Innerleithen Traquair XC
Having gotten ourselves back on-singletrack, this is where things get start to get a bit sticky to say the least. The up-to-now expertly constructed and well-drained trail degenerates into a difficult boggy track through the forest. We struggle for over two kilometres through tyre-sucking clarts, battling against the odds to keep our feet on the pedals and our wheels turning. Eventually the path widens and heads downhill for a last few yards of Ultimate Mudfest as we slide down hub-deep channels of viscous sludge. Maintained, sustainable trail this isn't I'm afraid, and this is August! I dread to think what it'll be like in mid-January. You may be wise to check your map for an alternative route around this section on fireroad. We review our claggy bikes and resign ourselves to evening hosepipe duties.
A short section of fireroad and we dive off left onto the 'Plora Craig Contour Trail'. This turns out to be a sweet section of technical rock gardens and tight hairpins hugging the contours of an exposed slope. Grinning madly, we manhandle our bikes across the obstacles, hopping up steps and dropping arms-length over nadgery drop-offs. Then it's back into the trees and some more windy singletrack. The summer sun has decided to shine after all and we succumb to ten minutes intense relaxation with a cracking view over Innerleithen below us. We've got to lose that height somehow!
A brief climb and we're on fireroad which shortly delivers us effortlessly to the starting point of the grand climax of the whole ride - Caddon Bank (or Cadon Bank, depending what you're reading). A Red Bull-branded marker indicates the departure of the trail off over a trailside hump into an unseen descent. A cautionary sign advises us to inspect the trail before riding - we duly dismount and take a peek Over The Edge; a smooth, inviting path drops steeply down the hillside below us. Over we go! There's quite a drop to the right but the trail is wide enough to allow concentration on the matter in hand - a series of expertly-constructed jumps cunningly inserted to spice up the downhill fun. As lead guinea pig I'm first down to the initial drop. I approach cautiously until I can see the run-out over the brow and let the bike roll smoothly over the lip, arse way-back over the back wheel. No worries. All is well until I reach the last two drops which I decide demand a different approach - they look so, well, inviting! Now I've never been too much of a downhill hucker but the design of these jumps is such that they're not too demanding, either on your skills or your bike. The launch point is smooth and wide, albeit a bit blind until you're at the point of no return. The air-time drop is exaggerated by the landing area continuing to fall away down the hillside, but this also has the effect of smoothing your landing. These are still quite big stunts for me though, so I scope it out before rewinding up the track a short distance, taking a deep breath and letting rip; I quickly accelerate to a comfortable speed which I reckon will carry me safely over the lip and concentrate on keeping the bike level as my front wheel pushes thin air. A couple of seconds absent of the sound of crunching gravel and all of a sudden my suspension is compressing and I'm making a textbook landing, jamming on the brakes to scrub off that vert-induced momentum. The last drop is the biggest of the lot, but the same approach gets me down grinning like an idiot and wondering if it's the first time I've actually got the full 100mm travel out my forks. Suitably goaded, Papa Stamps replicates the feat and we gush about our achievement of the day, speculating about how great it must be to know the trail and be able to nail it in one uninterrupted run.
Still buzzing we remount and set off on the final furlong. A tight bermed hairpin delivers into a series of huge big-dipper switchbacks which sneakily accelerate us into a fantastic finale of steeply bermed twists, turns, dips and humps. I swear I'm pulling several g at several points before all too soon it's over and we're back at the start.
A fantastic ride which really is a bit different from most of the man-made 'cross-country' trails on offer so far elsewhere. The influences of the 'downhiller digger driver' are evident and these will enhance the grin factor of the more technically-capable intermediate to advanced riders. Some signage could be improved but for the most part the trail is easy to navigate - a free route map can be picked up from Glentress or download here. A significant disappointment is the poor section of trail along Plora Rig after the descent from Minch Moor - I imagine this will be virtually unrideable in winter. The same attention that has been blessed on most of the rest of the route really needs to be applied here to boast a truly sustainable, all-weather trail as exemplified by the more established developments at Glentress. This detracts slightly from an otherwise truly enjoyable ride which crams a helluva lot of variety into 19.2 Km. Challenging and great fun.