbeattie Friday night and got ready for an early start for a three trail assault of Dalbeattie-Mabie-Ae on Saturday. The Hardrock trail at Dalbeattie does exactly what it says on the tin – Hard Rock. Graded red, I found a good few bits here much harder than anything at Glentress Black. Last time I rode here I did the Slab, but being on my own this time decided to give it a miss. I made a complete hash of riding the Whale – a technical rock lump with a groove up its spine – I fell off to the right back down onto and over the trail, still attached to my bike. Ouch. I wasn’t too keen with Mabie last time I rode it, but this time things seemed to come together – the climb and descent of Descender Bender was brilliant and I felt like I was getting into a rhythm now. I got to Ae at lunchtime. The most remote of the centres I visited was reflected in the particularly rugged nature of the trails. I enjoyed the climb of Rab’s Slippy One, and the descent down The Face was probably one of the most enjoyable bits of the whole weekend, and the only occasion where I nailed all the rocky drops with unflinching confidence.

Its quite easy sometimes to become a bit obsessed with training and all the data it produces, but of at least equal importance are your trail skills. It goes without saying I guess, but really testing your skill and nerve like I have done over the last couple of days will probably affect my riding for the rest of the year.

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