Neil Braidwood tries out some mtb trails ahead of the inaugural mountain bike festival in Perthshire.
Itâ€™s true to say that we love our bikes in Scotland. We have our fair share of hills, and there are a plethora of challenges on, and off road to keep us busy. There are events too, like the many closed road etapes, and the two-week long celebration of two wheels that is Tweedlove.
But, until now, there hasnâ€™t been a festival dedicated to mountain biking. Well, later this month the guys at Comrie Croft in Perthshire will change all that with the first ever Cream oâ€™ the Croft.
I went along to try out some of the trails in advance of the new festival.
I arrived with the two most important things for the weekend â€“ my bike and my tent. Comrie Croft has so many camping options â€“ you can choose to be sociable, and camp alongside folk, or you can opt for a secluded woodland pitch. Alternatively, you might want to glamp it up in one of the five Kata tents, which have wood burning stoves and a wee gas cooker. Lastly, you could book into the SYHA hostel or farmhouse on the site.
I pitched up at the High Meadow, alongside a number of families busy sawing wood for their campfires. The views over the valley are stunning, and although you are quite a distance from the main shower block (at the back of the reception area), there are composting toilets and washing up facilities close by.
I felt instantly relaxed here. My view was sublime, my neighbours were chilled, and there was a bike trail running a few metres from my tent. As darkness fell, and I snuggled into my sleeping bag, all was well with the world.
I slept soundly, and after a hearty bowl of porridge I was set for the day. I was meeting Pete Mayne and Ewan Tavendale, huge supporters of the Croft, having actually helped dig out many of the trails we planned to ride later. They were to be my guides for the morning.
Our first port of call was over at the skills park. This is a great zone for people who havenâ€™t been on a trail before. Signposted to show levels of difficulty â€“ it gives you a taste of what your in for later on. In actual fact, the area was full of kids, some as young as two, riding balance bikes. I felt a bit of a fraud as I rode around the course â€“ but actually much of it was challenging, and Iâ€™m glad I tried it out before hitting the trails in earnest.
As members of the Strathearn Mountain Biking Club â€“ founded with the help of Comrie Croft incidentally â€“ Pete and Ewan are fighting fit, but promised to break me in gently with the blue trailsâ€¦
If you want great descents, you do need to climb â€“ however, much has been done to break up what were wide fire roads up the hills, to narrower, more undulating and interesting rides. Once you are up, of course, you can opt to stay up, as many of the routes interconnect with each other, so you can loop to your heartâ€™s content. The Big Wednesday trail for example, features a dual slalom course, where you can race your friends, side by side. At the end, you can sneak back round to start all over again. This, I promise you, will be a highlight of the Funduro.
â€œThe trails are generally less manicured, than, say Glentress, but thatâ€™s what makes them more interesting, says Pete. â€œYou need your wits about you â€“ especially on the â€˜Black, Sack and Crackâ€™ which forms stage 6 of the Funduroâ€.
Colin McPhail, co-owner of the Croft and manager of the excellent bike shop on site, explained that â€œcyclists are sociable â€“ we didnâ€™t want to just put on a race where you turned up, took part, then left. We wanted people to stay awhile, enjoy the weekend, and experience what the Croft has to offerâ€.
The Cream oâ€™ the Croft will take place between 26-28 June, and is aimed at riders of all abilities. There will be activities on offer throughout the weekend, including music, food and drink. The highlight of the weekend will be the Funduro â€“ an eight stage timed endure event open to all riders over 14. You could be a great downhiller, but rubbish at hill climbs, so scores are added together and the overall winner on time will be crowned the Cream oâ€™ the Croft â€“ so itâ€™s all to play for!
Visit here for more details about the Cream oâ€™ the Croft festival, and to buy tickets.