We’ve now made it to Scotland and the widely-acclaimed Glentress, which is the flagship trail centre of the country’s excellent 7stanes network. Glentress’s blue route emerged as a firm favourite among our team, contributors and readers alike.
Blue fun day
This feels like a proper adventure. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to travel so far, let alone stay away overnight, and this time I’m the newbie to the area, rather than Julia.
So, as soon as it was possible, we packed our Saracen bikes and headed north of Hadrian’s Wall.
We knew Glentress would fit the bill perfectly to be a ‘best blue’ contender. Our requirements are pretty straightforward.
First, the trail has to be an entertaining and fully ridable loop with engaging climbs and fun, flowy descents – so, not too many tedious fireroad sections, and runs that are only accessible via an uplift service or push-up track don’t count.
Second, although designed to be accessible and exhilarating for new riders with limited experience, it needs to be equally exciting for advanced thrill-seekers.
This is where the trail builders’ skill comes into play. The best blue routes incorporate features that aren’t too intimidating for noobs but are also a blast to hit flat out – such as rollers that can be ridden with wheels on the ground or doubled up.
We’re well-placed to judge this from both perspectives, because Julia, our newish designer, hasn’t been mountain biking that long, while I’ve been riding for years and have spent my fair share of time between the tape.
So, time to hit the trail and find out if Scotland’s finest lives up to our expectations…
Up, up and away!
As we get ready in the bottom car park by the Peel Cafe, we can’t help but feel like we’ve lucked out with the weather, yet again.
With parts of the UK having had twice the average monthly rainfall in May, the east of Scotland among them, we’ve arrived on a dry, sunny day and it puts us in high spirits.
It’s just as well, too, because on our visits to ride the English and Welsh finalists we had sunshine, so we wouldn’t want our decision skewed by poor weather making us grumpy.
While neither Julia nor I are well-acquainted with the area, she has been to Glentress once before so I’m quick to assume she knows everything about the place, which might be wishful thinking.
Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to suss out, with a big trail map near the car park by the shower block.
The blue route is 16km long with approximately 350m of climbing, but you can split it into two 8km loops.
Starting from the bottom car park, the lower of these winds its way up to the Buzzard’s Nest car park before dropping back into the valley.
The second loop begins at the Buzzard’s Nest and heads up into the hills before dropping down to finish where you started. We want the full Glentress experience, so we go for the whole loop.
A gentle cruise along a forest road takes us to the blue, red and black trails, which share the same singletrack climb into the woods. Fortunately, the gradient is never too severe because the path meanders its way through the forest.
And what a forest – this has to be one of the most picturesque sections of trail we’ve had the pleasure to ride during our hunt for blue heaven. Below the canopy, bright green grass floods the forest floor.
Julia even gives this part of the climb praise, which is a welcome change from her verdict on the Beast of Burden ascent at BikePark Wales!
The fantastic thing about this ascent is the different options available depending on your skill level. You can stick to the blue trail or try some of the harder red and black-graded options depending on how brave you’re feeling.
These tend to be steeper with more rocks in the way, but they’re great fun for a challenge. The climb is quite prolonged, and if you only tackle the lower 8km loop, it makes the trail more of a winch-and-plummet affair.
Thankfully the surface is generally very smooth and the gradient isn’t too taxing on the legs, to Julia’s relief.
Once at the Buzzard’s Nest we resist the lure of Glentress’s freeride park and follow the second loop of the blue up the hill. There’s a bit more doubletrack climbing in this section, but the singletrack trails are equally as enjoyable as on the lower slopes.
This climb takes you to the highest point of the blue loop and the first swooping descent, ‘Betty Blue’. This is a fun, flowing trail with linking hairpin berms.
It doesn’t have the gradient to make it pedal-free and requires substantial effort to keep the speed up, though.
After this section, you drop out on the fireroad, and it’s a shame you lose quite a lot of altitude by following this down before climbing to the next singletrack section.
While trails are expensive to build, it seems they missed a real opportunity to add in some additional flowing singletrack to the blue here.
The next segment of trail, aptly named ‘Motorway’, must take top honours for the fastest section of blue route we’ve ever ridden.
Even though there’s nothing technical here, it’s fun to feel the wind rushing past as you hurtle down this high-speed line.
The only issue is that it’s over far too quickly. After this, you climb up to ‘Blue’ Velvet, where the real fun begins.
The only way is down
After all that climbing and just a little descending, we take a break before tackling ‘Blue Velvet’. It’s good to grab a snack to keep our energy levels up before hitting the long descent back to the car park.
While the ride to this point has been thoroughly enjoyable, the Glentress blue doesn’t undulate in the same way as our English winner, the Verderer’s trail in the Forest of Dean, and you spend a lot of time climbing before reaping the rewards.
The following two sections, ‘Blue Velvet’ and ‘Berm Baby Berm’, are a real thrill, though.
As we pump, weave and twist our way down the flowing trail, we can’t help but grin from ear to ear. Our bikes skip from one direction to the next as we thrash through the linking turns.
There are rollers to pump and jump, and with some effort you can keep your speed high. But, again, there’s nothing technical to worry about, and it’s the flow that wins us (and many others) over on these two sections.
As we continue down the hill, the next section, ‘Electric Blue’, feels a lot less manicured. It’s got a raw vibe, which I dig.
There are a couple of lines over roots that help you set up wide for corners and are great for practising more technical skills.
The woods are darker and spookier, and it feels like we’re further into the wild. Also, the surface is a little rougher and keeps us on our toes.
The trail remains relatively gentle and flowing, but the rocks seem a little slicker, so careful braking down here is wise.
Crossing a wooden bridge, we return to the lush, green-carpeted forest floor, where the trail snakes a dark line through the grass as the trees thin out.
The next few hairpins are fantastic corners for all abilities – they’re great for making sure you brake early, roll around the turn and spot your exit. Switchbacks can be challenging so are often frustrating for beginners.
They’re a good feature to practise riding, though, and less confident riders can just cruise around the main line here.
These hairpins have fun, high entry lines carved in by expert riders wanting to carry as much speed as possible. You can bank up high, lean the bike over and then dart back to the main line.
The cool thing is you don’t need to be an expert to do this – you can start small and work your way higher up the bank as you build confidence.
Hop and pop
As we get lower down the slopes and hit up the ‘Good Game’ section, the trail traverses much more of the hill.
While you lose the entertainment of the turns, the trail builders have thought of this and included a series of jumps and rock drops along the way.
That’s one area of her riding that Julia’s keen to improve, so she takes the lead and pops off the features, getting air under her wheels.
It’s interesting to see how she interprets the trail and what she spots that’s different from me. It’s not long until we shoot out on the fireroad at the bottom.
Before we return to the cafe for a well-earned lunch, there’s one last section of the loop to tackle, ‘The Admiral’. It’s nice and cruisy, and an excellent way to wind down after what’s been a hell of a long descent from the top of ‘Blue Velvet’.
As we roll back to base, we’re already chatting about our highlights, and the conversation turns to trying to choose which of the three fantastic routes we’ve ridden in England, Scotland and Wales should be named our best British blue trail.
This is going to be a tough decision, so we’d best grab a burger to help us make it – and stay tuned!
Where: Glentress Forest, Scottish Borders
Trail length: 16km
Get there: EH45 8NB
Simon Dawson – MBUK reader
“Glentress is a favourite of mine, with great variety on the trail. Even the ascents are interesting, with some optional skinnies and a skills loop halfway up. And you can’t ride ‘Berm Baby Berm’ without a huge smile on your face!”
More info: Forestry and Land Scotland
I had good memories from my first visit to Glentress a while ago, and this one didn’t disappoint. Not only is the forest absolutely enchanting, but if you’re lucky some red squirrels might cross your path, which feels magical!
I rarely associate these two words, but the first part of the climb is surprisingly fun. It’s great to have different line options to make it more or less challenging.
The top ascent is slightly more demanding and not rewarded straight away, but ‘Blue Velvet’ onwards makes it worth it.
Pedally descents aren’t my favourite, but they do make it easy to manage your speed. You’re guaranteed to have fun here!
Glentress is in an incredible location in the Tweed Valley. The forest is idyllic, and the climb is good – long and winding, with nothing too taxing, but some red and black lines that don’t deviate from the main path, so mixed ability groups can tackle the same route.
It’s a shame there’s so much doubletrack from the Buzzard’s Nest to ‘Blue Velvet’, but there is a shortcut you can take.
From there, the run down to the bottom is one of the best blue descents around.
It’s no easy cruise, and you need to pedal to keep speed, but the options for getting creative are excellent – hucks, hairpins, insides and outsides to take advantage of.
It might take a couple of goes to learn them all, but that just means more bike time!
Where: Comrie Croft, Perthshire
Trail length: 4.2km
Get there: PH7 4JZ
Andy McCandlish – MTB photographer
“Comrie Croft has, from day one, managed to walk a tricky tightrope, offering manufactured trails that largely feel like they’ve developed organically and been around forever.
“They just feel natural, yet have all the highs and lows, rideability and flow of bike-specific routes elsewhere.
“Built in three easily-accessible and sessionable sections, the blue route maximises on that flow, dropping from the shared climb all the way back to base via flowing and easy-gradient berms, followed by a final drop down a ludicrously fun dual trail.
“The only thing that breaks the flow, particularly on a sunny summer evening, is the need to stop and soak up the gorgeous views of Perthshire rolling away to the south.”
More info: Comrie Croft Bikes
Where: Bike Glenlivet, Cairngorms
Trail length: 9km
Get there: AB37 9AR
Aneela McKenna – Go-Where Scotland guide & coach
“If you’re dreaming of smooth, flowy singletrack, this is the place to go. The 9km blue trail starts with a singletrack climb out of the beautiful Scots Pine woodland into the open to the top, where you can soak up the majestic views.
“Now get ready for fun and flow as the trail winds its way down through the forest, with plenty of berms, rollers and a tunnel feature to keep you entertained.
“There’s just one more climb to get over the hillside and that’s you descending all the way to the cafe, where you’re guaranteed a bike-friendly welcome and some good cakes, too!”
More info: Glenlivet Estate
Where: Kirroughtree, Dumfries & Galloway
Trail length: 10km (+ 4km extension)
Get there: DG8 7BE
Liz Peacock – Guide & coach with TrailSkills
“The Kirroughtree blue route is a fun, flowy trail with a good mix of singletrack climbs and descents. Initial height gain leads to the first of many swooping descents through beautiful woodland.
“A pedal round the hill leads to more fast flow, with some short rocky sections. The trail has a bit of everything – it’s all rollable, with plenty of opportunities to practise maintaining momentum, pumping and even getting air.
“A 4km extension explores Doon Hill with fabulous views over the hills, too.”
More info: Forestry and Land Scotland
Where: Glentrool, Dumfries & Galloway
Trail length: 9km
Get there: DG8 6SZ
Karen Picton – MBUK reader
“I love the Glentrool blue. It’s mostly sweeping singletrack between the trees, which rises, falls and then rises again, testing your uphill ability, before a short fireroad downhill (one of several forest road sections) leads you to the start of the descent.
“This is my favourite bit. Some parts are quite challenging, and with its twists and sweeping turns it gets the heart pumping! The views are spectacular and you can either do the loop without stopping or pause to admire the scenery every now and then.
“Then get a nice cuppa and piece of cake from the visitor centre!”
More info: Forestry and Land Scotland
Other blues worth a bash
Fort William is best known for its downhill track but has some fun, short (1.8-3.5km) blue runs – Voodoo, Blue Adder and Broomstick Blue.
Excitingly, this summer it’ll become home to the UK’s first gondola-accessed beginner descent, Blue Steel. Can’t wait!
Ae Forest is a great 7stanes trail centre with a range of trails for everyone, including two legendary DH race tracks.
It includes an enjoyable blue, the 13.5km Larch View loop, which features some sections of boardwalk.
Nearby are two more 7stanes trail centres – Mabie, with its easy 10km Woodhead trail, and Dalbeattie, where the 14km Moyle Hill route offers granite bedrock and great views.
South of Glentress near the English border is yet another great 7stanes venue, Newcastleton.
The 10km blue route here offers a gentle introduction to MTBing with an out-in-the wilds feel.
Saracen Ariel 30 Pro
Julia rode Saracen’s new trail bike, the Ariel 30 Pro (you can read our Saracen Ariel Pro 30 review here).
Sporting 130mm of travel front and back, aggressive reach numbers and wheelbase lengths, plus a stable 65-degree head angle, this bike is ideal for building confidence and won’t hold you back, no matter what you throw at it.
Saracen Ariel 60 Elite
Luke rode the enduro-focused Ariel 60 Elite.
It rocks 160mm of suspension front and rear, and is capable of spicing up your line choice, whatever trail you ride, but without it ever feeling like it rides heavy.
Its stable mountain bike geometry means you can carve your own path down the hill.