Golspie Highland Wildcat Trails

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GolsipeLooking to develop a project in your community? Highland Wildcat in Golspie has proved that if you’ve got the determination and persistence, the sky is the limit!

Background

The Project

Partners

Tourism Potential

Local Benefits

The Trail

Sources of Funding

Challenges

The Future

Technical Details


Background


Two years ago a group of mountain bike enthusiasts in the North Eastern town of Golspie were discussing how they could create some trails in the local woods. At the same time the local Estate (Sutherland) were considering how to cater for different users within the woodlands, particularly mountain bikers who were enjoying using steep, fast sections of path. The Estate prepared a Recreation Management Plan (funded by SFGS) and held a public consultation on the proposals for improving access over the next five years.  The main proposal was for a new purpose-built mountain biking facility to satisfy the increasing demand.  Following approval of the Plan and further public meetings, a Community Company (limited by guarantee) called Highland Wildcat was formed to take the project forward.  At the same time a Club (The Monumental Mountain bike Club) was established to organise training, volunteer days, events and generally build up local enthusiasm. Over the following year the team have raised £500 000 and created some of the best mountain biking trails in the UK.

The project


The aim of the project was to create a network of mountain bike trails around Golspie which would be a great resource for local people and also attract visitors from all over the UK. To ensure that visitors would be prepared to make the journey north the facility would be of the highest standard possible. The Estate forest manager, Bruce Taylor, carried out an initial survey of the available land and drew up some initial proposals to enable funding bids to be prepared. Funds from Leader+ enabled a project engineer, Pete Laing, to be employed to develop these proposals into a full scale plan. Pete Laing has worked on a number of similar projects and was seen as the best person to do the job. He produced a comprehensive report on the area with costed proposals for five phases of development. Phase 1 will see the creation of a 20kms of red and black trails plus some key ‘missing links’ to join Golspie to the neighbouring town of Brora with easy off-road routes. Phase 2 will create a short ‘skills loop’ to enable new riders to gain experience of the more challenging trail features in a safe environment and also provide more links to existing tracks. The other phases will develop easier routes as well as expanding the more challenging trails. The work was done mainly by contractors although club members regularly get together for work days doing detailed finishing work and other improvements. A timber ‘flyover’ bridge that allows cyclists to cross the Ben Braggie path was also built with the assistance of volunteer labour.

Partners


Finding partners to assist with your community project is essential to achieve your goals. Bruce Taylor of Scottish Woodlands, who manages the woods around Golspie on behalf of Sutherland Estates, was instrumental in setting up the management structure for the Community and liaising with the landowner’s representatives. Bruce also put together the funding package in which the Scottish Forestry Grants Scheme with European supplements provided a significant part. Sutherland Estates were very supportive of the project and made a large part of their land available for the trails. No community project can work without the support of the people who live there so several consultations and public meetings were held to promote the project and enlist help.

Tourism Potential


Golspie is a small town on north east coast of Scotland 51 miles north of Inverness. Tourist visits to the area are comparatively few compared to the more popular areas in the Cairngorms and the west coast. Developing tourism was therefore a strong driver for the project. The Forestry Commission mountain biking venues in the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway have shown just how much such facilities can increase visitor numbers to an area. This has a huge knock on effect for tourism as visitors will be looking for local accommodation and other services such as shops, pubs, restaurants etc. Whilst remote the location of Golspie in some respects is ideal for such a venue. Two railway stations in the area and National Cycle Route 1 allow visitors to arrive by bike or train as well as by car. It is accessible to a large number of people from Highland areas, including Inverness, for day visits and is suitable for weekend visits from Central Scotland and Northern England. The availability of cheap flights to Inverness from the south of England also enables visits from the rest of the UK. It is expected that the quality of the finished trails will be a great attraction for mountain bikers and will make the trip north well worth while.

Local Benefits


There are many more benefits to the local area as well as economic. Local young people who otherwise would never have been able to get involved in mountain biking are taking full advantage of having such an excellent facility on hand. Local residents have commented on the reduction in the numbers of young people hanging about the streets of Golspie. This is inevitably due to them being too tired to wander the streets after a hard days mountain biking! There was some use of the trails by motorbikes and quad bikes. The club worked with the local police to stop this and being a small community the users were quickly identified. Several of the motorbike users have since got into mountain biking so they can use the trails legitimately.

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Golsipe_1The Trail


What is very clear when riding the route is that the Community’s aim to provide top quality mountain biking has been well and truly met. The route is a 20km circuit of ‘red’ and ‘black’ grade trails. Link trails provide shortcuts to enable the rider to tailor the route to their needs. The input of the local riders is very evident adding a very natural and flowing feel to the trails. The route boasts the most technically challenging climb of any purpose built mountain bike trail in Britain with rock slabs and steps that will test the most skilled of riders. Rock chutes, drops, jumps, boulder fields and miles of tight single track provide plenty of opportunities for thrills and spills. In keeping with all constructed mountain bike trails all obstacles have a ‘chicken run’ to allow less experienced riders to enjoy the route.

Sources of Funding


Funding was sourced from the Scottish Forestry Grants Scheme, Scottish Natural Heritage, Caithness and Sutherland Enterprise, Highland Council, Highland 2007 and European grants. Local businesses also contributed funds towards the ‘flyover’ bridge where the trail crosses the path up to the Ben Braggie Monument. Dunrobin sawmill supplied most of the timber for this structure and a local joiner, G&R Sutherland, contributed money and provided several days free of charge to assist with its construction. £500 was provided by the UK Atomic Energy Authority. Several hours free helicopter transport was provided by PDG helicopters in Inverness.

Challenges


Perhaps the greatest challenge for the Community was the process of constituting themselves, gaining charitable status and forming a company limited by guarantee to build and manage the trails. The club itself has a large membership and to avoid individual members being liable for debts, accidents etc. a separate company limited by guarantee was formed - Highland Wildcat.

Drawing together all of the funding required detailed knowledge of the available sources and negotiation to make a workable package that could achieve the desired result.  This essentially had to be carried out with professional support. However, generating public support locally and securing good attendances at public meetings was the remit of club members – all unpaid volunteers. A high degree of personal commitment and enthusiasm has been necessary by key people within the organisation.  The backing of community and regional councillors has also been invaluable to the planning process, helping to iron out any local difficulties. The funding had to be spent within a tight timescale – less than a year – but good project management by Scottish Woodlands and the use of an experienced and enthusiastic consultant helped them to complete the first phase within the required deadlines. Liability was a big issue for the project. Highland Wildcat took out a third party insurance policy to cover them against any possible accident claims. Whilst the sport of mountain biking has endemic risks, a lot of work was put into eliminating extra and unforeseen hazards by careful trail routing and design, clear signage and also close working with the emergency services to ensure that they are familiar with the area.

The Future


As use of the area and its popularity increases, the remaining phases will be developed. Extra funding is being sought to add additional car parking and link trails to phase 1 and further funding for future phases will hopefully be forthcoming once the success of the project is realised. Judging by the standards of trail on phase 1, the area has the potential for becoming a Mecca in the North for mountain bikers from all over Europe.

Technical Details


A lot of the specifications for purpose built mountain bike trails have been developed by the International Mountain biking Association in America. These specifications have been adapted to cope with the UK climate. Design work of the Forestry Commission and specialist design consultants such as Pete Laing have provided a wealth of experience and lessons which the project at Golspie has built on.

Whilst using some of the philosophies of both the lowland and upland path industries, mountain bike trail development has a number of specific features found nowhere else in the path industry.

  • Trails are usually one way allowing specific features for uphill and downhill sections.
  • Use is very high so braking areas (for example on approach to corners or obstacles) require very durable surfaces.
  • Many stonework techniques developed in the upland path industry have been adapted for use on mountain bike trails.
  • Drainage and surface features (anchor bars, pitching etc.) provide both trail durability and obstacles to challenge the riding ability of users.
  • Pitching uses flat slabs rather than blocks used on upland paths.
  • Stone cross drains are used for small water crossings but the gap between stones is narrow enough to allow a wheel to roll over it.
  • The prevalence of sandstone in the area provided a wealth of material on site ideal for both aggregate and pitched paths. This material has maximised the natural feel of the trails and ensured they blend in well with the surrounding landscape.
  • Plant and machinery access was possible on the whole site. This allowed the use of very large stones for features and obstacles.
  • Skilled operators and careful supervision are essential to make the trails natural looking and avoid too many straight lines – a common feature of some machine built paths.
  • Wherever possible bedrock was incorporated into the route. This is mainly to provide more obstacles and features but also provides maximum durability for downhill sections.

© 2014 Paths for All - Registered Scottish Charity No: SC025535, Company Limited by Guarantee No: 168554 inc. 19 Sept 1996 at Companies House, Edinburgh