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…