On Your Bike

A pil­grim­age that needs to be made, in the tracks of a trail­build­ing leg­end on the sprawl­ing es­tate

The Scots Magazine - - Contents - By ALEX CORLETT

Dis­cover some thrilling trails on the Drum­lan­rig es­tate

ARE you rid­ing here to­day?” Bike Shed owner Rik had cy­cled out from his shop and was hail­ing us from the sad­dle of his steel hard­tail. “Pop in the shop for a map be­fore you head out!”

It’s the first time I’ve been wel­comed to trails by their maker, and it’s a sign of Rik’s per­sonal in­vest­ment in them.

Rik All­sop is a leg­end among British trail­builders. As a master crafts­man of his trade, he was much in de­mand dur­ing the growth spurt in com­mis­sioned trails through­out the 2000s. The 7Stanes trail at Ma­bie, the down­hill trails at Ae and the grow­ing net­work at Com­rie Croft all have Rik to thank. The over­looked trails around In­ver­shin are also Rik’s work – the dis­ap­pear­ing trails of Car­bis­dale, no longer marked since the youth hos­tel closed down, and the rocky ridges of Bal­blair.

Although Bal­blair is all rock and Drum­lan­rig all root, you can see the same de­vi­ous mind at work. Pre-dat­ing the mod­ern trend for easy ups and scream­ing downs, Rik’s trails keep you on your toes whether it’s head­ing up, along or down.

Tech­ni­cal cross-coun­try that winds back and forth to eke out max­i­mum mileage from mea­gre slith­ers of wood­land. Choos­ing lines carefully to main­tain mo­men­tum will save a lot of en­ergy, so the first run will in­evitably be the hard­est.

Mike rode with me, and we were both con­vinced we’d done twice the dis­tance we had when we reached 7km (4.3 miles) in. It was phys­i­cal, but at least the dry roots meant ev­ery line was an op­tion. On a black route, it’s not un­usual for some­thing se­ri­ous to sud­denly ap­pear – a steep chute for ex­am­ple – but Drum­lan­rig’s Magic Eight Ball doesn’t lure you in only to snap your hand off for try­ing.

A few sharp climbs and tight rooty cor­ners are all that sets this apart from the red. Plus, thanks to be­ing snugly sit­u­ated be­tween the pro­tec­tion of the Gal­loway and Lowther Hills, these trails are of­ten bone dry when rid­ers else­where are choked with muddy spray – there is grip where you need it. This black ex­ten­sion starts right from the car park, but there are red, blue and green op­tions right out of the gate for ev­ery­one. Rik also runs fam­ily rides, so do have a look at their Face­book

“Rik also runs fam­ily rides for ev­ery­one

page for what’s com­ing up. It was a long drive down at two and a half hours, but back at home the trails had been soft for a while and we missed the free­dom of move­ment that cy­cling is all about. Dense mud wears away will power as quickly as it does the driv­e­train.

At the car park, I’d dug out my old drop­per post for Mike to try out – once you’ve been rid­ing with one, it’s not easy to go back. In a sport where most of us be­moan ever-chang­ing stan­dards, there have been some gen­uinely game-chang­ing in­no­va­tions in re­cent years, and you can tell from a glance in any car park of bik­ers that these ex­tend­able posts are one of them.

It saw instant ac­tion as keep­ing the sad­dle a cou­ple of inches below full height re­ally helped Mike move around on his hard­tail, though it didn’t stop him get­ting knack­ered 8km (5 miles) in. Stop­ping in a wood­land glade to re­fuel, we both felt a bit nos­tal­gic. For a youngish sport, we’re rel­a­tive vet­er­ans. Mike used to race cross-coun­try back when it in­volved har­ing around a taped-off field and I re­call alu­minium frames be­ing “revo­lu­tion­ary”.

Rolling, nat­u­ral-feel­ing trails like this re­mind us of those early days. Way out at the far end of the red, any signs of Rik’s trail­build­ing ef­forts have long since suc­cumbed to the creep of na­ture, with the edges of the inches-wide sin­gle-track green with moss and un­der­growth. A few tight cor­ners in suc­ces­sion on Slip & Slide, and Mike was over the bars, while I slid out on a pol­ished root on the cor­ner.

Af­ter we fin­ished, Rik as­sured me that tricky roots in awk­ward places were no co­in­ci­dence – you were never meant to leave with­out fly­ing side­ways a few times!

Mike was done in, but I had to find out what the fi­nal black sec­tion was about. Not a lot, as it hap­pens – a steep climb and more sin­gle-track be­fore emerg­ing on to a grassy bank by the car park.

Drum­lan­rig’s trails might lack the gra­di­ent of the Tweed or Tay val­leys, but if nat­u­ral flow takes your mood, it’s a pil­grim­age that needs to be made.

The 17th cen­tury Drum­lan­rig Cas­tle sits at the heart of the es­tate

Dis­tance: 16.8km (10.5 miles) As­cent: 481m (1578ft) Maps: OS Ex­plorer 329 and Lan­dranger 78 just about cover the area, but Rik’s Bike Shed has trail maps. Park­ing: Out the front of the cas­tle. En­try charges ap­ply to the grounds be­tween April and Septem­ber, £6 per adult, less for chil­dren.

Go­ing with the flow on the rootsy Drum­lan­rig trail

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