Turning 50 seems to be a milestone most people celebrate with a party, a nice meal, a weekend break in a nice hotel or maybe like a friend of mine recently who went on a holiday of a lifetime to Australia and New Zealand saving for and planning this trip for years! Me?? I like a challenge…. I like to push my limits and test myself just to see what I can do physically and mentally and I guess this stems from my time in the Royal Engineers where I spent 15 years as a Soldier being exposed to lots of sports and hard training as well as various operations abroad. I particularly like endurance based physical challenges. I like to keep fit but it’s the mental strength thing I like. The ability to push yourself on in times of stress and strain and to enjoy the great outdoors. I am well travelled but love the hills, mountains and trails in Scotland. I have spent a lot of time climbing, mountaineering and for the last 30 years a mountain bike has played a big part of my life. I love being outdoors in all sorts of weather with my new faithful friend Maggie the dog. In the four months ive had her, rescued from the Dogs Trust, she has been on many a good mountain bike ride with me. My big Birthday has to include her!
A quick email around Walkers Cycling Club members and I managed to rope in a few like- minded mountain bike riders to join me. The challenge, ride the 7 Stanes in a weekend. Anyone who is into mountain biking in Scotland will have heard of the 7Stanes. These are all weather purpose built trails designed and graded to suit all abilities scattered throughout Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders. Graded Green, Blue, Red and Black, Red routes seemed a good choice to see how many we could do in two days…in February. Having ridden these trails numerous times before I knew exactly what was in store for us. The Forestry Commission have done a great job of way marking the routes to make them easy to follow. Most people who make the trip to one of these trail centres will ride the route and make a day of it. Our challenge was to ride four of them on Saturday and another four on Sunday. Ah I hear you say that’s eight…. 7 stanes is 7 areas but actually have 8 red graded trails.
Day 1 in Galloway
Glentrool Big Country route – Left Kilmarnock at 05.00 to start in Newton Stewart at 07.00. Myself, Russell Newham and Brian McCorquadale. A long hilly route of 54 km and nearly 1200m of ascent. From Newton Stewart up through the mountains to Glentrool and back around Loch Trool and down to Newton Stewart. One puncture and 4 hours to complete. Bitterly cold with a NE wind and a -2 start!
Kirroughtree – Trail head, Joined by a few more WCC members. Myself, My dog Maggie, Russell Newham, Brian McCorquadale, David Hamilton, Mark Ward and Chris Shields. 17km and 400m of ascent. One puncture from Mark Ward and a broken saddle clamp from David Hamilton. Trail repairs ensued and I got to use my new birthday Leatherman multi-tool. The route had a small diversion on it but this still took us 2 hours to complete followed by a hearty meal at the Kirroughtree visitor Centre.
Dalbeatie Forest – Trail head. Myself, Maggie the dog, Russell Newham David Hamilton. With light fading we set off on this 24km and 500m of ascent trail. We were beginning to get tired here now and a few niggling injuries start to show but we push through knowing dinner was booked at the Mabie House Hotel at 19.30.
Mabie Forest – Parked at the hotel. Russell Newham sits this one out due to a knee injury so he stayed back and fed Maggie the dog who was looking a little bedraggled and tired. Myself and David Hamilton start off on this route but the continuous climbing takes effect on me. Its pitch black and the weather is fairly wild and very very cold so we make an informed decision to cut this route short and get back to the hotel for dinner. We complete over two thirds of the route doing 11km and 250m of climbing.
20.00 Mabie House hotel – Joined by a few more members for dinner. Myself, Russell Newham, Fiona Walker, David Hamilton, Ainslie Thomson, James Sapwell. A great meal with soft drinks to re hydrate and a sticky toffee pudding with candles on. Id almost forgotten why we were doing this to ourselves. Overnight accommodation in the Dumfries Villa B&B in the town. Arrived here at 22.30. Showered and bed by 23.30. A very long but successful first day.
Forest of Ae – Logistics let us down here. Breakfast starts at 08.30 in the B&B. The café at Ae opens at 10.00am. With no food reserves we have to forfeit Forest of Ae and tuck into a vegetarian breakfast at the B&B. This sets us back but we decide to push on and drive over to Newcastleton in the Scottish Borders, an hour from Dumfries.
Newcastleton – Myself, Maggie the dog, Russell Newham, David Hamilton, Ainslie Thomson, James Sapwell. Surprisingly the start to this felt good with the legs warming up as the snow began to fall. It was bitterly cold, windy and sleeting. The course was wet so we got a soaking from the ground up which was the first time we had been wet all weekend. Moral was still pretty high despite this. 24km in just over 2 hours with 600m of ascent.
Innerleithen – We didn’t know it but this would be our last ride of the day. My calculations and military precision let me down and I underestimated the journey time from Newcastleton to Innerleithen. It took 1 hour and 20 min instead of the half hour I suggested!! Inners was wet and within a hundred metres height gain we were in the snow. This got thicker and thicker the higher we went. Eventually we were turned around less than 1 km from the top of Minch moor, the highest point on the ride, due to drifting deep snow, fading light and a wind which was getting stronger the higher we climbed. Myself and Russell Newham are both qualified Mountain guides so we took the sensible decision to turn around and ride the wrong way down the trail we had just ridden up. We were sure we would not meet anyone as it was dark by now. The descent was exciting, scary and eventful. Riding at night with head lamps in snow and dark forest until eventually we are out of the snow on wet ground with technical obsticles all the way to the carpark. Huge grins light up the way and it is here I make the tough decision to end on a high and call it a day. 14km and 550m of climbing.
All are happily in agreement to miss out the last 7 Stane…..the first ever one, the famous Glentress. We are all hungry and agree a venue in Peebles, ( a sit in chippy….food of champions) for dinner. Over this dinner of a veggie burger and chips (im Vegan so only eat a plant based diet) I reflect on the two days riding. I rode 6 of the 8 red graded routes. I completed 144km of off road riding with over 3500m of climbing……nearly three times the height of Ben Nevis!
I plan to pop down to Forest of Ae at some point this week and have a wee ride around!! Every single one of these routes has its own appeal and very easily a great day out on its own. With 30 years of mountain biking experience, good quality equipment and lights I still could not do all of these routes. Perhaps in summer with more light and better weather…………………………..