Days out: Glentress Forest

A break for the Borders
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The Independent Travel

The tree root was my undoing. Somehow it inserted itself between the spokes of the back wheel with predictable consequences. The bike and I were hurtling down a steep, narrow track in Scotland's Glentress Forest at the time.

The tree root was my undoing. Somehow it inserted itself between the spokes of the back wheel with predictable consequences. The bike and I were hurtling down a steep, narrow track in Scotland's Glentress Forest at the time.

My right shin suffered most. But once untangled from the bike I found I could still stand. No bones were broken and the slalom through the pines was on again. A promising morning of bright sunshine had given way to hail and sharp showers, turning the single-file forest tracks into slippery channels. (My crash, however, had more to do with inexperience of mountain biking.)

I had hired the bike at The Hub, the café and information point at the entrance to Glentress Forest, intending to test myself on the purpose-built trails in the morning, then stroll along the forest paths in the afternoon.

Glentress is a giant adventure playground, spread over 2,500 acres of hillside and visited by some 130,000 walkers, mountain bikers and trail runners in a year. It is a classic example of how state-owned forest should be used – timber production coexisting easily with recreation.

Despite Glentress now ranking as the top visitor attraction in the Borders, the numbers are absorbed with ease. It could not have felt more secluded as we followed a footpath through rough grass and heather by a tumbled old stone wall up a rise overlooking the valley of the River Tweed.

We were on the Towers Walk, one of the longest of eight well-signed walking routes. It is a six-mile circuit from the Buzzard's Nest car park, wending steadily upwards to Dunslair Heights (1,975ft), a fine vantage point. The walks' names are by no means fanciful. The mewing of buzzards is common and there is certainly a chance of seeing a squirrel on the walk of that name – the tufty-eared red variety.

Dunslair Heights is where the action starts on the Helly Hansen V-Trail – a high-octane feature that lures up to 1,000 mountain bikers each week. Bike trails are graded like ski runs, from modest blues and beefy reds to scary, demanding black runs. The Forestry Commission wanted to create the longest and most challenging mountain bike trail in Britain and, with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund and money from the aforementioned outdoor clothing manufacturers, has managed it in style.

The V-Trail is 18 miles long and takes three to four hours to ride – remember what comes down must first go up. Altogether the trail has a pedal-grinding vertical rise of 2,821ft. "It's now the place to come and ride in Britain without a doubt," according to Emma Guy, who with Tracy Brunger runs The Hub café. Both women are mountain bike champions whose skills and intimate knowledge of the trails are a seal of expert approval on Glentress.

Despite the impression, walkers are not at constant risk of demolition by hurtling bikers. Pedestrians still comfortably outnumber cyclists and generally only open hill sections and broad forest roads are shared. Right now, the forest larches should be turning to gold. It just needs a touch of frost to trigger the colour change. For the walker and photographer there could hardly be a better time to visit Glentress. For the mountain biker, a bit of wild autumn weather can only add to the fun – but watch out for malicious tree roots.

Glentress Forest lies one mile east of Peebles in the Scottish Borders on the A72. Peebles is 22 miles south of Edinburgh on the A703 (01750 721120; www.forestry.gov.uk/glentressforest.General tourist information, including accommodation (0870 608 0404; www.info@scot-borders.co.uk). Numerous leaflets are available from the Forestry Commission and Tourist Office on walking, biking and other activities. Mountain bike hire at The Hub (01721 721736) costs £10 for half a day, including helmet; £16 a day.

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