- The following blog and information are correct as of 15 December 2021. For the latest information on forest and trail openings, please see our forest destination pages.
Glentress is home to over 45 miles of walking and biking trails, not to mention the many miles of forest roads. Along with many forests in the east and south of Scotland, it was badly affected by Storm Arwen. In the days after the storm, inspecting all the trails and areas has been challenging for the local team. But as an area renowned for mountain biking and walking, it is an integral part of the local community and vital we work to re-open as soon as possible.
We followed a small team working to clear a section of trail to see the difficulties involved.
This morning, our team of four is going to start clearing debris from the blue-graded trail, Good Game. This trail is near the Glentress visitor centre, and we know it has sustained a considerable amount of damage. As we start out, Henry takes the lead with the powerful leaf blower, getting rid of the smaller branches and piling things up for myself, Mark and Carola to rake and remove from the trail. As Mark says, it isn’t just clearing the trail, it’s clearing the surroundings too. Mountain biking has an inherent risk. But leaving piles of splintered branches beside the trail means if someone were to fall off, there is a greater likelihood of that crash causing injury. We make sure to remove debris far away from the trail.
The leaf blower does a great job but there are quite a lot of larger branches to be lifted and dragged away too. The trees here are predominantly Douglas Fir. Very tall, straight and graceful, they’re also very prone to dropping their branches. We find a few that have stuck into the soft ground. Even after the high winds have eased, branches can fall and pose a high risk. The team regularly look around the canopy for leaning trees or fallen branches caught on unstable limbs.
After only 100m or so up the trail, we find a fallen Douglas Fir that has collapsed neatly alongside the trail. The tree itself is not in the way, but as the roots have pulled up, it has taken half the trail with it. It has also left a rather large hole. This situation will require extensive work. With no machine access available, filling the hole by manual labour will take a very long time, and being situated on a steep slope, might not be entirely stable. The other alternative is re-routing the trail. This will mean cutting back into the hillside, and another huge exercise in labour. This could also affect the flow of the trail. More consideration is required, and we’re certainly not equipped today to start any repairs to this problem.
A little further on, another fallen fir has taken out several smaller trees, blocking the trail. We agree we need chainsaws to cut them into manageable sections so this is noted ready for the specialists to come in. Of course, with the amount of repairs to do at Glentress and elsewhere in the Tweed Valley, this is one of many jobs on the list for those qualified to use chainsaws.
We continue to sweep and clear. Most of the trail is in good condition once the debris is removed. In fact, it's really only a couple of spots that will stop this section being re-opened. Planning and actioning these repairs, given the sheer scale of work across the forest and local area, will take some weeks.
While we’re out we see a couple of cyclists trying to ride up a nearby trail. We politely inform them the trails are closed, and indeed their way is blocked by another fallen Douglas Fir, its 45m length making any forward progress nigh on impossible. Fortunately, the vast majority of the forest roads have been cleared and are safe to cycle and walk on, so visitors can still take a bit of exercise. Carola says that, on the whole, the public have been excellent at following signs and advice by staying away from the forest. Normally, even on weekdays you can expect the Glentress car park to have plenty of vehicles. Today though, there are less than 10. This co-operation is highly valued by the team on the ground.
Henry explains that for every person they see trying to ride the trails, or even drive up to the higher car park in the forest (despite closed gates and signs), a member of staff will have to go and talk to them. Explaining the situation is fine, and most people have been very understanding, but it’s time out of our rangers' day. Whilst we’re out, we see one vehicle driving to the upper car park. Carola walks back to the road, and drives after. Its 45 minutes until she’s back. A little issue in the grand scheme of things, but a couple every day take away from time spent making repairs.
We call it a day around 100m from the top of the trail. It’s looking good for the most part, but the two bigger problems will need more time and resources to fix. As the team head back to base, they discuss other trails that need tackled and inspected, and the list of jobs that need further resources. With the whole of Glentress, and nearby Innerleithen, Caberston, Cardrona and Cademuir needing similar attention, there’s no immediate end in sight. Everyone wants to get things re-opened as soon as possible, but it’s got to be done properly and safely. As it is, this team and foresters and rangers throughout the country will be back at it tomorrow, chipping away at the damage to get things back to normal.