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7stanes Mountain Bike Parks

With a rekindled love of mountain biking, Lily spent January scouting out the 7stanes, the major mountain bike centres of southern Scotland.


words by Lily McGuiness

Blue route, Mabie Forest (8.44 miles/1001ft ascent), 1hr 17m.

Although I had wanted to do a hilly run on arrival, I had unfortunately started with a cold and so, deeming mtb-ing less strenuous on the lungs we did Mabie’s blue route. This grade is definitely worthwhile if you’re a beginner, don’t want to push too hard, or need a warm up. The uphills were manageable, and rewarded by some lovely flowy downhills without many technical features.

Red route, Dalbeattie (18.28 miles/1703ft), 4hr 10m.

Wow! Completely unexpected technical route here, mostly spent bobbling along rocky trails and interspersed with rocky steps downhill. I found this route tested my ability to focus, teaching me to look at where I wanted my line to take me instead of where looked the most likely to throw me off my bike. Otherwise I’d brake right at the edge, losing my conviction that I could do it – caution is good for stopping you flying over the edge of a ridiculous drop, but hesitation is difficult to come back from – resulting in me carrying my bike a lot.
The other main obstacles were the slabs. Martin was very psyched to look at ‘The Slab’, a black-graded feature of Dalbeattie, so he built himself up by going down all the slabs leading up to it. Contrastingly, I spent 10 minutes at the top of one slab repetitively riding up to it trying to think ‘yes, I can do it!’ but eventually was too put off by the slightly jutting out rock that I thought may catch my pedal and knock me off.
Upon reaching ‘The Slab’ we cautiously carried our bikes down a sketchy, black-graded descent (riding was utterly inconceivable – a YouTube video later proved it was possible) to have a nosy. A key characteristic of mtb features is their ability to look not too unfriendly from some angles, yet quite horrendous from others. However, this slab looked slippery from all perspectives. The grooves running across it seemed perfect for capturing wheels and running the bike off course, depositing the rider as it went.
There was a platform of mud, roots, and rocks about halfway down one side that Martin decided to head down to. After fidgeting with the mtb position to accommodate the unfriendly nature of the starting position he was ready to have a go. As Martin often easily manages sections I find more challenging I enjoyed watching him get into the headspace for something he found scary. My phone was poised and ready to film as I watched tensely. After his first attempts at starting were foiled by roots and the slippery rock, he was off and whizzing down to where the bike and rider are forced to adapt to the drastic angle change between rock and floor. All went well, and the run out was kind, providing enough time to slow down and not hit anything.
Continuing the trail, Martin’s success and advice inspired me to try some of the small slabs we came across. When we finally got back much later than expected, I was ready to kick my feet up!

Kielder Forest (19.75 miles/1589ft), 3hr 4m.

Although not a Stane we were attracted to Kielder by the 3 red routes that together added up to 40km! Unfortunately, my worsening cold combined with the trails being closed by storm damage we ended up cycling along many fire roads, with only one fun downhill section to reward our uphill efforts. I finished the ride feeling deflated, having a little cry on the last uphill to the car. Perhaps one to return to when the trails reopen.

Red route, Kirroughtree (10.56 miles/ 1194ft), 2hr 7m.

Having rested on Friday I was nervously excited to get back on the bike. I needn’t have worried; this was by far my favourite route! The complete opposite of Thursday, because here our climbs were generously rewarded by awesome descents. I actually quite like uphills, especially as mtb gears go low enough to get up pretty steep sections, and at Kirroughtree the trail’s trickiness was an excellent balance of engaging and challenging. That means it is manageable yet, similar to climbing, requires some problem-solving to work out a good line where I won’t have to put my foot down or get off.
The descents were similar – I walked quite a bit but managed just about enough tricky sections without coming off that it massaged my ego and hence my confidence, so that I could tackle the even more technical bits further on with less hesitation. I even managed a slab! Despite braking at the top on my first approach, squawking because I hadn’t realised how steep it was, I knew I could do it. I walked my bike back for a run up and surprisingly managed first time! I’m very glad my wheel didn’t slide out sideways beneath me; strangely enough it turns out pointing your wheel straight helps avoid this.
Some thoroughly enjoyable sections followed, where I felt confident enough to pedal faster and brake less in a competitive attempt to chase Martin! Upon reaching the end I watched him on some black-graded, horribly slippery rock steps in the skills section. I decided to leave that until I’m more confident.

Red route, Mabie (11.49 miles/1572ft), 2h.

Before heading home we returned to Mabie for a morning red route. The uphill climb at the start did a good job of warming us up, becoming increasingly technical with small rocky steps and slabs trying to foil our attempt to ride up. I walked a lot. But every time I lost momentum and had to put my foot down my frustration grew, motivating me to focus more intensely on following a feasible line on the next one.
The descents were pretty gorgeous with lots of flowy sections intercepted with occasional technical bits. A couple of huge vertical berms were awesome, and hitting them with speed were a little nerve-racking! Mabie is (ironically) definitely worth visiting just for them.
About 70% of the way round my poor legs started complaining, but I was treating our mtb week as training for a 32-mile trail race in March, so I focused on moving as efficiently as possible to increase my endurance. Unfortunately, downhills require low seats and suspension which don’t easily transition into maximising leg strength on uphills as your knees are almost by your ears and pedalling ten-to-the-dozen to get up even the shallowest hills!

I am very proud of how my mind and body coped in the physically and mentally demanding space that is mtb-ing. My confidence grew substantially, as well as my desire to do more. We have floated the idea of 4 Stanes in a day, followed by an impressively ambitious 7 in a day (both would involve a red route at each Stane). To keep up I must work on my mental endurance but also physical. I think my aim of climbing more this year will complement this well by strengthening my lower back, legs, core, and arms, all of which help me drive up and down the hills.

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Chasing a fleeting feeling: Kinder Downfall

words by Elizabeth Stephenson

Snow crunches softly under my boots as I hop between frozen and not-so-frozen bog.

After an hour of taking the ropes for a walk we’re about to find out if a) we should buy a dog to walk instead or b)Kinder is likely to be climbable. Rounding the umpteenth bend of a river bearded with icicles, I see my partner Sam grinning back at me from round the corner, our gamble has paid off – the downfall is draped in swathes of ice, glinting at us in the (rather unfortunately bright) midday light.

Another forty-five minutes later and we are finally at the base of the downfall. It’s dripping in the sun but looking promising and well formed. Another chap is at the bottom; however, a reluctant second means we are the only pair to rack and rope up. I look Sam square in the face and do my usual ‘are you sure about this?’ and ‘should we be climbing it?’. Reassuringly, he calms my nerves.

The familiar routine of “OK you’re on belay, Sam” and “climbing” ring out across the ice.

Given his much greater experience of ice climbing Sam took the sharp end of the rope – I’ve led a bit of mixed climbing in Scotland but working on my confidence leading in winter is a key aim of mine this season and the coming years. It’s hard when there aren’t many female winter climbers – I know there are others of course, but it has an impact when you’re in the minority out in the snow. I’m lucky that Sam has been a route into winter climbing for me, but a lot of women don’t have an easy way into the mountains, especially winter stuff, which, from an outside view can seem significantly more daunting than other types of climbing.

When I’ve gained a bit more experience and confidence in my ability, I hope to be able to encourage women I know into the mountains in winter. (I’m quite literally sh*t deep in a vet degree so no guiding aspirations for me but there are some fantastic female instructors working in winter.)

Back to the downfall – the initial corner wasn’t quite as well iced as normal but on the plus side that allowed Sam to get a hex in to the right and further up a solid bulldog (not the 4-legged type) that offered some protection for the first pitch. Reminding myself I’m not totally hopeless with a pair of tools, I set off after him, climbing delicately so as not to bring the route down on myself. Scratching around the right side for some hooks and testing out the ice quality I teetered delicately upwards – my hand me down Grivel crampons from my old school instructor serving me well, even if they are a little like climbing with miniature spades on my feet.

The belay sits part way up the downfall before you traverse across to the left and escape out the top corner – assessing the risk from the large icicles that looked like they’d give a decent go at blunt dissection if they came down, I positioned myself out the way as Sam set off on the second pitch. A good decision as one did come down part way through with startling force. Happily, I was safely tucked beyond its reach – a sharp reminder of the importance of good decision making when it comes to winter stuff and the unpredictable nature of the structures we climb on.

Once Sam had made it across and out the top corner, I dismantled the belay and scurried across the icicle fall zone to minimise the time spent in it, reaching the safety of the overhanging gritstone lip at the back of the falls – a calculated risk that I was comfortable taking but a risk nonetheless (I think my mother reads these, perhaps I should take that bit out…)

Winter climbing, especially ice climbing, is a fragile and fleeting pursuit.

With the season becoming less predictable it’s harder to get routes in good condition and often you are taking a punt on a route hoping it will pay off. When it does though, it’s worth every long slog with the ropes and axes. There’s something even more alluring about heading out for the day, not knowing if your plan will be possible. Perhaps you’ll get there and find turf or ice that disintegrates beneath your fingers and beat a hasty retreat, or maybe you’ll swing an axe in and be met with the reassuring thud of a beautiful placement that you’d hang your grandmother off (well sadly mine wouldn’t manage the walk in….).

Either way, the uncertainty of it is enthralling.

I’m fascinated by the shapes that form with the ice. On Kinder the icicles draped the amphitheatre in pearlescent white, the flow of the river momentarily paused, half hung over the rocks it normally dashes down – so temporary yet so beautiful. As we finished the route the sun sank low in the sky and the long shadows lit the ice with an internal fire – waiting for the night’s freeze to quench the flames.

Clambering over the top of the falls, a bitter wind rimed the top of our packs and froze the quickdraws solid.

If the wind didn’t manage it, the view over the Kinder plateau finished off the job of taking our breath away – Manchester and Bolton dazzling far off in the distance, inner city life feeling wholly detached from the wild winter refuge we had escaped to.

Breathing in the glacial air, I let it invade my lungs and prick my cheeks. It worms its way between the layers of wool thermals and escapes in my reflected breath – cold, crisp, clear, comforting. I feel overwhelming gratitude for a day spent in a beautiful place and the transformation of rushing water to immovable ice. I never undervalue the chance to experience nature and I cherish this most acutely in the depths of winter. I love this season, I delight in how fleeting winter can be, and it breaks my heart that climate change spells trouble for this ephemeral landscape.

But for now, I’ll dust off my axes and hope that this winter is just beginning.

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Road to ClimbMuz: finding my voice

From a young age I had my heart set on doing extraordinary things.

I never thought it would be being the face of a community group. There are many reasons for this, I grew up with an overt stammer which impacted me speaking in front of people. I was always too afraid to put my hand up in class or do any form of public speaking. I would become incredibly nervous if someone called out my name to speak, I was afraid that people would laugh at me and most of the time when I was growing up that did happen. There were some people around me who did not give me the space I needed to speak and questioned why I spoke the way I did. 

Over the years I have worked hard to try and find my voice and ClimbMuz has been the biggest game changer for this because I support and represent each and every single person who comes to the events.

Speaker: Kendal Mountain Festival

On the 19th November, I spoke in front of a larger crowd of people at the Kendal Mountain Festival. I did not think about this until I got there and saw the hall that I was speaking in. I immediately felt incredibly nervous at speaking in front of a big crowd and wondering if I will be able to be eloquent enough to express all that I needed for ClimbMuz. We did a rehearsal which was a surreal experience and I waited whilst the crowds gathered. We were up first and I was super proud to see the Adidas clip being played in front of a crowd of people.

During the talk as I was speaking I made a conscious effort at times to look at the crowd whilst I spoke to  create a sense of engagement with the people in the audience. The response from people was great and I had people approach Shareena and I about how they felt inspired about the things we were saying.

For ClimbMuz and I it is an ongoing learning curve.

There are three main challenges I have faced and worked towards overcoming  since starting the group:


 My anxiety about no one turning up to the session for the past 15 months has been incredibly real and trying to reframe what success looks like in terms of numbers is something that I have to constantly have to redefine and work towards.


Being accountable. All that I see, post and do is my responsibility and sometimes I second guess whether or not I have said the right thing but ultimately I am learning, even if it’s in a very public space.


 It’s time. Recently, I’ve been trying to manage my own mental wellbeing with family, work and ClimbMuz and realising that I need to get the balance right. At times I have no choice but to show up in certain aspects of my life because that role requires me to and that takes a lot of strength.


Read Siddrah’s ClimbMuz blogs to date…

The Road to ClimbMuz

ClimbMuz is an initiative to get more Muslim women into climbing. Organised meets create an inclusive space for women to try out indoor climbing and meet like minded friends. We learn about how this group began.

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A Climber’s guide to Margalef

words by Kishan Vekaria

I’ll tell you the tale of climbing in Margalef and how this climbing destination ended up being my latest adventure break away. I had only heard of Margalef through word of mouth, friends and friends of friends going there for climbing trips and the only thing I knew about it was that the climbing style was all pockets! Here’s an overview of what this destination has to offer.

Sport Climbing in Margalef, Spain

The Town

The population of Margalef is roughly that of 100 people and there are about five streets in the entire village. During the week it is fairly quiet. But on the weekends you get large groups travelling over from Barcelona and even Madrid coming over to get the chance to climb on the routes here. All the crags are within a 5-20 minute walk from the car parks. Without a car you would struggle to get up into the valleys and would need to rely on getting lifts from other climbers with cars. Regarding places to stay there are numerous guesthouses, the Refugi and two campsites, one in town and the other in the reservoir valley, both of which offer very reasonable rates. Rest day activities are far and few between, other than having a dip in the river swimming and grabbing a beer somewhere.

Sport Climbing in Margalef, Spain

The Food

If you plan on cooking for yourself at all, come well prepared. The closest supermarket is a 50 minute drive away and most are closed on Sundays. There’s only one shop in town, La Botiga, Owned by the larger than life character Anna. She’s one of the nicest people you’ll meet and luckily speaks fluent English for anyone who’s not a Spanish or Catalan speaker. Cafe Vernet is the go to spot after a day’s climbing. Massive portions for roughly ten euros. Beware though, they stop serving food after 9pm. And if it’s your first time visiting you’ll want some time to figure out what they’re serving. Practice your Spanish beforehand as the staff only speak in Spanish/Catalan. 

Sport Climbing in Margalef, Spain

The Climbing

There’s more routes in Margalef than you could complete in a lifetime and the quality of climbs is amazing. With 99% of the holds being pockets you’ll definitely need strong fingers and plenty of rest days. I found my fingers got significantly stronger throughout the trip. Most of the climbing is very face on and you won’t need amazing footwork as feet tend to be relatively big because you’re either standing in a pocket or on a big pebble. You won’t be climbing any overhangs unless you’re climbing 7b and you’ll want downturned shoes to get the most out of the pocket feet. Summer is best avoided because it gets ridiculously hot and flies tend to appear from everywhere. Spring and autumn are probably your best bet. Winter for the serious climbers. An added note to work on your tetris skills as you often have to stand on rock piles to start routes. Make sure you bring a clip stick!

Sport Climbing in Margalef, Spain

Ermita San Salvador Valley

A local climber took me to the Camí de l’Ermita sector in the closest valley. Ermita means chapel in Spanish. And that’s exactly what lies at the top of the main valley. Some local farmers had convinced the council to let them live on the top floor of the chapel (with their three dogs) in return for setting up a sheep farm at the location to produce local milk and cheese for the surrounding areas. This crag has definitely got a shot for having one of the most stunning views of the entire valley. There are plenty of other crags further down the valley. One of note has to be the Finestra sector where you’ll find strong climbers working on their projects. 

Sport Climbing in Margalef, Spain

The Reservoir Valley (Espadellas, Ca La Marte, Catedral)

There’s climbing on both the north and south sides of the river and both are superb. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re wanting to try super long routes or short bouldery routes. You’d be lucky to find a novel crimp on any route though. Generally we would pick wherever is shadiest. Climbers from all over the world gather at this tiny village because the climbing is so accessible and unique. 

Sport Climbing in Margalef, Spain


If you fancy a complete change of style. You can drive over to Siurara in under an hour and find more crimps and cracks than you can imagine. There’s also a climbing shop that does amazing pizzas and has every bit of kit you could need. Just make sure your car doesn’t break down and leave you stranded in the valley (That’s a story for another day though) 

I was only supposed to be in Margalef for a two week holiday and ended up loving the climbing so much that I decided to stay for an entire 2 months.

For full disclosure, I have a remote role in IT and met a Mexican climber in the same situation who convinced me to stay. There are more routes in the two valleys than you could ever try your hand at. This haven of endless rock, afternoon siestas and Spanish sun is the place to be if you need a break away from the fast paced hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Sport Climbing in Margalef, Spain
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Dye Hard tie dye chalk bags

upcycled chalk bag tie dye

They are here, our limited edition collection of tie dye chalk bags.

They started life as a canvas tent. Holes in the side, and dodgy zips – it had had enough of camping (let’s be honest, sometimes we all have) and ended up on our doorstep.

We took apart the tent, separating the usable canvas fabric from the ground sheet, zips, windows, buckles and webbing.

We then sent off a small sample to Stan at Tor and Edge to see whether we were able to dye the boring beige fabric. He back with the colours which would take.

Holy Magenta, Batman!

The rest of the fabric was then sent down to him to work his tie dye wizardry.

tie dye boulder bucket

We used this fabric to make a collection of chalk bags and boulder buckets. The fleece linings of these came from jumpers collected from various lost properties at climbing walls. The webbing is surplus stock from another company, and the canvas backs/ bases as from an end of roll from another local business.

Grab yours while you can. Why are they more expensive than the standard bags I hear you ask? We paid Tor and Edge for their handiwork. we all need to support small businesses during times like these. They look incredible…