The New Golfie
The Golfie in the Tweed Valley is home to some of the UK’s best trails – it’s gnarly, steep, rooty, untamed… and unauthorised.
Over 100km of trails ridden by thousands of mountain bikers each year, and all unofficial, leaving the tracks at the mercy of a landowner’s whims and erosion, and riders at potential risk of injury from dodgy trail building or a lack of maintenance.
That all changed this summer though when the Tweed Valley Trails Association (TVTA) and landowner Forestry and Land Scotland (FLA) went into partnership together, to help look after the world class Golfie trails and help mitigate the FLA’s risk too. With the flick of a pen, three of the Golfie trails came under the auspices of the local trail association and charity, the TVTA, with the understanding they’d take ownership of all the Tweed Valley’s unofficial trails over time.
Now, two months into the agreement the first of three trails under the new TVTA management is about finished after some serious spadework, according to the TVTA’s Aneela McKenna. “The other night we were taking out tree stumps and shaping corners on New York, New York, it’s about 90% done and there’s just one day left to finish it,” she says.
“The whole point is making it progressive, so we can minimise risk and so people don’t go straight into steep and gnarly trails like Jawbone, so we’ve taken the three easiest trails first,” she says.
Whole in one
So that’s three trails down and at least 30 more to go at the Golfie, real name Caberston forest at Innerleithen. Anyone familiar with Innerleithen and the 7Stanes will know just how popular the Tweed Valley is for mountain bikers and how well used the official trail centre routes are — Glentress alone pulls in around 300,000 riders annually. And where there are sanction trails there are almost always unsanctioned ones, over the years a vast catalogue of tracks has been developed in the area for and by local riders that have increasingly been drawing in mountain bikers from across the UK too.
This has presented a growing problem for the landowner, FLS, because while they can’t realistically stop illegal trail building, they do have a duty of care for anyone on their land and a responsibility for wildlife management. “The forestry is aware of what exists, but we’ve come to saturation point,” Aneela says.
How many people ride the Golfie trails? It’s hard to say, but Neil Carnegie from TVTA reckons there could be more riders than on the official Innerleithen trails and the Glentress Black combined, going by Strava days. The trails themselves are prolific too, around 100km of descending trails, by the TVTA’s reckoning, too big for the FLS to ignore. “They’ve OK’d it for so many events now too,” he says. “We’ve had six big enduros, including four Tweedlove events, predominantly on the trail network that no one is managing, and that kills their ability to say they don’t know the trails are there.”
That’s where the TVTA comes in, agreeing to accept management and responsibility for the trails in question. For four years then, the group has been working towards the goal, fulfilling risk assessments, writing emergency plans, tailing trail inspectors, and setting up the TVTA as a charity.
“The response to the TVTA has been amazing,” Aneela says “We’ve had all these different people, trail builders, riders from just Golfie, they’re all coming together and helping on dig days, it’s brought the community together. It’s pulled in all sorts of riders, from those who put two fingers up to the establishment and others, because now here is a mechanism to help.”
Labour of love
Mountain biking has a reputation for drawing in people who don’t play by the rules or conform though, in short those who raise the double digits. Does the TVTA think its presence will stop unsanctioned trail building?
“Trail builders will still do what they want,” Aneela says. “But we hope they’ll come to us, we’re hoping to work with trail builders. We have right to roam in Scotland but the reality is not everything comes for free and we have some responsibility to give something back.”
Most of us don’t get the chance to ride the Golfie trails, at least not regularly, but the partnership could have big implications for unsanctioned trails everywhere. “We very much want this to be a test base, up and down the country there are people wanting to do this,” Neil says. The Golfie system could be used as a template nationally, with the paperwork trailblazed by the TVTA to streamline the process through out the UK.
What next for the TVTA then? The plans are to apply for permission to manage everything on the Golfie, and Neil says the next stem is to machine build a new climb up from the bottom to “get rid of the horrendous bog section.”
Get involved with Golfie
Volunteer managed trail networks don’t pay for themselves, the labour is free and willing but they need money for materials and tools. The TVTA is no exception, please tip them some cash if you can. Local contractors have been helping out by supplying materials, Aneela says, and Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland has been instrumental too. If you can’t donate money, there are dig days across the Tweed Valley. There are plenty to get involved in, and Aneela has organised the Fanny Hunt on November 2-3, a weekend of events for women riders including a women’s only dig day.