Wolves in the glen
- Green 4.5km
- Red 13.4km
- Black 6.4km (more like 14km once you include the red sections needed to get
to the black)
- Orange Bike Park 3.6km
Pick of the trails
With plenty of rocks, roots and climbs to keep you on the ball, the red is a fantastic circuit to test your skills and take in the spectacular Highland scenery. Newer bermed sections add flow to the tech fest.
Parked where a significant chapter of his life once stood, is Lindsay Carruthers, offloading his van for a spin round his old home trails.
Lindsay had much invested in Laggan’s Wolftrax trails — he founded the Basecamp Bikes shop and cafe business here when the trails opened over a decade ago, answering the call of two wheels to leave a good job and a city life and follow his dream of working with bikes. That was 2004, but after only eight years he made the difficult decision to leave, taking the shop to nearby Grantown on Spey and beginning yet another new life.
But that was in the past and, turning round, I spotted the new trail centre for the first time. Opened in April 2015, it sits right at the trailhead, and houses not only a cafe, but bike hire and a small office for owners; the Laggan Forest Trust.
I would expect Lindsay to be slightly bitter about the relatively luxurious surroundings of the new venture — one of the big reasons he left was the promise of a new building for his business that never arrived — but he just smiles.
“Look what you could have had, a warm spacious building with Wi-Fi!”
Joined by local riders Chris Gibbs and Emma Parton, we start the long crank up the first climb, and it isn’t long before I remember why Laggan is one my favourite of the Scottish trail centres. As we gain height the view behind opens up into a classic Highland panorama.
A short chatter across slabs starts the section, but it isn’t long before the technical climb kicks in. We turn a left-hander, pop over a bedrock ridge, all the while scanning the folds of granite ahead to look for that elusive line through.
Uphill, downhill, and along the flat, the challenges keep flowing as we pop over carefully placed boulders or slabs of bedrock. Each section is rewarded with a lengthy run of flowing singletrack, hitting the right balance of fun and hard work.
The black descent peels off down Back, Sack and Crack Attack, a series of granite outcrops dropping off the summit, so we take them for fun, but the guys want to show me the more recent and flowing red descent so we hack back up to the top again.
It is nothing short of cracking. A fast descent, switchbacking across the treeless hillside brings our average speed up, while a vast panorama tugs at my peripheral vision daring me to look up. We near the end of the descent now, with only the signature Devil’s Chessboard to go before the fire road, but just as I am resigning myself to a battering down that long flight of boulder steps, Lindsay at the front takes a sharp left off the built trails onto a loamy singletrack drop. Our world instantly changes gear.
We ping and ricochet off roots and stones, dropping through some beautiful corners round the mature trees, and it is heaven on the soft and forgiving surface. There is no denying the built trails at Laggan are superb, but there is nothing like mixing it up with a bit of natural.
Back in business
When we finally get back the car park is a hive of activity; I count four other groups loading or offloading cars with bikes, and there is a noticeably sunny atmosphere to the place. And all this in a glen somewhat off the beaten track, on a weekday in late September, when the cafe is shut.
A quick chat to Cristian in the Laggan Trust office reveals the main reason for the short opening hours out of season: a lack of local manpower. A real problem for the Trust of course, but one that made me smile. Laggan trail centre struggled for some time after Lindsay left, rider numbers dwindling off a cliff at times, so it is a testament to all involved that the only thing struggling these days is a steady supply of employees.
You could certainly have worse problems in a remote Highland glen.
Sleeping and eating
Despite being fairly remote there are some excellent options very close to the trailhead for getting your head down. The Pottery Bunkhouse, only 10 minutes’ ride along the road, houses an excellent cafe and bunkhouse in the converted farmhouse buildings— although they let it out on a group basis so best get a few of your mates together.
Of course the cafe at the trailhead is a must-visit too, with everything from excellent coffee and cakes through to burgers and more, to be consumed on their comfy sofas.
Fixing your bike
Bothy Bikes from Aviemore (bothybikes.co.uk) have moved an outpost into the Laggan cafe building, hiring Genesis hardtails and Plus-size bikes. They also stock those last-minute items like brake pads, as well as some enduro items such as POC kneepads and clothing. A small workshop can also help with brake bleeding and other small repair tasks. Phone ahead for opening times, especially in the off-season. Other than that, head for Bothy Bikes in Aviemore or, of course, Lindsay at Basecamp Bikes in Grantown (basecampmtb.com).
What to ride
This is a seriously rocky trail centre in places, so your perfect weapon of choice would be a short to mid-travel trail bike — especially if you are taking on the black route.
Best of the rest
Although the centre trails are excellent at Laggan, one of the big draws to the area are the enduro trails across the road. Built for the hugely popular Laggan enduro race, part of the POC Scottish series, they are unmissable — superb, natural fun.