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.

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!

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…