At first I was very apprehensive of the downhills and feared the stones and tree roots that could be found on the trails. Now, although not as daring as I may have been about 25 years ago, I have gained in confidence and can tackle most trails, even some black routes!
The uphills are always hard and I usually huff and puff my way up to the top, hoping that at some point the ups will get easier. They never do! Although my times have improved, so I must be getting fitter. The feeling of getting to the top is always great though and the thigh burn is worth it when you get to whizz all the way back down to the bottom.
I have been lucky enough in these few months of taking up the sport to have visited several of Scotland's trail centres. They have all been very different in technical difficulty, layout, size etc but one thing they have all had in common is that they are all manmade trails.
I had an extra day off this weekend and was very much looking forward to heading down to Glentress for a good burn round the red route, but sadly the storms we had mid week stopped all my fun. I decided to check the website before leaving but it had not been updated for a few days, so texted the forrest Ranger to find out the extent of any damage that the winds may have caused. He promptly replied saying that the trails were being checked, so sadly the centre was closed until all reports were in.
Gutted, what to do now? It was a gorgeous day and I did not want to waste my precious day off. So jumping on my bike I started out on a route that would take me along the Water of Leith and then up to the reservoirs at the base of the Pentland hills.
It was an extremely cold day and I found that the ground was completely frozen, even where it was exposed to the sunshine. As I was puffing my way up the steep Currie Kirk road I thought that it might be a good idea to actually go over the Pentlands and follow the trail that I normally run.
I have walked and run around these hills for many years and have always cursed the people that use it as a mountain bike trail, as the bikes have gradually eroded many of the paths and caused huge ruts in the ground that make it extremely hard to run over.
I reasoned this time that the ground was frozen so hard that my one trip round was not going to cause any further damage. Most of the paths were actually covered with ice, so much of the time my wheels didn't actually touch the earth!
I have to admit that it is a very good route to have on your doorstep, especially when you don't pass another soul the whole way round, but the extent of the damage caused by the number of people that use the hills is evident (walkers and runners included). There is extensive path building underway on the way over to Glencorse. At the moment it looks like a huge digger has just run up and over the hill and left this big ugly scar. I presume that the plan is to cover this in large chuckie stones, which is a shame because this is not very enjoyable for anyone to walk/run/cycle on.
I think it's always a shame when this happens, but it is inevitable when specific paths are so well used. It is great that so many people go out and enjoy this fantastic area of countryside that is literally a stones throw from the city, but when large paths are built it slightly ruins the look and feel of the hillside.
A gorgeous winter day out.
Huge path dug out of the hillside.
Very frozen big path.
My proposed Sunday ride with Beth in Carron Valley was also called off due to a storm damaged trail, so wanting to get out and keep up my mtb fitness I had an early morning ride up the Water of Leith. However with the temps being back above freezing the path is now very wet and muddy and I got rather filthy. I knew that I was getting splashed from my front wheel as I could see my very dirty jacket, legs and shoes but did not realise just how filthy my face was. I did get a few strange looks from some dog walkers and people in the garage forecourt when I took my bike for a power wash.
Not my best look! I have a mud beard.
Hopefully the trail centres will be open again soon.
Mmmm interesting having just googled to see who has responsibility of ownership for that part of the Pentlands, I have found that it is actually the land owners that are making a larger access path up the hill for their vehicles. Maybe I shouldn't worry as much as I do about the erosion after all.
All photographs by Caroline Harvey.