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Scouting for Boys



 
 
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Old May 15th 05, 11:23 PM
Simon Brooke
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Default Scouting for Boys

And then there was one

The theory was we were going to do it as a club ride. It was on the
club ride list, and was publicised in the normal way. When I rolled
into Kirroughtie carpark at five to ten in the morning, it looked as
if it might be a club ride - the carpark was jumping with
cyclists. But the only club members in the car park were Steve and
Lisa, Steve with a broken hand and neither of them with bikes. Still
they kindly lifted me and my Cannondale round to the Glen Trool
visitor centre and there, at 10.40 on a grey May morning, I set out,
alone.

It was, after all, my plan, my project: to find a way of linking up
the 7Stanes tracks, and, in the case of Glentrool and Kirroughtrie, of
linking them up off road. In theory, it's possible. The project was to
see whether it was possible on the ground.

The first few miles of tarmac road up to Bruce's Stone were pleasant
enough - the world in vivid greens of late Spring, with the black
rocks climbing up above the tree tops, and every bird apparently
singing and calling in the green woods around. Glen Trool is a place
of great beauty, and its loch easily eclipses the best the Lake
District has to offer, a jewel deep and blue under its green woods and
black hills. But riding on tarmac was fairly dull, and there was a
real sense that the journey proper started at 11 o'clock sharp, at
Bruce's Stone. Because there the tarmac ended, and a stony landrover
track twisted down to the valley floor before heading east. It occurred
to me that the last time I'd ridden this section was on a rigid bike;
I was letting the Cannondale float effortlessly over the lumps and
bumps and tried to think back to those times... Well, then it was all
I knew. The track ran through sheep pasture for a while and then back
into oak woodland, shouting with birdsong, no sound of people or their
machines.

And then I was descending to a bridge across the river. Beyond the
bridge, new territory: a gate (which two redsocks helpfully held open
for me) and then a roughly surfaced track climbing quite steeply and
very steadily through quieter conifer forest. Water cascaded down from
the rocks above, and the track climbed to meet it. Before long the
trees had vanished behind, and an increasingly rough track climbed
east across a montane landscape. I'd seen no-one since leaving Steve
and Lisa but the two redsocks at the gate far below, but on this
section there were two little parties, neatly segregated: first a
small herd of adolescent girls, shepherded by a tough looking middle
aged man and a small dog; and, following about a mile behind them, a
small herd of adolescent lads, kept in line by a tough-looking middle
aged woman and another small dog. I greeted both parties and passed
them, heading up towards the skyline.

Up here the soil was scraped parsimoniously over the glacier-worn
rock, the heather coloured quilt ragged over the land's bones, and
still the trck climbed, with the long view down Glen Trool opening out
behind. And then, quite suddenly, the top was in sight, the top was
reached, a view opened up ahead over Loch Dee with the ominous black
shadow of the Dungeon beyond. The rough track descended rapidly and
once again I revelled in the Cannondale's ability to soak up huge
bumps without deviating from a steady line. As I came down towards the
loch I started to see distant figures standing waist deep in the
shallows. At loch level the track improved, became better graded, and
I saw two or three cars parked at a fisherman's hut.

And then Loch Dee was passed; passed, too, the long valley of the
Silver Flow running north between the Dungeon and the Rhinns of Kells,
and again the track headed downwards, a long, fast descent over a
loose surface to... a locked barrier at the bottom. Anchors please!


The Road to Damascus

Beyond the barriers I was again on kenn't ground; we were last round
here on a club run a month ago, on a Tour de Clatteringshaws. It was
amazing how the season had come on in just a month, amazing how much
greener it was, even here in the conifer plantations. And on known
tracks the miles went quickly. The day was warm, the sky had turned
blue, the sun was shining down. Great. Coming round the south side of
Clatteringshaws I was onto tarmac for a while, and looking for the Old
Edinburgh Road.

The Old Edinburgh Road has something of a mythic status for Galloway
cyclists. We all know it's there. We all know someone who knows
someone who says they've ridden it. But we've none of us actually
ridden it. We all think it must be possible... surely...

And the thing was I couldn't find the start of it. My map showed it
meeting the road I was on halfway between the bridge over the Pulran
Burn and the Clatteringshaws dam; but I rode all the way to the dam,
and saw no sign of it. So I rode back to the Pulran Burn bridge, and
took a footpath signposted 'Lillie's Loch'. After twenty yards the
footpath opened up into a landrover track, with strategically placed
boulders to prevent landrovers actually using it. From the map this
path should soon join or cross the Old Edinburgh Road.

What it did cross after a short climb was a huge wide new-looking
logging road. The angle of the logging road in the landscape looked
all wrong to be the Old Edinburgh, and in any case if it was it looked
to boring to be worth riding. But across the logging road the old
landrover track carried on climbing, and it looked to be going in the
right direction. So I climbed on and after about a mile it levelled
out into a wonderful ride through the high country, with scents of
crushed herbs, and vibrant colours of foliage and rock and blossom. We
passed a small lochan - Lillie's Loch - on the right, and that confirmed
the navigation.

And then after a long, pleasant, easy section, I came to a quarry,
marked on the map as 'disused' but appearing very recently used. And
beyond it, the nature of the track changed. No longer a landrover
track, this was mountainbike territory, and mountain bike territory
alone.


A path less travelled

It always happens when I go out exploring new territory. I don't take
a helmet because I don't like 'em and 95% of the time don't want 'em,
and then, as there on the Old Edinburgh, I roll over a summit and find
myself committed on an impossibly technical descent, too steep for
comfort and littered with boulders up to the size of airline flight
bags, and I wish I'd brought it. Too late. I hadn't. So once again I
blessed the Cannondale's ability to cope with simply ridiculous
terrain, and I rode most of the descent. Most of: there were some
sections I bottled and walked. But for the most part I let the bike
pick its own line down through boulder-strewn sections, through
washouts, through sections which were literally no more than a stream
bed, sections that there is no way I have the technical skill to
ride... on any other bike. And at last, the track levelled out,
fording a burn and running along the hillside above a boggy valley
bottom. Now, for the first time, I say cycle tyre marks - occasional,
discontinuous, but definite evidence that someone had cycled that way
before. Burns tumbled down from the high crags above the track on the
right. Trees grew around, and birds sang again. Life was good.

And then, at another of the small fords, the track vanished. It
crossed the burn and... there was one very dubious path running down
hill into the woods on the left, much overgrown, but in roughly the
right direction. A more travelled path, with many footprints, climbed
the hill steeply to the right. With doubt in my mind, I followed
right, up a savage climb. The more I climbed the more uncertain I got,
until I stopped and got out both maps, the 1/50,000 and the 1/25,000,
and reset my GPS to National Grid. And still I couldn't determine for
certain whether I was on the right track or no. I was now heading in
the right direction, but much higher up the hillside than I thought I
should be, and still climbing. Still more dubiously I headed on up and
suddenly came on yet another new logging road, this time descending
swiftly to my left. I followed it down, and came to the Black Loch,
with an absurd spire, a modern monument to nothing in particular,
standing at its western end. And sweeping round the base of the spire,
I came to a manicured - an effete - forest drive, graded to within an
inch of its life, running along the southern shore of the loch. With a
large, tourist friendly signpost declaring it to be the Old Edinburgh
Road.

I turned east on it, trying to backtrack to where I had lost it, but
that proved impossible. From where the manicured drive ended, it was
possible to see where the wild road I had descended came down, but I
couldn't find any passable path to link them up. So I turned again,
and headed west. After the path I had come it seemed tame, but it was
easy riding and distance passed. Soon the Kirroughtrie black route
joined it, climbing sharply out of the valley below, and now I was
looking for the sign where it diverged again.


Black is the New Black

At Talnotrie Hill I found it. Narrow singletrack climbed up over a
ridge and suddenly an enormous view opened out, down a long green glen
towards Kirroughtrie and the end of the ride. But to get there, there
was a good half of that 29Km black route. Now, I'm chicken. Normally I
don't like riding black sections without walking them first. But this
was different. I had a long way to go. I'd come a long way. I didn't
have time to walk all the way back to Kirrougtrie.

And actually most of it was brilliant. Beautiful flowing singletrack
pouring and twisting swiftly down the side of Talnotrie Hill into the
forest, with occasional hair-raisingly technical sections over rugged
rocks, many of them descending very sharply. The 'black' grade was
earned. Some of those technical sections I bottled, but overall I
think that I rode a good 95% of Talnotrie Hill. And it was a joy to
ride. Soon I was snaking down through the trees to cross the A712. For
all of 150 yards my tyres rolled on the tarmac of a classified public
road, and then the black route diverged again. Black route? A
landrover track. No, less than that, a track you could drive a family
saloon down. Still, it was easy, and I bowled along to the next
sign. A skull and crossbones, and the label 'Hissing Sid'.

Well, if I'm chicken about black sections, I'm even more cautious of
the skull and crossbones mark. So I started Hissing Sid cautiously. It
seemed to be the same mix as befo hair-raisingly difficult rock
sections stitched together with the most beautiful loopy flowing
singletrack. And I was becoming more confident over the rock sections.
Not over confident, I hope. I was riding on my own, without a helmet,
on a section marked with hazard warnings, but I was still getting down
it quite quickly. And then, inevitably, Sid bit. A short, not
especially tricky rocky descent with a twisted slab at the end of
it. I got my line hopelessly wrong, lost my momentum, and toppled off,
down onto both hands and one knee. However, the gloves took most of it
and there was no blood and no damage to the bike, so I got on again. I
was still more chicken now, but the track poured down the hillside
beautifully and still I rode most of it, just walking down the worst
of the rocks. Soon I was down on the valley floor, onto a tarmaced
road where the black route merged with the red. I was heading south
and assumed that Kirroughtrie was nigh.


Better than Dalbeattie

And then a red sign, right into the wood, labelled 'The Twister'. Once
again twisting singletrack writhed through forest, mostly descending,
tight but beautifully bermed, a sheer joy to ride. I was tired. My
concentration was waning and my line was getting more ragged. But
nevertheless it was just inspiring, just brilliant riding. There were
still occasional tricky rock sections, which seem to be one of
Kirroughtrie's trademarks. But Kirroughtrie's other trademark is that
beautiful snaking line... the 7stanes team have excelled themselves,
have built tracks which in length, in beauty and in technical
challenge outstrip anything we've got on the world-class track at
Dalbeattie. This was superb.

And then, quite suddenly, it was over. A shale track led down right
into the new Kirroughtrie carpark behind the visitor centre, and I
rode down to my big orange truck. My watch read exactly 4pm. Five
hours, about thirty miles, from Bruce's Stone, for an average of
little over six miles per hour. It seems very little. It is very
little - I'm not fast on long climbs, and on the downhills, alone,
helmetless and with too much warfarin in my blood, I was even more
cautious than I would otherwise be; and after Clatteringshaws all the
downhill sections were very technical. Someone else could easily ride it
in half the time.

The extraordinary thing was how few people I saw. Apart from those
I've mentioned a shepherd tending lambs by Clatteringshaws and three
elderly women walking lapdogs on the track by the Black Loch, I saw
no-one from one car-park to the other. Although there were at least a
hundred cyclists at Kirroughtrie car-park that morning and a couple of
dozen there when I got back, although I rode down the black route much
slower than a good mountain biker out to bag a track, I saw no other
cycle than my own out on the hill.

I hadn't set out to ride an epic. I hadn't expected it to be an
epic. But it was an epic, and I enjoyed it hugely. And I proved that
it is (ish) possible to ride the Old Edinburgh Road, and to join up
Glentrool and Kirroughtrie. All in all, a great club run. Shame the
club didn't share it!

--
(Simon Brooke) http://www.jasmine.org.uk/~simon/

;; better than your average performing pineapple

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