Mention Fort William in mountain biking circles and get wide smiles of friendly acknowledgement - and that's throughout the world, not just in Scotland. So, Fort 'Bill' and mountain biking go together like bread and jam.
Mention Fort William in mountain biking circles and chances are it will prompt more than a flicker of recognition. More like wide smiles of friendly acknowledgement - and that's throughout the world, not just in Scotland. It's all thanks to the Fort William Mountain Bike World Cup. First held in 2002, this event has become a phenomenon, attracting up to 17,000 spectators, consistently being voted the best event on the world mountain bike calendar, and, proving the catalyst for the Highland town winning the right to stage the 2007 UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships, which attracted over 40,000 visitors over the six-day event.
The Witch's Trails in Leanachan Forest do more than host international mountain biking events each year though. They also offer different grades of cross-country riding for the whole family for the whole year. From the Forestry Commission Scotland car park you can play on the skills park. This area give you a taste of what is available out on the trails. Once you've warmed up on the skills park feel free to tackle the blue-graded Cour Loop, the red-graded 10 Under the Ben Loop and of course the red-graded World Champs loop.
All these trails offer good quality single-track, spectacular scenery in the shadow of the UK's highest mountain (Ben Nevis) and a chance to catch your breath as you admire the view. The blue-grade Cour Loop is fairly straight forward with no nasty surprises, however both red grade trails have several special features that will keep you concentrating, along with black options.
The Nevis Range Mountain Gondola run from Leanachan Forest up onto 4000-foot Aonach Mor and offer uplift for the famous World Cup Downhill Track. It only takes a swift 15 minutes to reach the top station where the fun begins and of course there's the Pinemarten coffee shop at the base station and the Snowgoose restaurant at the top, both offering welcome sustenance and refreshment for weary bikers.
The World Cup Downhill Track drops down the slopes of Aonach Mor, plummeting 555 metres in 2.82 kms. With its big drop-offs, rock steps and jumps, it is one of the longest and toughest in the world. The track should be on every downhillers tick list, though the inexperienced should approach it gingerly. It takes between 4 and 30 minutes to complete, but you should do it on the right bike - a specialised downhill bike is essential. As is a full-face helmet and padding - all of which can be rented locally.
The downhill track is open between May and mid-September, 10.30am - 4pm, with a fee to use the gondola uplift. A new downhill track, graded red, was developed in 2008/09 and to make downhilling at Nevis Range a wee bit more accessible to those developing their skills.
There's also a vast array of unwaymarked trails within the Fort William and Lochaber area. Descriptions of these can be found by visiting the link at the bottom of this entry. Local bike shops are also a vast source of knowledge and Off Beat Bikes produce their own leaflet.
As you'd expect from the Outdoor Capital of the UK (OCUK) the future looks bright for mountain biking and other adventure sports throughout the Lochaber area.
Blue - Small World, 1km
Blue - Cour Loop, 19kms
Red - World Champs, 8.5kms
Red - 10 Under the Ben, 16.5kms
Black - World Cup Downhill Track, 2.82kms
Plus lots of non-waymarked trails in the area, see website.
Off Beat Bikes 01397 704008
Nevis Cycles 01397 705555