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