One of the best-kept secrets of Scottish biking is north of Inverness, at Learnie. Trails criss-cross intricately and at one point are are so tight, that sections have been cut out of two trees to allow handlebars through!
One of the best kept secrets of Scottish mountain biking has now been officially launched and opened (March 2006) - the new single track trails are now open at Learnie Forest on the Black Isle. Mountain biking on the Black Isle - not actually an island, but a peninsula - has been popular among those from Inverness and elsewhere in the north of Scotland for some years; but with the building of the trails at Learnie Red Rock - it is moving to a whole new level.
These trails also provide a very different - and more varied - riding experience than the other routes on the Black isle. These new trails (designed by Paul Masson of Cycletherapy, who also designed the Laggan Wolftrax trails) have evolved from, and have replaced, the remains of some long-established trails, which in turn have evolved over several years' use by local mountain bikers. In February 2005, a substantial funding package was secured which gave Forestry Commission Scotland the green light to build new trails and upgrade the existing network in Learnie Forest. The existing trails were built by local mountain bikers - many of them involved with the Highland Mountain Bike Association (HiMBA) - but they were becoming so popular that, without work and regular maintenance, there were concerns that they might not last.
Now there are 16kms of high quality trails for all skill levels and they include some spectacular views. The Learnie Red Rock also include something for everyone, with forest roads, green, blue and black-graded single-track trails, as well as orange-graded bike park and dirt jump areas. The green-graded route offers a real mountain biking experience - it includes some rugged trail features to challenge novices and young riders.
The dirt jump area is adjacent to the car park, in the woodlands east of the A832 Rosemark to Cromarty Road. This area includes three different levels of jump, from beginner to expert.
From the car park the forest road takes you to the start of the trails, with the first fork offering two options: turn right for Home Green and Callachy Hill - including the bike park - or left for the start of the Muirhead Climb, taking you over to the 'Firth View' or the start of the black grade routes.
Home Green is a green-graded trail that serves as the perfect introduction to the art of single-track riding. There are features such as double jumps and table tops but they can be negotiated at slow speed, and by rolling over, rather than taking off. It is possible to link Home Green with Callachy Hill, a 1.5km blue graded climb that meanders to the top of the hill, weaving between tall, swaying larch trees.
After Callachy Hill a short ride along the forest road takes you to the mouth of the bike park - an orange graded downhill trail that includes large bermed corners, tabletops and double jumps, and where it is possible to pick up some speed. Alternatively, to stick to green and blue-graded trail, carry straight on for the less technical but no less thriling Callachy Downhill, a twisting 1.3km descent, or take the Green Link - another green-graded single track.
Muirhead Climb is another blue-graded ascent that connects to the Firth View - blue-graded, offering spectacular views of the Moray Firth - Learnie Hill is where the epxerienced mountian bikers will head: it is a black graded section with challenging technical climbs and descents.
Learnie Hill includes the Quarry Climb and Traacy's Trees, a downhill rock feature which, if it proves too daunting, has an alternative trail as a bypass. More rocky trails, rock features and some North Shore follow with Seisometer, Gyroscope, and the "unique rock horseshoe," Dextrality. Finally there is Mephisto a 10ft stone-pitched drop from the bank to the road.
Green - Home 0.5km
Blue - Callachy Hill Climb 1.5km
Blue - Callachy Downhill 1.3kms
Blue - Muirhead Climb 1.1km, Firth View 2.2kms
Black - sections are graded black and new black features are being built in a disused quarry
Orange - Bike Park 1.1kms
Orange - Dirt Jump Area
Ticket To Ride - Company offers bike hire and a 'bike taxi' service - they can help up to 6 cyclists to get to the trails with their bikes and all their kit. Their vehicle is fully licensed Private Hire Car.
Square Wheels 01997 421000