Innerleithen Traquair XC
Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders has been known for its downhill mountain bike courses for some time, but now there's a cross-country course to go with it, and it's a bit different. We visited on a typically schizoid summer's day to check it out.
Traquair XC is a 12 mile loop boasting 90 percent singletrack. "Our trail designer rides cross-country but the digger man rides downhill" boasts the literature - well there's definitely something unique going on here. A few weeks earlier three friends of mine had visited and delivered mixed reports - in fact one of them hated it! Of the other two, one thought it was ok while the last loved it. It is no coincidence it was the most accomplished rider who was the most enthusiastic. This is not a trail for the beginner or the technically-shy rider. To get the most from it you need to be comfortable with the basics of drop-offs, step-ups and hauling your bike across disobedient rock gardens. Don't get me wrong though, you don't need to be a downhilling fiend or a 6-inch-travel freeride dude; it's perfectly doable on a hard-tail or short-travel cross-country bike, and all the Black-Rated sections can be walked or have a chicken-route. By the way, the official rating is Red (difficult) with Black (severe) sections. Weird eh?
Innerleithen lies around four miles to the south east of Peebles on the A72. Approaching from the east, drive almost right through the town looking out for a left turn beside a church, signposted Traquair House. There is a bike shop a few yards away on the opposite side of the road. The Red Bull Car Park is just a few hundred yards down the road from here - you can't miss it. There are no facilities here at the moment save for a portaloo if you're lucky, so stock up on cakes, biscuits and other wholesome energy snacks before you get there. Word on the street is that The Hub who operate the smashing cafe at Glentress will soon be expanding their services here - that will be a most welcome addition.
Out of the car park and into the trees - er, which way? Maybe there was a sign knocked off or something but the way to go is not immediately clear. We follow our instincts and head off to the right up a steady climb. Ten yards later and Papa Stamps has irreparably snapped his chain and he's bombing back into Innerleithen to the bike shop to get a new one.
Take Two! Of we go again. We guessed right about the start and we're soon steadily climbing well-surfaced singletrack through the forest. At regular intervals we encounter little challenges - usually a cheeky bunch of rocks carrying us across a drystone wall. Not much dry about the stones today though; we're slipping all over and aiming our tyres for the grooves between adjacent rocks to keep our bikes and ourselves upright. Keep your momentum going, maybe hopping the front wheel up the biggest offenders, and you can plough through these sections without too much difficulty.
The gradient levels out a little and we are treated to a taste of what is to come. A gorgeous section of flowing singletrack is suddenly upon us and we're gliding through the trees on Star Wars landspeeders. The twisty trail is designed beautifully, ducking and diving along the contours of Taniel Hill - it's got more rhythm than Flea's right thumb. All of a sudden, whoa there! It's the Old Gravel Quarry. The trail emerges from the trees and falls away steeply into a smooth, hard-packed gravel bowl. We retrace a few yards and let rip. There's nothing to do but let go of the brakes and go with it. A few seconds of exhilarating rollercoaster free-fall and you're flying back up the other side where a craftily-placed hump spices things up further by forcefully kicking you back up onto the trail proper ready for a resumption of normal business through the trees.
Back to the climb. We're gaining altitude fairly painlessly as the trail continues it's weaving path, there's never too much to see in front of you to put you off. We're out into the open on fire road for a few hundred yards and then thrust back into dense forest with a few chain-ring munching rock steps to keep us on our toes. The weather which has been, let's say, showery up until now is looking decidedly cheerier on the far side of the canopy above our heads. Our spirits are lifted further as we break out onto open moorland and we are presented with some magnificent views on the climb up to Minch Moor. This section is very Glentress-ish, reminicent of the Black Route climb up to 'Tourist Trap'; a well surfaced singletrack with a few hairpins thrown in for good measure. Before we know it we're up on the top of Minch Moor (568m) tucking into Fruisli bars and drinking in an incredible 360 degree panorama. Well worth the effort!
Suitably refreshed, we don armour ready for the unknown descent that we surely must have earned by now. We are not disappointed as the track snakes over the horizon and we begin to pick up speed before hitting a thrilling sequence of bermed hairpins interspersed with smooth, manufactured humps for some easy air-time. I round a corner to find Papa recently dumped unceromoniously into a trailside patch of heather. He's ok, which is just aswell as I'm laughing my head off and it would have looked bad otherwise. With a tad more caution we get down the remaining berms without incident and screech to a halt at a junction with a double-track. Unfortunately the way to go here isn't too clear and we take what looks like the obvious route, left down the main track. It's only a bit further down when we manage to pick up the marked trail again that we realise we've missed a short section which climbs back up and down the North side of the Moor. Look out for that one, I think you're looking for a trail going back up behind you when you hit that double-track. Better signs definitely wouldn't go amiss here.