ACTIVE OUTDOORS: Summer starts here with mountain bike fun on Kelpies Trails at Abriachan Forest near Inverness
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That Friday feeling means something different to each of us. In fact, for me it’s a very different feeling now to that of my younger self.
A night out to me these days is more about taking a tent and wild camping in the hills than rocking up at a pub for a few beers.
So, closing the door on the home office at the end of another busy week, and at the start of the school holidays, an evening on the mountain bikes was in order.
I persuaded my eldest daughter, Clara, to join me on a spin round the purpose-built trails at Abriachan Forest, a short drive from Inverness but far enough to feel the freedom of the hills.
I love visiting Abriachan – it’s a lovely little community and the hills offer the perfect place to admire the flora and fauna of the mountains with just a fraction of the effort required to climb any of the higher tops. This makes it a great spot for an evening out at this time of year, when there’s plenty of light to make the most of.
Usually I’m here for a walk or a run up Carn na Leitire and around the other excellent paths that criss-cross the area.
Tonight, we stuck the bikes on top of the car and headed down to Abriachan in the pouring rain – which had begun about 30 seconds before I closed the door of the office – hoping it would clear up by the time we got there.
Right on cue, as we pulled into the car park – which takes donations to help run the community woodland – the downpour eased and we set off on the bikes through that wonderful fresh air that emanates from the earth and foliage only after heavy rain.
A colourful sign points to the Kelpies Trails from the top end of the car park and leads through to a skills practice area. Clara tried one or two of the obstacles out and I tentatively had a go on the smaller seesaw.
This initial bike path is part of the green route, an easy bike trail that is suitable for families including younger riders. It heads past the rebuilt roundhouse, which had to be reconstructed following a fire, then forks right to twist through the trees to a track.
We went straight across here, through a gate then down the “Wee Drop” – a nice series of twisting bends leading down to soon emerge on another forest track.
Our plan was to head left here to reach the blue route then complete the last bit of the green loop on the way back.
The fireroad ends at a small parking area from which a short, steep climb marks the start of the blue trail. Once up there it levels out before climbing more gradually alongside a fence with open views across the countryside.
The mountain bike trails are really well made here, and the blue route is a nicely flowing ride with no real obstacles that you might find on more technical terrain. There are one or two steep ascents, however, and some nice bermed corners on the downhills that make for some fun riding.
One long switchback descent dropped us at the end of a track, where the route continues left through an area of felled forest before it climbs to the high point of the trail. The views of Ben Wyvis to the north, Beinn a’ Bha’ach Ard and then the Starthfarrar and Affric hills to the west were already impressive enough, but there was more to come.
Twisting between the stumps of this old plantation forest, the trail eventually reached the fence and a marker post. It’s worth hopping off the bike and over the fence to venture the couple of hundred metres to the cairn, which offers a fantastic viewpoint over Meall Fuar-mhonaidh and down the Great Glen, as well as to those mountaintops seen earlier.
Clara was tired from all the climbing, but much of the return offered some fun downhills – and she was soon enjoying the exhilarating experience of winding down this wonderful singletrack, despite getting soaking feet from the long grass and other vegetation encroaching on the path from time to time.
There were a couple of short climbs on the way back, but it seemed like no time before we were back at a bothy we had passed fairly close to on the way out. I nipped inside to check it out, and found a great little shelter complete with stove and bench seating.
A couple more twists and turns and we were heading back down the steep drop to the Kelpies Trails parking area, from where we retraced our route down the forest track.
Locating the gate to continue the green loop we had begun earlier, we turned left. While I faffed closing the gate, Clara was off, flying ahead now with the adrenaline kicking in! There are some cool little bumps that keep the speed up then we came to a humpback bridge – with a big hump in it!
Clara took a closer look and opted for the more straightforward flat bridge to the right, while I went up and over the steep humpback.
It wasn’t far now back to the car park after a fun Friday night on the trails. Given the choice, I’d take this option every time.
Kelpies Trails, Abriachan
Distance 6 miles / 10km
Terrain Singletrack trail and forest tracks; some steep ascent and descent
Start/finish Abriachan Forest car park
Map OS Landranger 26; OS Explorer 431; Abriachan Trailmap (trailmaps.biz)
Heading to a spectacular viewpoint on purpose-made mountain bike trails suitable for beginners