I'm settling nicely into life up here in the "Kingdom"; i love my new job, and i honestly struggle to remember the last time i felt this excited by both going to work and riding my bike. It's been a while! Rachel and I have made it a weekend hobby to explore the local riding spots - they're rather more plentiful than they were back in East Anglia - within an hour's drive of our house, there are in excess of 20 places to ride an mtb, leaving us spoilt for choice. So far, my favourite has to be Blebo Craigs/Kemback Woods - a compact gem of a place - a mixture of dark forboding conifers and light, open beech and oak trees, tucked away just a few miles from St Andrews. Even better, it's within easy striking distance of a quick ride from work come the summer time - perfect training to get me ready for the Scottish XC Series.
And what perfect training it is, perched on a steep hillside hidden away in the rolling terrain of Fife, with some extremely steep downhill trails peppered with drops and jumps, followed by a nose on the stem climb back to the top of the woods. There's no respite, but if you feel ready for a challenge it's a great place to test your limits (and occasionally exceed them). As soon as it rains, the loamy soil becomes slippery, and the trails do cut up and become seriously muddy in places, especially when the snow's still falling on the Cairngorms. The last time i went there, there was even a guy giving up his Sunday afternoon (clearly riding time!) to rake the leaves and twigs off the trails - bliss.
The added advantage of being based north of the border is that right to roam applies to everyone - any navigable path by any non-motorised means of transport is fair game, as long as you behave sensibly. Of course, this is excellent for everyone - ramblers can walk where they like, mountain bikers can ride their bikes wherever it is sensible to do so, even horse riders can add in their two pennith. And the price we pay for this enormous privilege? It's really a very small price, we merely need to behave sensibly and responsibly. This means the application of common sense by all these groups - obviously it would be daft to ride a horse up a downhill mountain bike trail, or ride an mtb fast down a narrow, much-used footpath, so simples - don't do it!
Maybe we could all learn a lot from this little chap!
You can imagine my disappointment then when last ride at Blebo, i was met by a man walking his dog up what must have been an impossibly unpleasant trail to walk - it was part of one of the steep chutes i mentioned above. He was invisible from the top of the trail, and when we did see him, we did our very best to control our speed and be courteous, only to be met with a tirade of abuse about the mess mtbers were making of the forest. Granted, the weather and riders had not been kind to this section, but really it would have been far more sensible to set off with the intention of riding down it than walking up it, regardless of the condition of the topsoil. And therein lies the rub. When we are all equal in the eyes of the law, and common sense is to be applied by all, then the one barrier we have to overcome as mountain bikers is the perception of "how it was". Sure, it used to be the case that he would have been well within his rights to shout and scream at us for riding on footpaths or private land, but no longer. All access groups stand together in the eyes of the new laws, and we have to make it work together, or really we all stand to lose a great privilege and opportunity to squabbling and infighting. Ultimately, that outcome benefits noone apart from the landowners that the access charter was set up to protect us all from. So next time you come across a walker on the trail in Scotland, be polite, be courteous, and if they cut up nasty - remind them that now we're all in this together.