As the countdown to our move north carries on, I find myself looking even more intently at maps of the local area, identifying routes and trails I've never quite got round to following. It's a remarkable testimony to both the Scottish land access laws and the flexibility shown by the land managers that the network of trails continues to expand.
Some fairly recent additions can be found at the Southern Uplands Partnership website. These trails have been marked and delineated primarily for horses and riders but they are also suitable for walkers and cyclists. Using some of their maps I was able to piece together a mostly off-road route between my home in Balerno and Peebles in the Borders so I thought it would be fun to use this as a way of visiting the 7 Stanes centre at Glentress.
The first part of the route was completely familiar as it took me over the Pentland Hills to Ninemileburn, Carlops and then to West Linton. From here, it took a bit more map-reading and signpost-spotting to locate the preferred route to Newlands on the Edinburgh-Moffat Road. Truth is, some of the route hereabouts is downright awkward and I had to avoid one small section as it was shoulder-deep in brambles and nettles. The other issue is that it often follows field margins and so has lots of gates involving constant dismounting of the bike.
After Newlands the route enters the Cloich Hills. This was all new terrain to me and despite a couple of questionable route choices - where the signposts didn't seem to match the map - I was soon in some very lonely glens. It occurred to me that these were, in their way, even more wild than some of the areas up north on account of the very low number of visitors and that a fall or injury might leave me lying here for days, or even weeks, before being discovered.
Despite a few route alterations, I was soon overlooking Peebles from a very unfamiliar position.
I then decided to take in a little of the Glentress MTB trails so headed up Janets Brae to the Buzzards Nest area and down the red/blue descent. The El Mariachi felt pretty good on these fast trails with a bit of gravity to help it gain speed.
Sitting in the Peel cafe at Glentress, enjoying the macaroni cheese, milkshake and coffee I'd ordered I was struck by how late in the day it had become and by how far I'd now have to travel home. With that in mind, I didn't hang about long and opted for what I thought would be a faster route. With a little road work up the A703 and then on to some minor roads it wasn't long before I was back in the Cloich Forest, with a whole different set of views.
I've always thought that one type of riding we were lacking near Edinburgh was these long forest roads, and now I'd found loads of them in this small area.
I'd thought about using the roads to get me back to West Linton again rather than suffer the interminable series of gates I'd endured on the outward route but I persevered. It was supposed to be moutain biking after all! In West Linton itself, the little Co-Op was still open and that proved the perfect opportunity to pop in and get some cold drinks before the longer off-road section ahead.
Popping back onto the roman road towards Carlops I was once again on familiar territory. On the climb up Monks Rig the combination of slope and headwind proved too much for me and I resorted to pushing for a little while until the gradient eased and I could get back into pedalling mode.
Overall, a great day out and that lovely sensation of returning home just as the sun sets - a sure sign you've made the most of the day.
As for the trails, I thoroughly recommend them. Take a map, be prepared for a few diversions and don't be afraid to wander and explore. Who knows what you'll find.