Kelburn Trails – Mountain Biking at Kelburn Castle.
Kelburn Estate is an ideal location for mountain bike trails – steep hills, great scenery and really close to Glasgow. The Boyle family have lived here for over 900 years and were interested to find innovative new ways to create value from their land; we asked them if we could try building a bike park and they agreed.
Fuelled by a heady mix of optimism and enthusiasm we set about exploring the area, loaded up the Land Rover with bikes and hand tools, and started digging. None of us (Chris Hall, Kenny McLean and myself) had founded a trail centre before but we are all keen mountain bikers, and have useful industry relationships with bike companies and organisations around the world. We were encouraged by the success of the Kelburn Garden Party, a music and art festival which grew from similar small (but globally connected) grass-roots beginnings to become the best independent festival in Scotland.
Initially we intended to make some natural single track to host a small enduro race, but as the first line progressed and more local riders got involved we realised we had to build something permanent: so many people wanted to use it before it was even open that we had to ensure it was safe for riders of all abilities. Kelburn Country Centre is a very family oriented place, so creating double black Innerleithen Golfie style trails wasn’t a sensible choice until we had a more inclusive option sorted.
After a year of digging in our spare time and weekends the first trail still wasn’t completed, so we teamed up with Matt Pfohl, who had previously built commercially sustainable trails in France and Switzerland. Progress accelerated and even more local riders got involved. We still didn’t have a realistic budget, but we had lots of people helping; 400 metres of vertical descent to play with; ready made uplift tracks (for the wind farm at the summit); a seven tonne digger; and most importantly, use of a really nice barbecue at the pavilion.
The economic benefits of mountain bike trails for rural economies are well documented, but it’s difficult to make a proper bike park without significant external funding. As the project grew it turned out that we just couldn’t keep expanding it fast enough to become profitable without adversely affecting all the other land users on the estate. We had the opportunity to host a round of the Scottish Enduro Series, but couldn’t access the lines needed without crossing pheasant runs and horse riding trails. Riding and shooting are crucial and well established businesses at Kelburn, neither activities are compatible with a sudden influx of large amounts of mountain bikers. Running uplifts can pay for plenty of trail building, but also require a corresponding critical mass of riders to keep it working.
Bringing lots of new visitors is an optimal result for most rural communities, but on this estate it quickly risked turning into a zero sum game. Hopefully in future Kelburn Trails can continue to progress in a sustainable manner, gradually expanding like the festival did.
It’s a fun project that brings people together to enjoy a beautiful place. I spent a lot of time wielding a silky saw and carrying heavy things around the hills, but I also learned a lot about social media promotion – which was handy for another project I was working on at the time.
We had a lot of good times, met some great people and went to some excellent parties. We didn’t make Kelburn Trails into the next Glen Tress yet, but it makes a lot of people happy.
Big thanks to everyone who helped us along the way, especially Nic for keeping everything on track when we aren’t around, and Dave for letting us use his land in the first place. If you would like to ride at Kelburn please follow our Facebook page for opening times, contact info and uplift schedules. If you are considering founding a trail centre in Scotland get in touch with DMBinS – they have good practical advice.
Like photos and bikes? I’m doing photography for Sustrans to promote active travel in Scotland. If you would like to get involved please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.