Pete Creech moved to Argyll 15 years ago. Last year, along with his wife Sue, he started the Crown House B&B in Ford. He is the coordinator at Blarbuie Woodlands, a mental health charity/social enterprise in Lochgilphead, and also finds time for some maintenance at Kilmartin Museum, the occasional roofing job and to volunteer for the Scottish Beaver Trial. A keen cyclist, walker, coastal rower, photographer and wildlife enthusiast he can usually be found attached to a bicycle.
Just pick up an OS map and you can find endless kilometres of trail and track riding within Argyll, some easily accessible and waymarked along easy gradients such as the Crinan Canal towpath, others hilly, remote and very much off the beaten track.
For the mountain biker who wishes to be technically challenged we have the Fire Tower Trail near Lochgilphead. While this might not compare in extent to the 7 Stanes Network or Laggan Wolftrax there is an awful lot packed into the trails. You can access the Fire Starter from various points, the Forestry Commission car-park at Achnabreac is the most popular. There are also two other start points at Kilmichael Glassary and Lochgilphead. You then have a number of options depending on your aptitude.
With a mixture of red and black sections there is around 7.5 km of pure single track within the 19km of trails. These sections do require a level of technical ability and fitness, as well as a reasonable bike, not least because both you and the bike are going to be soaking up a lot of bumps.
During 2015 there was significant upgrade work, so on a sunny Saturday afternoon we decided to check out the improvements. The single-track sections are narrow and sinuous with stretches of mud, rock, berms, jumps and drops. The most significant of these is the Quarry Drop. I’m told it is now a ‘rolling drop’, but we decided it was maybe one for another day and took the easier red route. Neither of us could be considered experts, hence the avoidance of the black sections and there is enough action on the red routes to get the adrenalin flowing.
The descents are tough and fast but well-surfaced and laid out. Positioning is key when going into the twisty sections, while momentum will take you over the jumps. There are various burns to negotiate, as well as the named ‘Water Splash’. You will get wet. No matter as there is a real sense of achievement when you get to the bottom and the inevitable feeling of ‘I want to do that again!’ Once you’ve prised your fingers off the handlebars that is.
To do it again you have, of course to ascend. There are various ‘cheats’ by going the long way round but if you are seeking a challenge you have to go up ‘Murder Hill’. The ride (or push) to the top is well worth it for the stunning views. Best to stop to take it all in, as concentration is essential while on the move.
The Fire Tower Trail is an opportunity to have fun just for the sake of it. Having friends with you just gives you even more to laugh about afterwards.
From a practical point of view a map is an essential (OS Explorer 358), as is letting someone know when to expect you back. Mobile phone coverage in this area is poor. Trail information is displayed at Achnabreac and you can download the leaflet here. Please be aware that some of the phone numbers on the leaflet may be out of date.