Until last week, the only time I’d ridden the black route at Glentress was on my first ever visit there, which also happened to be my first time mountain biking. For some reason I, and a couple of other unsuspecting friends (one on a cyclocross bike!), allowed ourselves to be led around the 29km trail for advanced mountain bikers by my partner Dan, who, as it transpired, had never actually been to Glentress before himself.
It nearly killed us, and Adam’s bike, but we made it round, albeit having to miss out some of the best downhill sections after running out of time. However, with hindsight, that was probably no bad thing.
Despite being something of a baptism of fire, that ride got me hooked on mountain biking and since that day I’ve been out on my mountain bike at every opportunity. The fact that two years on, and countless more visits to Glentress, I still hadn’t ridden the black again, had more to do with becoming addicted to the red route than being put off the black. Each time I went I found it almost impossible to resist the lure of Spooky Wood, Super G, Hit Squad Hill et al, which got even more fun to ride the better I got to know them, not to mention more rewarding in the Strava feed! It’s also easily ride-able in a couple of hours, which is invariably all I had time for.
Lately though I’ve desperate to ride the black again, so on a recent visit back home, Dan and I headed to Glentress to take it on again. After a few customary laps of the jumps we resisted the urge to follow the track up to Spooky and turned left instead to join the black trail that would take us deep into the forest and high above the Tweed Valley.
After some undulating rocky singletrack through the trees and a fairly technical descent, you emerge into a clearing that has stunning views out across the valley. It’s the perfect spot to stop for a breather/photo opportunity before embarking on the epic climb that lies ahead.
Fresh legs are certainly advantageous for the next section, the aptly named Tower Ride, which veers straight up into the forest. I’d forgotten quite how steep it is – had probably blanked it from my memory – and was quite impressed with my novice mountain biking self for having managed it, although I did have a few more gears back then!
After the initial sharp ascent, the trail levels out into a steady, if somewhat relentless, climb through the forest until you eventually pop out into the open hillside near the top. Knowing, this time, that we still had a bit to go until the summit, we stopped for a quick breather at the wooden shelter, although Dan’s idea of a rest was hopping around on the rocks above.
Continuing on, it wasn’t long before we arrived at the top of Britney Spears for a very welcome downhill section. Britney may be short, but it’s a very sweet stretch of steep singletrack through the trees with plenty of berms. Once at the bottom there’s some more climbing to do, but once you have the mast at the top of Dunslair Heights in your sights, you know you’ve only got a short push until the descent starts in earnest.
After an obligatory photo opportunity next to the enormous mast we set off down/on the 3.4km long Boundary Trail. After such a long climb to the top, it feels so good to begin the descent, and although there are still a few ups, for the most part, it’s an awesome blast down the long, rocky, winding trail right down to the fire road that leads to Deliverance.
While the Boundary Trail descends through the forest, Deliverance is a fast, rocky trail that drops into the open valley. It’s great fun but afterwards you have to atone for your enjoyment with the punishing Redemption climb, which was nearly enough to finish me off. It was good to have done it but next time I might be tempted to just live with my demons and skip the Deliverance/Redemption loop by following the fire road until it rejoins the trail near the top of the climb.
When we finally arrived at the top of the Redemption climb, our hearts sank when we realised that there was still more climbing ahead, although it was fairly gentle and short lived compared to the last section. However, by this time we were not only pretty knackered, but late to meet friends in the pub, so decided we were going to have to miss out the last few sections of the black and take the short cut back to the car. As luck would have it the trail took us to the start of the Pie Run on the red route so we were able to follow the last few sections of the old favourite rather than having to take the fire road.
The black route at Glentress is undoubtedly a very different beast to the red. While the terrain itself is more challenging in places, it’s the length and vertical climb that sets it apart from the red, which is a pleasant little pootle by comparison. There’s a lot of climbing, but your efforts are rewarded with long descents that are fast, flowing and technical.
Perhaps because I’m so familiar with the red route, it now feels a bit like being at an amusement park compared to the remoteness and ruggedness of the black, which felt like being at a completely different trail centre, or even on natural trails. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the red, but will definitely be hitting the black more often from now on – just not when I’ve arranged to meet friends in a couple of hours time!
Needless to say, we were very late to the pub that evening, but when we did finally make it, we certainly felt like we’d earned a few beers!
Have you ridden the Black at Glentress? What do you think of it?