Playing in Scotland and the Borders, May 2019

It seems like staycations are the way to go this year

I had planned to take the train to the Lakes, then hitch a lift with Gordon to Scotland, then return cross country to York, catching the train back home. Well it appears that the entire population of the UK has decided to stay at home this year and finding rooms on the way home was proving to be a nightmare.

So, I quickly changed the trip into a three-location venture in Scotland and the Border region, covering some old ground, and discovering some new. I had started a trip in the Borders back in 2013 with Gordon and Neil, but that ended with a trip to A&E in Galashiels, after a touch of wheels brought me down on a freshly resurfaced road, on day two. Up until this point it had left a different kind of “impression” on me and I knew I had to go back.

After a 600 kilometre journey, stopping off in Hull to visit family, I reached Newcastleton, and the sun was shining, temperature 20o C, with a forecast of more to come.

More than anything I wanted to ride round Kielder forest and water, and the Grapes Hotel in Newcastleton seemed to be a handy base. Plus this should have been the last hotel on our 2013 trip, if we had finished.

Day 1 Kielder Water and Forest

From Newcastleton you simply follow the B6357 north for a short while, over the bridge then turn right, and although you have to give way, you continue on the B6357 down the valley to Saughtree. It’s a nice rolling road, no major climbs. At the top of one of the climbs is a strange little Commonwealth War Grave with some very ornate head stones and monuments, right in the middle of nowhere.

 

At Saughtree, another right turn on to a tiny single track road with passing places, marked for Kielder Forest and Water. This road feels so remote as you leave any sign of buildings behind and amble down a valley full of sheep nursing their young, with open rolling hills to either side.

 

About a kilometre down the road I crossed back over into England, Northumberland, and then you hit the start of the forest, large pine trees shading you from the sun, and dropping the temperature. Its only 09:15 and already 17o, so looking good for the day out.

As I reach Kielder village, I have a look around and find the Lakeside Way, a gravel trail, which takes you all the way around the lake, a stunning 45Km journey back to Kielder. I set off on the south side of the lake heading for dam wall, leading me on to the north east side then Kielder Water.

 

As the track starts to unwind you catch glimpses of the lake through the pine trees, teasing you as to the view that lies ahead. Once it opens out I find somewhere I can lean the bike and then climb down on to the shore. With the wind today, about 30kph, the air is so clear and the chop on the water makes it deep blue. I have been lucky to catch it looking this good, so pleased.

 

Just after the Bird of Prey Centre on the south side, I spot this strange building on stilts with a glass front. If you go around the back you can enter the building and it has a series of ribs from front to rear, which effectively create a shaped aperture through which the lake is beautifully framed. Just one of many pieces of art around the lake.

 

I aim for the Tower Knowe visitor centre where I hope to grab a coffee and a sandwich. Out of look, I’m afraid, they only sell the most sickly-looking waffle-based food. I left with my arteries intact and headed for the dam and as I reach it the signpost shows Kielder Castle is only 16Km, so a good bit shorter than the south side.

Once across the dam, I pass the ferry in HawkHope car park, on blocks and being spruced up ready for the summer. There are large swathes of this side that have been cleared as they manage the timber in the area, leaving behind forest to the left of the track and stumps to the right.

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There is more artwork on the north side and I reach very creative section, firstly with four cubes, the Tyne Salmon Cubes, representing Colours, Scales, Birth and Reflection. A couple of kilometres later and I find the Janus Chairs, very impressive.

 

It’s a straightforward drop into Kielder now, with a choice of either, over the viaduct or along forest trail, I choose the trail. The Anglers Arms are open in Kielder and I am starting to feel hungry, so top up ready for the ride back to Newcastleton. As I mentioned earlier, the wind was 30kph, and sadly coming from the south, so the final 20Km are headwind, thanks to the valley funnelling it in my direction. A small price to pay for a great day out.

 

Total 95Km and 994m of climbing

borders day 1

Day 2 Border Patrol

I started today’s ride heading south out of Newcastleton, taking a left in town when I saw the NCN 10 sign for the Reiver Trail. This took me off the B6357 and started with a steady climb, but the views into the valley were worth the effort. Then it was a drop to Kershopefoot and then re-joining the B6357, heading south into the wind, not as strong as yesterday, but strong enough. On the climb just before Kershopefoot there was evidence of recent issues with fallen trees across the road, with sawdust and branches left behind. Fallen trees seemed to be a running theme throughout my time in this area.

 

The difficulty with this location is that there are not many minor roads, so having to use some of the main trunk roads was inevitable. However, up here they are nowhere near as busy as riding along a similar road further south.

It had been a strong headwind since I left Newcastleton heading south, so at the junction with the B6318 I took a right, naively thinking there would be less wind. Not so, it seems to funnel and bounce along the valleys and was ever present. I continued to climb over the hills and head for Claygate, then a left/right at the junction and over to Hollows, where the road crosses the River Esk. All the rivers in the area are a stunning clear dark brown from the peat, contrasting with the white rocks in the riverbed.

 

Despite to cold start, I have now whipped the arm warmers off, and the temperature hit 25oC, so much more than I could have expected.

I cross the A7 and head further west north west towards Bloch, where I finally turn right, and the wind is finally behind me. This valley is very scenic, rolling up and down, then following the river into Langholm, where I decide it is time for a brew and a snack. There is a cool café just as you hit the A7 and as I am due to be on the A7 for about 10Km I have a bit of cake hoping the sugar rush will power me along what might be the busiest part of the journey, and again unavoidable. The café is full of guys my age, on fully loaded motor scooter, obviously heading for a weekend meet-up.

After the stop I get on it and average over 28kph all the way to my right turn and fell happy to have survived. To be honest, considering it is a major road it wasn’t that busy and only one driver tried to steel my handlebars as they passed. There were plenty of scooters too.

I can now relax as I head east towards Hermitage and drop in to have a quick look at the castle, then on to Arnton, where I do a right/left and take the road to Steele Road. This is a village I saw signposted yesterday on the way back from Kielder.

 

It’s a steady climb then a rolling drop, through Steele Road and joining the Kielder road exactly where I expected. I know now it is just a steady effort for about 10Km back to Newcastleton and lunch at the Olive Tree, a nice little café with seats outside in the sun.

Well I have come to the end of the first leg of this trip, Pitlochry tomorrow, meeting up with G for the next two-day leg, but the forecast doesn’t look anywhere nice as I have had. Fingers crossed.

Total 79km and 950m of climbing

borders day 2

Three and a half hours, and 200Km of driving, through some stunning countryside and I move from Newcastleton up to Logierait.

Day 3 Round Loch Tummel

We are not actually in Pitlochry, we have a lodge 10Km south in Logierait, a perfect location as it is where the National Cycle Network route 7 and 77 crosses the River Tay, so loads of options. We took a quick spin in to Pitlochry on the NCN 7 yesterday afternoon to pick up some provisions. A lovely quiet route over the hills, and no issues parking, as Pitlochry is a busy little town.

This morning turns out to be wet and grey, so we decided to take a right out of our lodge, then pick up the NCN 7 over the Tay and head in the direction of Aberfeldy along the banks of the Tay.

 

This is a really pretty route, with very little traffic, several stunning properties, but little else. Being down the side of the river there was not much change in elevation, so a nice gentle start to the day.

 

We stayed on the south side of the Tay, until we reach Ween, then we swap to the north side through to a small place called Dull, twinned with Boring Oregon. I know, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

However, in Dull there is a great little café at Highland Safari, where we dropped in for coffee and cake, and to dry out. It had been raining solidly now since we set off, but we ignore it and press on.

Once we left the café it was just a short ride to the junction with the B846 taking us north to Tummel Bridge. We leave the NCN 7 as it continues on down the side of Loch Tay and eventually heading south . Once we hit the B846, we started the inevitable climb from this valley in to the next. The climb took us from 150m to 400m in the space of 6Km, but what a fabulous climb, with great views and a real Alpine feel to it.

Loch Kinardochy

You could hear the waterfalls cascading down through the forest at the side of the road due to last nights heavy rain. About ¾ of the way up we reached Loch Kinardochy where the road splits, the B846 taking you to Tummel Bridge, or left, which takes you across and round Dunalatair Reservoir. A route for another day. By this point the sun has started to breakthrough, and it becomes showery, which continues for the rest of the day.

By now the skies were starting to open up and we even saw the lesser spotted blue sky, very rare at the moment. The road tipped down to Tummel Bridge, past the hydroelectric plant, a stunning old building. Next we picked up the B8019 and headed east to Pitlochry.

 

The north side of the Loch has truly amazing, whatever the weather. It was quite lumpy as well, taking you high up to some great vantage points. We stopped in at the Queen’s Viewpoint, which was spectacular, and I managed to get a photo just before the rain swept down the Loch and it disappeared (header image). We met some German tourists there who were keen cyclist, quizzing us about the bikes and the ride we were doing, before they jumped in their car and continued their journey around Scotland.

Finally we dropped down into Pitlochry where we re-joined the NCN 7 in to town, trying to beat the pouring rain. A top up with food, then back on to the NCN 7 and over the route we followed yesterday back to base.

A great day out despite and because of the weather, as we got chance to see some of the route in both pouring rain and stunning sunshine.

Total 67km and 828m of climbing

borders day 3

Day 4 Along the River Tay

When we woke up this morning the weather was so much better than had been forecast, dry with broken cloud, so it was a ride down the Tay and the rolling hills to the south east.

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We picked up the NCN 7 again from the lodge and this time headed south down through the small villages, with woodlands full of bluebells, very colourful. Once we popped out on to the A9, the route took us north over the river bridge, then down on to a purpose built cycle path, which has to be one of the nicest I have ridden, winding slowly down along the edge of the Tay, past the salmon fishing ponds, popping out in in the grounds of the Dunkeld House Hotel, finally leading you to the gatehouse in the centre of town.

 

Still on the NCN 7 we headed further south with the intention of heading to Stanley for a coffee. However, the road widening works on the A9 had closed the road we needed. So, a back-track to Bankfoot, then left over the A9, stopping at the Stewart Tower Dairy for a brew and a bit of cake.

We popped the rain jackets on and started to ride north towards Caputh, a small village full of old-world charm, then further north, up to the A923. This was a much quieter road than we expected, but we had chosen it as it afforded us a great view of Loch of Lowes, as we climbed gently over the top and dropped back in to Dunkeld.

The A923 brought us in to Dunkeld north of the NCN 7, where we picked up the NCN 83, which followed the River Tay, but on the east side, all the way back to Ballinguig, where we grabbed a sandwich and a brew. After lunch, we continued north and started to climb up as we head towards Pitlochry on some great, quiet little roads, with great views of the Tay.

Once in Pitlochry we made our way to the dam, walking up alongside the salmon run, which enable the salmon to climb over the dam and into the upper part of the Tay. A quick brew by the river at the Fisherman’s Inn, then our “usual” spin down the NCN 7 to Logierait and back to the lodge. I can recommend the cake at the Fisherman’s, but be prepared to have your pockets picked!

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Despite a few showers it was a great ride, but if I came back again, I think the better riding is to the north and west, lumpier, but more remote and certainly more scenic.

Total 86km and 819m of climbing

borders day 4

Another 200Km drive down from Logierait to my next stop over in Alston at Ryder House. I do, however, take the opportunity to drop into Falkirk to see both the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel, which has been on my list for a while.

 

Day 5 Final day and time to see the Roman Frontline

I had a route planned for today but looking through the tourist information I found a great 50 mile route, which would take me up to Hadrian’s Wall, that sealed it.

So, just before 09:00, I load up and head out north along the A686, then within a kilometre I peel left and drop into the valley on a small single track road along the South Tyne River. The road gently winds along then climbs steeply up to a farm overlooking the valley. A bit more climbing and I hit the back of Barhaugh Hall, quite spectacular grounds.

 

The single track runs on, up and down for a few more kilometres until it joins the A689, about 8.5Km into the ride. This road is nowhere near as busy as I expect it to be and is actually a scenic route along the valley, climbing up and down as all roads here seem to, until at 15Km it sweeps west heading for Brampton.

The views along here are stunning and change from wooded valley to open moor land in places, then a left off the A689, past Brampton Junction and into the back of Brampton, the first biggish town of the ride. Its only 34Km in, so I decide to press on before I stop for a brew.

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I am now heading east on a road known as The Swartie, which leads me trough to Lanercost, the site of Lanercost Priory, dating back to 1169. A beautiful looking building.

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Onwards and of course, upwards, with a long 2km, 6% climb up to Banks then you start to see traces of Hadrian’s Wall. First there is Leahill, Turret 51b, one of the old towers on the wall, then as you weave further along the road, remains of the wall appear on the right-hand side of the road.

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It’s hard to think that this has stood here since 122 AD, and the changes it has witnessed. Quite amazing. At Birdoswald there is a Roman Fort, with a visitor centre and tearooms, perfect timing.

 

As I am getting sorted to go in, an elderly gentleman gets chatting to me about bikes. He and his family had passed me a few times on the road up here and he was reminiscing about the days when he used to time trial and how the technology had changed and what was happening in the Giro. an interesting chap, who was apparently writing a book about cycling and cycle racing back in the 1950’s.

Topped up with caffeine and a bun, off I set through to Gilsland and on towards Greenhead. As you drop into Greenhead you take a left over the bridge, then there is a good old slog up the out of the village. I missed it at first, but there is a well surfaced cycle track to the left, which keeps you out of the way of traffic as you crawl up the hill. There is a second chance to get on the track and I take it; its only 1km, but its 10%.

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Right at the top I turn off the busy road and on to Park Road, bound for Haltwhistle. It’s a cracking ride over, but this is where I have my navigation blunder of the day. I miss the sign for the cycle route, which should have dropped me on to a disused railway line from Haltwhistle. Instead, I spend 15 minutes zig zagging about across the A69, picking up the road to Park Village, where I eventually rejoint the track. Shame, as the bit I rode was great, another few miles of that would have been nice. It was only right at the end of the track that the recently topped up fine gravel made riding in a straight line impossible.

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When you come off the trail just below Lambley, you come back to earth with a bang, 2Km at 6% all the way back up to the A689. However, once back on the A689 it is just a case of following it through to Alston, quite a few rollers and a gain of 100m, plus today the wind that had carried me along on the outward journey took its revenge.

I was ready for lunch when I got back, but it was a great way to end these few days away in the Border region and up to Perthshire. Definitely whet the appetite for some more riding up here.

Total 82km and 1013m of climbing

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