Trails of Caledonia

These are the best MTB trails in Scotland

In partnership with

Komoot

Feature type Story

Read time 15 mins

Published Jan 08, 2022

Photographer Johny Cook

Scotty Laughland Pro mountain bike athlete and content creator from Scotland, always in search of the best trails.
Komoot

 

While as professional mountain biker, Scotty Laughland has had the privilege of travelling the world in pursuit of the best rideable trails, in his opinion it’s his homeland of Scotland that boasts some of the best and most varied trails in the world. With that in mind, Scotty created his Scotland Showcase video series where he visits each of his favourite Scottish regions and pinpoints the best trails for other riders to try out.

I’ve lived in Scotland my whole life, so call me biased but I think it’s got some of the best mountain biking in the world.

Initially, I wanted to create a series that showcased Scotland as a mountain biking destination but the birth of our daughter made me think again in a way I hadn’t expected.

I suddenly gained new perspectives and different environmental concerns so the idea behind the series became more than just bike riding. I wanted to make the project carbon negative and build a story around sustainability so the trails could be there for her and generations to come.

Being able to ride locations like Beinn a’Bhùird is a privilege that we as riders can’t take for granted. We need to respect these fragile landscapes, ride the terrain, conditions and acknowledge the wildlife that they’re home to. The trail associations are working to sustainably build bigger trail networks and communicate the benefits that riding mountain bikes brings to the local communities. The best way we all can help is by appreciating and understanding the careful and passionate work that goes into that.

Below are six episodes that represent my six favourite riding destinations in Scotland: Perthshire, Aberdeenshire, the Cairngorms, the North West Highlands, Lochaber and the Tweed Valley. In each section you’ll also find the relevant komoot collection so you’ll be able to visit and ride them yourself too. What are you waiting for?

Perthshire

My three favourite riding locations in Perthshire showcase the region’s diversity. Dunkeld is famous for its natural, steep and hand-cut trails that are both rooty and rocky. Comrie Croft is a natural trail centre offering a blue, red and black plus a skills park and the trail centre is rideable year round. Aberfeldy is a developing bike park that offers a mix of riding. All the trails are lovingly hand-built and cared for by the local riding community.

Aberdeenshire

Aberdeenshire is an emerging destination within Scotland. The region’s mountain bike trails are developing at a rate of knots, thanks to the strong local riding community and the management of the Aberdeenshire Trail Association who, over the last number of years, have been doing a lot of work to grow the trail network sustainably and ensure that the trails are there for years to come.

There’s a style of trail for everyone while still keeping things completely natural. Here, we explore the infamous Lightning Bolt Trail through Balmoral Estate that finishes at Loch Muick, the hand-built trails around Ballater, Mastermind and Heartbreak Ridge and the munro – Beinn a’ Bhùird.

The Lightning Bolt has fast become one of my favourite trails in the world. It’s a challenging trail and that’s what I love about it. Dropping in, you flow through some loose gravelly turns but things quickly get a little more of out of control as the gradient steepens, the rocks get bigger, the trail becomes more technical and the potential consequences (of a fall) become higher. It drops you into the bowl of Glenmuick and you finish right at the loch, a simply stunning panorama that is part of the Queen’s estate. No ride quite compares.

Mastermind, as the name suggests, starts at a mast and you’ve got to be pretty mindful on your way down! Starting out in Ballater which is full of independent shops, you pedal up a relatively short climb for the descent. Pretty quickly it feels as though you’re in the middle of nowhere. The trail is fast and rocky trail with so much flow.

Heartbreak Ridge was one of the trails to get a makeover this summer and it’s the trail that sparked my exploration of Aberdeenshire as a region. It’s a lovely climb up to the summit and upon reaching it, you get panoramic views as far as the Cairngorms. The trail closely follows a ridgeline all the way to the bottom, it’s fast, flowing and connects really well.

Beinn a’ Bhùird is a munro (mountains in Scotland over 914m) and they can be quite challenging descents but the mountain path here is one of the best. You can do this as a loop, ticking off other munros or more simply just as an out-and-back. Summiting you have incredible panoramic views over the Cairngorms, a beautiful Lochan and incredible rock statues. You’re truly in the wilderness here and it’s just incredible. The descent is one of the best munro descents in the country, it’s fast, flowy and there are limited technical features on the trail, you just have to watch out for those drainage bars!

The Cairngorms

In the UK’s largest national park, we head to Laggan Wolftrax, Laggan Brown, climb Dum-da-Lamph, ride at Glenlivet, head up the munro Sgòr Gaoith and on a local recommendation explore some new trails in Burnside!

Laggan is known as the UK’s most progressive trail centre, famous for massive rock slabs and technical ascents and descents. One of my favourite features is the ginormous rock slab, Air’s Rock. On the other side of the National Park is Glenlivet, they’ve been developing new trails and just this year they built an orange jump line!

We also had the chance to check out their Mini Downhill trail which is a hand-cut natural trail with a good size jump line. Sgòr Gaoith is one of my favourite munros in the Cairngorms, thanks to it being relatively accessible. Reaching the summit you have an incredible view and the descent is fast and technical all the way back down. Burnside is the trail network above Aviemore where the trails are rugged, burly and hand-cut.

North West Highlands

Torridon is located in the north west of Scotland and it’s where my love for adventure riding began. As a destination it’s so special; the vast mountains and unscathed landscapes are jaw-dropping. Here, we ride the classic Torridon loop, a 52km route with 1200m of climbing. You’ll need to allow a good five to eight hours and it’s one best done in the summer!

Starting out, it’s a short road ride before veering off and riding alongside lochs and through glens. It’s simply stunning and isn’t a ride you want to rush. I prefer to take my time, enjoy the journey and take it all in. Once you get into the wilderness you feel completely alone. The climbs are challenging, they’re technical and require sudden urges of power to get you up and over the rocky features – I’m still yet to clean it, no dabs!

The top of the Annat descent is incredible. Stood there, you’re surrounded by towering grey mountains and views stretch for as far as you can see. The descent is a technical one but I wouldn’t say it’s overly challenging, there’s a lot of flow to be had but you’ve got to work for it. It finishes down by a river, contrasting to the upper section you’re deep in the greenery.

Our next point of interest is the Fionnaraich bothy and it’s a good chance for a break. The singletrack leading up to it is challenging and requires a lot of on and off power surges. The bothy dates back to the 1800s and is still used to this day by deer stalkers. It’s a place where riders can seek shelter from the ever changing Scottish conditions.

From the bothy to our next descent is a challenging path through lowland bogs before hitting a rugged hike-a-bike. The descent to Annat is fairly undulating, rocky and is one of my personal favourites, you’re back in among those huge grey mountains and have a view onto the Atlantic Ocean. There’s something humbling about being able to ride in such a location. The descent is super fun, rewarding and has so many different elements to it: fast singletrack, huge rock slabs and river crossings. It just puts a smile on your face!

Finishing right at the bay, there’s a chance to refuel at a traditional inn which offers delicious locally sourced food and drink and accommodation. There’s no better location to finish a ride at!

Lochaber

Lochaber is like a mini-Alps, home to the biggest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis.

First off, you take on the rough red and black trails of Glencoe Mountain Resort, before climbing Binnein Mòr in search of big vistas. Upon summiting, you might get weathered out and have to make your way off the mountain. Finish by heading to explore Fort William’s Nevis Range (where I reminisced of racing in front of the home crowd at the 2009 and 2010 Downhill World Cups!).

Nevis Range has slowly been expanding its trail network so check out their black, Top Chief and the all-new blue, Blue Doon! Lochaber is an amazing destination to get into big landscapes, be it for an adventurous day out or lift accessed thanks to the offering in Glencoe and Fort William.

Scottish Borders

In this collection of Scotty’s Scotland Showcase we’re in Scotland’s MTB epicentre, the Tweed Valley where you can explore Glentress and Innerleithen. Glentress was one of the first ever trail centres I ever visited. It’s got something for everyone from the rider starting out on a balance bike right up to the seasoned pro. To showcase the variation on offer, we explored the range of Glentress’ offerings, machine-made trails, trail centre trails and hand-cut trails. I’ll admit it was fun just having a session in the Freeride park!

Next we head to the Golfy, made famous by the EWS. All the trails here are entirely natural and hand-built and maintained. Watching the scene develop here has been mind-blowing; it started out with one trail and has grown to multiple trails all over the forest. The passionate locals and trail association vigorously work to make it as good as it is. I rode three trails here, Avalanche is steep, technical and loose. New York New York is fast and flowing before diving in the trees where it gets tight. 2nd Base has huge hand-built berms that flow incredibly well. If you love natural trails then this is the place for you. Riding here brought back a lot of memories and I can’t wait to see how the Tweed Valley continues to develop as a destination for mountain bikers.

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