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    Mountain biking in the Sidlaws

    Taken from the Blazing Saddles Column in the Tayside Courier Weekend Supplement 14.4.12

    Scot Tares rides in a wilderness just at the back of Dundee

    “Shred Lightly” – Scot Nicol

    For me mountain biking can be a moral dilemma. On one hand I love the wilderness and unspoilt beauty of many areas, and want to protect that; on the other the rush of “shredding” down some single track is a strong pull, but there’s no denying the tyre tracks I leave behind. The rise of the trail centre, man-made tracks with plenty of technical features to please the majority of riders in many Forestry Commission owned properties has somewhat appeased the impact that knobbly tyres may have on the environment. However, I still yearn for those real hill and mountain days, where you plan a route of your own and embark on a full or multi day expedition very much alone in the wilds.

    Many independent studies have shown that the impact of mountain biking in wild environments has no more a significant impact than of, say, hiking. That however does not absolve the cyclist of their responsibilities and our actions now leave a legacy for the future; each of us has a duty to protect the trails we ride and respect other users in these fragile areas. The International Mountain Biking Association UK has a detailed list of trail essentials that include “low-impact cycling” and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code further details the overall responsibilities that all outdoor enthusiasts should abide by, whether on horse, bike or foot.

    Part of the dilemma I mentioned above is that guide-books and articles such as this detail routes and introduce people to areas that they may otherwise have been unaware of. The popularisation of these routes increases the pressures on these vulnerable areas and it is only with awareness of the impact that our actions have can we enjoy such areas now and in the future.

    One area that I have a great affection for is the “Seedlees” and in particular, for mountain biking over Craigowl and Balkello to Auchterhouse Hill with its summit top earthwork remnants of an Iron Age fort. I have been walking and riding on these prominent hills on the Dundee skyline since I was a boy growing up in the city in the ‘70s following the example of Dundee’s most celebrated lover of the Seedlees, Syd Scroggie. Syd now has his own memorial atop Balkello Hill and this has become a well-known rest stop today amongst the next generation of hikers and bikers to follow in his footsteps.

    The trails here are varied and in places can be fragile with a soft top layer of peat, so it is essential that riders stick to the trails, avoiding the more sensitive areas. However many sections can be enjoyed to the full and a favourite section is the quarry area on Balkello hill that has many technical sections to test your bike handling skills. For those who wish to go further afield, then a full route can be taken north towards Kinpurnie Hill with more remnants of a hill fort and crowned with the shell of a 19th Century observatory built by James Stuart-Mackenzie.

    Scot Tares

    Route details:

    DetailsOS 1:50,000 Map54:

    There are a variety of start and finish points. Main parking can be found opposite Old Balkello Farm at NO366385

    For information on responsible riding and outdoor access visit:

    Copyright DC Thompson 2012