After another successful World’s at Fort William, me and my riding buddies have decided we need to go up next year. We figured we could pick up one of the Seven Stanes centres on the way up and another on the way down and also do a bit of riding in the Highlands while we’re there. Would we find enough to keep us occupied for a few days in the Fort William area? Or would you recommend perhaps spending a couple of days somewhere else?
Alun, Derby. By Email.
Is there enough to keep you occupied for a few days in the Fort William area? Are you serious? We reckon so, although some of it may be a bit busier than usual given that the UK’s biggest MTB festival is taking place at the same time. Kinlochleven is just down the road and the trails are generally quiet — quite possibly because of their gnarliness. We recounted a route in our Scottish roadtrip feature back in the August issue. It’s also worth spreading your wings a little too, especially if you fancy something a bit different. Skye and Aviemore are both reasonably easy drives from Fort Bill and both have stacks of superb riding as we’ve been shouting from the rooftops for the last few years. But there are also some excellent trails further north, and don’t forget the Loch Lomond/Trossachs area, you could always make an extra stop on the way up or back and enjoy a bit of this too! How long have you got?
Leaf it out
My wife is a keen watercolour painter and she’d like to go somewhere this autumn to do some painting. While she’s doing this I’d like to get some riding in. Any thoughts on places in the UK that might satisfy both of us for maybe a long weekend? She wants perfect autumnal colours etc, I just want to get out and ride!
We could probably think of a few hundred spots that would tick both boxes, although living right up there in the north-east, we’re assuming you weren’t thinking of Devon or Cornwall? Obvious candidates would be the Lakes — not just Grizedale but also the scenic valleys like the Langdales and Borrowdale, and of course, Derwent Water. But there are also great spots in Wales: Gwyder Forest and Coed y Brenin certainly wouldn’t let you down. In central England, you could plump for Sherwood Forest or Cannock Chase; and south again, perhaps the Cotswolds or the Forest of Dean. And if you are happy heading north, what about some of the 7Stanes centres? A quick click on the Forestry Commission’s website www.forestry.gov.uk will tell you most of what you need to know.
And the kitchen sink
Inspired by your great magazine, I am planning to go up the Scotland next year and ride a few real epic loops, like the one you’ve recently featured from Skye and one last year from Fort William. I usually ride in the Peak District where if I was to fall or get a terminal mechanical, there would be plenty of help on hand and plenty of easy escape routes; but these Scottish rides are clearly a more serious proposition, so I was wondering exactly what you’d recommend carrying on such a ride, bearing in kind that I’ll be stretched physically already so don’t want my pack to be too heavy.
The first trick is to ride with at least one other person, two others is even better. As well as being ideal from a safety point of view — one get’s help, the other stays with the problem/casualty — it also means you can spread tools/spares/first-aid etc between more of you. The next trick is to study the weather and don’t even set off if the forecast is bad — these are definitely routes for good days. As for what to take, we’d not consider going without at least one spare layer (fleece/winsdhirt etc) and a waterproof jacket. We’d carry a tube each plus between us we’d have patches, a trail pump, tyre levers and at least one multitool with a chain splitter, spanners, main Allen keys, screw driver, spoke key etc. It’s definitely worth having a Leatherman type tool between you if possible — pliers can be invaluable at times, and a few strips of duct tape stuck on the inside of a pack or wrapped around the pump can also come in very useful. If there’s a few of you, a shock pump wouldn’t hurt either. For navigating, we’d always carry a 1:25000 map and a compass, as well as a gps; and for emergencies, a mobile phone might be useful, but DON’T rely on getting any signal. For first aid, for this kind of ride (ie when help could be a few hours away) a lot of riders will carry a small, off the shelf, first aid kit with them, which, if you know how to use, could be a life saver both for your group or maybe some other hapless mtb’er, walker, climber. Between two or three of you this isn’t such a burden and definitely worthwhile. Others we’ve met carry nothing at all, which is a bit of a gamble in our opinion. We’d recommend always carrying at least a few first aid items including anti-inflammatory/pain killers, antiseptic wipes, gauze pads, sticky plaster (as well as the duct tape already mentioned) and a knife or scissors (may be in Leatherman or Multi-tool). For food, which is obviously important on a long day out, we try to carry some sandwiches or similar in addition to the usual trail snacks etc And finally, just in case it all goes completely tits-up, particularly if you think you’re going to be tight on time for daylight anyway, it’s worth having a light each (head torch is best) and some kind of survival bag; we’d go for a Terra Nova Bothy Bag. Note that these are only our recommendations, not set in stone, and it’s worth bearing in mind that the more you carry, the slower you’ll travel and the more likely you are to have an emergency in the first place. Ultimately it’s down to you and what you feel most comfortable with.