Kirroughtree is a perfect example of a well thought out trail centre, on paper its everything you could want to get the most out of your day riding, regardless of your ability.
This 7stanes trail centre boasts, adequate parking, good café, a bike shop and rental, a skills loop, and most importantly a blue, red and black option taking you out further into the Galloway forest to enjoy some of the best trail centre riding Scotland has to offer. One of the most important features is the skills loop. It opens up the centre to so many people of varying ability and creates something far more accessible than daunting trails a long way from the safety of the dry, warm café. It allows beginners to get an understanding of the skills required for each trail and encourages progression whilst managing your expectations. Often you see a few riders of different ability helping each other improve before heading out into the trails. It’s a perfect introduction and gives you an appetite for what is to come. A 20 minute skills loop session followed by a chilled lap of the blues is a great way to spend a summers evening. I think making mountain bike riding accessible is one of the most important things to consider and one of the biggest barriers to people with little experience. Kirroughtree does a very good job of providing something for everyone.
The trails themselves are really well maintained and run well in the wet or the dry. You ride out on the blue trails, which start predominately sweeping and smooth then begin to overlap with the reds after a few miles, this allows for slightly more interesting lines choices and the opportunity to gain confidence and gauge if the reds are for you. Slowly building you up without throwing you in at the deep end. The climbing is well managed, it never feels like you aren’t rewarded for your climbing efforts. The blue and red sections are intertwined with each other nicely allowing for you to add in sections of red and then loop back onto blues using fire roads. Again, adding to its usability for everyone. Kirroughtree is often a go to for me and my other half, using sections of red to build her up towards the full loop, whilst keeping enjoyment levels high on the rewarding swoopy flow of the blues.
Sooner or later the red has to progress away from the blues and when it does it gets more technical, more remote and more serious. taking you ever closer to the black route, with beautiful views along the way and some sharp technical climbs to wake you up to what’s to come. Once you are out there there’s not a whole lot around, there is a noticeable lack of people – you have come much further out than most walkers would manage from the visitor centre and the only real sign of life is when you reach and cross the A712. There are always short cut options and ways to avoid a lot of the more technical sections, but should you come off your bike up here you are pretty isolated and exposed to the elements. So tell someone where you are going and maybe use an app like find my friends to let them know where you are at all times. I had the added benefit of having the Specialized ANGi equipped helmet which when paired with a phone can share your location and detect a crash impact to the helmet and send out a message to selected contacts (more on this another time).
The riding itself is awesome, this is a great example of well-designed trail centre. Hard climbs must equal epic descents, you need to be rewarded for your efforts to keep your brain and body stimulated. The way trails are put together truly is a science, you can’t peak too soon and find that most of the fun is all over. It is all about managing expectations and delivering the thrills at the appropriate moment. After all no one likes a massive climb to the carpark at the end of it all and I don’t know about you but being thrown down the gnarliest, rockiest hill fresh out the car doesn’t sit well with me either. Kirroughtree builds to an epic crescendo; puff and scrape your way through McMoab and drag yourself up heartbreak hill and drop in to Talnotry and all of your efforts are rewarded. This descent favours the fit riders with the ability to carry speed. A few pedal strokes in the right places and confidence through the turns along with ability to hit the drops and rocks and maintain your speed makes this trail flowy and fun. To little snacks or a lack of fitness can make this a disjointed uncomfortable descent. If you are expecting a no holds barred steep, fast, bike-park type descent this isn’t for you. The trail works hard to keep its elevation dropping you down and pulling you back up to drop again with as little effort as possible maintaining your height until you re-join the reds, there’s a few short punchy climbs here but its all to keep that height before dropping you back onto the blues for some well designed berms, rollers and epic flow to leave you grinning from ear to ear.
Trail centres are such an important place for mountain bikers, it pulls you away from dog walkers, horse riders and you don’t have to spend your time map checking and route planning. It leaves you free to forget these things and focus on your riding. You know the ride statistics, you know the type of riding you are going to get and you know there are escape routes back to the car if you need them. Natural routes are very rewarding but you find yourself trying to perfect your own recipe, you are always tweaking and changing sections and wishing you hadn’t taken that bridleway through the boggiest field in the UK with the angriest cows you’ve ever seen. Trail centres are ready designed and built ready for you, someone else has done all the thinking and hard work and its now just up to you to go and ride it!