Going off-road at Learnie Red Rock Trails on the Black Isle
It could have been a bumpy ride for me, taking two under-eights on their first proper visit to a mountain bike trail centre, but it went surprisingly smoothly.
In fact, the bumps turned out to be the highlight of the day, as we headed to Learnie Red Rock Trails on the Black Isle for a taste of off-road.
The blue-graded trails at Learnie are great fun to ride, and it had been years since I’d last been there myself, so I was looking forward to riding them again, albeit at a slower pace.
I decided to plan what I thought would be an achievable route using a mixture of the singletrack trails and the forest roads. I wanted to get up to the viewpoint over the firth, so I decided to skip the longer climb up Callachy Hill and go up the Muirhead Climb instead.
The colour-coded routes are mapped on a noticeboard in the main car park, and you can also download a map from the Forestry and Land Scotland website (see info panel) or pick up a leaflet from their other sites.
After getting geared up we had a little chat about riding the trails safely, walking any sections they were unsure about and taking their time. The first question I got asked was when they could stop for their first sweets!
Pedalling up the fireroad, we saw a couple of other youngsters out riding the trails and having fun, which I think helped spur them on, though some of their classmates are regular riders here too.
At the start of the Muirhead Climb, I stayed at the back with Jennifer as Clara led the way through the pine trees. There’s a bit of height gain along the 1.1km section but the gradients are never too steep, and the girls were loving the narrow trail – except where the gorse got a little too close to their ankles.
The day was cold so as we got moving the layers of jumpers and coats were soon shed, adding to my load as I enjoyed watching them take to the trails. They had done so well on this first uphill test, that I knew my planned route would be suitable, so we continued up the fireroad to the minor public road ahead.
Across the road, a blue-graded trail with some steep little downhill bits leads along to near the start of the Firth View trail. We took our time, with Jennifer sensibly walking some of the steeper bits.
Firth View is a longer loop with some ups and downs, the highlight being the viewpoint over the Moray Firth from the top of the trail. We made it up here nicely, with Clara again pushing ahead and having to wait for Jennifer and I to catch up.
As you drop down through some lovely flowing bends, a simple trail obstacle, the Boulder Boulevard, tests riders’ handling skills over a few large, flat boulders, with sections of mud in between. Clara had stopped and asked me what to do. “Just keep pedalling,” I told her.
Beyond here a long climb takes you high up onto the ridge before dropping down to the track, where a right turn takes you back up to the public road. We headed along it and back across to access the descent route.
While Learnie gives the kids a tough start with climbs in every direction from the car park, it rewards with the final descent. We turned left along the Green Link to reach the top of the Callachy Downhill, another blue-graded trail that twists through the trees and offers bermed corners and plenty of fun over a series of bumps and humps.
I reiterated all my safety warnings before setting Clara off first, while I helped Jennifer along again, passing on some of my limited technical expertise in mountain biking!
Clara later told me the tight corners were quite scary, so I should warn people to be careful on them – though she didn’t seem scared as she pedalled along shouting, “I love this!” at the top of her voice.
Jennifer was also having the time of her life as she went up and down the little bumps towards the bottom of the trail. There are more like this on the little green Home route that takes you back to the car park, where Jennifer and I got the giggles as she screamed her way over each and every one.
It was great to see them having such fun on their bikes, especially when they said they wanted to come back again tomorrow. We didn’t, but we will be back soon for more mountain biking fun at this excellent facility.
Learnie Red Rock Trails
Distance 5 miles / 8km
Terrain Blue-graded mountain bike trails, suitable for beginners with basic fitness and off-road skills
Start/finish Forestry car park off A832 between Rosemarkie and Cromarty
Maps OS Landranger 21 or 27; Trail map available at https://forestryandland.gov.scot/visit/learnie-red-rocks shows detail of colour-coded routes
Introducing the children to some trail centre mountain biking fun