“Talking Head” of Ae

Talking Head of Ae

After all the recent rain we decided a nice dry, well-maintained path was the ticket this weekend: and the Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) are just the people for this. So we headed down to the wonderfully named Forest of Ae. Ae is apparently the shortest placename in the UK (couldn’t sensibly be any smaller) but the forest, at c.100km², is one of the largest in the UK. The village was built in 1947 to house forestry workers – now why didn’t I take up forestry? We’d viewed the forest from the Queeensberry Hill walk, but this is the first time we’d been in. It’s remote, but turns out to be a hive of activity because the FC have turned it into a mountain biking hot-spot. But don’t let that put you off…

Ae Forest village sign

We parked at the bike shop/cafe 1 and although I wasn’t able to talk knowledgeably about Magnesium alloy 2 frames or Shimano brakes, the guy in the shop gave me free maps, advice and was pleasant into the bargain 3.

Water of Ae

We wandered along the side of the Water of Ae to join the main track up the valley.  We had to backtrack a kilometre or so when a local bobby told us they were dealing with “an incident”.  It turns out some ne’er-do-well had made off in a car that wasn’t his, headed into the forest, got caught and legged it: clearly the local numpties have poor situational awareness.  I offered him the services of a keen working dog to track down his quarry, but he took one look at Jazz and politely declined – Jazz’s ego dealt a painful blow.  Still it was a nice day and D&G’s Finest seemed keen to be left alone to play with his new scene-of-crime camera so we doubled back. 4  We then arrived at a picnic area with one of the nicest wooden sculpted seats: I took some snaps for your viewing pleasure while Jazz checked under the picnic benches for any dropped morsels.

The main goal today was to walk to the Talking Head of Ae: one of the 7 Stanes and the second one on our list (see the Rig of the Jarkness post for the first).  This is an impressive lump of granite overlooking the valley with a friendly face on one side and a twee, nature-hugging inscription on the reverse 5.  It makes a good lunch spot.  It is on one of the harder bike trails through the forest and we met a couple of guys who confirmed that it was hard-work, especially for the first ride of the season.  Obviously Jazz and I are in peak condition but we had struggled to get to the Stane.

Inscription on the Talking Head

I had told her we’d take a shortcut off-track through the forest up the hill to cut off a big loop of bike trail.  But what is it with foresters? They leave the place a mess after they fell a section of trees.  We had a nasty time clambering over tree roots and branches they’d left behind.  We found an old tree break but that was just a bog covered in old bramble and rotting trees.  It goes without saying that “shortcut” is now a word that Jazz runs away from 6.

Omega Man on Red Route

However, now that we’d found the trail it was an easy walk back to the car.  The FCS had done a great job building up what looked like a serious adrenaline rush for the biking brigade.  It does seem a waste putting it in a nice place like this: they won’t be taking their eyes off the trail for a nano-second.  Pity, because they miss the view, the family of Crossbills feeding beside the trail, the Moon rising over the trees, the mist swirling around the hills, the Brown Hare that hopped over the road and amused Jazz.

It's Health&Safety gone mad

But then I realised that mountain bikers are not normal.  We came to a black section 7 that basically went over a jump into mid-air for a lovely drop onto granite and a painful trip to Dumfries Infirmary.  With all their safety gear the guys (and one girl) coming over this looking like Imperial Storm Troopers on wheels (with a lobotomy, obviously) – it looked hot work pushing their bikes up wearing it all though.  Totally mad.  I thought that for this section it would be prudent for Jazz to be on a lead – having her wrapped around the front wheel of one of these bikes as it goes over the jump probably doesn’t help its aerodynamics regardless of how much Lithium you have in the alloy – and giving a big vet bill to a guy while he is in traction just adds to his misery.

Dalswinton Barony Church

Dalswinton Barony Church spire

Dalswinton Barony Church window

So a pleasant walk in a well-maintained forest and a new 7 Stane to add to the collection. However, with so many expensive bikes around it meant Her Jazzness couldn’t go off-lead as much as she’d like.  As an extra bonus on the way home we found Dalswinton Barony Church: a Kev photo-shoot if ever there was one – enjoy.


  1. Usually I resent having to pay a car parking fee but when the FCS have gone beyond what I expect as a tax-payer I gladly put my hand in my pocket for the £3.
  2. Or is Lithium now the metal du jour? It’s certainly not the cast iron that my bike is made from!
  3. Clearly this is early season – by August bank holiday he’ll be burying people like me in shallow graves deep in those 100km² of wilderness.
  4. In a moment of exuberance Jazz did plant a friendly muddy paw on the officer’s nice clean trouser leg and I had visions of having to bail her out of the cells at Dumfries cop-shop.
  5. Don’t get me wrong: I hug nature at every opportunity – but this smacks of hippy Arts Council grant
  6. The human members of my family learned this one years ago…
  7. Although brown would be more appropriate given the effect on your underwear!
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