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Leanachan Forest

Downhill course and Play area - well North of the border

By Timothy Oliver

Location : 3 miles north east of Fort William on the A82 at Torlundy show  - Follow signs for Nevis Ranges/ Aonach Mhor Ski Centre. Approx 110 miles from Glasgow - follow the A82 all the way from Glasgow City Centre.
Car Park (OS grid ref NN176775 - SHEET 41 LANDRANGER SERIES show)
Bike Hire (Off Beat Bikes open July & August at Ski Centre [ phone 01397 705825] - they also have a shop in Fort William [open all year] for sales hire and repairs - phone 01397 704008)
Ski / Snow Board Hire 
Cable Cars to Aonach Mhor Plateau and ski slopes/ observation area.
(Note: From May 2001 when the new National Downhill Race Track opens you will be able to take your bike on the cable car too. Bike season will be May to September)
Off Beat Bikes publish a rough route map of all the trails in the area

WARNING: Get a weather forecast before setting out. Before going into the mountains make sure you have an OS Map (Land Ranger sheet 41 covers the area) and a compass. You should also make sure that you have warm and waterproof clothing if you are going up onto the plateau. The lower routes from the car park are well marked and graded for difficulty. Many of the routes are used by walkers as well as cyclists so be warned. 

All the routes are 'Land Rover'/ Fire Road type tracks except for the Downhill Race Track which is single track and very steep. The routes are all clearly waymarked and graded for difficulty and there are warning signs at the more difficult parts warning pedestrians that they will encounter high speed bikes!!!!
The Leanachan Forest is a working forest, so despite the number of people that you see 
you are also likely to find places where timber extraction is being undertaken and the road surface is likely to be very churned up and 'gloppy'. In these areas the workers may ask you to dismount! In some areas you might also encounter haulage trucks taking out the timber (this is the same for all forests in Scotland)

The Lower Sections From the car park head northeast towards the track under the cable car and this will take you onto the first of the easier trails. A short distance down this track is the bottom end of the Downhill track - watch out for out of control cyclists! On my visit in April 1999 there were warning signs for pedestrians/ hill walkers not to walk up the downhill track (needless to say I encountered an angry group of walkers when I came down the track a couple of hours later) 

This lower trail is graded 'easy' and is a good warm up route that can be extended to a 7-8 mile circuit back to the cable car. On a wet day many parts of this track suddenly become 'difficult' due to the slippery and muddy surface despite 90% of it being LandRover tracks. At the end of the long downhill there are options to branch off onto more difficult sections - one of which ends at a Distillery. (But then you have to return to the trails along the very busy A82 for a couple of miles before rejoining the off road bit. The main route turns north and continues downhill. 

There are spectacular views across the Great Glen and the Caledonian Canal. There is now a 4 mile straight and almost flat section that runs parallel to the A82 - you can hear the traffic but cannot see it. About halfway along this section there is a steep and slippery climb up to the approach/ service road up to the ski centre. Cross the road and on the other side disappear back down an equally steep and slippery slope onto the trail. 

At the time of my trip there the car park was quite full. I had also left home in the most horrendous rain storms and arrived 100 miles later in glorious warm sunshine - it continued to rain on Central Scotland for the whole day while Ben Nevis basked in sunshine. At the end of the lower section the trail joins a short length of access road for the Forestry Commission timber wagons. For some 1.5 miles there is rough road which eventually peters out to become rough trail again.

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