Ticking off another couple of the ‘7 Stanes’ at Mabie and Kirroughtree, in the midst of ‘Brexit’…
On Thursday, as Britain was going to the polls to decide whether or not to stay in the EU, we tried to escape the last of the propaganda by heading north of the border (just) to Dumfries and Galloway. The reasons for our trip were threefold: to check out the trails at Kirroughtree ahead of the next round of the PMBA Enduro Series, visit our ‘Enduro friends’, Mike and Liz, and, most importantly pick up my new bike frame, which I was inheriting from Liz.
With the polling stations opening at 7am, we’d planned to vote and then hit the road nice and early, but due to some unforeseen bike mechanical issues, we didn’t end up leaving until 11am. Fortunately the journey was plain sailing and we were back in the motherland within a few hours, and on the trails at Mabie forest by mid afternoon.
Located round 4 miles from Dumfries, Mabie is one of the ‘7 Stanes’ group of trail centres, and one of the few that we were yet to visit. Having ticked Glentress, Innerleithen, Ae and Dalbeattie off the list, we still had Mabie, Kirroughtree, Glentrool and Newcastleton to go for the full set. I know, that makes eight, but for some reason Glentress and Innerleithen are classed as one. Presumably the ‘8 Stanes’ didn’t have such a good ring to it. Either that, or someone can’t count.
We set off on the red route, but in wasn’t long before Mike was leading us off-piste down some of his favourite trails. It was a glorious day and we were able to enjoy some stunning views as well as awesome descents. I couldn’t tell you exactly where in the forest we were, and he probably wouldn’t let me say, even if I could, but there are some fantastic natural trails tucked away if you know where to look. Most of them saw so little traffic that the sections over open hillside were veiled by long grass, and those through the trees had to be marked by dots painted on the trees as there wasn’t much of a trail etched into the loamy terrain. With some tight bends, tricky roots and the odd drop to negotiate, it was certainly a good exercise in looking ahead. There was also some pretty steep stuff that was reminiscent of some of the trickier enduro stages that I’ve ridden.
The sun was still beating down when we decided to call it a day around 7.30pm, and we were all buzzing from a great afternoon’s riding, blissfully unaware of the political maelstrom that was brewing.
The next morning we awoke to a bombshell of an election result, which made me want to head for the hills more than ever. Fortunately we’d already arranged to ride at Kirroughtree that day, which we hoped would at least offer some distraction from the prospect of social, political and economical meltdown.
Kirrie, as it’s referred to locally, is about an hour and a half drive west of Dumfries in the depths of Galloway Forest Park, and when the 3G connection dropped from my phone as we got closer, I could already feel my anxiety over the days events ease.
Rather than head off piste this time, we decided to ride the red and black trail centre routes in order to get a general feel for the place. The 17km red trail and 14km black link up to form a 31km figure-of-eight loop that’s as much a test of endurance as technical ability.
I love a good techy climb, and those are in abundance at Kirroughtree, with plenty of exposed granite slabs to scale – some of them really tricky. The pinnacle of this is the fantastically named McMoab, which consists of a series of huge granite boulders. Although not on quite the same scale as its American namesake, it’s very impressive and lots of fun to ride.
The final push up Heartbreak Hill to the top is a bit of a killer, but well worth it for the views, and long descent that follows. Unsurprisingly, rock slabs also feature pretty heavily on the descents, and while some are pretty steep and tricky to negotiate, most are rollable. Otherwise the descent mainly consists of fast and flowing singletrack interspersed with sections that require a bit more pedaling. The most challenging thing about the loop was probably the distance, and having not really eaten properly, I was starting to feel pretty weary by the time we neared the end.
It was a really enjoyable ride though, and left me looking forward to returning there for the next round of the PMBA, where we’ll no doubt get to sample some of the area’s off-piste. It also provided the perfect distraction from the inevitable repercussions of impending Brexit. Sadly the distraction was only temporary though, and when the signal returned to my phone, somewhere on the A75, so did the realisation that we’d lost a diamond while we were busy collecting stanes.