Discover cycling in the South of Scotland

by Sara Barton, 3rd May 2022
Sustainable Tourism | Cycling in the South of Scotland
Discover cycling in the South of Scotland

Sustainable Tourism Series

Have you heard about the cycling in the South of Scotland? There are wonderfully quiet country lanes, seven different forestry centres especially graded for mountain biking and two of the UK’s top Gravel Routes, not to mention an e-bike tour taking in the wonders of iconic lighthouses located along the stunningly beautiful south west coast. It is little wonder that the South of Scotland attracts a whole host of keen amateur and professional cycling events from April to October.

And that is not even the best bit. It is still virtually undiscovered, so there are no crowds, and much of the cycling is not even on a road but off beaten tracks and away from cars completely. Here in the South of Scotland there is space. Space for you to take it all in. Space to tour around where you want at your own speed in gorgeous landscapes with breath taking scenery. And on your bike, your impact on the environment is minimal, so what are you waiting for? Saddle up and explore the South of Scotland.


We encourage responsible riders, so make sure you Know The Code, Before You Go and read Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland’s ‘Do The Ride Thing’ guide before heading out. Please #RespectProtectEnjoy


Gravel riding

So if you’re not sure what gravel riding is, you’re probably not alone. A gravel bike has drop handlebars, disc brakes, a robust frame and chunky tyres and aims to cover the ground between smooth tarmac road cycling and breath-takingly scary mountain bike trails. Anything in between is gravel riding and the South of Scotland is a great place to discover it, connect with nature and give your mind and body a chance to get away from it all.

In a list of top 10 Gravel Routes across the UK compiled by Red Bull, TWO of them are in the South of Scotland!

Cycling in the south of Scotland - plenty of gorgeous scenery to take in on a bike ride.
Heading off the beaten track is easy in the South of Scotland.

Galloway Forest Park

The first is in the Galloway Forest Park – the UK’s biggest forest park and also the UK’s first Dark Skies Park. The trail is a 63km circular route starting/finishing at Clatteringshaws Visitor Centre. The route, through the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere offers plenty of variety with a route unlikely to be crowded regardless of when you go. You can find sustenance at the start or at the Glentrool Visitor Centre en route. And don’t miss the chance to see the commemorative Bruce’s Stone on the north shore of Loch Trool. This pays tribute to Robert the Bruce’s first victory in 1307 during the Scottish Wars of Independence over a considerably stronger English force.

Ride through the Galloway Forest Park along the edge of Loch Trool for an epic day long gravel ride.

Peebles

Perhaps unsurprisingly the second is in Peebles, well known for its mountain biking, but also home to some great gravel routes. Ready yourself for an 80km ride with a 1800m climb as you set off from Peebles, climb on gravel tracks up Soonhope Valley, turn through the Glentress Forest reaching the mast at the top. From here you can choose a fast downhill towards Leithen water or head northwest up to Bowbeat wind farm. Amazing views of the sea and fringes of Edinburgh reward you as you struggle through this steep climb. Descend and refuel at any of the plenty of cafes in Innerleithen. The gravel tracks then take you through Traquair, Glenbenna and Elibank forests. Ready yourself for a climb to the Three Brethren and back along the ridge top Southern Upland Way to Traquair village. And from here a cycle path leads you back to Peebles.

Cycling in the South of Scotland - two of the UK's top gravel trails are in the South. This one from Peebles takes in the Three Brethern stone cairns.
Be rewarded by the view from the Three Brethren before you return to Peebles for a well earned refreshment.

7Stanes

A gravel bike would also be a great option to attack the 7 stanes. This collection of seven centres in southern Scotland offers superb mountain biking trails for families and experienced cyclists alike. For many it is the ideal place to spend a day, exploring the great outdoors.

But if you are looking for more of a challenge, or are already a keen cyclist, it is possible with a bit of planning to link several of the Stanes together in both D&G and the Borders to experience the ultimate cycling holiday through this stunning countryside.

And in case you are wondering the ‘stanes’ in the name refer to the stone sculpture, reflecting a local myth or legend, found in a prominent location at each park. They range in size from one to three metres high and from two to six tons in weight, so keep your eyes peeled.

Cycling in the South of Scotland - get away from it all.
Tackle the 7Stanes individually or group them together for a more challenging adventure.

Using Dumfries as your starting place there are two trails within 22km of Dumfries. And if you are looking to reduce your carbon footprint, take the train to Dumfries  – it is accessible from Glasgow or from England via Carlisle.

About 22km north of Dumfries, you will reach 7 stanes Ae Forest. An excellent variety of green, blue and red graded trails are on offer plus an extreme downhill section for the serious experts.

After a good night’s sleep, retrace your steps or wind your way through country roads back towards Dumfries and head south to 7 stanes Mabie – about a 20km ride in total.

At Mabie you will find trails for all skill levels and wonderful woodland trails plus a skills area to hone your technique.

Your final stop is another 20-odd km away at 7 stanes Dalbettie. The Dalbettie circuit has a relaxed feel but this should not fool you as the riding is renowned for its technical trails, granite features and above all, great coastal views.

Wind your way back to Dumfries along quiet country roads – perhaps swing by New Abbey, and see the ruins of Sweetheart Abbey, built by Lady Devorgilla of Galloway as a tribute to her late husband John Balliol.

Cycling in the South of Scotland at 7STanes Mabie Forest Park. Photo © James Johnstone (cc-by-sa/2.0)
7Stanes Mabie south of Dumfries offers plenty of excellent trails.

Using Newton Stewart as a base it is possible to experience the rides at 7 Stanes Glentrool and 7 Stanes Kirroughtree – they are 21km apart.

At Glentrool you can do the aforementioned gravel route in reverse, a day-long epic 36-mile (58km) big country trail through the heart of Galloway Forest Park.  Glentrool has a visitor centre so there is somewhere to refuel after a hard day’s ride.

Perhaps an overnight stay nearby is warranted if you’ve gone all out. The next day, take National Cycle Route 7 (Glasgow to Carlisle via Dumfries and Glen Trool) as it takes you from Glentrool and winds its way through the Forest Park delivering you to 7stanes Kirroughtree.

At Kirroughtree you have plenty of options with a superb variety of trails including an extreme downhill section for the serious experts.

And here in the heart of the Galloway Forest you are also in the UK’s First Dark Sky Park. So definitely find time to do some star gazing while you are here – guides are available from the visitor centre and tours can be arranged if you wanted a little help to distinguish Ursa Major from Minor.

Cycling in the South of Scotland at 7Stanes Kirroughtree.
Test your skills at Kirroughtree 7Stanes

Just an hour outside of Edinburgh near Peebles, Glentress is probably the best known of the 7Stanes circuit. It has challenging trails for the experts, as well as easy routes for beginners. Just 10km down the road is the thrill-seeker’s dream, Innerleithen, renowned for its four downhill trails. There’s also an excellent red-graded cross-country trail. It would be easily possible to head between the two for a weekend of riding as an escape from it all.

If you want to up the ante, you can also add on parts of the National Cycle Route 1, which runs from the very heart of Edinburgh down and through the Border market towns with link up routes from the two Stanes.

Cycling in the South of Scotland at one of the 7stanes forestry centres
Fantastic trails for all levels await at the 7Stanes Glentress.

E-bikes

If all this gravel and mountain biking sounds like too much hard work, then you should make the most of the recent boom in ebikes – yes this is an electric bike to give you just that extra push up those hills and take the hard work out of touring. Some of the bike tour companies offer them as hire options and in Stranraer, it is possible to set off on an e-bike tour courtesy of a new trail.

The far southwestern corner of Dumfries and Galloway offers the first electric bike tour in the region with the stunning Rhins of Galloway Lighthouse tour. Setting off from Stranraer (accessible by train from Glasgow) you make your way down the stunning peninsula with quiet roads and epic coastal scenery. The tour ends at Scotland’s most southern tip, the Mull of Galloway.  Read our blog for more info.

An ebike can give you that extra push on a long cycle
An ebike can give you that extra push on a long cycle

Bike tour companies

If setting out on your own is too daunting, why not consider using one of the region’s bike touring companies to take the hassle out of planning and organisation.

Trailbrakes in Kirkcudbright have been arranging tailor made, cycling and mountain biking trips for groups of 2 to 40 people since 2006, Trailbrakes will arrange everything for a truly special experience including accommodation to suit your tastes, luggage transfers, transport for you and your bike, maps, GPS files and detailed route information whether you want to go for two days or two weeks. Explore some of the most remarkable areas of the UK by bike.

Cycling in the South of Scotland. Let Trailbrakes Holidays take the hard work out of planning your cycling holiday.
Enjoy the majestic views while you tour around the South of Scotland with Trailbrakes Holidays

Galloway Cycling Holidays based in Castle Douglas offers to arrange accommodation, move luggage, hire bikes and customise your routes to suit your individual needs. The company won the VisitScotland Thistle Awards for Best Outdoor Activity Company 2019/2020 in the West of Scotland and are keen promoters of Galloway and ‘the path less pedalled’.

Cycling in the South of Scotland. Galloway Cycling Holidays offers bespoke tour planning service.
Pedal power your way through an amazing holiday in the South of Scotland with Galloway Cycling Holidays

Go-Where Scotland, based near Selkirk, offers self-guided and guided mountain bike holidays. With more than 25-years experience of riding in Scotland, the team has a collection of trails they consider their hidden gems which they are keen to share. They take care of the logistics so you can focus on the riding.

Cycling in the South of Scotland - you can use a tour company to help you plan your biking holiday.
Head off into the wilderness on self-guided or guided tours with Go Where Scotland

And if you’re not completely confident of your mountain biking skills, you can always sign up for a day’s coaching. Based in Dumfries there is Trailskills MTB Coaching & Guiding, which caters for most requirements. From getting to grips with the basics, through to mastering technical features and steep terrain. They will organise tours as well and these can range from a gentle pedal through the forest, a coastal explore or a full on day of trying the steeper, more challenging terrain that the area has to offer.

Cycling in the South of Scotland: Brush up your skills with coaching or a day out with Trailskills. Admiring the view at Mabie
Improve your mountain biking skills with a bit of coaching and a day ride. Photo: Trailskills.

In the Scottish Borders, Ridelines are based close to the Seven Stanes trail centres at Glentress and Innerleithen. They offer skills coaching for everyone from beginners to experienced riders wanting to improve their skills. In addition they organise days out and large group mountain bike experiences for families.

Cycling in the South of Scotland - brush up your skills with Ridelines based in the Tweed Valley.
Brush up on your skills and have a great day out with mountain bike coaching. Photo: Ridelines.