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Down Dumfriesshire way (Part 1)

Down Dumfriesshire way (Part 1)

The decision to take a cottage in Dumfriesshire had been very much last minute, so route planning to get from the station in Lockerbie to the cottage at Yett by Johnstonebridge was sketchy. While we waited for the rain to pass, we stood in the shelter of the station roof looking at the map. To me the obvious route was to follow the National Cycle Network (NCN) Route 74 to Johnstonebridge and then backtrack a couple of Km south. This was slightly longer than winding through the minor roads, but had the advantage of being straightforward, without the need to stop at every junction to check the way, what could possibly go wrong? Well the NCN 74, called the “Moss, Motte and Motorway Cycle Route”, follows the B7076, formerly the A74 which has been replaced by the A74(M).
NCN 74 - Moss, Motte and Motorway Cycle Route

Got all that? Good, I shall continue, the road was straight and fast, so not so pleasant to cycle on, it was also right next to the Motorway. We quickly decided the best thing to do was to look for a turn off onto the first minor road and find our way along the roads less travelled, so it was we found a more relaxed route to the cottage…

The road even less travelled...

Arriving at the cottage we were meet by the owner, who had offered to get us a few groceries, when we told her we were arriving by train and bike. This was the first time we had attempted a cottage based holiday by bicycle, we had our things in our panniers but not much in the way of food. Therefore, having unpacked and found our way around our home for the week, the next priority was to find out where the local shops were and get some food in. This is where advance planning is helpful, but we hadn’t actually done much. The nearest village is Johnstonebridge, about 2 Km away, had (like so many villages in this area) lost it shop. There is however a motorway service station by Johnstonebridge, accessed via the NCN 74, which offers limited shopping (mostly in the petrol station). We had also been told the Lockerbie Truck Stop has a small shop. This is 3 Km south of the service station along the NCN 74, and explains why there is so much heavy traffic on a B road (we later found there is a back road which can be used for access without the heavy traffic). As we set off to cycle there, the rain started. We arrived only to find that the shop closes early on Saturdays. The ride back to the cottage was wet, so we were glad that it was equipped with a washing machine, in which we could spin dry clothes, and central heating. Fortunately, we had enough food to cover our evening meal and breakfast.

Sunday morning, the rain had passed over night and so we ready to start exploring the local countryside and visit Lockerbie for some shopping. To the west of the motorway there are lots of quiet roads and odd wee places to explore, the likes of Applegarth.

Applegarth church

Arriving in Lockerbie one finds there is little of interest you hold you there, so we just nipped into Tesco, picked up the shopping we needed and headed home. One of the good things about a cycling holiday like this is that going out for the shopping is enjoyable, even if all you do is go to a very dull supermarket. It is the journey either side which makes it fun (and the sunshine helps as well).

The following day we decided to try going in the opposite direction and head for Moffat, again trying to use the wee roads where possible…

a quite road

and were rewarded with great views of the Annandale landscape. At one stage we had to pull of the road to let a herd of cows, which were being moved between fields, pass. On another part of the road we had to take it slowly as there was a loose heifer and we had to let her find her own way back into the field she had come from.

Moffat itself is a pleasant wee town, which would have great charm if its central area wasn’t used as a car park (there must be some hidden corner where they could be dumped to keep them out of sight, although the obese owners of these obese vehicles might object to having to waddle that far). The town is fortunate enough to have a fine range of local shops, probably due to the absence of a major supermarket (unless you count the Co-Op in Station Yard). Oddly Moffat markets itself as a “Walkers are Welcome town“, and yet there isn’t a single walking or outdoor equipment shop. Nor for that matter was there a bike shop, although there were a fair number of local utility cyclists. It is a shame that it has yet to market itself as a “Cyclists are Welcome town” as it has great potential.

After lunch at a Moffat café we headed north to visit the Devil’s Beef Tub. Most visitors go to see the Devil’s Beef Tub from above via the A701, but following our theme of taking the road less travelled, we rode to the bottom of the Beef Tub, where the Border Reivers once hid their (usually stolen) cattle. Riding up the glen towards Corehead, which the Beef Tub is a part of, it was easy to see why it was a good place for hiding cattle.

Riding up to the Devil's Beef Tub

The hills rise up and enfold the head of the glen, an easily defensible area:

Riding up to the Devil's Beef Tub

Time for a digression: Corehead and the Devil’s Beef Tub have great cultural and historical significance in the Borders. In the 13th century the laird of Corehead Tower, Sir Thomas Halliday, was married to the sister of one William le Waleys (or wee Wullie Wallace, as he is sometimes known). Just for the sake of historical accuracy, it should be pointed out that he didn’t paint his face blue, and it is very unlikely that he spoke with an Australian accent. What is more certain is that he raised the Border clans at Corehead for his first attack against the English in 1297. The rest is a Hollywood movie, which the SNP now find slightly embarrassing. Sometime after, this area passed into the ownership of the Moffat clan, who held the land until they lost a feud with the Johnstons of Annandale. The Johnstons were one of the most powerful of the Border clans, and noted for their feuding (usually with the Maxwells, with whom they managed to have a continued feud lasting around 400 years, the longest in Border history). The Moffats suffered their greatest calamity in 1557 when the Johnstons set fire to a local church while most senior members of the Moffat clan happened to be inside. Seventy years later all the Moffat lands had passed to the Johnstons on account of the Moffats accruing massive debts. One final note on the Johnstons, following the Union of the Crowns in 1603: when King James VI rode south to become King James I of England, he needed to pacify the Borders. To achieve this, he deported or executed the worst of the troublemakers. This included a good many Johnstons who were bundled off to Ireland, where they became known as the ‘Gentle’ Johnstons. It is from this group that my mother’s family descends.

OK, back to the story of our cycling holiday. On the ride back from Moffat we spotted a pair of Red Kites (Milvus milvus) and a spitfire, one of the great things about riding a bike is that you have the opportunity to look around for these sort of things as well as the freedom to stop and stare. We also passed a place called Wamphray, which looked like it might be worth another look.

Tuesday: we decided to strike out towards Eskdalemuir, via Wamphray and Boreland, then returning via Castle O’er and Lockerbie. The first part of this ride took us back for that second look at Wamphray, this time up past the mill and the church. As we passed the mill I thought I must take a photo of that on the way back, but we didn’t come back that way, so you will have to make do with this property schedule [the owners did like the property schedule they had made public remaining public, so it has been removed]. However, we when we got to the Church, I did stop and get the camera out.

Stone in Wamphray church yard

After leaving the church, we stopped again further up the hill to take some photos, oh hang on, I think I might have the got the roof of the Mill in this one…

View over Wamphray, to Annandale

Dumfriesshire is a great place for cycle touring, but there is just one thing with touring though this sort of landscape, you just have to keep stopping to take more photos.

Dumfriesshire landscape

Arriving at Boreland we were disappointed to find there was no tea room or even a shop, so we pressed on towards Eskdalemuir. On the map the road is shown as passing through wall to wall trees, but as we came by, it was bounded by large areas of clear fell, which are slowly being replanted. The road itself was mostly quiet with the exception of the odd timber lorry, fortunately they gave us plenty of space.

Watch out for timber lorries

Arriving in the village of Eskdalemuir, we were again disappointed to find that there was no shop of café, however we weren’t to downhearted, as we knew that there was one just up the road, at the local Tibetan Buddhist monastery.

Eskdalemuir Tibetan Buddhist Centre
some more pictures here.

Personally I wasn’t overly impressed by the café, but Ulli liked it. This was also the first place that we saw cyclists in any numbers, probably because it was the only cake stop for miles around. This is one of the differences between the Borders and the Highlands, in the Highlands just about every small community has a bookshop/art gallery/café/ ceilidh place and a pub. Whereas the Borders lack these amenities, which is a wee bit of a nuisance. However, there is a solution to this, promote cycling in the Borders! There are lots of interesting wee roads and the place is ideal for cycle tourism. This will lead to increased demand for cake stops, B&Bs, small shops and other economic activity, after all on the mainland of Europe cycle tourism is worth over £20Bn a year.

Cake consumed, we set out for Castle O’er, following the White Esk upstream on the west bank. We noticed two sets of signs along this road, first there rather faded ones saying National Byway cycle route and the second set of signs were for the Eskdale Prehistoric Trail. This second set was supplemented with a number of display boards along the way, explaining the lumps and bumps in the landscape, showing the long history (and prehistory) of human settlement. It was an interesting ride. One such site was the Deil’s Jingle near the confluence of the White and Black Esk, which was a late iron age or early medieval boundary. There are also a number of bronze age and iron age settlements and hill forts. So it was that we wound our way to Lockerbie and from there we took our now familiar way home.

Just noticed that this post is getting a wee bit long, so I am splitting it in two, in the second part we visit, Caerlaverock, the Forest of Ae, Lochmaben, and meet another Blogger (who is lovely). Part two will be along shortly…

part two will be along shortly…

The way back from Broughton

The way back from Broughton

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
Dog leg to Broughton

Dog leg to Broughton

The borderlands of southern Scotland must be one of Scotland’s best kept secrets. Few of Scotland’s visitors ever stop there, preferring instead to just head straight through on the big roads towards the far more famous Highlands. This provides those of us who enjoy touring by bicycle with an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity: to ride and explore an area of dramatic and contrasting landscapes, which is relatively free of motor traffic. The challenge: to get there from Edinburgh while avoiding the big roads with fast motor traffic. At this point I should make it clear that when I talk about the Scottish Borders, I am referring to them in their historical context, rather than the modern administrative area of the Scottish Borders Council

After a late spring and a poor early summer, we were both keen to get out touring but were less fit than in previous years (well I was at least, less fit that is). So the first question was, where to go? Having explored some of the eastern side of the Borders previously, we felt it was time to have a look at some areas further to the west. I had long wondered about going down the west side of the Pentland Hills as an access route to the Borders. However, Ulli is not so keen on the idea of riding on the A70. After a (long) period of staring at the map we realised that there was a network of wee roads just to the west of the A70 and these could give us the quiet access route we where looking for. Having found a way in, we had to decide where to go next. We thought it would be a good idea to swing east, and stop overnight in Broughton. Then the next day we could head over to Innerleithen to see some friends, before heading back to Edinburgh along the NCN1.

Well that was the plan, and plans are there to be changed. The first change came when we decided to miss out the tedious bit out to Livingstone and use the train instead. The purists may object to this approach, but I prefer to take a pragmatic approach and enjoy the bits I choose to ride. Besides which, bikes travel free on trains in Scotland and the fares for the two of us weren’t going to break the bank.

Having left the train at Livingston (South) station, we set off to find the next place to deviate from the plan. This didn’t take long as we sailed past the left turn we should have taken and ended up on the A71 instead. Now this road does have a cycle lane painted on it, but several motorists seemed unaware of its purpose and insisted on trying to drive down it. Fortunately we managed to find an industrial estate to cut through and get back to the planned route.

With the urban sprawl that is Livingston behind us, we were out into open countryside, a mixture of buggered heathland, buggered acid grassland, and plantation forestry. We also had a fine view of some of the West Lothian bings, a legacy of one Scotland’s previous energy booms (whether it be oil shale or coal). Ahead of us, looming up out of a forest plantation, was a symbol of the next Scottish energy boom, a couple of the turbines of the Pates Hill Wind Farm, towering above the trees.

West of Hartwood

Headed towards Pates Hill wind farm

Personally I find these structures majestic, I know they are not to everyone’s taste, but they are a lot more benign than Scotland’s previous energy booms. Up close, I was surprised by how quiet they were. The sound of the 107 m blades turning was drowned out by the noise of a bunch of model aeroplanes being flown by the West Calder & District Model Flying Club. Whether this would be different in higher winds, I know not.

We crossed out of West Lothian into South Lanarkshire, and passed by a row of former miners’ cottages at Woolfords, another legacy of the oil shale industry, no other obvious sign of the open cast mining could be seen. This was the first time we had cycle toured in South Lanarkshire and we weren’t sure what to expect. The area has a grim post industrial reputation, but we saw little sign of this, for the most part it was just rough grazing. Dotted about the place there were new built houses which did look totally out of place. They were mostly of brick construction and no architectural merit, they wouldn’t have looked out of place in Essex, but were totally wrong for southern Scotland, there was nothing of the vernacular about them. The people we passed (or were passed by) were all friendly, no hassle from the few drivers we saw on these quiet back roads, there were nods and smiles from two guys standing outside a pub.

Reaching Carstairs, we decided it was time for lunch. However, there was no café or tea rooms. There had been two pubs, the Village Inn (now boarded up) and the Carstairs Arms Hotel (now converted into a B&B), so we just went to the Co-op (the only shop). The village has seen better days in its long history, originally Caisteal Tarrais (Castle/Fort Land) the castle is said to have been demolished and converted to a church by the Bishop of Glasgow under orders from the Bishop of Rome in the 12th century. Another theory is that it was named after the Roman fort about a miles SSW of the village. It was made a Royal Burgh in 1128 by David I, 14 years before Lanark. Now it is better known for the nearby Hospital and the nearby railway station at Carstairs Junction, where the west coast mainline divides, sending trains to Glasgow and Edinburgh.

It was outside the Co-op that I found myself part of a strange conversation with a young lad in a large (on-road) four wheel drive-

Him: Excuse me, do you mind if I ask how far you ride that bike?
Me: Do you mean a day? [bemused]
Him: Yes
Me: Um, about 50 to 60 miles [80km – 100km is our normal daily distance for touring]
Him: 60 miles a day!?! [as if I had told him I rode the Tour de France, although I could use a wee bit of EPO, anyone know the combination for Contador’s fridge?]
Me: Yes [even more bemused]
Him: Do you not find that you burn out?
Me: Um, no [100km is a normal daily distance for touring, why would I burn out?]
Him: Well you are looking very well on it, very fit and healthy… [actually I am 5Kg over my idea weight, which I was at last year]
Me: Thank you.
Him: Thanks, Cheers..
With that I retreated to a picnic table on the green to eat lunch.

Lunch over, we set out again, heading south through Carstairs Junction (which seems bigger than the original village), shadowing the railway line and crisscrossing the River Clyde. At Covington, I tried and failed to get a satisfactory photo of the ruined tower house and the Doocot. At Thankerton, Ulli insisted on stopping to take photos of some Clydesdale horses. Ah, the joys of cycle touring, no rush, just stop and take photos where ever you think you can get a good picture.

Clydesdale horses in Clydesdale

Clydesdale photo taken, we crossed the Clyde for the last time and headed for Biggar, a busy wee market town on the banks of the Biggar Burn. There has probably been a settlement on the Biggar Burn since Mesolithic times as it is a natural cross roads, sitting as it does on the watershed between the rivers Clyde and Tweed. It also sits astride one of the main routes from SW Scotland to Edinburgh (A702) and the modern road follows the course of the earlier Roman road. These days, one of the most notable features of Biggar is that it is aiming to be the first Carbon Neutral town in Scotland. One thing is certain, it is most definitely not a clone town, it is full of independent shops which make it a great place to stop and browse. So naturally we had to find a café where we could sit outside with tea and cake.

Beyond Biggar, we had a choice of routes for passing the Hartree Hills, either stay on the north side or take the slightly shorter route around the south side. This might seem like an easy choice, but the difference in distance is only about 30m and there is the small matter of the two chevrons shown on the map for the southern route. After a short discussion we decided to part and meet up again at Kilbucho Place, needless to say that I was to take the high road. The climb between Knowehead and Crosscryne was interesting, a gain in elevation of 70m in the space of 500m and that was just to the junction. Having turned left around the end of the wood, I was disappointed to find there was another 20m of climbing before I could start the downhill. Yippie, but, it wasn’t a rapid descent as I couldn’t be bothered to push it, and I hadn’t even got half way to Kilbucho Place when the hill ran out. The onward road was undulating, fortunately this wasn’t a race because Ulli was there first by about a minute.

On the corner opposite Kilbucho Place we were introduced to Angus…
The name's Angus
… the sign post across the road didn’t show the way to Biggar and the owner of the cottage got a wee bit tired of being asked which way to Biggar, so he set up Angus to let people know. We didn’t need to ask direction to Broughton, as we could now see it nestling among the trees below its Heights.

Broughton and its Heights

Having arrived in Broughton we headed for the B&B, unloaded the bikes, went out to explore Glenholm glen, before heading into Broughton for supper at the Laurel Bank Tearoom Bar & Bistro. After all we had to make sure that we had done our 80 Km for the day.

There is a map of our route here.

My stats were (Station to B&B):

  • Distance cycled – 66.2 Km
  • Time spent riding – 03:22:01
  • Max Speed – 58.2 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 19.6 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – 530 ca. m

Details of the return ride are here.

Blasted back from Duns

Blasted back from Duns

Having struggled against a head wind all the way down the day before, we were sort of looking forward to having a tail wind helping us all the way home from Ravelaw (near Duns). Coming out of the B&B after a fine breakfast, we soon noticed the wind was still in the East South East and just as strong, if not stronger, than the day before. A later check of records from Charterhall showed the average wind speed to be 23 mph (37 Km/h), gusting to 37 mph (59.6 Km/h), which is not unsubstantial. Indeed, as Bernhard and I posed for photos outside Ravelaw House, the trees were bending in the wind.

Leaving Ravelaw on a windy day

Having set off, we first went south and east, which was odd, because our destination was to the north and west, but then that is what comes of putting a geographer in charge of the navigation, I suppose. The first place we passed through was the village of Whitsome, which has very little to detain the passing cyclist, so we didn’t bother stopping. There was some vague discussion of picking up supplies for the road, bananas, snackie bars, that sort of thing, so we headed for Chirnside with the aim of finding some shops. Having reached the outskirts, a further discussion on buying supplies ensued and it was decided that we didn’t need any. So we followed the A road around the village and didn’t go in, missing out on the delights of the 12th century church and an extra climb. On the subject of climbing, Bernhard, having shown the day before that he was the master climber, was rubbing in emphasising the point by wearing his Ötztaler Radmarathon finishers jersey.

Just short of Chirnsidebridge we turned off the A road and carried on along quiet little roads, seeing no other traffic. This is one of the things I like about cycling in the Scottish Borders, the number of quiet wee roads there are, but the B6355 seemed unusually quiet. We had passed traffic cones and a couple of blown over signs, but we hadn’t taken much notice, until we got to Nel Logan’s Bridge over the Preston Burn, just outside Preston. The bridge was closed for maintenance, which explained the total absence of traffic, but the workmen allowed us to cross over the bridge. However, we didn’t stop to look at the bridge itself, which is a shame, as it has a rather curious history. The bridge (which is now a Category B Listed Building) was build in 1793 with a single segmental-arch, this was later enclosed to form a gaol cell. According to local tradition, Napoleonic prisoners of war were held here while in transit to larger sites. The bridge is named after Nel Logan, she is said to have been the last person to have been imprisoned there, for the crime of sheep stealing. Apparently inside there are still metal rings in the wall to which, it is rumoured, the prisoners were chained. In the middle of the floor, directly above the burn, is a hole which is said to have been the toilet. There used to be a heavy wooden arch-shaped door, but this apparently fell apart some forty years ago. There are some pictures of the bridge on Flickr, really must stop to take a look next time.

We carried on through Preston, to cross the Whiteadder Water at Cockburn Mill Ford, which is now culverted and only a ford when the water is high. Then we followed the Mill Burn upstream to its watershed. Crossing over the watershed, we came down the dead pheasant highway, which was as heavily littered with road kill as the day before. We tore down the hill with the wind at our backs, fortunately there were no pheasants with suicidal intent throwing themselves before our wheels.

Reaching Ellemford Bridge, we crossed over the Whiteadder Water again, which was to become something of a habit as we crossed it a further four times.

Ellemford Bridge over Whiteadder Water

It was easy riding as we wended our way up past Cranshaws, following the Whiteadder Water up stream. I was starting to look forward to the prospect of wind assisted climbing on the Hungry Snout, but before this steep climb there is an easy slope by “The Bell”, which I sailed up this with ease. So when I came to the Hungry Snout itself I was feeling very confident. Having ridden this road before, I should have known better. The sign at the bottom says 14%, and although it looks easy on approach, it should not be underestimated, as there is a sting in the tail when you round the bend, hidden by the trees. However, confidence boosted, I decided to sprint up it. Bad idea. By the time I reached the steepest section, I was already breathing as hard as I could. I somehow managed to get past it, but as the road started to flatten off, my lungs were no longer able to supply my leg muscles with enough oxygen to keep going, and I had to stop and catch my breath. Utter madness, had I taken it slow and steady, it would had been easy. Ho Hum, but it was glorious.

Descending the north side of the Hungry Snout was fun, then we zipped alongside the Reservoir and up to the cattle grid, where we stopped for a snack and some water. Then, instead of going back the way we had come the day before, we turned off to follow the Whiteadder Water to its watershed. This is a great wee road, although the surface can be rough in places, but don’t let that put you off. Over the watershed, we decided to stop at the White Castle hill fort and take some photos, which isn’t so easy when the wind is trying to push you over.

Blown away at White Castle

The ride from White Castle to Garvald was an absolute blast! I achieved a new record top speed, 80.63 Km/h (50.1 mph), I hardly slowed on the climb up to Nunraw, it was a real blast. After Garvald, as we rode on to Gifford, we were no longer travelling with the wind, but rather across it, which was less comfortable. As we reached Townhead farm, we met a massive combine harvester, so wide it took up the whole road. Once it had passed, we rolled down into Gifford, for lunch at the café “Love Coffee… …and Food?”. It seemed far longer that the 24 hours since we had last been there, but the welcome was just as warm.

Over lunch we discussed taking the scenic route via Humbie, but decided that, given the wind conditions, we would go back the way we had come out the day before. Back on the road, we were confronted with road works just outside Gifford, with the west bound carriageway still being resurfaced. This prompted another change of plan which involved a dogleg along a minor road we hadn’t used before and then heading into East Saltoun from the south. As we rode along, I started to make a check list of things look for to determine if you were riding in a high wind or not, so…

Crows flying backward? check.
Large round straw bales blowing across a field? Check.
Corrugated iron sheets being torn off a barn roof? Check!
Large sections of tree laying in the road? Check!!

That last one also gives you the opportunity to check your brakes…

After passing through the Saltouns we headed for the old Pencaitland railway path and the shelter from the wind it offered. Then on to Whitecraig, where we picked up the NCN 1 back into town. We gave Bernhard the full tour, over the (not exactly cycle friendly) Brunstane Station bridge and the Innocent railway path, including the tunnel.

here is a map of our route here.

My stats were:

  • Distance cycled – 88.74 Km
  • Time spent riding – 04:08:20
  • Max Speed – 80.63 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 21.53 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – ca. 750 m
Spinning down to Duns

Spinning down to Duns

The three of us, Ulli, her cousin Bernhard (visiting on holiday) and myself, were looking for a cycle tour. I had originally intended to use my new bike but we haven’t gotten around to building it yet, something for a rainy day, after we got back.

We had thought of doing something in the west, maybe a few of the islands over several days, but then the weather intervened. So we decided that a trip into the Borders might be a better option, and to keep it to just two days. Knowing that Bernhard liked hills, Ulli and I had a particular hill in mind, which suggested a route over the Lammermuir Hills. We talked about staying overnight at a place in Coldstream where Ulli and I had been before, but decided we wanted to try something new instead. Duns was chosen as a target area, a quick internet search turned up a suitable looking B&B at a place called Ravelaw, which was swiftly booked. Accommodation sorted, all that was left was to plan a route and ride there.

The early parts of the route were relatively straightforward as we were on home ground. For the first part, instead of just picking up the NCN1, Ulli decided which should use the Joppa variation. The Joppa variation has the advantage of avoiding the not so cycle friendly bridge at Brunstane Station. However, it has the disadvantage of a lot of streets with setts. It should be noted at this point that Ulli has the bike with the widest tyres, but it gave us the chance to joke about training for the Paris–Roubaix, once our teeth had stopped rattling.

Past Brunstane Station we joined the NCN1 and followed it out to Whitecraig, just before Whitecraig there is a short steep slope. As we approached I saw two cyclists up ahead at the start of the slope, and decided to take the first few points towards the polka dot jersey, knowing full well these were likely to be the only points I would get on the whole trip. The two cyclists were a wee bit surprised to be overtaken, at speed, by a hybrid bike with loaded panniers on the back, probably because they didn’t know that this was a cat four climb and there were points at stake (OK, I am getting sad in my old age).

As usual we parted company with the NCN1 at Whitecraig, choosing to turn west to Smeaton and on up past the bing on Smeaton Shaw, which is currently being rearranged to make way for a recycling centre. Currently this area is something of a mess. Before the landscaping began, the bing was partly hidden by trees, and in about 20 years time it will be again. We were fortunate that there were no heavy lorries about as we cycled on to Chalkieside to join the old railway which once served the coal pit which produced the bing. Once on the old railway, which is part of Regional Cycle Route 73, we were relatively sheltered from the wind as we rode to Pencaitland.

I haven’t mentioned the wind so far, and this is a good point in the story to bring it in. The weather was bright and sunny, but rather inconveniently the wind was blowing from the South East, straight into our faces. As the day went on, the wind seemed to get stronger, records from Charterhall showed the average wind speed to be 18 mph (28.9 Km/h), gusting to 30 mph (48.3 Km/h). Not the easiest cycling conditions, but I have ridden in worse.

At Pencaitland we rejoined the road and headed on through the Saltoun’s towards Gifford, past East Saltoun we found that the road was being resurfaced. Fortunately for us, the east bound carriageway had been done first and was now beautifully smooth, which made progress a lot easier, in spite of the wind. This was a good thing, as lunch was now calling, and I sprinted into Gifford, only to find that the café (Love Coffee… …and Food?) was already full of cyclists. At first I thought it was some sort of club run, but it turned out they were just couples and small groups who had all turned up around lunch time. No wonder the owners, Pam and Craig, are so keen on cyclists, they have in the past said that these are their favourite customers, now they are talking about selling “Love Coffee… …and Food?” cycle jerseys. Anyway, we managed to find a wee bit of space and had some lunch, and a bit of chat and banter with some of the other cyclists.

Lunch over, we set out again, taking the scenic route which take you around Yester House (said to be Scotland’s most expensive house, although it didn’t fetch the asking price of £15m or probably even the reduced price £12m. In fact, it would appear to be still for sale), but you never actually get you a view of it from the road. You do however get some good views of the Lammermuir Hills and the road up Newlands Hill to Redstone Rig. Turning on to the B6355, I became aware that we were not going to be alone going up to the Rig, there was a Dutch car rally going the same way. This was unfortunate, as the Dutch are some of the worst drivers in Europe, the concept of sharing the roads with cyclists is somewhat alien to them, which was probably why Dutch cyclists need separate cycle lanes. Local drivers were giving me plenty of room, but not the Dutch. All I wish to say to the driver who came within 60cm of me is “Krijg kanker en ga dood, Hoerenjong!” OK, that has got that off my chest, back to the story.

As you reach the foot of the climb, there is a combination of road sign and road marking which suggests that someone in the ELC transport department might have a sense of humour, or maybe not.

Prediction or advice?
© B. Dragosits 2010.

I mean, who else would tell you to slow as you hit a 17% uphill gradient? Given that we were going straight into a strong and gusty South Easterly wind, I took the instruction literally. For me this is a nemesis hill, I have yet to get up it without getting off the bike. Then again trying it without panniers weighing 10 Kg or so would probably be a good idea. Bernhard, on the other hand, just sailed up the hill (a pretty impressive feat directly into the wind), but then he is a veteran of the Ötztaler Radmarathon. So there was never any doubt of who was going to win the polka dot jersey.

Having reached the top, we were presented with the choice of continuing in a SE direction over the tops towards Longformacus or turning east and taking the low road via Cranshaws. This wasn’t a difficult decision, we took the low road, but it still wasn’t an easy ride. On a previous occasion, riding down the road past Mayshiel I hit a top speed of 69.4 Km/h, this time I was struggling to get up to 50 Km/h (I can get up to that speed on the flat). Further down the road, the Whiteadder Reservoir had white horses on it, with dinghies scudding back and forth on a beam reach. Fortunately when we came to the climb on the Hungry Snout, it was sheltered from the wind.

Passing Cranshaws, I saw the oddest tricycle I have ever seen, it was made from an ordinary child’s bike, but with two wheels mounted outboard of the front forks. Beyond Cranshaws, we crossed the Whiteadder at Ellemford Bridge for the last time and started up the dead pheasant highway. I have never known such a road for road kill, it was littered with dead pheasants and the odd rabbit thrown in for good measure, for about 2 Km.

We carried on to the end of the road where it met the main road between Duns and Preston (A6112). Here we were turning left, Bernhard was in the lead and abruptly switched over onto the right hand side of the road, closely followed by Ulli, I found myself loudly clearing my throat and saying in a loud voice “Links, links!”, fortunately there was nothing coming the other way.

Shortly afterwards, we turned right off the main road and wended our way through a maze of wee roads, crossed over the Blackadder and finally found Ravelaw Farm. By now we were getting tired and were confused at not seeing a B&B sign. We carried on another 200 m along the road and up a slight rise before seeing it. Having arrived, we were given a warm welcome and enjoyed a pleasant and comfortable stay.

There is a map of our route here.

My stats were:

  • Distance cycled – 83.2 Km
  • Time spent riding – 04:29:26
  • Max Speed – 56.2 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 19.3 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – ca. 620 m
Bimbling through the Borders (Pt 2) – Galashiels to Edinburgh

Bimbling through the Borders (Pt 2) – Galashiels to Edinburgh

Saturday morning: Galashiels. We had arrived by bicycle the evening before, having ridden along the NCN 1 from Berwick upon Tweed. The route had been well signed posted until we entered Galashiels along the old Tweedbank railway line and had then faded out. This hadn’t bothered us the evening before as, at that time, we were more interested in finding our B&B for the night. However, in the morning it became more of an issue, we rejoined the old Tweedbank railway line and followed it west, but this led us to a dead end. We looked at the OS map we had with us, and found that this showed the NCN 1 stopping in Galashiels, then starting again some miles away at Peel, to the south of Clovenfords.

We found our own way to Clovenfords along the A72 which was not ideal, as even early on a Saturday morning it was a busy road. When we reached Clovenfords, we noticed a few cyclists hanging out outside the Clovenfords Hotel in the middle of the village. Then, as we turned off the A72 on to the B710, we saw a temporary sign say “Watch out for cyclists”, and we started to wonder if there was a cycling event somewhere in the area. At Caddonfoot, we briefly picked up the A707 before crossing the Tweed to join the old road and the NCN 1, at Peel. This road is a very pleasant ride, undulating above the river Tweed, through fields and along the woodland edge. It is sufficiently far from the new road, on the far side of the Tweed, that you don’t hear the traffic noise and the views are better. Indeed, in many places along the old road you can’t even see the new road.

Another quiet road in the Borders

It is a single track road with passing places and gets very little motor traffic, but, on the day we were riding it, there seemed to be lots of cyclists coming the other way. When the first rider came past with an event number on his bars, we thought it might be a local race, but then we passed more riders, not all of whom where on road bikes and they didn’t seem to be racing. It turned out to be the Bethany Trust Cyclosportive, we were meeting outbound cyclists on the 72 mile (115.9 Km) route, there was also a 111 mile (178.6 Km) route. We found this out from a marshal standing at the junction of the B709, where we turned right across the Tweed.

Arriving in Innerleithen, we found that there were bicycles everywhere, many of them attached to cars. Unfortunately some of the drivers of these cars seem to be unaware that cyclists have the right to use the roads, which is rather sad, but that is mountain bikers for you. Our first stop in Innerleithen was a supermarket to pick up some cake, then on to see some friends. In my experience arriving at friends bearing cake is a sure way to be warmly welcomed, especially if said friends have a child under the age of six months and are unlikely to have had the time to prepare anything ahead of your arrival. As predicted, we (and the cake) were welcomed with open arms and invited to come sit in the garden, at which point I asked if we could sit in the shade, as it had been rather hot cycling in the sun. We sat in a cool shady place and were plied with drinks (and ate most of the cake) by our wonderfully hospitable hosts, for a pleasant hour or so.

Suitably refreshed, we set out once more to tackle the big climbs of the day, following the B709 north out of Innerleithen to cross the Moorfoot Hills. At first the road climbs so gently that you hardly notice you are climbing, but that doesn’t last long. The road first follows the Leithen Water.

Colquhar looking north, Scottish Borders.

Then after Colquhar it turns to follow the Glentress Water along a narrow glen, the hills seem to close in and enfold you as you climb. Crossing the watershed at the head of the Glentress Water, the road levels briefly before trending downhill along the Dewar Burn. As we had been climbing up along the Glentress Water, there had been an anabatic wind, warming adiabatically, blowing down the glen, but now after crossing the watershed we were met by a cold anabatic wind blowing up the glen. Above us, dark cumulus clouds were forming, we had the feeling that there would be thunderstorms later.

On the way up we had only seen a few cyclists come down towards us, none of them part of the cyclosportive, but as we passed the road coming in from Heriot, they started to appear again. By now we were climbing once again, rather gratifyingly the cyclosportive riders weren’t passing us any speed, they were on road bikes and we were on loaded hybrid bikes with panniers. Topping out of final climb on the shoulder of Broad Law, we were disappointed to find the view to the north obscured by haze, on a clear day this would be a spectacular view. I was also disappointed to find that, here as well, there was an anabatic wind which would have been a delight to a hang-glider pilot, but to a descending cyclist looking for speed it was just a nuisance. Indeed the only decent speed I achieved was on a relativity modest slope after turning left towards Middleton, which was sheltered by trees.

The Intrepid Cyclist going down.

The road beyond Middleton is appalling, with the surface breaking up badly. At one point there was a traffic cone at the side of the road, just past it there was a hole over 1.5 m deep and almost 1 m across. Fortunately there was little traffic other than cyclists on the road, as to be forced over by a motor vehicle into one of these pot holes could be fatal. There are quarries marked on the map, it is not clear if these are all still active, but if they are, this would do a lot to explain the state of the road.

Eventually we popped out on to the B3672 just east of Temple. We followed it west to the Braidwood Bridge, and we were back on familiar ground, so we carried on to Carrington, where we stopped to decide which way to go next. Neither of us was keen on taking the NCN 1 route into Edinburgh. We decided that going home via Polton, as we had done the week before, was not such a good idea, as we knew just how steep the hill was (there is an arrow on the map indicating a 14% gradient on both sides). I suggested going via Auchendinny, but that was too far out of the way, so as a compromise solution we settled on going via Roslin Glen. We were aware that there was a bit of a climb on the far side, but there were no arrows marked on the map. When we crossed the bridge over the North Esk, it came as a bit of a surprise that there was a sign giving the upward gradient as 16%. We both dropped into the granny ring and prepared to grind our way up. Personally I was surprised to find that I was able to smoothly pedal all the way up without resorting to the smallest sprockets, Ulli didn’t seem to struggle either. However, we did pass a couple who were pushing mountain bikes up. Beyond Roslin, we picked up the main road at Bilston and followed the familiar commuter route home. Just after reaching home ,the threatened storm finally broke and the rain bucketed it down, with thunder and lightening in the distance over the Moorfoot Hills.

There is a map of our route here.

My stats were (mostly lost):

  • Distance cycled – 75.2 Km
  • Vertical climb – ca. 790 m
Bimbling through the Borders (Pt 1) – Berwick to Galashiels

Bimbling through the Borders (Pt 1) – Berwick to Galashiels

After some effort, we managed to secure reservations for two bicycles on the train from Edinburgh Waverley to Berwick-upon-Tweed, that was the good news. The bad news was that it was on the 08:11 departure, and this was a Friday. We had decided to set out on Friday for two reasons, one because the weather forecast for Sunday was increasingly poor and we wanted to be back before the weather broke. The second reason had something to do with the date, which I always forget.

As we set out, the weather was glorious, blue sky, sun shine, light wind, what more could you ask for? The train journey south was uneventful, I dozed through most of it. Getting off the train in Berwick-upon-Tweed, it was grey and dull, no real surprise, well we were in England after-all, or maybe it was the haar caused by the onshore breeze? On our way out of the station, we found signs for the NCN 1 telling use that Edinburgh was 100 miles (160.9 Km) away, doable in a day for those who are into that sort of thing, or a good distance for a two day jaunt.

100 Mile to Edinburgh

Photos taken, we set off. The route is refreshingly well sign posted and quickly takes you out of town on quiet roads. However it wasn’t all good news, little more than 2 Km from the station you get a typical Sustrans experience. The route turns off a quiet farm road (which has a bridge over the A1) and down a narrow overgrown path with hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) on both sides, and then it pops you out on the A1 to cross a dual carriageway without a marked crossing. Safely across, we were soon back on a quiet country road, pedalling along through open farmland under a dull grey sky. Then, as we crossed over the Whiteadder Water and approached Gainslaw Hill, the sky started to clear and the sun come out, the explanation for this was clear, just ahead there was a large sign “Scotland Welcomes you”.

This was one of the three border crossings on the route, each time the pattern was the same, on the Scottish side there would a sign saying “Scotland Welcomes you”, but on the other side there would be a sign saying “England”. This speaks volumes about the different cultural attitudes towards strangers of the two nations ;-). Not that we were in Scotland for long, as only 5 Km further on, the route took us back across the Border. This time crossing the River Tweed on the Union Chain Bridge, one of the interesting things about this bridge is that there was a toll booth on the English end of the bridge. So you had to pay to get into England, but on the west side of the river, “Scotland Welcomes you”.

Just up the road from the road from the Union Chain Bridge is the next point of interest, the Chain Bridge Honey Farm. It is well worth the visit, but a warning to the touring cyclist, when you pick up a jar of honey, the weight marked on the label is the weight of the content not the whole weight you will end up carrying. That said, it is worth it, as is getting some of the Beer and Honey Cake for later consumption, taking in calories is important if you are cycling distance.

Next stop of interest is Norham Castle, first built by the Bishop of Durham in 1121 and encapsulating 900 years of turbulent borders history in one building. Ulli was keen to stop and take photos, but I, to be honest, was more interested in the road down to Norham village, wide swooping bends dropping by about 30m in about 200m, great fun. Beyond Norham we crossed the river Tweed and the border once again and were welcomed back into Scotland. The riding was easy along quiet back roads, sometimes lined with trees, through rich rolling farmland.

Another quiet road in the Borders

Mostly, along this section, the routes seems to avoid settlements, which is probably why there was so little traffic. The route is well signposted, so there is little chance of getting lost, but it is worth carrying a map if you want to branch out to explore or look for supplies. It does pass through the occasional villages such as Eccles and Ednam, but these are just wee places. It also bypasses Kelso with its ruined abbey, which is worth a diversion. We stopped for a long lazy lunch in a small café (the Hoot ‘n’ Cat) not far from the abbey, which was very welcome. There is little left of Kelso Abbey now, much of it destroyed in the wars of the three kingdoms, but in its heyday it must have been massive.

Leaving Kelso, we had to negotiate a short section of A road (the A6089), which is also part of the NCN1. It was odd to realise this was the busiest road we had encountered since crossing the A1. The other thing of note on leaving Kelso is the large gilded gateway to Floors Castle, a clear statement of wealth and power. Our route took us round the back, past the tradesmen’s entrance, and once again we were on quiet roads with great views across the Borders countryside.

Looking to Hume Castle in the distance:
Borders landscape, looking to Hume Castle in the distance

Or looking to the Eildon Hills:
Looking to the Eildon Hills across the Borders landscape

While were stopped for photos, we were passed by a speed walking lady who was in training for the MoonWalk. We then moved on, only to stop again just round the corner to take more photos (from a better angle or without power lines in the way), and a couple of minutes later we would be overtaken by the speed walking lady. It felt like being in one of Aesop’s fables.

Next off was Dryburgh and its Abbey, but first there was the little matter of Clinthill. Given the rising temperature, we were fortunate to be going down the hill, unlike the couple on the tandem who were working hard on the way up, well the guy on the front was, the lassie on the back was taking easier. We didn’t actually go into the Abbey and visit Sir Walter Scott’s grave, we got as far as the shop at the entrance where we bought ice cream, then sat in the shade to eat it.

Ice cream eaten, we were off to cross the Tweed once again, this time by a beautiful traffic free bridge. Of course, having crossed the river, we then had to climb up the other side, but at least it was shady and cool. Then on across the A68 and along the old road. Just beyond Newton St Boswells the old road is closed to motorised traffic, which makes for pleasant cycling. We passed round below the Eildon Hills, which we had earlier seen the distance, but now we were so close we didn’t see them above us. Then we dropped down into Melrose, skirted past the Abbey and decided to visit it another day. We picked up an off road cycle path along an old railway through Tweedbank. It is not yet clear where the NCN 1 will go when the railway line is reinstated in a couple of years time.

It was then on to find our B&B for the night in Galashiels. There was still on surprise to come, between Newton St. Boswells and Tweedbank we had passed a number of touring cyclists, eight of whom proceeded to turn up at our B&B a short while after we did. It turned out that 90% of the guests at the B&B that night were cycling the NCN 1.

There is a map of our route here.

My stats were (mostly lost):

  • Distance cycled – 86.51 Km
  • Vertical climb – ca. 510 m
A gentle breeze to the Border

A gentle breeze to the Border

After a week of watching the weather forecast, the three of us, David, Ulli and myself, set out for the border to pick up the CC Relay Jersey. We had been hoping for blue skies, sunshine and light winds, what we got was partly clear skies with the threat of showers and strengthening winds. The plan was simple, cycle out from Edinburgh over the Lammermuir Hills and down to Coldstream to meet on the bridge over the Tweed to collect the Jersey. The forecast on Saturday morning was showers moving away to the south and 8mph westerly winds gusting to 21mph. This didn’t sound too bad, so we decided to go with the plan.

We headed out of Edinburgh through Holyrood Park along the NCN 1 cycle route, a mixture of off road cycle paths and quiet roads. On the western edge of Whitecraigs, we departed from NCN 1 and headed off across country towards Gifford, where we planned to make a cake stop. As we approached East Saltoun, a car with an amber flashing light came the other way, being chased down by a crowd of roadies.

Meeting the lead car
Road race passing
This turned out to be the Musselburgh RCC British Eagle 62 mile road race, which had just started from East Saltoun.

This early part of the ride was easy going and we were making good progress, so we dodged round Gifford and headed for the Lammermuir Hills without the cake stop. As we climbed above Danskine, we started to notice that the wind was somewhat stronger that we had been led to expect, over 20mph gusting over 40 mph. We stopped for a bite of lunch before tackling the first big climb of the day up Wanside Rig, a mere 17% gradient. Unfortunately on the steepest part of the climb the road turns westerly, straight into the wind, and we were all forced to stop. After a short walk, we were back on the bikes and heading on to the top, where we had to decide whether to carry on with the exposed high route or whether to take the lower sheltered route (which were planning to come back by). We decided to stick with the plan and take the high route, so began a titanic battle with the elements.

On the Lammermuirs

The Lammermuir Hills might only be 500 m high, but there is a good reason why they are popular with developers of wind farms, as we were about to find out. As we cycled across the tops, we had to keep to the middle of the road, so as not to be blown off the side in the gusts. After crossing Herd’s Hil, the road drops on a 15% gradient. I set off at speed, half way down I was travelling at over 50 Km/h (>30 mph), but had the disconcerting experience of being hit by a gust of wind which reduced my forward speed to 10 Km/h!

We then had a couple of Km sheltered by the Killpallet Heights before climbing up Duddy Bank, another 17% gradient. Only this time we had the wind behind us, I do love wind assisted climbing, it is like having a giant hand pushing you up the hill. Once on the tops again we at the mercy of the wind, and there were times when I could hear my bike chain rattling in the gusts. The landscape surrounding us was spectacular, it was just a shame that we were too busy trying to stay upright and moving forward to fully appreciate it. Nor were we the only ones to be up there, we did meet a couple of walkers and some other cyclists, but we were the only cyclists to be lugging fully loaded panniers.

Finally we dropped down into Longformacus, the Southern Upland Way crosses through the village and there is a small shelter with a map and leaflets. We stopped to take a look, and as we did so a few drops of rain began to fall. David and Ulli dug out their waterproof trousers, I only had a pair of bibbed longs with me and decided that, as it was only a passing shower, I would wait it out. However, whilst up on the tops I had been so busy fighting the wind that I had failed to notice the dark clouds to the south of us. The rain seemed to be easing off, so we set off south, only to catch up with the rain again. We rode on through the rain, discovering the other thing I had failed to notice from the tops, Hardens Hill. It’s only 320 m high, but that was high enough in steady rain, coming down the other side at a steady 50 Km/h was interesting.

I had to keep pedalling to keep warm, this meant that I lost Ulli and David, but eventually I reached a junction where I had to stop and wait. Fortunately they weren’t too far behind. We pushed on through Duns, which also meant we pushed on further into the rain front. Fortunately the front managed to get away from us a few Km south of Duns, and we mostly dried out again over the remaining 15 undulating Km to Coldstream, with only our shoes still wet.

Having arrived in Coldstream, we booked into our B&B, the very cycle friendly Haymount House. I tried to phone Jez who we had come to meet, only to find I had missed a digit when storing the number in my mobile phone. Fortunately two minutes later he phoned me to say that he and Graham were ready to meet us at the bridge and hand over the relay jersey. This was good, as the whole point of making the journey was to pick up the CycleChat Relay Jersey, which is making it way, slowly, around Britain (and maybe beyond). After a cup of tea, we set off again for the bridge. There, standing mid way over the River Tweed, on the border between Scotland and England, the Jersey was handed over. We then went to the “Welcome to Scotland” sign (there are no Welcome to England signs) for some more photos, agreed to meet Jez for dinner (Graham having pedalled off back towards Newcastle), and returned to the B&B for a long hot bath to sooth the aching muscles, before dinner.

CC relay jersey reaches the promised land

A map of the route can be found here.

The Stats:

  • Distance cycled – 86.3 Km
  • Time spent riding – 04:35:24
  • Max Speed – 55.7 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 18.8 KM/h
  • Vertical climb – ca. 930 m
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