Durris

Chosen by NETCO as the proposed site of their ambitious trail and adventure sports centre.

Durris has a compact, yet challenging network of trails. Infamous among local riders for being perpetually slow at drying after any wet weather, yet I only ever seem to make it during the autumn and winter months.

Stravaiging Enduro durris February 3

So with this all in the background and with the recent fast rolling freeze giving way to the thaw, it was time to revisit Durris and take stock of the trails.

Stravaiging Enduro durris February 7

Scolty/Goauch

Everyone has a local spot, it might need a drive to get there but it is their default place for riding.

For many people these are local woods or, if they are lucky, a trail centre. There aren’t any full sized trail centres in Aberdeenshire, but that doesn’t mean we are lacking riding spots. My local spot is Scolty, or Hill of Goauch (depending on what side you start on).

Because it is my local, I never really think to write ride or trail reports about it as a location for riding, but that is doing it a disservice. I have written posts on other topics that were inspired by riding there, but never about the hill itself.

So here is a long overdue trail review of one of Aberdeenshire’s more popular spots.

On the outskirts of Banchory, nestled between the river Dee to it’s north and farmland to it’s south. Scolty is a large woodland covering two main hills with a heath land saddle spanning the two.

Scolty trails.png

People have been riding bikes here for a very, very long time, and the wealth and breadth of the trail network is testament to that and the years of work by local builders. The trails mostly converge on two hills, Scolty and Hill of Goauch.

Scolty

Radiating out form the tower at the top, this hill has arguably the greater density of trails. Historically this is where the downhill trails were and they can be broadly characterised by being both short and steep. That is not to say that variety cannot be found here too. From trails that are flowy crafted berms through to natural thin flat cornered ribbons, you can even find big drops and hucks all on this modest sized hill.

Goauch

Goauch is a little further out and has trails that have a subtlety different feel, if I was introducing someone to the hill I would say that this side had the “enduro” trails. The trails start to get longer, tighter and more ruddered in. There is some properly technical riding to be found here.

The trails tend to have a good mix of flat out speed, awkward slow technical corners and with plenty of sneaky drops and chutes. In the wet the place can be a real warzone but in the dry the riding is superlative.

Descent times start to creep up as well, with some trails having deviations or can be tagged together to get upwards of 8 to 10 minutes of down time. That being said, the more down, the more you have to climb back up. There are also plenty of features all over the hill to scare yourself on and get the adrenaline pumping. Something that the builders have been really creative in joining up in places.


The thing that unites all these trails is their full gas nature, Scolty and Goauch are not a place for cruisy trails. This is not somewhere you ride if you want a blue or straightforward red, here you need to keep your wits about you and the best thing to do is to commit and attack.

This makes it a great venue for progression, my riding progressed faster than at any other point once I moved to within 15 minutes riding of these woods. I crashed more, broke more components, learned more about terrain and bike set-up in one year, than I had in the previous three.

Trails I have ridden regularly for 4 years still surprise me, the natural shifting and evolution that typifies natural riding keeps things exciting and unpredictable. A day without a botched run or at least a near miss is a day when your not riding fast enough. Once you can consistently and cleanly ride a trail, there is always another, more technical line just down the fire road to keep the challenge high. The satisfaction of getting a PB (sorry Strava) is so great as to keep you coming back thirsty for more and to try and finally clean that trail that has been scaring you.

Stravaiging Enduro Scolty February 10

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2016 – What a Year

2016, what a year, memorable, for all the wrong reasons, and some good ones too.

A years worth of riding, starting with a frozen Aviemore and a flooded Aberdeenshire through to dust and sun (honest). It was a year of extremes and contrasts, political upheaval and tragic loss, but for all of it the riding and escapism from all that bad news was always there.

It was also a year when I enjoyed 6 months of parental leave being a full time dad with my wee boy which was just the greatest time ever. Coming up in 2017 I have some exciting projects which I’m looking forward too and will share more on when the details are confirmed.

Roll on 2017, hope the world chills out a bit, but if it doesn’t you know were to find me.

Shed Life
Shed time

Cairngorm Golden light Dawn Winter Snow Clear Sky All Mountain Enduro SCotland

Dawn light over the Cairngorms.

DCIM101DRIFT

Clachnaben Tor

Mount Battock desert Mountain Bike Scotland Stravaiging

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Sounds Different in the Dark

The frozen dew drops reflect crystal light from my head torch, the winter air crisp with each intake of breath.

The darkness just increases the contrast of the light, making each drop, on each blade of grass and pine needle all the more stunning. The song birds are back in their nests, the evening chorus long since sung. The darkness awakens and conceals other animals who silently stalk through the understory.

SONY DSC

As you enter the sanctuary of the trees, the boundary is marked by a literal hard line on the ground where the frost ends. The ground becomes blanketed by pine needles, the boughs high above softening and warming (just enough) the air. Your senses dial up to eleven as things look and sound different. Familiar trails level out and low ridges exaggerate as your vision renders the ground differently when illuminated in measured lumens.

The silence is held back by the sound of your effort and when the trail allows, the whirring buzz of your freehub. But pause to gather yourself and the starkness is striking, we are unfamiliar with this environment and situation now, but we evolved from it.

The school yard logic tells us that our ancestors went to bed when it was dark and awoke when the sun rose, but in the extremes of the hemispheres, that is just impractical. Man once stalked the landscape under the stars, living as an nocturnal and daylight creature, when the seasons or latitude necessitated.

We used to be at home in the dark, our eyes, whilst not ideal can still navigate without the aid of artificial light. Our torches whilst lighting our way, in fact blind us to what our eyes can see once accustomed to the night.

We have moved inwards and surrounded ourselves with conveniences, which is all certainly progress in the right direction. But sometimes we need to be in the dark, we need the silence, we need to hear our own hearts beat.


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Finella or Drumtochty

(depending on what side you approach the hill), is a hidden gem in the southern edges of Aberdeenshire.

From the steep old growth of Drumtochty Glen, to the tight dark stands on the Auchenblae side, this hill has a lot of character and range of trails on offer. For the committed downhill rider and enduronaut the Drumtochty slopes provide plenty of challenge and speed for those willing to tame the gnar. On the mellower side of things, the tight trails  of the Auchenblae side are woven over and through deep furrows cut between dense crops of pine trees, on ground that is apparently impervious to rain.

The fire road climbs snake lazily upwards and is dispatched without much fuss allowing the main business of descending to soon begin. The “trail” singletrack on the Auchenblae side of the hill provides singletrack with a character quite different to offerings elsewhere in the region. The dense growth of harvest timber has led to quite a barren understory, that is both fast draining and thick with the loam created by years of shed pine needles.

These trails are short fun blasts that reward the committed who work their body english as much as they turn the cranks. They can be linked together to create long flowing runs that build in pace the further you run, before breaking the tree line and climbing back up the fireroad for another blast on the roller coaster.

The impossibly weather proofed trails have a deep soft loam that rips into high roster tails as you bob and weave between the furrows. Yet with all that grip, sniper roots still lurk in the shadowy corners waiting to grab a wheel out from under you and set you pin balling from side to side down the trail.

stravaiging-mtb-scotland-finella-woods-1-copy

Then there are the longer newly dug steep “enduro” lines. Off camber, with steep chutes and rooty drops. The newer lines are best attempted with repeat viewings, as once on the bike blind drops always appear larger than they are in reality.

You can’t simply steam roller these trails if you want to go fast.

The proximity of the trails to each other and the modest climbs of the hill may lead you to expect a less demanding character of singletrack. Yet a trail can be as challenging as you make it, with precision and bike handling levels increasing dramatically the faster you go. You can’t simply steam roller these trails if you want to go fast.

Green climbs Scotland

It may not have the number and length of the trails at other local spots like Scolty, but this is one hill not to be overlooked.

finella-drumtochty-mtb-trails-scotland
You say Finella I say Drumtochty, the OS says Drumelzie.

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Fungle Road Infection

A evenings ride towards the end of summer, some final days of late northern light to play in, but be sure to be home before the street lights are on.

With the wee man settled and the chores done there was still enough light for a stolen hours or so of riding, yearning for some wilder terrain than the local woods (the local woods has some fairly wild trails mind you) I loaded up the wagon for a raid on the infamous Fungle Road single track.

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The Fungle Road is an old drovers road that links Aboyne and northern Deeside with Tarfside and Glen Esk, it is a classic stretch of natural trail mixing rough LRT with single track, fast descents and steep, persistent climbs. but when people refer to the Fungle singletrack, they mean a ribbon of perfect natural trail that nestles between Ballochan and Aboyne. It is the kind of rare naturally occurring single track that perfectly blends flow, speed and light tech with some drops to keep you sharp. It is the kind of trail that when you have a clean run, it instantly becomes your new favourite trail.

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Parking up at the Forest of Birse Kirk I set off with Sven for a hardtail mission, this ride was about attacking the climbs and getting some pace on a prolonged natural trail, it certainly wasn’t going to be volume training but it would be a fun jaunt. The sky was showing the first signs of dusk as the hillsides darkened with slithers of golden light streaking illuminated ribbons across the heather. It wont be long until the get you home lights will be mandatory kit once more.

The south climb from Birse castle is very much the lesser of the two options, it may only be a cat4 climb, but on a very sandy track which only adds to the effort. Thinking ahead to the climb out from Mamore lodge in a few weeks time, I concentrated on keeping my weight balanced and the power even, ground it out and focused on the work. Once your elevation is earned its a quickly sprint to the trailhead, the sky’s where still light but the ground was quickly darkening as the late evening light was starting to pale out.

Dropping into the trail I rode within myself to begin with, having not been here in over a year, a lot might have changed in that time, would it still be passable or even worth riding? I soon forgot these question and let the bike run as the trail was exactly as I remembered it. Speed was easily gained with a narrow heather dodging rut giving way to rocky stream bed followed soon after by a root strewn, drop filled wooded trail. The bike was flying, a full sus would of been faster but the connection of a hardtail on natural terrain is just indescribable.

that deflating feeling, like the battery is just running out as the bunny claps the cymbals lethargically one, last, time.

The sensation of every once of power, every hip shift, wrist flick all having a direct and instantaneous output on the bike as you feel the trail through your hands and feet. Looking ahead and working as one with the bike to make the trail as smooth and fast as possible. A full sus may of been faster, but the connection of a hardtail on natural terrain is just indescribable and whilst a well set up full susser can feel like this, those who know, know.

But like all those who “know” know, that deflating feeling, like the battery is just running out as the bunny claps the cymbals lethargically one, last, time.  Tubeless fails can happen to the best of us.

Sorting the puncture took more air than I would like and far more time to seal than I had. CO2 carts’ and mini pumps combined as I resorted to walking out of the trail hoping that by shouldering the bike and leaving the pierced section of tyre at the bottom of the wheel would bath it in enough sealant to stem the leak, I hoped. Reaching the landrover track the hills where dark and the sky threatening, the hiss from the rear wheel had ceased but the tyre was almost flat, pumping it back up to road bike pressures and cursing my misfortune I was ready to try pedalling. The air seemed to be holding and some how my phone had signal, I sent a message to my wife asking her to still love me when I got home much later than I had promised and tentatively saddled up and slowly built my speed to make sure things where as they should be.

Soon I was careening down what I had just climbed, skipping over water bars and dancing round rocks, trying to stop myself having to much fun incase the sealant failed and the rear gave way again. Cautions aside I was soon passing Birse Castle and scaring the livestock as I made it back to the carpark. What was meant as a short training ride had escalated into more of a  training exercise than anything else, however practising remote servicing in anger is never a bad skill to keep sharp.

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That said I got a unexpected personal best on the climb landing a 20 out of 196, and whilst I wasn’t going to be PB’ing the singletrack on the hard tail, I was feeling fast and the bike was running smooth, silver linings and all that.


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Mount Battock

Standing silently behind Clachnaben, Mount Battock looks a innocuous little peak behind its more popular sibling.

Not one to be underestimated, it is nearly 200m higher than Clachers and enjoys unbroken views in all directions. Sometimes, all you need is a proper hardtail hoof, a stiff climb and to go 40-50km on the way back down.

On these sorts of rides I like to listen to music, tunes help me keep a good rhythm in the climbs and off the anchors on the way back down. But a playlist on random can be a funny thing, when your going full gas and Belle and Sebastian’s “The Boy With the Arab Strap” comes on, it is a little incongruous to be on the attack, if you know what I mean.

So heres the soundtrack to a ride, a great climb (almost) up a stonking big hill and a fast charge back down.

Clachnaben Mount Battock cycling
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Gold Lion
Glen Dye Mount Battock Mountain Bike
Get Innocuous – LCD Soundsystem
Glen Dye Mount Battock Cross Country Scotland
Without You – Junip
Glen Dye Mount Battock sheep shed
Hey – The Pixies
Mount Battock Climb out of Glen Dye Mountain Bike
White Light – Gorillaz
Mount Battock Climb Enduro Scotland
King Of The Mountain – Kate Bush
Mount Battock Shooting Cabin
Crimes Against Pop – Motormark
Mount Battock desert Mountain Bike Scotland Stravaiging
The Beat That My Heart Skipped – Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip
Glen Dye to Mount Battock Mountain Bike
Under Your Spell – Desire

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Clachnaben

An iconic Aberdeenshire hill with a wild and punishing descent, a loop of Clachnaben is nothing short of a mini epic.

We all love wild natural rides, big days on big hills with big distances. But sometimes you want the feeling of remote riding and the challenge of truly rugged terrain, but only have a few hours to spare.

Clachnaben Stravaiging MTB Scotland

With its distinctive tor of rock visible from as far as Aberdeen, Clachnaben is a popular hill for walkers and trail runners. It benefits from a well maintained path, with substantial water bars and when required, uneven but substantial stairs. Which comes as a welcome relief as the sustained climb hovers between 15% to over 25% gradient. Once at the top looking down, when that gradient starts being measured in the negative, it becomes one beast of a descent.

It is a modest loop when measured in kilometres, at 15.7km its not that far. But when you take into account the 582m elevation gain, it takes on a much more formidable guise.

Clachnaben loop OS Map
Expect the loop to take two to three hours.

The loop starts in the walkers carpark and rounds the shoulder of the hill. Climbing from the rear so to speak, before topping out west of the summit. Then downhill essentially all the way back to the carpark.

I was blessed with blue skies and temperatures in the 20’s, the ground was baked dry and dusty with a light (for now) wind keeping things tolerable.

Following the course of the river into Glen Dye, the first leg was a fairly sedate and fast spin on smooth fire road. Its not long before I reached the natural rest break of the Charr Bothy. Worth a visit as part of a longer trip, today it merely provided me with some shade before rallying myself for the climb.

The climb is a hard one, the sandy track giving little traction with a slow zig-zagging grind being the only option. It starts as it means to continue, with the gradient rarely straying out of the low 20%’s. Gradient isn’t usually a measurement mountain bikers concern themselves with, its a “Roadie thing”, but its something that you come to fully appreciate whilst on this trail.

The traction slipped away in little roosts of sand

The heats oppression was only slightly moderated by the wind that started to grow with the Elevation. The traction slipped away in little roosts of sand with each pedal stroke as my resolve to stay in the saddle started to slip away. My heart rate monitor (a very thoughtful gift from my wife) was not needed to tell me how hard my heart was working, I knew how hard it was working as I tried to breathe through the work.

Stalling out completely on the loose sand, I was glad of the rest and resigned  myself to push the rest of the way. It was not far before a reminder (if one were needed) that the climb is a suitable challenge for even motorised vehicles.

Glen Dye ww2 Plane wreck

Peering over the heather the frame of a crashed WW2 aircraft stands in equal parts of rusting steel and immaculate aluminium. The wreckage, deemed to difficult and costly to remove, has been left for time and the elements to reclaim. Crash sites from this period are a surprisingly common feature of our hillsides, but serve as a poignant reminder of past sacrifices.

The final push of the climb was a more forgiving affair, with slight undulations and short downs giving free speed for the next up. Hauling myself to the top, the view offered a suitable reward for my efforts, literally being able to see my house from here.

My first run of the day is usually a bust. Its not that I’m not warmed up physically, but it usually takes me at least one trail to both sharpen up and loosen off. Not a luxury availabile on this ride, in front of me lay a 2.2km descent that I had to get right first time.

Starting with a technical mine field of rocky steps and water bars followed by drifty sandy trails and narrow steps with genuine exposure at times. All this before entering a rooty narrow wooded section with blind turns that are usually occupied by sheep and/or ramblers.

At this point in a post you might expect to find a POV video of the descent, a short edit of the day perhaps. Due my own ham fistedness, I managed to turn my Drift camera’s lens into portrait mode, smooth. So stills it is.

Breathing deeply in and out, it was time to clip in.

Rolling in slowly the granite steps were an uneven jumble of square edged drops and awkward turns, staying as light as I dared on the brakes, the key was to keep momentum. The grip of the granite slabs became punctuated with sandy trail, the acceleration was incredible, as soon as I stopped feathering the anchors the bike just took off.

The back end let loose on the corners, the rear tyre buzzing the heather as I relied on the bike to find grip. Bunny hopping water bars and looking as far down trail as I could, I rounded the shoulder of the hill. Taking on a series of exposed narrow stairs it was slow in and fast out.

the prolonged descent had steam practically pouring from the pistons

The brakes were starting to lose their edge, the prolonged descent had steam practically pouring from the pistons as the tree line fast approached.

A robust lattice work of roots encroached on the trail, the game changed as I entered the wooded section that was more within my comfort zone. Letting completely loose the anchors I was popping over the roots and down drops, this short section was over far too soon as it has real rhythm and pace, when dry. All this fun comes to an end when you reach a deer fence, a quick hop over a stile followed by a mellow pedal for the final push back to the carpark.

A clean run, no matter how fast, on this EWS worthy trails always delivers a sense accomplishment and adrenalin that only comes from a mountain bike.

Good times.

Clachers Profile

High Burnside

The winter of 2015 has not been a classic winter,

with record rainfall combined with warm temperatures keeping the snow off the high tops and the rain in the rivers, it has been a disaster for many. Thankfully the worst we and our neighbours have suffered is being cut off with road and bridge closures.

That being said, there is no such thing as poor weather just poor clothing, so with the family packed we set off to Aviemore for the annual New Year trip. After an occasionally fraught journey we safely reached Speyside and found a very different weather picture. The northern Cairngorms were significantly colder and drier with the snow staying on the mountains.

There was standing water in some fields but the flooding was incomparable with what was happening in the southern Cairngorms and Deeside. Importantly for us this also meant the woodlands were mostly dry and frozen solid, not the mud baths of my local trails.

With the drive and weather being what they were, I thought it prudent to leave my bikes at home saving the bearings from a fate worse than death, and to hire a bike there. As it transpired, this was a good plan.

The rental was a Hoot
The rental was a hoot

A quick trip to the excellent Bothy Bikes was in order and a Genesis High Latitude was acquired. This steel 29er fitted with Suntour forks, Maxxis Ardents and a 3×9 drivetrain was a weighty beast, but I thought if I was riding a radio rental for a weekend, then why not wagon wheels? My main concern would be how well mannered the budget forks and XC tyres would be on steeper natural tech, but we would have to wait and see.

We were meeting with family in Aviemore and riding was planned for two days. The first day would be a gentle XC jaunt round Loch An Eilen with my brother-in-law (Jonny) and his partner, the rest of the group (my wife, wee boy and mother-in-law) walking the route with me joining the walking group part way round. The second day would be Jonny and myself exploring the natural trails behind Aviemore in High Burnside.

Loch An Eilien Cairngorms Winter Landscape Scotland Cross Country

The Genesis, as I expected, was an XC mile muncher with the spin from Aviemore to Loch an Eilen passing quickly and easily. I was surprised by how well the Genesis handled rooty climbs and at how easily it maintained speed, albeit being slower to accelerate.

Round the loch the larger wheels were starting to make sense, as when on pedally sections the bike flew with Jonny’s Zesty 514 being easily outpaced. Although not a fair comparison between an XC and more all-mountain bike it was certainly an eye opener.

Cairngorm Golden light Dawn Winter Snow Clear Sky All Mountain Enduro SCotland

We had planned a dawn raid on Burnside and were greeted with a stunning morning and incredible views. The bikes had been left outside as there was nowhere to keep them indoors, not a problem, but we hadn’t thought about the minus temperature overnight.

My drive train was frozen solid as were the pivots on Jonny’s Zesty, a little persuasion with some hot water and GT85 was in order to get the bikes moving again. This may have delayed play but was a good omen for the trails higher up and a preview of what we could expect.

Having been given a comprehensive trail map by Bothy Bikes we had decided to take a suck it and see approach. We quickly gained height with the fire roads being frozen solid with only the occasional sheet of ice to keep you on your toes.

We reached the first trailhead (which transpired was Richards Down) taking a walk downtrail to look before we leaped. It looked a little water-logged to begin with, but no worse than we expected.

Jonny mcconnell Riding Enduro Trails Lapierre High Burnside Aviemore

Rolling into the wet and stacatto start, the flow soon kicked in as a tight sinew of trail with roots and drops wove its way through the trees. The further in we got, the drier and more frozen the mud became and the faster the trail rolled.

The 29er was still making sense, even as the trail steepened with little chutes and wooden kickers providing plenty of scope to be playful on the bike.

Winter woodland frozen landscape

Buoyed by the flavour of the first trail we took a quick gander at the map and headed further up and into High Burnside. The plethora of trails was abundantly clear as we passed trail after trail ending and crossing the fire road as the road climbed higher.

We were surprised by the number and the quality of some fairly substantial park style jumps, they were cunningly hidden and immaculately dug into the edges of the fireroad, a few were hucks too flat, but not what you normally expect to find on a jaunt into natural trails.

Finding the next trail we dropped our saddles and let gravity take over, starting with a similar feel to the first trail, it soon provided a little spice with punchy little ups and exposed rock that was slick with ice. Not to mention the deer skull nailed to a tree at the end of the trail

High Burnside Deer Skull Scotland Mountain bike Enduro XC DH Trail nature
The trails have eyes.

Strava is a wonderful thing and Strava is a terrible thing, it turns every ride into a race whilst giving you a scale to measure yourself and your progress against. It also discourages certain behaviours on the trail, such as sessioning and stopping for a social or to allow a group to reform if it is strung out on a trail.

Ignoring the Garmins, we decided to stop if we found a good techy section or series of turns to session and see where we could improve. Standing at the start of Christ Almighty it was plain to see that this was going to be the steepest trail so far with the trees sharply disappearing on the down slope.

It wasn’t far into this brilliant trail that a series of steep rocky switchbacks appeared, the perfect place to session some turns, there was even a push up path. After smashing out some turns the differences in the handling and turning speed of the 29er HT over my usual 26er were becoming apparent. With more time on the bike you could adapt your riding style, but this steel XC machine certainly needed some nursing over the techier sections.

With the temperature still hovering around zero my front deraileur also needed a little persuasion from my foot to move and change gear. With a solid block of frozen mud immobilizing the mech I was reminded of why I love 1X drivetrains so much.

Having worked on line choice and braking it was time to move on and see what the rest of the trail had in store. Cleaning the switchbacks one more time I followed Jonny down the trail, the gradient eased off and a more flowing and relaxed character emerged. It was the sort of trail you could really enjoy a cruise down or if the mood took you, absolutely cane it on.

Back on the fire roads and with time moving on, we made our way back to the house, knowing full well whilst sampling the flavour of what was on offer, we had barely scratched the surface of the full riding potential of High Burnside.

Jonny McConnell Enduro MTB Mountain Bike

Burnside Profile