Stairway to Seven
|RIDGE RIDERS: Tackling the 7stanes' Kirroughtree trails (courtesy, UK Forestry Commission)|
Europe's low-cost air revolution means it's easier than ever to hop from international hubs like London or Amsterdam to smaller, less trafficked locales. Better still, aggressive pricing structures mean that you can pick up bargains galore if you have the flexibility to fly midweek, say, or late at night. And while we're not saying Scotland's capital city Edinburgh is a minor-league destination, take advantage of plentiful cheap fares on carriers like easyJet or KLM's CityHopper to discover the majesty of Europe's "Athens of the North" and to explore the wooded, border hinterlands to its south.
Typical travel itineraries to Scotland target= the east-west city gateways of Edinburgh and Glasgow before alighting north in search of the indisputable glories of the Highlands and Islands. While this is no bad thing, venture south from Edinburgh into the rolling hill country of the Borders and westerly Dumfries and Galloway to enjoy an altogether unexpected slice of Scotland.
Ancient towns like Melrose, Peebles, and Galashiels quietly anchor a region filled with interesting historic sites (including the abbey said to hold the heart of King Robert the Bruce) and countryside that inspired Scotland's Romantic-era literary giant, Sir Walter Scott.
The 7stanes, a joint venture between various local tourist boards, public-land agencies, and the European Commission, ties the region's natural potential with a perfect way to appreciate its undulating landscape: by mountain bike. A collection of seven mountain-biking centers that span the region, the 7stanes"stane" being Scots for stoneare dotted among the forests and hillsides from Peebles, about an hour from downtown Edinburgh, to Kirroughtree and Glentrool in Scotland's most southwesterly corner.
The MTB centers collectively boast over 220 miles of everything from beginner-friendly trails to grinding singletrack and fearsome downhill courses. Twist and roll through the Tweed Valley's 12-mile Red Route as it courses along the wooded singletrack of Glentress Forest, or ride the rails of Mabie's Kona Dark Side, "the most technically demanding, hair-raising two kilometers of legal timber trail to be found on Forestry Commission land in the country." according to the 7stanes website. As if that wasn't reason enough, the International Mountain Biking Association's 2005 Report Card ranked Scotland as its "Global Superstar," knocking world-renowned British Columbia off its perch.
All 7stanes sites are easily accessible by road or rail from Glasgow or Edinburgh. The Forestry Commission website at: www.sevenstanes.gov.uk includes excellent information on trail descriptions, conditions, plus transportation and accommodation options. Bike rental and repair services are available in adjacent towns like the Castle Douglas Cycle Center (www.cdbikes.co.uk), convenient for the Dalbeattie and Kirroughtree "stanes," and Innerleithen's Probike Sport (Peebles Road, +44.1896.830.880), near the popular Tweed Valley center. There are also on-site services and facilities at the Tweed Valley and Mabie centers.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication