I’ve been to Carron Valley a couple of times in the past year. The first visit was on a blazing sunny day without a breath of wind, one of those days you count yourself lucky to be alive, and the second was on the most cold and wet day in living memory (or so it seemed at the time). But in the two extremes, both times I’ve enjoyed it and vowed to return more often.
Carron Valley is located in Central Scotland, right between Stirling and Glasgow, and only about an hours drive from Edinburgh. It’s one of the closest trails to the huge city of Glasgow so you would imagine it gets pretty decent use, but on the days I’ve been there it’s not been half as busy as I’ve expected. You can still ride the entire length without seeing more than half a dozen people. The aforementioned length is pretty short, however, which might explain the fewer than expected visitors. There’s no measurement on the map but it’s easily rideable in an hour.
The trail itself starts in a forestry commission car-park with a regulation peak-roofed map board in attendance. On my last visit the map was missing though so you might do well to bring your own. It continues up a fireroad for a little distance before taking a quick left onto the start of the singletrack – don’t worry though road fans, that’s not the last you’ll see of it by a long shot…..
Before going into the meat of the sections it’s worth noting that Carron Valley’s really nicely laid out to let you take it however you like. It has 3 basic loops on it, The Runway (bottom), The Cannonball Run (middle) and Eas Dubh (top), and it’s constructed so that each loop sits on it’s own, but joins up with the others at one point. This basically means that it’s possible to do any combination of the loops, such as going up to the top, coming back down to the bottom of the Cannonball Run, the going back up to repeat the Cannonball Run, before heading onto the runway. It compensates a little for Carron Valley’s short length in that you can pick and choose to repeat your favourite sections.
The first section of climb seemed pretty new still when I was there (Christmas 2007) but it’s a nice little intro to the trail – tight and twisty, but clean and smooth. Next comes the first speedy part of the trail, Pipedream. This is a nice little section, zipping and winding through the trees with a few humps you can turn into jumps if you make the effort. It’s mainly flat so you need a bit of effort to keep up to speed but it’s worth it.
Next comes some more climbing similar to the first section – the surface still looking as new as new can be. You might as well be pedalling on pavement! At the top of this you’ve hit the top of the middle loop and you’ve got the option to head straight down The Cannonball Run or to head on up to Eas Dubh. Since we’re no drop-outs we’re gonna head straight on up to the top, and here’s where you get friendly with Mr Fireroad, all the way to the trail summit! I’m not sure if they’re planning to create a bit more singletrack to cover this section of climb but it’d be welcome, the road doesn’t exactly offer much stimulation…
Anyway, once past the hefty slog you hit the top of Eas Dubh. I stopped here on my last visit for a wee squint at the view over the valley, which is pretty great from that point. It was just for the view remember, the fact that my heaving lungs calmed down was just a coincidence… From here you hit the downhill proper and it couldn’t be more different from the lower sections. Eas Dubh is a great trail and is far more natural than the climbs preceding. You’ve got some great little corners to start off with, and some nicely situated rocks to bounce over, followed by the Kelpie’s Staircase, a slightly hairy looking rock descent into a big bombhole. It looks far worse than it is tho so just keep the weight back and you’ll roll over it. This is followed by some tight-ass downhill switchbacks which are real hard to gather traction on. I found myself slowing right down on these until and started digging the wheel in by pushing right down on the outer pedal. Still you slide but it’s a good slide, or that’s what you tell yourself as you teeter close to the pretty nasty drop into the waterfall to the left. This part doesn’t last long enough though and soon you’re climbing back up (another!) bit of road to get to the Cannonball Run.
The Cannonball Run is pretty non-descript to be honest, and lives up to it’s name quite well. It’s a long, steep, reasonable straight section with plenty of humps near the bottom. Get pedalling, tuck the elbows in and see how quick you can hit it. In most cases that’ll be pretty quick!
Lastly comes the surprise – The Runway. The first time I came here I was feeling slightly disappointed by this point. I had really enjoyed Eas Dubh, but it was over so quickly it hardly seemed worth the climb. The Cannonball Run was even more so, unmemorable and over in a flash. Now, looking at the map, there’s another section a similar length to Eas Dubh, “It’ll be over so quickly,” I thought to myself! Well, if you were shocked by the change from pristine, hand-made singletrack to rough and dirty downhill at Eas Dubh then this is gonna surprise your ass off.
The Runway is man-made certainly, bit it’s also got the rough and dirty. It’s a vibrating, rollercoaster of a section with tabletops and doubles to spare! The surface is pocked with little rocks that get your guts churning and your teeth rattling and then suddenly a rise jumps up from around a corner and before you know if you’re in the air! It’s such a shock coming after the rest of the trail that you’re back on the ground again before you realise you were just catapulted into the air by a pretty damn big double and there’s another one dead ahead! There’s some enormous berms in here too which lead you down to the final straight which has, count them, about 6 or 7 doubles in a row! It’s an awesome end to the trail and one that totally overcame any previous disappointment I had. Needless to say I took advantage of the layout and headed back up to repeat the runway – 5 minutes later I was doing the doubles again, but this time I came prepared and they were even more awesome.
Carron Valley is short but it has so much variety in it’s trails that it’s still worth the ride. You wont get bored if you do it 3 times in a day because you feel like you’re doing 3 different trails, and while the sections themselves are far too short they are, barring the Cannonball Run, great examples of their own type. The length is holding it back from become more popular, but that’s fine. I go perhaps once every couple of months, as most other people seem to, and that’s perfect. It keeps it nice and quiet. It lets me look forward to descending the runway in my own small group and attempt to push just a little more out of those jumps…
Carron Valley Mountain Bike Trail Information
[tags]Carron Valley, Mountain Bike, Trail, Scotland[/tags]