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.

Ettrick Valley Circular Route

Route – Ettrickbridge to Ashkirk to Alemoor Reservoir to Tushielaw to Ettrickbridge. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – Sunny and reasonably warm with only a slight breeze.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 31.74 miles
  • Riding time – 2 hours 42 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 32.2 mph
  • Average speed – 11.8 mph
  • Height climbed – 2116 feet

A while ago, Dad discovered a really nice cycle route in the Borders and he kept telling me it was his favourite route ever. Eventually I gave in to his pestering and agreed to try it out – and he was right, we had an amazing day out in one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland.

The route starts in the village of Ettickbridge, about 5 miles from Selkirk, one of the main towns in the Scottish Borders. As the name suggests, it is located right next to the Ettrick Water and we immediately crossed a bridge over the river and headed East along the Ettrick Valley. The valley is extremely picturesque and the views got even better as the quiet road climbed gradually uphill for a mile or so. Soon enough, we turned right off the “main” road and onto a very narrow minor road (signposted for Ashkirk). As we approached the turn off, the minor road appeared impossibly steep but Dad told me that it looks a lot worse than it is – and he was right. I even sped away ahead of Dad at this point, stopping only so we could get a photo of the view behind us. The road flattens out for a short distance before climbing steeply again after another right turn, heading up and up and up, with the views of the hills all around getting better all the time. There were even some snow patches next to the roadside, that’s how high up this road was and Dad was convinced he spotted a Golden Eagle as well (I’m sure it was just a Buzzard though…). We actually cycled this way around the same time last year when we stopped here to roll our Easter eggs. This time, we stopped at the cattle grid right at the highest point on the road and had a quick snack – not boiled eggs this time but carrot sticks and celery!

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The next few miles are basically all downhill until the village of Ashkirk. The road has a nice smooth surface and is very quiet but there are quite a few sharp corners and it is quite steep so we had to be careful not to go too fast at times. Along the way, we had a nice view as far as the snow covered Cheviot Hills just over the border in England. We turned right in Ashkirk and cycled along the side of a river, through the trees and past a golf course for a couple of easy miles before the next steep hill of the day. It was quite a long but reasonably gradual climb which took us up to a very high and remote part of the Borders. After crossing another cattle grid, the views of the hills and the valley below really open up and the cycling was also brilliant: along here you get a few miles of easy, fast, slightly up and down high level riding. It’s probably one of my favourite sections of road anywhere. At the end of the high section, there’s yet another cattle grid so we stopped here for an early lunch. This time we did have some boiled eggs, along with oatcakes, cheese and Parma ham…

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After the cattle grid the road forks into two. We chose the right option and sped down the long gradual hill for ages, enjoying the amazing scenery all around us. We saw some amazing Beech trees and some lovely horses ran over to see us at one point. Soon enough we got to the bottom of the hill at the junction with the B711 road near Roberton. We turned right and then almost immediately turned right once more, staying on the B711. This road goes steeply uphill straight away but it was worth it as the views behind us to the South were incredible. The Cheviot (the highest of the Cheviot Hills) could clearly be seen from here. From the top of the hill, the next 10 miles or so are fairly easy, mainly quite flat and the road has a nice new surface in places. It takes you through some of the remotest parts of the Borders, following a small river through the hills, with really no settlements along the way apart from a couple of farms. I bet it is very bleak in a snow storm (and there were many remnants of snow drifts to be seen today) but on a warm sunny day like today it was extremely nice. Alemoor Reservoir is particularly peaceful and well worth stopping to enjoy the view. Also, as you cycle along, keep your eye open for the ancient stone signpost which tells you it is 9 miles to Hawick.

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Eventually, we reached the end of the road and reached the Ettrick Valley once more, crossing another bridge over the Ettrick Water at Tushielaw (which is little more than a couple of houses, a hotel and a farm) and turning right onto the B709. After a few hundred yards the B709 turns left and heads uphill, heading for the Yarrow Valley. We went straight on though, onto the B7009 which took us through the Ettrick Valley for the final 8 miles or so back to the car in Etrrickbridge. It’s possible that this is my favourite road for cycling on ever (even better than the high road earlier on today). It is so pleasant for cycling on: the views of the hills and valley are stunning; the road surface is good; there are no real hills, just a few undulations and it is mainly slightly downhill and very fast; and incredibly, the road is almost completely traffic free. If you think this route might be too long and hilly for you, you should at least make sure you cycle along some of the Ettrick Valley on the B7009 – it is amazing and you won’t be disappointed.

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Cycling in the Snow

Route – Gorebridge to Crichton to Tynehead to Heriot to Middleton to Carrington to Gorebridge. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – Dry, reasonably mild, some sun, some cloud, some mist and no wind.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 27.54 miles
  • Riding time – 2 hours 26 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 27.1 mph
  • Average speed – 11.3 mph
  • Height climbed – 1887 feet

In my previous blog I mentioned how difficult it had been to get out on our bikes this winter due to the constantly cold, icy and snowy weather. Well, at the end of February and the start of March we had a week of very heavy snow and all the roads that we normally cycle on were blocked with snow drifts higher than me. It was brilliant fun! Apart from the fact that cycling was impossible… Finally, by last Sunday, the roads had been cleared and the snow had thawed enough to allow us to go out for a ride. And with a fair bit of snow still on the hills and at the roadside, it made for one of the most scenic cycle rides we’ve ever had.

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We started from the house as usual and headed out of Gorebridge along Vogrie Road, heading up the minor road to Fushiebridge. Just before Fushie the road forks in two so we took the left option and tackled our first steep hill of the day. I raced Dad up the hill and left him for dead (he claims he was admiring the remains of the snow drifts so that’s why he was so slow). At the top of the hill we got some fine views over to the Moorfoot hills on the right, still covered in large patches of snow. Then we sped down the other side to the Borthwick crossroads where we headed straight over and onto one of the smoothest roads around, heading for Crichton. The melting snow had caused a bit of flooding so we had to take it easy at times. Soon enough we were heading down the stupidly steep road into the gorge near Crichton Castle. Because of all the blind corners and the fact that the road was wet, Dad made us go as slow as possible so that we didn’t crash. I thought he was going stupidly slow though and found it hard not to crash into him… Then it was on to the 2nd steep hill of the day, the endless climb up through the ancient Beech trees until we finally reached the hamlet of Crichton at the top. We’d only gone about 5 miles but I was knackered already!

Next we turned right onto the B6367. This is a lovely road, very quiet for a B road, only a few short hilly bits and quite a nice surface to cycle on. It’s also got some nice views of the Midlothian countryside with the hills in the distance. After a couple of miles we reached Tynehead and turned right along another lovely smooth section of fairly flat road for a mile or so until we came to the junction with the main A7 road at Fala Hill. As we have discovered previously, the A7 really isn’t too bad to cycle on as it’s reasonably quiet and is nice and wide so it’s easy for cars to overtake. Today, we were only on the road for a mile or 2 and it was almost all downhill and we soon came to the village of Heriot where we turned right onto the B709. We stopped here for a quick snack of carrot sticks and crisps before heading onto one of the best cycling roads in the world. This section of the B709 is quite flat and follows a river along the valley as it twists and turns, with hills on either side. The views are amazing, especially so today with all the snow around. There were quite a few flooded parts along the way but the water wasn’t too deep and it was safe enough as long you went slow. At one point Dad also spotted a dead stoat or ferret (he’s not sure which – see picture below) lying in the middle of the road. It looked like it had quite recently been run down by a car judging by the blood that was trickling out of its mouth.

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After a few miles of perfect cycling, we came to the junction with the B7007 and turned right and cycled up the gradual hill as the road took us up and over the top of the Moorfoot Hills. Although the road takes you up over 400m, it’s not steep at all, yet Dad was going so slow at one point that I had to tell him to speed up! There was still a lot of snow piled at the side of the road near the top and we saw one of the most amazing giant snow drifts as well. Thankfully the road was perfectly clear though so there was no problems getting over the hill to the other side. In fact, we saw many other cyclists on this road today – it was probably the first time any of them had managed to get out on their bikes for weeks as well.

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After zooming down the other side of the hill with grand views of East and Mid-Lothian in the distance, we turned left onto the very bumpy and muddy narrow road to Middleton. There was much less snow remaining here but there is a snow gate on the road so we stopped to photograph it before having another snack (apple and Yorkie bars). At the crossroads next to the farm we turned left and skirted around the back of the Limeworks. This road was badly flooded in places and there were quite a few pot holes to avoid so we had to keep our speed down. A mile or so further along, next to Castleton Farm, the road was in a similar state so be careful if you cycle this way in the near future. After turning left for a short section along the B6372, we then turned right at the bridge and sped along the very nice, quiet and relatively flat road to Carrington. It’s the quietest village in the world – you never seem to see any people or vehicles apart from other cyclists passing through. After that it was a couple of miles downhill along the minor road to Gore Glen (watch out for pot holes here as well), an annoyingly steep hill to climb out of the glen and then another steep climb back to Gorebridge via the new Kirkhill View housing estate and Arniston Park.

As is often the case, we were home in time for lunch – carrot and corriander soup and crusty bread. Despite all the hills, it had been one of the best cycle runs I’ve ever been on and I’d highly recommend it – especially in the snow!

Grand Tour of the Scottish Borders (vol.4: the 3 Valleys)

Route out – Innerleithen to Cardrona to Peebles to Cardrona (again) to Traquair to Mountbenger to Crosslee to Kirkhope to Yarrow to Yarrowford. For route map click here. Note that Google maps doesn’t seem to know about all of the cycle path from Innerleithen to Peebles. After Cardrona, do not take the A72 road but just stay on the signposted cycle path all the way to Peebles.

Route back – Yarrowford to Bowhill to Selkirk to Yair to Peel to Innerleithen. For route map click here.

  • Weather – cloudy and cool at first but sunny and warm later on with a gentle breeze.
  • Distance travelled – 65.1 miles
  • Riding time – 5 hours 46 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 30.6 mph
  • Average speed – 11.2 mph
  • Height climbed – 3157 feet

A few weeks ago Dad came up with a rather ambitious cycle route which visited 3 of the main river valleys in the Scottish Borders, the Tweed valley, the Yarrow Valley and the Ettrick valley. I liked his idea but there were lots of steep hills and I thought it may be too hard so I sent him to try it out first one weekend on his own. He came back and reported that it was brilliant fun, very scenic and mostly quite easy going with lots of fast sections. He even recorded his fastest ever average speed! So a week ago last Sunday, I decided to let him take me on a guided tour: the Grand Tour of the Scottish Borders volume 4.

We started in Innerleithen on a cool and cloudy morning with the hills all around the Tweed valley hidden by low clouds. We began our journey along the cycle path signposted for Peebles which basically follows the River Tweed, through Cardrona village and golf course and eventually coming into Peebles next to the A72 road close to Peebles Hydro. It’s a very flat and fast cycle on the smoothly surfaced path. Even at 8:30am it was quite busy with dog walkers, runners and other cyclists so you have to pay attention. At one point we spotted a Heron fishing in the river but Dad was too slow getting his camera out and it flew away with a fish in its beak before he could get a photo. In Peebles, we took a detour through some rugby pitches and then crossed the river via a pedestrian bridge, coming out onto the B7062 road. Here we turned left and cycled along the other side of the river on a nice quiet country road with plenty gentle ups and downs to keep it interesting, past Kailzie Gardens and then Cardrona village again. Yes, we were basically heading back the way we had come – but there’s a good reason for this long cut so read on to find out why. After passing the driveway to Traquair House, we soon arrived in the village of Traquair where we stopped for a snack of boiled eggs and crisps. As usual.

We were only a mile or so from our starting point even though we’d cycled 13 miles already. The reason for this rather long detour was my idea. I knew from a previous route that the road from Innerleithen to Mountbenger is a long and difficult climb and is especially hard to do when you are not warmed up. So my solution was to cycle to Peebles and back first to stretch the legs before attempting to cycle over the hill. And it was a good idea as the cycle along the mostly single track B709 was much easier than I remembered. On the way up the hill I spotted loads of wild blueberries growing at the side of the road so I will definitely be coming back here in the summer to feast on those…! From the high point, we basically free-wheeled down the other side, leaving the Tweed valley behind as we entered the Yarrow valley.

At the crossroads next to the Gordon Arms hotel, we headed straight over, staying on the B709 and over a bridge to the other side of the Yarrow Water. The single track road then climbed uphill again but really quite gradually, and it was actually a very pleasant cycle as the sun also decided to come out. The views of the Yarrow valley behind and to the right of us were lovely. As we approached the top of the climb, we again noticed millions of blueberry bushes – a month or 2 from now and they will be loaded with berries. Yum yum. At the top, the road turns sharply to the left and here you see the Ettrick Valley for the first time. This is an amazingly fast section of road and we sped the last mile or 2 down the hill into the Ettrick valley at around 30 mph. Just make sure you watch out for sheep and cattle grids though…

At the bottom of the hill at Crosslee Farm, we turned left onto the B7009. This is a brilliant road to cycle on. It’s almost completely traffic-free, has amazing views as you cycle through the Ettrick Valley and it has lots of long, gradual downhill sections where you can go as fast as you like. We saw lots of other cyclists on this part of the route – no wonder, it’s one of the best cycling roads in the world. After many miles of fun, we eventually turned off this road at Kirkhope where we went left, onto a very narrow road which would take us over the hill to Yarrow. First though, we needed an energy boost before tackling the climb so we stopped for a lunch of oatcakes (with crab and cheese), salad from our garden and Dairy Milk.

This single track road turned out to be quite a hard climb and has lots of sharp bends on the way up. It climbs roughly 200m in less than 2 miles so it is pretty steep. The views down to the valley below are rather good though (so Dad says – I was too busy concentrating on plodding up and up and up that I forgot to look back…). Just after the top, we got an impressive view down into the Yarrow valley once again and we could see the road heading basically straight down the hill. It looked very steep – and it was – but it was very good fun and we got to Yarrow at the bottom of the hill in only a couple of minutes.

At Yarrow, we turned right and headed onto the A708 road that would take us right through the Yarrow valley. This is probably the quietest “A” road I’ve ever been on – it has less traffic on it than most B roads and it was a pleasure to cycle along it (apart from a short section where the road surface was very worn out and bumpy). It is also mostly slightly downhill in the direction we were going so we made very good time. As usual with the Scottish Borders, the views of the hills and river were very nice too. Soon we passed through Yarrowford and came to sign pointing for Ettrickbridge on the right so we turned here onto the B7039 which took us back over the Yarrow water, around the edge of the Bowhill Estate and into the Ettrick valley once more. After a mile or so we crossed a bridge over the Ettrick Water next to the junction with the B7009. It was here that Dad noticed that unlike the Tweed or Yarrow Water, the Ettrick Water looked rather brown and muddy. Dad reckoned that the thunderstorms and heavy rain of the previous day must have washed half a hillside and 3 fields into the river. You certainly wouldn’t have filled your water bottle up here anyway…

We then had a couple of miles of mainly gradual uphill cycling through some of the best scenery you’ll see anywhere until we reached the town of Selkirk. In the town we had to cycle up the steepest hill of the day as we headed up to the town centre. After a quick stop at the Spar shop to stock up on water, crisps and chocolate (oh, and 1 apple for me too), we cycled back down the other side of the hill and out of town on the Bridgelands Road. This is a tiny, deserted road which passes by some horse farms for a mile or so before taking us to the junction with the main A7 road. Here we turned right but didn’t have to cycle on the main road at all. There’s a convenient cycle/footpath alongside the road so we stayed on the this for about 1 mile until we reached a bridge over the river. It’s at this exact spot where the Ettrick Water joins up with the River Tweed and we could clearly see where the muddy brown Ettrick Water was merging in with the lovely clear and clean water of the Tweed. It was rather interesting to see.

It was here that we turned left onto the B7060 where we joined cycle route no.1, which we followed for the 12 or so miles back to the car. This section of the route through the Tweed Valley is beautiful and highly recommended. There’s very few cars as well so it’s pleasant to cycle on and ideal for children and inexperienced cyclists too. When we reached Yair Bridge, we turned left, crossed the bridge and then immediately turned right to follow cycle route 1 (alternative off road route) for the 3 miles to Peel. You could take the main signposted cycle route along the A707 instead (it’s quicker and suitable for road bikes, unlike the alternative route) but I prefer the off road section as it’s very peaceful and scenic. It is quite hilly and very bumpy in places though so you have been warned. Dad hates the bumpy track as he has no suspension on his bike but I don’t mind it too much. Soon we reached the village of Peel and joined another deserted single track road for the last 8 miles of gradual uphills and long, fast downhills, cycling in and out of the trees, high up above the River Tweed down below. In no time at all, we reached Innerleithen again after nearly 6 hours of cycling and having completed one of our longest and most challenging rides so far. This is definitely one to be repeated. I may do it the other way round next time but when I do, it will certainly coincide with wild blueberry season…

Grand Tour of the Scottish Borders (vol. 3)

Route out – Tweedbank to Abbotsford to Lindean to Selkirk to Ashkirk to Hawick. For route map click here.

Route back – Hawick to Minto to Newtown St Boswells to Dryburgh to Leaderfoot to Newstead to Melrose to Darnick to Tweedbank. For route map click here. Note Google maps says to go onto the A68 at Leaderfoot but this isn’t necessary. Just head onto the B6360 and immediately pull off the road on the left and use the pedestrian bridge next to the viaduct to cross the river.

  • Weather – mainly sunny with some cloudy intervals, cool at first but warmer later and no wind at all.
  • Distance travelled – 52.40 miles
  • Riding time – 5 hours 11 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 32.2 mph
  • Average speed – 10.1 mph
  • Height climbed – 3346 feet

The weather forecast looked perfect for cycling on Easter Monday so Dad and I got up at some unbelievably stupid time in the morning and found ourselves (and our bikes) on the 6:49 train from Gorebridge to Tweedbank. Half an hour later we were on our bikes, cycling through a housing estate and then around the lovely Gun Knowe Loch in Tweedbank before crossing the main road and onto the quiet B6360 which goes past the home of Scots writer Sir Walter Scott, Abbotsford House. This road was follows the River Tweed and is lined with trees and has loads of wild garlic growing on the verges which made an amazing smell as we cycled along. After a few miles we had no choice but to turn left onto the main A7 road. It’s only 2 or 3 miles along the A7 to the town of Selkirk but the road was very busy and if you’ve read the blog before, you will know we prefer to stick to the back roads so after only half a mile or so we decided to turn left and take the long cut. The long cut took us onto a deserted single track road which straight away went steeply uphill. We cycled through a tiny place called Lindeen and then up and up and up for a long long long time until at the top of the hill, we came to an un-signposted junction on the right, heading sharply (almost backwards) at a reflex angle. From there it was a very fast and fun descent for a couple of miles down to Selkirk with some nice views of the Borders countryside all around us.

We left Selkirk along the B7009, heading into the stunning Ettrick Valley and following the Ettrick Water for a while. We turned off this road when we saw a sign for Ashkirk and this took us up another steep hilly single track road for quite a long time. It was nice and quiet though and the views of the hills and valleys got better and better the higher we went. Since it was Easter, we stopped halfway up the hill and rolled our eggs. Dad had painted his egg like Derek McInnes the Aberdeen FC manager but after I’d smashed it down the hill, it no longer looked like him! McInnes tasted fine though… At the top of the hill we crossed a cattle grid and then it was simply a case of zooming back down the other side to the village of Ashkirk. Just before the village, Dad spotted a very unusual road sign warning car drivers not to go down a certain road because their “sat-nav is wrong and the road isn’t suitable for cars” (see photo below). It was probably OK for bikes but we stuck to the proper road this time. Askirk seemed nice enough but beware that there’s a lot of misleading sign posts there pointing to various places and most of them seemed to be pointing in completely the wrong direction. We ignored the sign pointing left to the golf course and Roberton and instead headed right – in the direction of the golf course and Roberton…

After a few miles of easy cycling along a nice quiet road, we came to yet another uphill section as the narrow road took us up very high and into some really remote and hilly countryside. It was perfect for cycling as it was quite a gradual climb really and the views were amazing. We even saw some baby Highland cows in a field. After a short while cycling right along the top of the hills, the road then went downhill for a long time (maybe 4 or 5 miles) and we sped far too fast until we reached the junction with the B711 where we turned left and cycled along a much flatter and very smooth road for a couple of miles, following a river. Just before reaching the A7 again we turned left onto a minor road which took us to the park on the outskirts of Hawick so we cycled through the park and then over a bridge into the town centre where we stopped at Greggs for an early lunch (cheese and onion pasty for me, 2 sausage rolls for Dad).

We followed the Border Loop cycle route signs out of Hawick on a minor road and were soon in the countryside once more. This area is extremely quiet and scenic and the roads are nicely surfaced with lots of ups and downs so it is ideal for cycling. After a while we came to a crossroads with lots of signs on it so we chose Minto. This turned out to be a rather steep choice but we found that Minto is very pleasant place with a golf course and a nice church. We stopped there for a snack of oatcakes and Dad spotted 2 pheasants that were either fighting or mating – we didn’t stay long enough to find out… After Minto it was uphill again and we cycled around the side a rather distinctive dome-shaped hill (called Minto Hill funnily enough). Then it was basically another 6 miles of peaceful cycling on quiet roads with lots of ups and downs (mainly downs this time) heading closer and closer to the impressive Eildon Hills as we eventually reached Newtown St Boswells.

We quickly headed out of town, across the main A68 road and along a quiet road for less than a mile before crossing over a pedestrian bridge over the River Tweed to Dryburgh. There’s an abbey near there but we didn’t see it today and instead followed the road which would takes us the long was back to Melrose via the Leaderfoot viaduct. Before reaching the viaduct though, we had yet another hill to climb but it was well worth it as the views from the top were amazing. There’s a view point at the top called Scott’s View because it was Sir Walter Scott’s favourite view in the Borders. He was right enough as the view of the Eildon Hills and valley below was reasonably remarkable I thought. Then it was a short and fast downhill section to Leaderfoot and the amazing viaduct which came into view just as we cycled underneath the main A68 road. Just there, we turned left onto a pedestrian bridge which carried us over the Tweed once more and provided us with great views of the viaduct. After crossing the bridge we turned right onto a road that is not open to cars (there’s a locked gate at the end of it) but it’s good for bikes and it took us right under the viaduct and down to the village of Newstead. It was then just a mile along the B6394 to Melrose (where we stopped as usual for an ice cream) before heading back to the train station in Tweedbank following Cycle Route no.1 via Darnick. Oh, just outside Melrose on the B6394, Dad spotted a very large banner advertising a fencing company who claim to be the “Erection Specialists” (see picture below). He was basically in tears with laughter but I didn’t have a clue why. Dad says I will understand the joke in a few years time…

Today was really fun day out with lots of hills to climb, very little in the way of traffic and some of the best views we’ve had whilst out cycling. We love going to the Borders but it’s a big place and there’s still lots more of it to explore so stay tuned for Grand Tour vol.4 sometime soon…