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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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