Searching for a different way to spend the weekend? Then perhaps doing something truly terrifying is the answer. Scotland has an incredible number of thrilling pursuits to experience, from ice climbing to canyoning, and all amid spectacular scenery. Three List writers steel themselves and try a few out 28 THE LIST 15 May–12 Jun 2014
Hamish Brown casts aside his basket and bell and climbs aboard something altogether speedier, as he takes on one of Scotland’s most exciting mountain biking trails
I cycle almost every day. Living outside Edinburgh’s city centre, this means clocking up 60 miles a week. I’ve also taken a couple of 400-mile-plus cycle touring trips. Yet somehow mountain biking is something I’d never done, but with the Tweed Valley under an hour away and offering some of the best biking in the country, this was a situation that had to change sooner or later. Glentress might be the UK’s best-known mountain bike centre, but Innerleithen, just eight miles east and with a tenth of the footfall, combines an epic 2 to 4-hour, crowd-free cross- country red route with several shorter downhill trails for all skill levels to explore.
With MTB-centric accommodation to be found throughout the area, it’s no ordinary valley. These are no ordinary bikes either. Alpine Bikes’ rental stock of Trek bikes retail around £3500 each – more than many people spend on a car. Cost aside, not having to store, transport or clean the thing afterwards makes renting one of these monstrous feats of engineering at £50 a day a no-brainer. Mad as it sounds, the experience of riding one justii es the price tag – and not just due to the handlebar-mounted saddle height control. Coming to MTB from my workhorse commuter / tourer, which has a bell
and a Brooks leather saddle, and could probably carry off a wicker basket, it takes a while for the sheer lunacy of what you can do on these bikes to sink in. Drop-offs, jumps and berms (corners) your every instinct tells you won’t end well are easily absorbed. Imagine a bike somehow drawn to an invisible magnetic monorail, or a cycling dream in which you are insulated from falling off and you’re getting close.
It’s the variety of options on offer and the relatively quiet environment that make Innerleithen a great visit. We counted around ten others during our trip (a Friday in April). For recent MTB converts like myself, common sense can keep you in one piece. When you peer down an impossibly steep trail and see a foam mat lashed around a tree, take that to be a sign it’s probably not for you.
■ Innerleithen and Glentress are part of the 7Stanes trails, and Alpine Bikes outlets can be found at both, 7stanesmountainbiking.com alpinebikes.com ■ An uplift service (a drive to the top with your bike) runs at Innerleithen Mon–Fri during summer, upliftscotland.com ■ TweedLove, the UK’s biggest bike festival, runs Sat 24 May–Sun 8 Jun, tweedlove.com