AN UPHILL START
The weather was so good yesterday that I just had to get outside. I still have a slight injury in my achilles tendon though so hillwalking was off the cards. Carron Valley on the mountain bike seemed like the perfect answer then as I’ve still never bothered to make the 10 mile cycle there having lived in Stirling for more than two years now. I took my usual route which follows the Bannock Burn, up past Middlethird Wood and the North Third Reservoir. After the reservoir I was in new territory which is something I always love; being outdoors on a summer’s day exploring new places by foot or bike. Well, I would have loved it if I wasn’t cycling straight uphill and into a brutally strong wind for the first eight miles. Being nowhere near my fittest and my four lower gears not working, this was quite a struggle so I started to doubt how enjoyable this day was going to be. The thought even crossed my mind to just head back home but I quickly got rid of that horrible idea and pushed on. Being hopeful for a rewarding downhill section to reach Carron Valley Reservoir to rejuvenate me, I knew it would all be worthwhile once my legs finally caught up with my ambitions.
Luckily for me, the downhill section came next with two miles requiring absolutely zero effort. That part alone gave me all the energy I needed and put a smile on my face for the rest of the day. When I finally reached Carron Valley Reservoir, it was a lot more picturesque than I had imagined. I had no idea it was so large at roughly three miles long with great views expanding across it and the surrounding hills. I immediately realised this would be a great place to take the kayak for a paddle around and a lot closer than going to my usual spots on Loch Ard or Loch Lomond.
CARRON VALLEY FOREST
The next few miles were spent cycling on smooth gravel tracks undulating through Carron Valley Forest. These are the kind of tracks I’m used to from my usual trips to Queen Elizabeth Forest Park in Aberfoyle. Although it may not be as large an area with as many miles of tracks, this is a great alternative and somewhere I can reach on the bike from home without needing the car. I had briefly looked at the map before leaving the house and planned a very vague route for the day to take in some of the mountain bike trails that Carron Valley has to offer. Not before stopping to enjoy the sunshine with some much needed refreshments by the River Carron.
Towards the east side of the reservoir is where the mountain bikers herd to at Carron Valley. It may not offer the same quality or variety of tracks as Glentress Forest does but for something this close to home it seems perfect for taking the odd trip out to improve my mountain biking skills. Seeing as I haven’t done any singletrack mountain biking for years, I planned on taking it easy so opted to check out one of the simpler runs called Cannonball which offers fast sweeping bends with no real technical skill required. I hadn’t looked at the map in detail enough before leaving so didn’t fully understand where each run started or ended but I met a few guys at the start of Cannonball who explained the area a bit more. They also explained how simple all the routes here really were in comparison to other trails so I wasn’t as worried anymore and promptly pedalled my bike past the post marking the start of the run.
Being such a small area, the runs aren’t of great length and Cannonball was over in a matter of minutes but what a fun few minutes it was! There were plenty of fast and smooth corners to build up speed on with many small bumps to keep things interesting in between. On one longer flat section, I startled a buzzard which jumped out of the trees next to me and flew about 15ft above my head for what seemed like ages. Both of us flying through the forest at speed and loving it. Beyond Cannonball, there is another run called The Runway which seemed more technical to me but since reading up on it, would still be suitable for beginners as there are possibilities to avoid the more serious jumps. Pipe Dream and Eas Dubh are two more routes that I never managed to check out either but I will definitely be taking a trip back to spend a few hours here now that I’m more prepared and know my way around. This trail map from the Forestry Commission website shows the layout of the trails and directions for running them.
SMOOTH RIDE HOME
After hitting the bottom of Cannonball, I considered going back up to give it another run but with eight miles cycle ahead of me to get home I thought it best to just get going. It was practically all downhill from there which was good news to me as my legs were now feeling the pain. Not enough to stop me going for some high speeds on the way back though. One of my favourite things is seeing a smooth road disappear downhill into the distance, knowing I can put all my energy into it and get some crazy fast speeds. I still haven’t beaten my 40mph record from a a few years back but I got close!
Within minutes of arriving home the sun had disappeared for the first time all day. Now that’s what I call perfect timing. Carron Valley was a great place to visit on the bike and one I will definitely be going back to. Even for an easy walk around the many paths that surround the reservoir or taking my kayak in there for a paddle. Next time I’ll be more prepared to hit all the singletrack routes on my bike and report back on how I managed!