With a range of high-spec trail centres plus an almost infinite number of natural trails, Scotland is a major destination on the world mountain biking stage. And here in Peebles, we’re lucky to live, work and play in one of the biggest mountain biking hotspots of all … an area that looks set to only get hotter for those with a love of hurtling around on two wheels.
Just take a look at all the mountain biking events that take place locally. This coming weekend (19-20 Aug) sees the 2017 Whyte Endura Scottish Open Champs, which is due to finish off this year’s TweedLove season in style. Featuring a full complement of 500 riders, the event has become something of a UK enduro classic, with pro athletes mixing it up with mere mortals to be crowned King and Queen of the Hill.
A wonderfully inclusive discipline in mountain biking, enduro is essentially a stage-race format where riders transfer – often riding together with buddies – between a series of timed downhill sections. Although the big riders are very much in it to win it, enduro is a fun, friendly and hugely sociable way of racing bikes.
This year’s Scottish Open Champs sees a new event base just down the road in Innerleithen, with race stages on both the Caberston and Traquair sides of the valley. And for those who have already competed in two other events earlier in the year as part of the TweedLove Triple Crown Enduro, it’s a chance to score some serious bragging rights. The fact that the rather brilliant Innerleithen Music Festival is also on this weekend is even more of a bonus for spectators and riders alike.
For visiting riders, the event offers a chance to sample just a small part of the vast network of trails found locally – a network that continues to grow and grow. While ‘unofficial’ trails continue to be created high in the forests all around, our two local trail centres at Innerleithen and Glentress are also set for an upgrade.
As part of a multi-million pound plan to upgrade facilities at Glentress, Forest Enterprise Scotland recently revealed that more than £1 million will be spent on around 16km of new trails, including a larger skills area, a range of taster trails, additional descents linking existing trails, plus Enduro-style sections. Meanwhile, headed by a new Tweed Valley Mountain Biking Development Coordinator, consultations are taking place on how best to develop the trails at Innerleithen. Exciting times!
If you haven’t yet tried mountain biking, and are not sure what all the fuss is about, then you really need to give it a shot. And there’s certainly no better place to come than right here in the Tweed Valley – an area widely regarded as Scotland’s premier mountain biking destination.
Photography: Ian Linton
This year’s Whyte Endura Scottish Open Champs takes place on 19-20 August, with an event base in nearby Innerleithen. If not competing, head along to some of the many viewing points for a taste of the action. For much more on the event, plus the huge range of trails to be enjoyed locally, check out this race video from last year, https://vimeo.com/180707134
Could the skies above the Tweed Valley and wider Borders soon be the domain of one of our most majestic species, the golden eagle? That exhilarating prospect took a step closer following the recent announcement by the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project of a £1.3m Heritage Lottery Fund grant that will enable it to push ahead with plans to reinforce fragile eagle populations in the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway.
Launched in 2015, the project involves a partnership initiated by Scottish Land & Estates, RSPB Scotland and Buccleuch Estates, but which now also includes Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Forestry Commission Scotland. It follows an earlier report by SNH which found that the south of Scotland could potentially support up to 16 eagle pairs – a significant leap from the two to four pairs currently nesting here (and even then with limited success).
Subject to a licence application being approved, work will begin on increasing numbers of young eagles in the autumn. Then, from summer 2018 and over the next four years, the project team will collect single eagle chicks from broods of two young in the Highlands and raise and release them in secret locations in the south of Scotland. It essentially follows the same procedure for past reintroductions of species such as red kite and white-tailed sea eagle elsewhere in the country.
Once a species that ranged across much of upland Britain, but which is now mostly confined to the Scottish Highlands and islands, golden eagles are rarely spotted in the south of Scotland today. Don’t be fooled by the sight of large birds of prey sitting on telegraph poles and fence posts by the sides of the road – they are usually the far more common buzzard.
Golden eagles are a very different proposition. Much, much larger, with a wingspan of around two metres, eagles prefer rugged terrain, and are more often spotted soaring high above the ground on giant, fingered wings.
Returning this potent symbol of Scotland’s wild heritage to part of their former range is seen by those involved not just as an important step in ecosystem restoration, but also as a major boost to wildlife tourism in the area. We couldn’t agree more!
For much more on the project, visit www.goldeneaglessouthofscotland.co.uk
Photograph: Chris Knights/RSPB Images
Inspiration takes many forms here in the Tweed Valley … sometimes flying a little under the radar without even the knowledge of those who live here. One great example is the work of the John Muir Trust at Glenlude – a parcel of land near Traquair that is gradually being transformed.
Glenlude will be familiar to anyone who has driven the high, lonely B-road between Traquair and Mountbenger in the Yarrow Valley. It’s a route well-used by road cyclists testing their legs on the steep climb. Lying on the west side of the road, the property begins as a narrow strip of land alongside Paddock Burn but gradually widens to encompass 149 hectares of hill ground close to where the Southern Upland Way passes through Kirkhouse and Traquair.
In the thirteen years since the conservation charity was bequeathed the land, the John Muir Trust has made great strides in its plan to gradually ‘rewild’ a landscape shaped by years of heavy grazing and the planting of uniform conifer plantations. Such ambitions do not happen overnight, but the journey towards creating a mosaic of native habitats has well and truly begun.
Slowly but surely, the Trust is replacing the extensive areas of conifer plantation with native broadleaf trees, and planting native woodland on some of the open areas of grassland. Trees planted today are grown from seed collected locally and nurtured at an on-site nursery.
And during this time, Glenlude has become not just a showcase for what can be achieved through a little imagination and plenty of hard work, but also an important hub for conservation volunteering. Easily accessible from the Central Belt and northern England, the site welcomes hundreds of volunteers from schools, businesses and local groups each year.
Many come to undertake their John Muir Award – the Trust’s environmental award scheme – while others use outdoor education and connecting with nature to help rebuild lives. Phoenix Futures, a Glasgow-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation charity, for instance, manages a part of Glenlude known as the Scottish Phoenix Forest. More than 800 trees have now been planted in the forest, with each tree representing a successful participant in the Phoenix Futures programme.
Between them, staff and volunteers have created not just the tree nursery and an outdoor staging area for the hardening off and growing of seedlings, but a variety of other facilities: a shelter for those who work at Glenlude; a composting toilet and dry store; plus a wild camping area.
Most recently, a Postcode Lottery Grant enabled the purchase of a firewood processor and the installation of secure storage – an old shipping container disguised as a turf-roofed log cabin with a wooden lean-to attached for processed logs. Firewood will soon be offered for sale on a small scale.
Out on the hill itself, extensive brash hedges – the largest of which covers half an hectare – and several smaller enclosures protect saplings from the attention of browsing deer. Within the shelter of the enclosures, natural regeneration is now taking place, with blaeberry, bedstraw and tormentil as well as birch seedlings readily taking root.
All this work has already made a difference to the diversity of species and habitat at Glenlude. Surveys of breeding birds have revealed the presence of more than 40 species, with the likes of black grouse, curlew, skylark and meadow pipit now all believed to be nesting on the hill. There are mountain hares here too, plus water voles and a wide range of amphibians.
It’s a wonderful start, although there is much more to come as the John Muir Trust continues to demonstrate what’s possible when people and nature work hand in hand.
For much more on Glenlude, including how to get involved, visit www.johnmuirtrust.org/trust-land/glenlude
Photography: John Muir Trust
Creative Peebles Festival 2016
It’s back, but with a new name … this year’s Creative Peebles Festival (formerly Peebles Arts Festival) promises to be as exciting and wide-ranging as ever, as the event once again highlights the array of artistic talent found in and around Peebles.
This is a town and wider area chock full of musicians, artists, arts groups, film-makers, photographers and craftspeople. All will be celebrated during an 11-day festival that also welcomes top-quality professional theatre and music productions from further afield.
Many of the indoor performances, workshops and courses take place at the Eastgate Theatre, but visitors and locals alike should look out too for a whole raft of talks, walks and tours that explore the fascinating history, architecture, and landscape in and around this beautiful town of ours.
The festival opens with a performance of Asylum Monologues (Thurs 25 Aug) – a thought-provoking play that explores the experience of refugees and asylum seekers journeying to and subsequently settling in Scotland. Presented by Beyond Borders Scotland, the play offers a window into the challenges faced by some of the world’s most vulnerable people as they attempt to begin new lives far from home.
Migration is also the theme of The View from Castle Rock (Wed 31 Aug), the tale of a 19th century Scottish family’s journey in search of a better life in Canada. The latest work from Stellar Quines Theatre Company, and adapted for the stage by Scottish playwright Linda McLean, the play pulls together stories by Nobel Laureate Alice Munro which imagine the experiences of her Scottish ancestors who sailed to Canada from Leith Docks in 1818.
Having premiered at sell-out performances during this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, the production comes to Peebles as part of a wider tour of the Borders – an area with a particular significance for Munro whose ancestors were related to James Hogg, the ‘Ettrick Poet’.
Other highlights include the traditional Open Galleries Evening (Fri 26 Aug) and High Street Busking Competition (Sat 3 Sept), plus further live music from the likes of Savourna Stevenson, Miles Norris, and the Traquair Community Choir (Sat 27 Aug), Music in Peebles’ Festival Recital featuring acclaimed pianistEdward Cohen (Thurs 1 Sept), and Talisk (Fri 2 Sept) – real rising stars of the UK folk scene.
Meanwhile, walkers will love the guided outdoor tours – Tall Tours, In the Footsteps of …, The Lost Buildings of Peebles, Salmon Walk, and 20 Bridges of Peebles – while there will also be fascinating talks onJohn Buchan (Sun 28 Aug), plus the special Tweeddale Society Festival Lecture which this year sees Sir David Younger talk about the role and duties of the Lord-Lieutenant of Tweeddale (Tues 30 Aug), a position he served for a decade.
Phew, it’s quite a mix and we haven’t even mentioned Seven Songs for a Long Life (Sun 28 Aug) – an extraordinary documentary film which offers a sometimes poignant, often uplifting glimpse into the lives of six patients at a care facility near Glasgow.
So, if you thought festivals in August all centre on Edinburgh, think again! We invite you to join us for a rather smaller-scale event, but one that is nonetheless full of fun, interest and an impressive line-up of creative talent.
Creative Peebles Festival 2016 runs from Thursday 25 August to Sunday 4 September. For further info, including ticket details, visit www.peeblesartsfestival.org or call the Eastgate Theatre Box Office, 01721 725777.
In addition to being one of the UK’s most celebrated mountain bike trail centres, Glentress is also home to a pioneering project that aims to elevate the sport to whole new levels in Scotland. We caught up with Graeme McLean, the driving force behind Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland, to learn more.
Tell us about the Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS) project … what are its aims?
DMBinS is a partnership project established to oversee the delivery of the world’s first national strategy for mountain biking. While that sounds a bit dry, the project plays an important role in bringing people together, providing advice and spreading good practice. That in turn results in more trails being built, bigger events coming to Scotland, better opportunities for Scottish children and young people to realise their dreams of sporting success on the world stage, and simply getting more people into riding bikes in a safe and amazingly fun environment.
Why is it headquartered at Glentress here in the Tweed Valley?
We are based in the Tweed Valley because it is, arguably, Scotland’s biggest mountain bike community. We are part of a successful partnership, with Edinburgh Napier University and Scottish Enterprise, which has helped businesses to innovate and grow for a number of years. When the project grew to a scale where we were able to source funding through the Scottish Funding Council and the opportunity came up to be based at Glentress, we jumped at it!
And what about your own background in cycling?
As you can see from one of my first bikes – a yellow Raleigh Strika which I loved – playing on bikes formed a large part of my upbringing. My parents also used to run a summer holiday business near Oban renting bikes, so I think cycling is in my blood. Being honest though, I didn’t really ride too much from 18 to 25 as I was travelling the world as a snowboard instructor. When I returned in 2002, I’d heard that the new trail centres were amazing – one trip to Glentress and that was me hooked all over again.
We know the Tweed Valley is a centre of mountain biking in Scotland, but what’s the national picture like … a real growth sport country-wide?
Yes, very much so. DMBinS has worked hard to grow mountain biking in many other parts of Scotland. We’ve worked with communities, local authorities, national agencies and businesses, and have developed £2.5m of new trails close to communities across Scotland. Such projects are helping create more mountain bikers – all future visitors to the Tweed Valley!
What are some of the key challenges as you look to continue growing the sport?
Funding is a real challenge, especially at the moment. We have to work very hard to ensure that any investment in the sport has as many tangible benefits as possible. With fewer resources there will also be a greater ask for the mountain bike community to help grow the sport. That’s something that the Tweed Valley really excels at, with four children’s cycling clubs in the area and a massive voluntary effort that goes into making events such as TweedLove so successful.
What are some of the projects you are most proud of to date?
I think we have done really well in terms of bringing people together and encouraging partnership. In fact, I can’t think of any projects we have run which haven’t involved several groups getting together to make things happen. It’s really the only way such a small staff team can achieve bigger things.
Although we can’t call any of the projects exclusively our own, I have been particularly proud of forming the world’s first innovation and centre of excellence at Glentress – the Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland – together with Edinburgh Napier University and Scottish Enterprise, plus Go Girls, a programme to increase and sustain participation by female riders, run together with Scottish Cycling, Endura and a whole host of inspirational women.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love the places that the bike takes me, especially across Scotland. But most of all I love the people whom I have met through this role. There are so many inspirational, positive and passionate people involved in mountain biking. I’m just grateful to have an opportunity to be part of shaping this fantastic sport.
Finally, you must get out on the trails pretty often … do you have a favourite place to ride locally?
Loads of favourites, but what gives me the most pleasure is getting out with my family and watching my six-year-old son grin from ear to ear as he rattles down Electric Blue at Glentress. Great moments!
For much more on the Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland project, visit www.dmbins.com
Photography: DMBinS; Graeme McLean