We had cycled down to Broughton from Edinburgh the day before, and now the day dawned bright (well dawn had actually been some hours before). It had been a peaceful night, apart from the odd bark from the farm dogs down the road, and the strange noises from across the road. Setting out we noticed that the horse which had been in a temporary paddock across the road, had disappeared, but this is the Scottish Borders which has a long tradition of lifting livestock, so a spot of horse rustling was only to be expected. Then again, maybe it was just that the other guests at the B&B (who had left early) were part of the big riding group touring the Borders. As we had entered Broughton the day before we had noticed a large collection of temporary paddocks, each with a single horse, in a field just outwith the village. Either way, it was a glorious day to be touring (in our case by bicycle) in the Scottish Borders.

Broughton Heights

Riding into the village, we briefly considered stopping at the Buchan museum, but only briefly. The museum is dedicated to John Buchan, son of a Free Church minister, the some time author, lawyer, and politician, who used to holiday in the village as a child, with his grandparents. After writing a few books, making some money and doing a wee bit of travel, he had a holiday home built in the style of a 17th-century tower house, in 1938, to reflect his newly acquired title of 1st Baron Tweedsmuir. Not that he had much time to enjoy it, as he was packed off to Canada as Governor General and died there of a stroke in 1940. One day we will get around to visiting the museum, just not on this day. Another thing I would like to have done in Broughton was to visit Broughton Ales, having enjoyed their Clipper IPA the night before, but on this occasion it was a wee bit early in the morning for visiting a brewery.

We turned away from the main road to follow the River Tweed eastward, passing Drumelzier with its ancient hill forts and the remains of Tinnis castle. According to Arthurian legend, the wizard Merlin was imprisoned in a thorn tree, by Morgan la Fay, somewhere in this glen.

Another local story talks of a character called Merlin Sylvestris, court bard to Gwenddoleu ap Ceidio, who ruled a kingdom around the Solway Firth in the middle of the 6th century. This was a rather fractious period in British history, the Romans had just left, the Saxons had started moving in and the native Brythonic warlords were carving out kingdoms for themselves. So it was that Gwenddoleu ap Ceidio picked a fight with Riderch Hael, King of Strathclyde, they met in a bloody skirmish (which became known as the Battle of Arderyth) in 573 somewhere near Peebles. The battle saw the annihilation of Gwenddoleu’s army, however Merlin survived and fled into the forest, suffering a bad case of PTSD.

While he was wandering about the woods, he bumped into a monk called Kentigern (A.K.A. St. Mungo, who went on to found an obscure town on the banks of Clyde), who spent a long time talking to him. He eventually converted Merlin to Christianity, which in the dark ages was the standard treatment for PTSD, if the chroniclers are to be believed. Merlin’s conversion took place at Altarstone which is a wee bit further down the glen on the far side of the Tweed (the actual stone now forms part of the baptismal font in Stobo Kirk). At his baptism, Merlin foresaw his own death, forecasting that he would suffer three deaths, being cudgelled, drowned and stabbed.

Later the same day he had a run in with a group of Riderch Hael’s followers, who bludgeoned him with cudgel, knocking him into river. He was carried down stream and impaled on a stake. Merlin was buried between the Pausayl Burn and the river Tweed, marked with a thorn tree. This is not quite the end of the story, though, move forward to the 13th Century and Thomas Learmonth, A.K.A. Thomas the Rhymer (who had apparently spent seven years away with the fairies after falling asleep under a tree on the Eildon Hills, although he claimed that it was only three days). He penned some lines saying that “When Tweed and Powsail meet at Merlin’s grave, Scotland and England shall one monarch have.”

Zooming forward along the timeline again, to 25th July 1603, a flood caused the Tweed to burst its banks and meet with the Pausayl Burn, something which apparently hadn’t happened before or since. The same day in London, James the VI of Scotland was crowned James the I, King of Scotland, England, France and Ireland (the France bit was a wee bit presumptious, as the Tudors had already lost all the French possessions).

Now, had I researched all this before we set out for the weekend, we would have gone looking for Merlin’s grave, which is apparently marked by a small plaque at the base of a thorn tree. However, I didn’t, so we didn’t and now it is time to get back to writing about what we actually did.

As we approached Dawyck Botanic Gardens, Ulli asked if we should go in. I pointed out that we would have to pay, as I hadn’t brought my old RBGE ID badge with me. Doing things on the spur of the moment is great fun, but there are times when a wee bit of prior planning doesn’t go astray.

Beyond Stobo, to avoid the main road (A72), we turned off onto a footpath and crossed back over the Tweed. It was the sort of mad off-road route which I normally associate with the NCN cycle routes, but this time it was our choice to avoid the main road. At the end of the footpath there was a junction, with a “public” road to the right and an estate road straight ahead. At the start of the estate road there was a big notice stating that it was a “PRIVATE ROAD” and “No Entrance to unauthorised vehicles or bicycles unless on Estate business”. Evidently the owners, Elizabeth and David Benson, are unfamiliar with the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which established “statutory public rights of access to land for recreational and other purposes”. This includes the right to walk, ride a bicycle or a horse along any estate road. It is also interesting to note that in 2004 Barns Estate was described as the site of “Britain’s worst wildlife crime”, after the gamekeeper was convicted of poisoning 20 raptors. So we are not talking about enlightened land owners here.

We turned right onto the public road, a short way up we came across a dead mole (Talpa caeca) in the middle of the road. There was no obvious cause of death, but it was a sunny day, so maybe it had wandered onto the road over night then gotten lost and not been able to dig for shelter. Seeing a mole like that is very rare, so I was really surprised when a few hundred meters up the road and round the corner we came across another one. Other wildlife highlights of the day included four stoats (Mustela erminea) (three alive and dispersing into the hedgerows, one flattened on the road) and a buzzard (Buteo buteo) in a spruce tree (Picea sitchensis).

As we came down to The Glack, there was another junction, I saw a cycle route sign pointing straight ahead so headed off. I was about half way up the hill when I noticed that Ulli was no longer following me. I backtracked to the junction, to find her pointing to the cycle route sign pointing the other way, apparently that was the one we wanted. It was only after a check of the map that I noticed the route I had taken was a dead end. Oops.

Crossing the Manor Water, slightly to my disappointment, we took the southern route round Cademuir Hill. This meant that we missed out the viewpoint at Manor Sware, oh and a steep climb, but sometimes you just have to miss out on these things. Then again, the views we did get weren’t at all bad.

Scottish Borders landscape

Scottish Borders landscape

Cycle touring in the Scottish Borders

Onwards to Peebles then? No, stay south of the river and skirt through the King’s Muir, just as well that I wasn’t doing the navigating. Ulli was rather keen to visit the Osprey Centre at Kailzie, until she found that it was a shed by a pond with a video feed from the nest. Apparently the ospreys do occasionally fish from the pond, but this isn’t guaranteed, they are wild birds after all. Still, it did give us the opportunity to nip into the gift shop at the Gardens to get a wee present for the friends who were giving us lunch in Innerleithen.

Lunch over, we set out up the Leithen Water along the NCN 1, something we had done before, so rather than try to describe the ride up through the Moorfoot Hills (which you can read about in the above link), I thought I would put in some photos instead.

Looking up Glentress

Heading up Glentress, the Moorfoot Hills

Bikes and turbines

Topping out of the final climb on the shoulder of Broad Law, this time we were greeted with fine views to the Pentland Hills and north the Firth of Forth, Fife and beyond.

The Pentland Hills and the Forth from Broad Law, Moorfoot Hills

Coming down from Broad Law, as before, we were met with something of a headwind, which I decided not to fight and coasted rather than sprinting for speed. I was saving my energy for the road beyond Middleton, which, the last time we had been that way, had been appalling. This time we found that the worst sections had been resurfaced and it was considerably better than it had been, but there were still rough sections. Just past Middleton we stopped to look at Arthur’s Seat, home seemed so close, but we still had miles to go, and the small matter of crossing the river Esk. The Esk may only be a small river, but it runs in a steep sided glen, which makes it difficult to cross (unless you use one of the big busy roads which also involves negotiating some pretty gnarly roundabouts), whereas the NCN1 swings wide to the east on a large dogleg, to cross lower down the Esk, and then takes you on a winding route into Edinburgh. We prefer to leave the NCN1 at Carrington, cross the Esk above Dalkeith and take a more direct route into the city.

We decided to cross at Roslin Glen, this is not an ideal route for everyone, most sane people wouldn’t welcome a 16% climb after 80Km of riding on a bike with panniers, but we knew from experience that we could do it, if we took it slow and steady. I was surprised to find that I didn’t have to drop to the lowest gear available, and that when I reached the top on the Roslin side, I still had a couple of cogs to spare, so I am starting to wonder if it really is 16%?

Another thing which may seem odd about our choice of route was the decision to go to Gowkley Moss (rather than through the village to Bilston). For those who don’t know the area, the roundabout at Gowkley Moss is big and scary (and that is not just for cyclists), so why were we choosing to go that way? Well there is a secret way around for cyclists wanting to bypass the roundabout. Just before you get there, turn right unto the old road, which comes to a dead end after 50 m, then follow the path past the roundabout and you will come out just by the pedestrian crossing lights on the north side. From there it is a straight run into Edinburgh.

There is a map of our route here.

My stats were:

  • Distance cycled – 93.9 Km
  • Time spent riding – 04:38:42
  • Max Speed – 50.8 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 20.2 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – 750 ca. m

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