Tour de Galloway day 2 (mountain stage): Glen Trool Forest and South Ayrshire Alps

Route – Newton Stewart to Glentrool to Straiton to Loch Trool to Glentrool to Newton Stewart. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – Cloudy and cool to start with but hot and sunny after lunch. Not much wind.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 77.67 miles
  • Riding time – 5 hours 51 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 33.8 mph
  • Average speed – 13.3 mph
  • Height climbed – 4898 feet

On the second day of our summer holidays Dad and I were up nice and early and after a breakfast of Aldi’s version of Special K (surprisingly tasty and very cheap), we were out on our bikes before 9am. Before going to bed the night before, I had planned a very long route for us which turned out to be rather more hilly than expected. But I really like hills so we had a cracking day out in some of the most beautiful countryside in the south of Scotland.

To start with we took the cycle path alongside the River Cree into Newton Stewart where we saw a heron creeping around in the shallow water looking for its fishy breakfast. Then, after a brief spell on the main street and a quick cycle over the grand-looking bridge across the river, we turned left onto a minor road, following the Cycle Route no.7 sign – we were going to follow route 7 for most of the day. This quiet single track road soon took us out into the countryside, basically following the River Cree northwards, going in and out of the trees for quite a number of miles. This area is called Wood of Cree and looked like a nice place to go for a walk. Although it looked mainly flat, it actually felt very slightly uphill as we cycled along the deserted road. Eventually we came to a junction and turned right and here the landscape changed as we entered the Glen Trool

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Forest. Here the trees are mainly conifers and there’s lots of evidence of forestry operations (ie. trees being chopped down!) and signs warning to watch out for forestry lorries. It was Sunday though so we didn’t see any lorries at all, or even any cars as we had the lovely smooth, narrow road all to ourselves. Soon we reached Glentrool village but instead of turning left into the village, we went right, heading into some even more remote countryside of the Glen Trool Forest.

From this point on, the road starts to climb more noticably uphill, not enough to have to use any low gears but enough so that your legs really do start to complain – especially as it goes on like this for a long long time (10 miles or so I think). Sometimes the road was lined with spruce trees on both sides but sometimes we had great views over to the Galloway Hills on the right as we cycled along, in and out of the trees. This area has the most wild blueberries I’ve ever seen – and they were very tasty! At some point we passed 2 signs: one was warning that from this point on the road is only gritted during daylight hours; the other was warning that we were about to enter Ayrshire!

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The warning signs weren’t necessary though as Ayrshire turned out to be perfectly lovely and at this point the road really did start climbing much more steeply as it wound its way quickly up to the high point of the so called Nick of the Balloch climb at around 400m high. We stopped at the top for a blueberry feast before speeding down the north side of the Balloch as fast as we dared. There are crash barriers on the left side to protect you from a very steep drop if you were to lose control on one of the twisting corners, but thankfully we made it down the steep hill safely enough. We passed a large group of cyclists heading up the other way. It looks like it would be a very impressive, but hard, climb from that side so I think I will go back there another day to give it a go.

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After a very brief flat bit at the bottom of the Balloch, we immediatly began climbing up the next steep hill of the “Ayrshire Alps”. This hill is known as The Pilot for some unknown reason and it was quite a hard slog up to the top of the single track road but we did spot an ancient stone signpost which told us we were 10 miles from a place called Maybole and 24 miles from Newton Stewart. The descent down the other side of the hill gave us a grand view over the Ayrshire countryside and some wind farms in the distance and we enjoyed speeding down the hill into the valley below. Well, at least I enjoyed it – Dad was unfortunate enough to be stung on the elbow by a wasp whilst travelling at over 30 mph! At the bottom of the hill, the sun finally came out and we turned right onto a rather bumpy single track road for a few easy miles past fields of sheep and cows until we arrived at the village of Straiton where we decided to stop for lunch. It was our usual fare: crisps, oatcakes, salad, apples and (for Dad) cheapo Aldi chocolate.

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After lunch we cycled through Straiton (which seemed like a nice little place) and then turned right at the sign pointing to Newton Stewart and we began our long journey home. At first the road was quite flat with 2 lanes, though it wasn’t all that busy. The views of the valley and the hills in the distance were quite nice in the sunshine. After a while the road narrowed and began to climb upwards into the hills. It was long but quite a gradual climb which took us back into the Galloway Forest again. At one point we crossed a bridge over the oddly named River Stinchar and then the road began to climb

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ever more steepy until we finally reached the top – the highest point of the day at well over 400m. From there we had a great view over to the Balloch hill we’d cycled over a couple of hours before, as well as the road ahead, disappearing off down the hill in front of us. It looked like a fun and fast descent – and it was! Soon enough we were back onto the same road we had cycled up this morning. In this direction, heading south towards Glen Trool, it was really great fun. It was nearly all slightly downhill and smooth tarmac with hardly any traffic to be seen as we said goodbye to Ayrshire and sped back into Galloway. The fast fun seemed to go on for endless miles and with the sunshine and blue skies replacing this morning’s grey, low cloud, the views of the hills and the forest were much more impressive.

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It wasn’t long before we reached the sign welcoming us back to Glentrool village. But again, we avoided the village and turned left and decided to cycle the 4 miles or so right into the heart of the Glen Trool Forest and the stunning hills surrounding the picturesque Loch Trool. The road was fairly flat apart from a couple of short but very steep climbs right at the end, just before we got the end of the tarmac at the parking area for Bruce’s Stone. Bruce’s Stone is a monument that was errected to commemorate Robert the Bruce’s victory at the Battle of Glen Trool in 1307. The stone is just a big boulder with nothing historic about it so is not really worth looking at, despite all the tourists that flock there to get their picture taken. The views of the hills and the loch are grand though.

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We then cycled back along the narrow road and this time turned left and finally did go along the road through Glentrool Village and after a mile of two we came to the junction with the A714 road. It would have been a nice easy 5 or 6 mile ride downhill from here to Newton Stewart. But I was still feeling full of energy so after a brief time on the main road we turned right onto the narrowest, and possibly the nicest, road of the day. As usual it was suspiciously uphill but this was made up for by the increadible views behind us back to the hills of the Galloway Forest where we’d been only half an hour before. The

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road took us past Loch Ochiltree as we climbed up and around a small grassy hill. From the high point we had a lovely long and straight slightly downhill stretch which took us quickly to the junction with the B7027. Here we turned left onto the smoothest road in the world. It was such a pleasure to cycle on it as it took us through areas of the Galloway Forest that had recently been cut down. It was also mostly downhill and very fast and before long we came to another junction with the A714 once more. We could have been there much quicker if we hadn’t taken our long cut, but we’d have missed out on some of the best views of the day so I was glad we’d gone the long and hilly way. After that we turned right and sped down the hill for a mile or so to Newton Stewart where we stopped at the Co-op to buy ice lollies to try and cool ourselves down! Then it was only a half mile or so back to our accomodation at Nether Barr where we arrived just in time for tea (mushroom risotto) – so that was well timed. It had been a bit of an epic adventure through some beautiful countryside and definitely one of the highlights of our holiday in Dumfries and Galloway.

Highland Perthshire Adventure vol 2: Tay Valley, Glen Quaich, Sma’ Glen, Glen Almond, Little Glenshee

Route – Bankfoot to Dunkeld to Dalguise to Strathtay to Kenmore to Amulree to Buchanty to Tullybelton to Bankfoot. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – hot and sunny with only a gentle breeze.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 66.15 miles
  • Riding time – 5 hours 6 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 33.8 mph
  • Average speed – 13.0 mph
  • Height climbed – 4284 feet

The weather in Scotland has been unbelievably dry and sunny for the past few months so Dad and I have been taking advantage of it and going out cycling as much as we possibly can. One of my favourite routes we have done this summer was when we cycled around beautiful Glen Lyon and Loch Tay at the end of May and I have been desparate to go back to the area ever since. So it was on a sunny sunday afternoon near the end of June that we returned to the valleys and hills of Perthshire for an amazing day out on our bikes.

After parking the car on the main street in the village of Bankfoot, which is just off the main A9 road about 10 miles north of Perth, we got on our bikes and headed north out of the village. This was on the B867 road which forms part of National Cycle Route no.77. It is a fairly quiet and flat road that takes you through peaceful countryside made up of woodlands and fields of sheep, cows and barley, with rolling hills in the distance. Before too long, the road ended at a junction onto the very busy A9 trunk road. It’s not a road you really want to cycle on if you have any sense. Thankfully, we didn’t have to brave the traffic though and we followed the Route 77 signs onto a nice tarmac cycle path. The path took us the last mile or 2 to Dunkeld, passing right through the car park of the train station, before going through an underpass to the other side of the main road and into the town. Here we cycled over a grand bridge over the River Tay and then right through the town centre which was hoaching with tourists enjoying the weather and the ice cream. It was too early for us to stop for a 2 scoop cone (although Dad wanted to of course…) so we carried on and turned left at the next cycle route 77 sign, through an amazing old archway, out of the town and into what appeared to be a private country estate.

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The cycle route took us into the woods and then right along the side of the River Tay. Due to the long period of dry weather, the water level was really low and there were some little beaches visible at the sides. We didn’t have time to stop and paddle or build a sandcastle though… Somewhere along the way the nice smooth tarmac path turned into a bumpy, gravelly track which was very hard to cycle on with skinny road bike tyres. I almost wished we’d gone on the A9 instead (!), it was that horrible to ride on. Better with a mountain bike on this path so take note. After a slow couple of miles, we emerged unscathed from the trees and up a ramp until we came out onto a shared use path right along the side of the A9 road. Heading againsts the flow of the fast traffic, the few hundred metres on this rather narrow pavement was not pleasant at all but at least it didn’t last long and it did take us back over to the other side of the river and to the junction with the B898 road where we followed the cycle route signs pointing right. Soon we were away from the speeding cars and lorries of the A9.

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The B898 basically follows the River Tay for 9 miles and is one of the nicest cycling roads you can imagine. It’s a good surface, has very little in the way of traffic, it’s very flat with only a few small hills and the views along the Tay Valley are great. You can even see some of the high mountains away in the distance at some points. Eventually, the B road runs out and becomes the A827 heading for Aberfeldy on the south side of the Tay. However, our route was to follow the north side of the river so we turned right over a bridge to the other side and then took the next left turn onto the back road which was part of National Cycle Route no.7.

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This road was even quieter than the B898 and was equally flat and nice to cycle on as it follows the River Tay upstream. The road passes in and out of the trees so we got some welcome shade from the strong sun. We also got some really nice views of the river at times and passed a nice looking little golf course at Strathtay. Before too long we caught sight of the strange-looking bridge that leads you across the river into Aberfeldy. Dad remembered that there was a brilliant ice cream shop there and suggested making a short detour to get some. It had been rather good but I told him I wanted to keep going so we headed straight onto the B846 with Dad mutterering away to himself (something about being a bit peckish I believe…). The B846 heads for Glen Lyon and we cycled on it last time we were here. It’s nice and flat and fast going, and the further along it you go the better the views of the hills and mountains become. Just after the River Lyon meets the River Tay, we turned off the B road and onto a narrow road and followed the Tay a few more miles until we reached the A827 again at Kenmore on the shores of Loch Tay. We turned left and sped downhill through the village. Dad spotted yet another ice cream place but I said “no” again. I didn’t want to stop now because I was too excited about the massive challenge facing us next – the climb up Kenmore Hill, one of the longest and steepest hill climbs in Scotland!

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So we turned right off the A road onto the minor road on the south side of Loch Tay. But after only a few metres, we turned left onto a very narrow but smooth road and the start of Kenmore Hill. This is a really seriously hard climb as it takes you up to well over 500m high, climbing nearly 1400 feet in 3 miles. The first section is by far the hardest though (well over 20% gradient in places) and with some really steep, sharp corners to negociate. I managed fine though and pedalled up through the trees at a reasonable speed, leaving Dad flagging behind (no doubt wishing he’d been allowed to have his ice cream). After what seemed like ages, I emerged from the trees and the hills on the left and behind us really started to come into view and it was obvious that I’d climbed a long way up already in quite a short distance.

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After crossing a cattle grid overgrown with weeds, there was a brief slightly downhill section (or at least it felt downhill compared to the previous mile!). At the end of the “downhill” I passed a house on the corner of the road and then it became very steep once again, through the trees at first and then finally out onto the open moorland. From there, the climb gets quite a bit easier thankfully. This is good because if you have made it this far without stopping, your legs will be pretty broken by now. Well, Dad’s were – I was still remarkably fine… The gradual climb seemed to go on and on and on forever, passing a tiny lochan on the left and if you look behind, there are increadible views of the high mountains, including Schiehallion, which seem much closer than they really are.

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It is a very bare and bleak, heathery landscape this high up and you can imagine it’s not the best place to get caught in a blizzard… It was lovely today though in the warm sun with hardly any wind at all. It isn’t that obvious when you have actually reached the top of the hill but when I was sure I was definitley heading down the other side, I stopped to wait for Dad. After 10 minutes enjoying the most stunning views down into Glen Quaich below, Dad finally showed up. As usual he told me he’d stopped to take lots of photos so that’s why he was so slow…

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The descent down the hill into Glen Quaich was extremely fast (this side of the hill is possibly even steeper than the one we’d come up and I reckon it will be amazing to cycle up it) but there’s quite a few hairpin bends to watch out for so we were braking hard and trying to go as safely as possible around those corners. In a matter of minutes we were right down into one of the nicest glens you will ever see, cycling on one of the quietest

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roads you’ll ever ride on. Loch Freuchie looked lovely as we approached it and we could see more hills and mountains off in the distance, getting closer and closer as we cycled along the side of the loch. The road is mainly flat or slightly downhill through the glen so it is quite a fast ride. At one point a couple of sheep decided to race us along the road before giving up and diving through a gap in the fence and into a field. Soon we arrived in the tiny village of Amulree, where the narrow road ends. We’d done more than 40 miles by now so I finally agreed to stop for a break and we sat in the sun, enjoying a feast of oatcakes, salad, Parma Ham, cheese, blueberries and crisps. Sadly, there was no ice cream shop anywhere to be seen so Dad had to make do with a Yorkie bar…

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Next we turned right onto the A822. This is one of the quietest A main roads I’ve cycled on and also one of the most scenic. It takes you through the Sma’ Glen where steep mountains tower above you on both sides of the narrow valley as the road follows the River Almond for a few miles. The sun was quite low in the sky by now so this made the views even more impressive. Eventually, we came to a junction on the left and turned off onto the B8063, following the river into Glen Almond. This narrow road was the quietest of all and took us into some of the most peaceful countryside in Perthshire, travelling in and out of the trees, passing endless fields and giving us fine views down the valley to the east. We could even see the Lomond Hills a long way away in the distance.

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Shortly after passing Logiealmond Primary School we turned left onto a single track road, heading for the hills again and the interestingly named Little Glenshee. I’ve never been to “big” Glenshee, high up in the mountains south of Braemar, but I imagine someone must have thought this glen looked like a miniature version of it. There was no sign of a ski centre here though but it did have one of the most unusual pieces of road ever. At the head of the glen, just before reaching a farm, the road passes through a ford

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in the river and just after that it has a 180 degree bend. You literally turn right around and cycle back in the opposite direction for a hundred metres. It was almost like a mini dual cariageway with grass for the central reservation! From there we had the most fun, slightly downhill stretch of road to cycle on for most of the 6 miles back to Bankfoot. We were going so fast at one stage that a tractor in front of us had to pull into the side to let us past! Soon we arrived back at the car and by now it was quite late and even I was feeling peckish. Too late for ice cream but we managed to find a really good chip shop in Dunkeld so we stopped there to fill our faces. We’d had a brilliant day out in the sunshine in Highland Perthshire and I’m already planning my next cycle route up there. Perhaps I’ll cycle up the hill from Glen Quaich and over to Kenmore this time – who knows?!

Tour o the Borders

Route – Peebles to Lyne Station to Stobo to Drumelzier to Tweedsmuir to Cappercleuch to Crosslee to Yarrow to Traquair to Peebles. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – rather windy, cool and cloudy.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 74.95 miles
  • Riding time – 5 hours 31 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 34.7 mph
  • Average speed – 13.6 mph
  • Height climbed – 4364 feet

One of the most well known road cycling events in Scotland is the Tour o the Borders which takes place every September. It takes in the beautiful Tweed, Ettrick and Yarrow valleys and to make it even more enjoyable for the cyclists, the roads are completely closed to traffic during the event. I have wanted to take part in the “tour” for a couple of years now but unfortunately, you have to be at least 16 years old to enter so I will not be allowed for another 5 years! Dad and I have ridden most parts of the route before (sometimes in reverse) during various cycles runs we’ve had in the area, but we had never ridden the complete 75 mile circuit in one go. So, about 4 weeks ago, since I’m not able to enter in September, we set off on a sunday morning to have our own tour of the Borders.

We started off from the car park next to the Eastgate Theatre in Peebles and cycled right through the town centre, turning left at the mini-roundabout and over the bridge to the other side of the River Tweed. We then immediately turned right off the main road, right again soon after and then a quick left onto Bonnington Road. This road soon took us out of the residential zone and into the lovely Borders coutryside, passing Cademuir Hill on the right, cycling right around the hill into the Tweed Valley, following the Manor Water to the point where it meets the River Tweed. The grand old bridge is a fine point for a scenic photo so we stopped there briefly before tackling a short but very steep climb up to the junction with the A72.

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The A72 is relatively quiet as far as “A” roads go so we went left and basically followed the course of the Tweed for quite a while. We weren’t on the main road for long before we reached Lyne Station, and turned off onto a single track road which quickly took us to the B712. As I mentioned in a previous blog, this is one of the nicest roads you can cycle on. It’s mostly straight, smooth and slightly downhill, with very little traffic and amazing views of the River Tweed, the woodlands, fields and hills all around. After a wee while, we turned right onto a much narrower road and immediately started going uphill. This hill is known as the Dreva climb and is the first of 5 main climbs on the route. It’s a

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relatively easy gradient and doesn’t last too long. On the way up you get some of the best views of the Tweed Valley, so Dad took quite a few photos as I raced ahead. At the top, we turned left at a junction and sped down the hill into the valley once more and soon came to a junction with the B712 once again. It would have been much easier to just stay on the B712 all the way, but the Dreva climb was really nice so I didn’t mind at all. In fact, I’m starting to really enjoy going up long steep hills so this one barely even made me break sweat…!

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The B712 soon took us to the junction with our 2nd main road of the day, the A701. This road doesn’t have a very nice surface for cycling as it’s rather worn out and bumpy and there’s a lot of pot holes to avoid along the way. However, the scenery is stunning and it’s not all that busy really. It’s also mainly quite flat with only a few short, easy hills along the way as it follows the ever narrowing River Tweed through the Border hills towards its source about 15 miles to the south. We were only going about 7 miles though and turned off into the village of Tweedsmuir. It was here, as we crossed a hump-backed bridge over the Tweed, that we first spotted a yellow Cycle Event sign pointing in the direction we were travelling. It wasn’t the Tour o the Borders but perhaps we’d accidentally found ourselves in some other cycling sportive – who knew?! We hadn’t seen any other cyclists though so perhaps we were even in the lead!

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Anyway, we followed the yellow sign along the single track road into the hills, climbing gradually up to the Talla Reservoir. With the steep slopes of the hills going straight down into the water, it almost looks like a Norwegian Fjord – so Dad said. I’m sure he must be right (he usually is!). After and easy mile or 2 of flat riding along the water side, we turned the corner around the head of the reservoir and immediately saw the 20% sign which told us of the steep climb coming up – the infamous Wall of Talla. We did this climb a few weeks before and I’d found it very hard but this time, possibly because I knew what to expect, the very steep slopes didn’t seem too bad and I managed to keep cycling at a reasonable speed all that way to the top, leaving Dad floundering miles behind

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(stopping to enjoy the view of the Talla Reservoir down below no doubt). About halfway up, the first group of cyclists from the event caught us up. One of them commented that this was “brutal” as he pedalled slowly past, not going that much quicker that I was. The second half of the climb was much easier than the first and before too long, I had made it to the top where I had to wait for quite a long time until Dad eventually appeared (with his phone full of pictures no doubt). I’d already had my rest so after allowing him a quick drink, I made Dad keep going and we sped down the long gradual hill for a few miles to

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the Megget Reservoir which looks like it would be a nice place to stop for a picnic on a sunny day. We kept going though and after a few short ups and downs, we enjoyed a magnificent, long and fast descent all the way down to Cappercleuch on the shores of St Mary’s Loch.

There we turned left onto the A708, still following the cycle event signs. Just around the corner we discovered a feeding station for the event cyclists, and for a minute we considered chancing our arm and stopping for a free feed. In the Tour o the Borders, they apparently supply the riders with quality macaroni pies (my favourite!) but today, the feed stop looked rather more basic and there were no pies to be seen so we decided to give it a miss… After a quick ride along the side of the loch and then a short uphill then downhill section on the quiet main road, we arrived at a crossroads next to the Gordon Arms hotel. In the “Tour”, the short route turns left here and heads back to Peebles, but the long route turns right, and takes you through some of the most scenic (and hilly) parts of the Borders. After a quick lunch of oatcakes and crisps we took the long way and so did today’s cycle event. This section of the B709 is extremely nice, with basically no traffic, and it climbs very gradually up to well over 300 m so the views are great. It is known as the Berry Bush climb, possibly because of all the wild blueberry bushes growing along the side of the road. Along this section we actually caught up with one of the slower cyclists taking part in the event and she told us it was a 100 mile sportive starting and finishing in Langholm – so she still had a long way to go to get to the finish but at least it would be more downhill than up for the rest of the day…

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After a fast descent down the other side of Berry Bush, we soon arrived in the Ettrick Valley where we turned left onto the B7007, leaving the yellow signs of the cycle event behind at last. This is one of my favourite roads and was one of the easiest parts of the day. It’s a nice surface for cycling on, mainly flat or slightly downhill and the views of the hills and the river valley are lovely. You rarely see any cars on this road either so it’s

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pretty much perfect. After about 8 or so easy miles, we turned left onto a minor road which leads away from the valley and up into the hills again. This hill is known as Witchy Knowe and the road soon starts climbing quite steeply as it twists and turns its way upwards. There are crash barriers along the roadside which really emphasises how steep some of the corners are and the views back down to the Ettrick Valley are amazing. As is becoming the norm on hill climbs, Dad was starting to struggle so I left him behind and headed up the hill as fast as I could. I think I waited at the top for 5 minutes before he finally got there, gasping for a Yorkie bar… The view down the other side of the hill to the Yarrow Valley is even better than the views on the side we had cycled up and the descent down the hill was, despite the cattle grids, very fast and a lot of fun.

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At the bottom of the hill we turned left onto the A708 once again and cycled back along the Yarrow valley towards the Gordon Arms. It was only slightly uphill but all into the strong wind so we found these 4 or 5 miles quite hard and it was slow going for while. But after a quick banana beside the hotel, we felt re-energised and set off up the last big hill of the day, the Mount Benger climb on the B709. This is a road we’d cycled on lots of times but always in the other direction. Today, the climb seemed rather easy. It was only about 2% gradient and we were able to go at well over 10mph most of the way up in quite a high gear. We spotted a lot of wild blueberry bushes along the side of the road once again – sadly none ready to east though. After a quick photo at the top, we then had a great time freewheeling all the way down the other side to Traquair. Be careful on the way down though as the road surface isn’t the best and you’ll need to stay near the middle of the road to avoid the pot holes. At least we didn’t have very many cars to avoid though…

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At Traquair, we turned left onto the B7062 for the last 7 miles back to Peebles. This is mainly flat or slightly downhill, following the River Tweed all the way, in and out of the trees. A mile or 2 outside Peebles however, there was one last sting in the tail with a rather steep and unexpected uphill section. It was the last thing we needed after over 70 miles but at least it wasn’t uphill for too long. It was though, possibly the hardest hill of the day! Or maybe we were just tired… Whatever, we were soon back in Peebles filling our faces with ice cream (2 scoops of course). The perfect end to a perfect tour of the Borders.

Grand Tour of Southern Scotland: Hawick to Langholm

Route out – Hawick to Newcastleton to Langholm. For route map click here.

Route back – Langholm to Harelaw to Newcastleton to Saughtree to Hawick. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – Sunny with light winds and reasonably warm.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 71.06 miles
  • Riding time – 5 hours 55 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 30.6 mph
  • Average speed – 12.0 mph
  • Height climbed – 5245 feet

The weather was looking good last Saturday so I decided we should make the most of it and go on what I reckoned would be one of our longest and probably our hardest route to date. And it certainly was – but it was also probably the most enjoyable we been on!

Dad and I were up early to pack the bikes onto the back of the car and after breakfast we were off on the road, heading south for Hawick, one of the larger towns in the Scottish Borders, about an hour’s drive from home. After parking the car, we headed south out of town along the B6399, signposted for Newcastleton 20 miles away. This is one of the most brilliant cycling roads you can imagine: very little in the way of traffic (even fewer bikes oddly – or more accurately, none at all), stunning scenery, long steep uphills and even longer gradual downhills. The road starts off easy enough and is very flat for the first few miles, following a river and passing some pig farms on the way to Stobs Castle. You can’t actually see the castle from the road so we didn’t stop and soon came to the first steep hill of the day. It’s quite a short hill but the view back to where we’d come from was very nice. After that, there’s another fairly flat section for a mile or so before a long, winding gradual (and fun) descent, passing an impressive old viaduct in the distance. The viaduct was originally used by trains on the old Waverley Line but sadly, the track has long since gone so we saw no trains today. Well, not quite yet anyway…

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Soon the road begins to climb quite gradually and after a while the amazing views of the valley ahead really open up and you can see the road ahead as it seems to climb rather steeply up a massive hill. As we approached, it looked like a very hard climb but it turned out to be nowhere near as steep as it looked (maybe 5% gradient or so). It did last for a good few miles though and climbed up past 400m so it certainly couldn’t be classed as easy… From the top you then get what can only be described as the most fun and fast 10 mile downhill section through deserted Borders countryside, following a river through the valley (narrow at first then wide open) all the way to the village of Newcastleton, the first real sign of civilisation since Hawick. The gradient is fairly slight so there’s nothing too fast and scary to deal with but there’s a lot of corners and the road is quite narrow in places so you still have to be careful at times. Near the start of the descent we passed something you don’t normally see in the middle of nowhere – some old trains and carriages just off the side of the road. This was the Whitrope Heritage Centre and if you like railways, it’s worth a visit. We cycled past these trains in the opposite direction once before so for us it wasn’t a surprise this time to come across the old railway in the middle of nowhere. It was still worth interrupting our 10 mile descent to get a photo of the trains though…!

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When we reached Newcastleton Dad suggested stopping for an early lunch but I was still feeling energetic and decided to keep going. I was excited about the next bit because it would take in another of the 100 best cycling climbs in Scotland according to my favourite new book by Simon Warren. Rated as 6/10 for difficulty, the Tinnis Hill climb starts right in the village (turn right off the main road and follow the sign for “public conveniences” as there is no sign for Langholm if you are heading south) and immediately the narrow, smooth road becomes very steep (gear 1 or 2 steep!) and has quite a few corners. It passes what must be a very scenic and hilly golf course on the way up and the views back down towards the east and north are simply stunning as you cycle up. Dad couldn’t keep up with me as I raced ahead and after a quite a long time of relentless climbing, the gradient eased and the road became dead straight for ages as we cycled at a really fast speed across the top of Langholm Moor. Eventually, we turned a

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corner and the road steepened once again for a final push to the top of Tinnis Hill. From here we got a nice view right over to the South-West of Scotland and probably as far as North-West England too. We could also see the narrow road ahead looking like it would be fun as it headed steeply back down the other side of hill. And it certainly was a lot of fun, quite bendy and fast and in almost no time we reached the bottom – or as it turned out, it wasn’t the bottom at all. As we crossed a bridge, the sign said 6 miles to Newcastleton in one direction and 4 miles to Langholm in the other, so there was still quite a bit to go. And we could see the road ahead would be taking us up yet another steep hill on the way. I didn’t mind though as the views all around were amazing and although it was another long climb, it wasn’t quite as steep as it looked and before too long we were speeding down another brilliant fast descent, into the town of Langholm. Watch out near the end of the downhill section where it becomes very steep and there’s a really tight bend to cycle round just before you reach the town at the junction with the main A7 road. I imagine that in the rain, snow or strong winds, the Langholm Moor road would have been a bleak, horrible experience but on a nice sunny day like today, the 10 miles over the hills from Newcastleton to Langholm might possibly be the most fun you can have on a road bike!

In Langholm, we did have our first stop of the day (after 30 miles amazingly) and ate lunch at the river side: crab, oatcakes, carrot sticks and crisps. After that we cycled along the A7 through the town for a bit. Dad spotted a nice baker and suggested that we should stop for something to eat – so we stuffed ourselves with a second lunch of very tasty sausage rolls… Then we got going again and just outside of town we turned left onto the

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B6318. There was a sign saying Road Ahead Closed but we decided to ignore this and press on as the alternative route would be a long ride down the busy A7. As it turned out, the road was half blocked by a pile of earth, possibly from a landslide, but there was enough room to cycle past safely enough, though no cars could have got through. That probably explains why the road was so quiet. We cycled for about 6 miles on the B6318, and there were very few flat bits and lots of short, steep hills to go up and down. After our double lunch, we found this section to be a bit of a long slog and despite all the massive hills elsewhere in this route, this was easily the hardest part of the day. We were glad to finally reach Harelaw, where we turned left onto the B6357 right next to the Scotland-England border.

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From here we basically cycled alongside the river the Liddel Water northwards for the next 20 miles or so, never going more than a couple of miles from the English border the whole time. This road was fairly quiet and relatively flat, though it felt as though it was very slightly uphill most of the time. It was on this road that after about 45 miles of cycling, we finally passed our first cyclist of the day. This is quite remarkable considering the perfect cycling weather today and also the quiet, scenic roads that are perfect for cycling. For some reason, maybe because it is quite remote and far away from any main city, this area seems to be much less popular for cycling than other parts of the Borders, such as around Peebles and Melrose. Well, that’s their loss, and it would seem that this area of the Southern Borders shall remain our secret cycling heaven. Or at least it will till thousands of people read this blog of course…! After passing through Newcastleton once more (and we did see a sign pointing to Langholm in this direction) we soon came to a fork in the road: left to go the quick way back to Hawick or right to stay on the B6357 and head for Bonchester Bridge and the much longer way back to Hawick. We chose the long way of course…

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After quite a few miles of easy but slightly uphill riding through the quiet countryside, we eventually came to Saughtree Station (sadly not a train station any more…) and it was here that the road really started to climb. This is another really hard, long climb and is also featured in my Cycling Climbs of Scotland book which rates it as 4/10 for difficulty. It has quite a few sharpish corners on the way up into the Wauchope Forest and as you head upwards, you also get fine views across to the Kielder Forest a mile or 2 away across the border in England. After a short while we reached what appeared to be the top of the hill and the road started to head downhill again so we really picked up some speed. Then after rounding another bend we discovered that yet again we had been fooled, and there was another long and steep hill to go as the road climbed close to 400m once again. It didn’t seem too hard though and with great views on the right across to the Cheviot Hills, it was a very pleasant climb. Then came another very long and fast and fun descent down through the trees for a few miles. Watch out for a really bad pothole on the way down though, exactly on the part of the road most cyclists would be travelling on. Luckily Dad is really good at spotting potholes so we were able to avoid it.

A couple of miles before the B road reaches Bonchester Bridge, we turned left onto a very narrow back road. The junction is not easy to spot because of the Beech trees but it’s just before you reach a white house. The narrow road goes very steeply downhill so be careful here. You then need to turn left at the junction, then another quick left and then a quick right onto a very quiet single track road which takes you up another long and steep hill in the middle of nowhere (not as challenging as some of the other hills today but still a hard climb, especially when you’ve already done over 60 miles!). The views of the countryside all around were lovely and Dad stopped for quite a few photos on this

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section. After a while we came to a junction with another minor road right at the top of the hill at over 300m high. We turned right in the direction of Bonchester Bridge for a few hundred yards before turning left onto the road back to Hawick, the A6088. This road was extremely quiet for an A road and the best thing about it was that the 5 miles back to Hawick were almost entirely downhill and we free-wheeled almost all the way back to the town. As we cycled into the town centre Dad spotted a chip shop, and since it was nearly 5pm we stopped to fill our faces with fishcakes and scampi suppers. It was the prefect way to end our magnificent, epic, and extremely hilly grand tour of southern Scotland.

Gorebridge to Tweedbank (volume 4: via Tweedsmuir)

Route out – Gorebridge to Eddleston to Stobo to Drumelzier to Tweedsmuir to Cappercleuch to Yarrow Feus to Yarrow to Yarrowford to Selkirk to Galashiels to Tweedbank. For route map click here.

Route back – Scotrail train from Tweedbank to Gorebridge.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – Heavy rain (and some hail) for the first 15 miles, then mainly cloudy but dry with some glimpses of sun. Quite cold and annoyingly windy (and we were cycling straight into the wind) for the last 30 miles.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 69.3 miles
  • Riding time – 5 hours 37 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 30.2 mph
  • Average speed – 12.4 mph
  • Height climbed – 3359 feet

Dad recently bought me a brilliant book called “Cycling Climbs of Scotland: a Road Cyclists Guide” by Simon Warren which details some of the best, and hardest hills you can possibly cycle up. One of the toughest climbs described in the book is known as the Wall of Talla. It has a 20% gradient according to the road sign and looked impossibly steep when we drove up it in the car a few weeks ago. We once cycled down it and I remember it being rather scary and very hard to stop yourself going too fast or even crashing. However, I like a challenge so was determined that this time we would climb up the “wall”. And just to make things more difficult, the route I had in mind would be one of the longest we’d ever attempted, with almost 40 miles to cycle before the 20% sign even came into view…

The weather didn’t look too promising when we left the house but the forecast said it was supposed to brighten up with just one or two showers later in the day. Well, my advice to you is never trust the weather forecast as just after leaving Gorebridge along the B6372, the rain really started coming down, interspersed with occasional bursts of hail. It really was foul and horrible to cycle in. Thank goodness we have decent lights because it was almost dark. It basically rained constantly for the first 20 miles of this route – “Showers my ar5e!” said Dad – but we decided we may as well keep plodding on, turning off the B road after a few miles and onto the minor road that skirts around the edge of Gladhouse Reservoir and then past Portmore Loch. The minor road is a lovely smooth road surface, perfect for cycling on – at least until you reach the signpost welcoming you to the Scottish Borders. After that it’s much rougher and full of potholes. Amazingly though, the awful section of potholes we spotted on our last route had been patched up. They didn’t do a very good job though as the filled in holes are almost a rough and bumpy as the potholes were! Just after Portmore, the road took us down a steep, twisting slope until the A703 road where we stopped for a drink before venturing out into the traffic…

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It’s never particularly pleasant when you are cycling on a busy road and being overtaken all the time, but it’s even worse when it’s wet. We survived the 2 or 3 miles on the main road though and were soon in Eddleston where we turned right onto the minor road signposted for Lyne Station via Meldons. We were absolutely drenched by then, especially our gloves, and our hands were quite cold. We decided it would be a good idea to take off our gloves before carrying on. Bad idea. As we cycled up the gradual slope into the Meldon Hills the rain got even heavier and our hands just got even colder. So the wet gloves went back on soon enough! The Meldons road is one of the nicest you’ll ever cycle on – at least it is when the weather is decent. Today was just horrible as the road was extremely wet, flooded and muddy at times. Even on the downhills we had to go slow to avoid being constantly splashed by the water. At this stage we were so fed up that we were seriously considering aborting the planned route and just heading home. Thankfully, just as we reached the other side of the Meldons and we neared the junction with the A72, the rain suddenly stopped and skies brightened remarkably. In fact, it was almost sunny and just like that, despite the wet shoes and gloves, we both brightened up too…

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After only a few metres on the A72 we turned left onto the B712. This section of the route is highly recommended, taking you into the Tweed Valley past Stobo Castle and Dawyck Botanic Garden, and is one of my favourite roads for cycling. It is mostly flat and has great views of the hills and the River Tweed (which it basically follows for about 8 miles). The road is relatively quiet and is very straight for long stretches too so it’s easy to go at a good speed. As we cycled along we were also amazed at the miles and miles of daffodils lining the road. Someone must have taken years to plant them all. Or maybe they are wild daffodils – who knows? Very beautiful anyway.

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Eventually, we came to a junction with another main road, the A701. There is no way to avoid this one so we turned left and headed south. As it turned out the A701 is not very busy with traffic at all and it is also fairly flat with a reasonable surface for cycling on (well apart from the odd pothole to avoid). Like the B712, the scenery is stunning, with lovely hills all around and grand views of the River Tweed all along the 7 miles. Also, look out for several impressive-looking metal bridges crossing the river to farms and other private properties along the way. In this direction, we were heading in the opposite direction to the river flows so it should have felt as if we were cycling uphill. It felt more like we were going downhill though and in no time at all we’d arrived at the tiny hamlet of Tweedsmuir where we turned left onto the minor road and stopped at a nice old bridge and sat on some rocks at the river side and had our first proper rest of the day (after 35 miles unbelievably!). We were feeling rather peckish so ate some lunch of Parma Ham, oatcakes, grapes and celery sticks to give us an energy boost before tackling the big challenge ahead.

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After lunch, the narrow road took us eastwards, gradually uphill and straight into an annoyingly strong and cold wind. Soon we came to the Talla Reservoir which looks rather impressive with the very steep sloped hills around it. We couldn’t see the “wall” just yet but after a flat mile or so along the water side, we rounded the end of the reservoir and then, if you looked closely, you could just make out the line of the road heading up the next hill at a stupidly steep angle. Well, there was no going back so we tried to ignore the 20% gradient sign and started up the hill in our lowest gear. Immediately we realised that this was by far the steepest and hardest hill we’d ever tried to cycle up. It was real struggle to even keep moving. Dad decided to zig-zag up the road to help cut down the gradient and this certainly helped. Thankfully, despite this being one of the quietest roads in Scotland, a few cars came along when we were going up so we had no choice but to stop and let them past. These rest breaks certainly helped (and allowed us to enjoy the view behind us back down to the reservoir below too) and we eventually managed to reach the top. We probably could have walked up the hill quicker but we had climbed 150m in a mile according to the book so we were just pleased we’d managed it without any pushing at all.

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From the high point in the road you a get a great view through the hills towards the next reservoir, Megget Reservoir. We stopped at the top for a rather long rest before soldiering on into the cold wind. At least most of the next few miles was downhill with only some short ups and it really is a lovely road for cycling on – although I didn’t think so at the time as my legs were well and truly broken after climbing the wall… The area around Megget Reservoir is totally stunning and well worth stopping for a picnic on a good day. Today, we just sped past and free-wheeled down the long gradual hill for a few miles until we came to the junction with the A708 next to St Mary’s Loch.

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I was feeling worn out and wasn’t looking forward to the final 25 miles or so. It would be mainly on the main road and in to the freezing wind but after re-fueling on a banana we turned left and headed for Selkirk along the A708. Thankfully, apart from a number of motor bikes, this is a fairly quiet road and as it follows the Yarrow Water, it is reasonably flat. After Talla, I was really glad of this fact but I still didn’t really enjoy this section much, despite the nice views along the valley because I was so tired. I was glad when we eventually made it to the town of Selkirk as I knew that meant there wasn’t far to go… In Selkirk we avoided climbing the steep hill into the town centre but instead took a back street that follows the river past a recycling centre and eventually takes you to the main A7 road on the outskirts of town. Here we were able to avoid the traffic by going on the shared use cycle path. After a mile or so we turned left at the cycle route signs, over a bridge across the Ettrick Water and then into the Sunderland Hall Estate. A short, flat

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straight section of road then took us to another bridge over the River Tweed and then onto Cycle Route no.1. We followed the cycle route for the last few miles and it was really one of the nicest parts of the day, with a mixture of well-surfaced paths and quiet roads following the river. There was wild garlic everywhere and we got a great view of Abbotsford House across the water. Soon enough we arrived at Tweedbank Station, perfectly timed, just as the train from Edinburgh arrived. We’d had a rather challenging day and one I’ll never forget and if you feel like a bit of an adventure, I’d highly recommend to try and cycle up the Wall of Talla. You won’t regret it – even if your legs will at the time!

Gorebridge to Tweedbank (volume 3: the longest way yet)

Route out – Gorebridge to Gladhouse Reservoir to Eddleston to Lyne Station to Peebles to Cardrona to Traquair to Peel to Lindean to Bowden to Newtown St Boswells to Eildon to Newstead to Leaderfoot Viaduct to Gattonside to Melrose to Abbotsford House to Tweedbank. For route maps click here and here. Note: don’t go on the A68 at Leaderfoot as indicated by Google but use the pedestrian bridge to cross the river onto the B6360.

Route back – Scotrail train from Tweedbank to Gorebridge.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – mainly sunny at first but cloudy later with a few spots of rain around lunchtime. Light winds.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 63.9 miles
  • Riding time – 5 hours 15 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 29.8 mph
  • Average speed – 12.2 mph
  • Height climbed – 4014 feet

In what has been the longest and coldest winter I can remember, we had yet another snow storm in the first week in April. It is supposed to be Spring though and thankfully, most of the snow had melted by the weekend so Dad and I were able to get out on our bikes again. It turned out to be one of the longest, hardest and, most importantly, best routes we have ever done.

We left the house around 9am on Sunday and took the quiet B6372 road for a couple of easy miles before turning left onto the signposted Cycle Route no.1. This is a narrow road with little traffic but as we passed Castleton Farm the road was very muddy and full of potholes so watch out if you are cycling this way any time soon. We soon left Route 1 and turned right onto a much smoother single track road and went gradually uphill for a few miles heading for Gladhouse Reservoir. The view of the snowy Moorfoot Hills in the

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distance as we approached the reservoir was impressive. The road around the reservoir is one of the nicest you will cycle on – flat, smooth and virtually no cars at all. In only a few minutes we came to a junction and turned left, heading for Peebles and this road was equally smooth and quiet, but very slightly uphill, and with great views of the hills all around. Quite suddenly though, the road surface deteriorated just after passing the sign announcing we were in the Scottish Borders. At one point there seemed to be more potholes than road so be careful. Eventually we passed the road end to Portmore Loch and sped down the hill which took us to the junction with the main A703 road.

Usually we try to avoid busy main roads but today we had no choice if we were to get to Peebles so we turned left and cycled for a few miles in the traffic. It actually wasn’t too bad as it wasn’t as busy as we had feared and the road was totally flat so we were able to go around 20 mph. Soon enough, we had arrived in the lovely village of Eddleston. Dad suggested stopping here for a snack but I was full of energy for some reason and decided to keep going and we signalled right and followed the minor road to Lyne Station (via Meldons as the sign says). As it turned out, the Meldons are a very nice patch of rolling hills and to cycle through them for 5 miles or so was brilliant. I’d say it is one of the my favourite roads for cycling. The climb up into the hills was very gradual and not hard at all, and the views behind us of the Moorfoots were great, as were the views on all sides in fact. Once up high, there’s a long period of quick, easy riding through the hills on the

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narrow road. Not really any traffic to worry about but we did have to stop a couple of times to avoid some sheep with their lambs. Nearer the end of the road you get some stunning views of the higher mountains of the Southern Uplands in the distance and just before the end, the road splits in two so we went left and free-wheeled down the hill to the junction with the A72 road at Lyne Station.

The railway station has been closed for a long time but you can still see where the train track was – it’s now a lovely walk following the River Tweed into Peebles but it’s no use for road bikes so we braved our second main road of the day instead. The A72 was relatively quiet though and quite flat as well so the 2 or 3 miles on it were fine. When we came to a signpost for Manorhead, we turned right onto the minor road, straight down a steep hill and across a bridge over the Tweed. The view from the bridge was one of the best of the day and from there we could also see our next road – heading up an impossibly steep hill! The steep road begins just after the bridge on the left and is

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marked with a “road closed” sign. Don’t worry about that (it’s just closed to cars) but you should worry about how steep it is (10% average gradient apparently) and as it is completely straight, that seems to make it even harder. Somehow I managed to cycle up it with no problems though, but Dad was toiling and had to stop halfway (to take a photo he said…). The view of the Tweed Valley behind you as you cycle up is probably worth photographing right enough. The view from the top overlooking Peebles and beyond was just as good so we stopped here for a snack of crisps and apple so that Dad could get an energy boost.

The narrow road took us down another steep hill into Peebles near the high school and we soon came to the B7062 on the south side of the Tweed. We followed this road out of town heading for Traquair about 7 miles away. This a nice road which is mainly quite easy but has a few hilly bits to keep it interesting as it more or less follows the River Tweed in and out of the trees. There’s a fair amount of traffic on this road, especially near to Peebles, but lots of cyclists too so it’s safe enough really. Just after passing Traquair House, we came to the village with the same name and found a nice bench to stop at and had our usual cycling lunch – salad, cheese, Parma Ham and oatcakes.

Next, we followed the B709 downhill to Innerleithen and turned onto Cycle Route no.1 again on the minor road that follows the south side of the Tweed. The first 2 miles of so along here was the muddiest road I’ve ever seen. It really was horrible to cycle on but after that was about 6 miles of pleasantly undulating traffic free cycling along one of the

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most scenic valleys in Scotland. Dad spotted 2 red squirrels as they ran across the road and scuttled up a Pine tree and soon after that we came to the Village of Peel where there was loads of wild garlic growing at the roadside. We crossed an old bridge over the river and turned right onto the quietish A707 for a few miles of fairly flat cycling following the river eastwards. Then just at Yair Bridge, we turned left onto the B7060 and followed route no.1 for a few miles up the hill, through the ancient Beech trees and then down the other side before turning right on to the newly restored bridge over the Tweed into Sunderland Hall Estate. The bridge is for walkers and cyclists only and now has 4 painted lanes on the road which I suppose is to keep everyone safe. However, it’s totally pointless having any lanes there – how busy do they really think it’s going to be?! Nice views from the bridge though.

After that we crossed over the busy A7 and onto another minor road which immediately climbed steeply up through the hamlet of Lindean and then up and up and up again for an age. To make it worse, there were a couple of short downhill sections which just meant you had extra climbing to do. After going more than 50 miles already, this hill was a killer and is probably one of the longest and hardest hills we’ve done. Eventually we reached the top near to a giant TV mast where we stopped for a rest before cycling down a much shorter hill, past Lindean Loch nature reserve. It looked like a nice place to visit but we kept going and soon came to the junction with the A699 where we turned left.

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Our 4th main road of the day was the nicest of them all, mostly slightly downhill and very fast at times. The road was fairly quiet and the views were stunning. Sadly, there was no real chance to stop and get any photos, which was a shame as the snow covered Cheviot Hills looked amazing in the distance. After a couple of miles we turned left onto the B9359 for a short distance and then right onto the B6398 through the village of Bowden. This road is brilliant as it goes right around the back of the lovely Eildon Hills (my favourite hills for walking) and it is downhill most of the way to Newtown St Boswells. From there, we rejoined Cycle Route no.1 once again and cycled up and down the “closed” road (no cars!) around the side of the Eildons to the outskirts of Melrose. After crossing the very busy A6091 we took a diversion into Newstead and then followed

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another “closed” road down to the the Leaderfoot viaduct. No trains run across it nowadays though, just people walking… There we crossed the Tweed once again on a pedestrian bridge and joined the B6360, turning left and heading for Gattonside a few miles away. This is a great road as it is high up above the river and you get great views of the Eildons and the river valley but it is rather busy with traffic so take care here. At Gattonside we used the old Chain Bridge to cross the water once again (you have to push your bikes here) and then we headed to our favourite ice cream shop in Melrose for a well deserved 2 scoops of raspberry (me) and vanilla and chocolate fudge brownie (Dad). We’d done 60 miles by now but still had time to kill before the train home so I suggested popping out to Abbotsford House for a quick look. Dad was feeling a bit worn out but I was fine so I made him go and we cycled through Darnick and past the train station and were soon at poet Sir Walter Scott’s home. We stayed long enough for a couple of photos and to admire the gardens. After that, we cycled back to Tweedbank via a short cycle path which goes from Abbotsford, around Gun Knowe Loch, through a housing estate and almost right back to the train station. We got there just as the train from Edinburgh arrived at the platform.

It was a brilliant day out. Probably one of the best routes we’ve done so highly recommended and strangely not all that tiring despite over 4000 feet of climbing. Even if 64 miles and all the hills are too much for you, take a trip to Eddleston and cycle through the Meldon Hills to Lyne Station and then just cycle back. That would be one of the nicest 10 mile short routes in Scotland and I’ll certainly be going back there soon.

Grand Tour of the Scottish Borders (Volume 5): The 4 Abbeys

Route out – Tweedbank to Gattonside to Newstead to Newtown St Boswells to Dryburgh to Clintmains to Kelso to Heiton. For route map click here. Note that Google Maps tells you to go onto the A68 at Leaderfoot but you don’t need to – just use the pedestrian bridge next to the viaduct to cross the river.

Route back – Heiton to Cessford to Jedburgh to Nisbet to Ancrum to Melrose to Tweedbank. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – bright and reasonably sunny in the morning but lots of heavy showers in the afternoon and very windy too.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 62.7 miles
  • Riding time – 4 hours 46 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 33.7 mph
  • Average speed – 13.1 mph
  • Height climbed – 2815 feet

Last Saturday, Dad and I took our bikes on the train to Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders to try out a route I’d been thinking about doing for a while – the 4 Abbeys cycle route. This is a signposted circular route though as we found out, the signage is at times vague or even invisible so make sure you bring a map with you so you don’t get lost in the middle of nowhere. Our route is also slightly different in places but 90% of it is the same as the normal route.

After leaving the station we crossed the old bridge to the other side of the River Tweed and headed along the B6360 through Gattonside. This is a nice cycling road – quite quiet, good surface, relatively flat and nice views across to Melrose and the Eildon Hills. Before long we arrived at the Leaderfoot viaduct and immediately after passing underneath it, we nipped off the road on the right and joined a pedestrian bridge which crosses the

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River Tweed. Here you get amazing views of the viaduct. We then crossed the river and followed the narrow road (closed to traffic) for the mile or so to the village of Newstead with the Eildon Hills getting closer all the time. After cycling up a steep hill to leave the village we came to the junction with the A6091. This road is very busy so be very careful here. Luckily we only had to go on it for 30 yards and then there’s a right turn lane which we used to cross over onto the mainly traffic-free road that goes along the side of the hills and is actually part of Cycle Route no.1. This is a lovely stretch of road for cycling and has great views along the way of the Borders countryside. There’s also a brilliant fast downhill stretch for the last wee bit as you reach the town of Newtown St Boswells.

We zoomed through Newtown and then up a steep hill to the junction with the main A68 road. We only had to cross over and onto a narrow side road but the A68 is busy so we had to be very careful here. Soon we arrived at an old pedestrian bridge with a wooden floor which crosses the River Tweed and we stopped here to photograph the nice views. On the other side of the water we cycled up a steep hill and and arrived at our first abbey of the day – Dryburgh Abbey. You can’t really see anything of the abbey from the road and unless you pay loads of money at the visitor centre you are stuffed – or so we thought. Dad went in and asked the man if we could sneak in and take a quick photo but he wasn’t too keen on the idea. He was though kind enough to direct us to a spot in the grounds of the hotel next door where we could see the abbey over a high wall so we did get some photos after all.

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After Dryburgh we had a lovely ride through the countryside for quite a while, mostly slightly downhill and quite fast on a mix of quiet B roads and minor roads with lots of long straight sections. Eventually we arrived at a junction with the A6089 and we had to turn right onto this road for the last mile or so into the town of Kelso. This short section was not pleasant due lots of traffic and idiots overtaking when it wasn’t safe… However, we made it to the town centre in one piece and after stopping to photograph Kelso Abbey (no sneaking around and peaking over high walls required!) we ended up at Greggs the baker for an early lunch.

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Leaving Kelso turned out to be a complete nightmare. Our intended route (the signposted route) should have taken us along the A699 for a short way and then down a minor road to Roxburgh on the west side of the river. Unfortunately there was some event on down that road and the road was completely blocked with a traffic jam. Rather than sit in a queue of cars (and ruin our average speed!) we took a diversion along another main road instead, the A698, which would take us the same general direction but on the other side of the river. This turned out to be a bad idea as the road was busy, but even worse, it was straight into the strong wind so we struggled to go at a good speed. It was a lovely road surface though and quite flat too. After about 5 miles of this, passing a village called Heiton along the way, we came to a junction where we could turn off onto the B6401 to re-join the official 4 Abbeys route. Thank goodness for that… From there we had a lovely time cycling along deserted

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back roads (we saw only 2 cyclists and 2 walkers and no cars at all for a long time). We also had the chance to forage for wild raspberries at one point which is always nice. Just before Jedburgh, there’s a very long gradual hill to climb and then the road goes steeply downhill right into the town centre. On the outskirts of town Dad spotted a road called Rowan Road so we obviously stopped to photograph it before we quickly heading along to Jedburgh Abbey which is a very impressive ancient building overlooking the main road. It is impossible to miss as you cycle along.

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After a pleasant cycle through Jedburgh town centre and then along a short riverside path, we came upon the main A68 road on the northern outskirts of town. Here the signpost for the 4 Abbeys route isn’t clear but Dad checked the map and we were able to miss out the busy road and take a minor road that runs mainly in the same direction but on the other side of a river. This road was very quiet apart from a recently killed badger which was lying in the middle of the narrow road. Soon enough we came upon the dreaded A698 again and there was no way to avoid it this time. Thankfully it seemed a lot more pleasant cycling on it with the wind at our backs this time. After less than a mile we turned left onto the B6400. We immediately came upon an unusual narrow metal bridge that took us over the river into the village of Nisbet. From the bridge we got amazing views down the river valley to the East and West. We stayed on the B6410 for a few miles, heading westwards and slightly uphill through pleasant and peaceful countryside until the peace ended at the junction with the A68. We just needed to cross over main road to rejoin the B6400 again on the over side but it was very busy so it took quite a while till there was a suitable break in the traffic. It was there that we spotted an unusual stone bench so we stopped for a short break and watched my favourite bus go by (the Borders Buses 51).

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After our bus stop we rejoined the B6400 and cycled through a village called Ancrum. At this point the rain really started to fall heavily so we put our jackets on and pedalled as fast as we could. We had been expecting some showers but it basically rained constantly for the rest of the journey back to Tweedbank. After what seemed like hours of slogging uphill in the wet through what was probably a very nice and scenic landscape (it was certainly quiet and we hardly saw any cars or cyclists), we finally turned off onto the B6359 heading even more steeply uphill, around the Western edge of the Eildon Hills before finally reaching Melrose with an extremely steep and scarily fast downhill section right to the town centre. In the rain, that downhill section wasn’t as much fun as it should have been… Anyway, we made it to our favourite ice cream shop safely enough and filled our faces with raspberry cone (me) and 2 scoop tub (Dad). Dad managed to sneak a photo of the Abbey through the fence too. We made it back to the station with a while to wait until the next train so we went for a quick cycle around Gun Knowe Loch to pass the time. When we got back, the train pulled into the station at exactly the same time as us.

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This was a very long and challenging route with lots of hills but apart from the last hour or 2 in the rain, it was very enjoyable. If it sounds too long for you though, you could easily split it up into shorter sections. Right, I’m now ready for Grand Tour of the Scottish Borders volume 6 – where will we go next…?