The broken wrist took ages to sort out and my first ride was a mile out and back trying not to put weight on the bar and as little as possible of breaking, steering or changing gear. Next I managed 5 miles and did not smile once, then a few 7’s and a big 12. If I could ride 32 to Gifford and back I would book flights to Majorca for some quality bike time in the sun. I managed that 4 days ahead of schedule and the holiday was booked. The ash cloud put a stop to our little treat, so we decided to do a ride that starts at our back door and returned to our door. A sort of Borders Loop without any reliance on any other transport. It was only late April, the trees just in leaf but already we had seen a dozen Swallows so we packed our touring bikes and headed down the coast towards Dunbar through the wonderful lanes of East Lothian.
We wild camped on the sea front at Coldingham Bay which is something you could not do in the summer. A great end to day 1 and already a hint of adventure. We filtered water from a stream with a travel tap filter bottle which did not like the cold temperatures and was a bit of a devil to squeeze. The usual slightly burned porridge and a Kelly Kettle tea fest and we were packed and away. This time we were following the official Borders Loop for a while towards the English border at the Union Suspension Bridge. The honey farm cafe across the Tweed on the English side is one of our favorite cafe stops. There is the spirit of a young Sir Cliff as the cafe is in a converted double decker bus if that is your fancy. And it was.
The next few miles towards Coldstream see you passing back and forth over the Tweed. One moment in Scotland the next England, never far from a castle or battle site and slaughter by the thousands in days gone by. As you cross the Tweed at Coldstream you are just meters from my only otter sighting and at the point in the Uk with the closest distinct separation of dialects, so now you know. You have also joined up with route 1 the 4,000 mile North Sea cycle way which we had done a big chunk of a couple of years ago. If you have a passion for sea defences and low lying farm land then this is the route for you. But be warned, Norway is tough, very tough.
I think The Border pub at Kirk Yetholm is on my top 3 pubs list seeing as how we are doing lists. It can be packed with happy or nervous walkers as it is the end or start of the Pennine Way. You can pass a cheerful afternoon here with a pint in your hand, shaking your head at the weight that people carry and their unsuitable footwear. Very few want to go anywhere near a hill ever again after this baptism and you can only blame the scouts and the Duke of Edinburgh for not having Bob of backpacking light as patron and kit advisor.
Up into the Cheviots we rode at the end of day two, to seek out wild camping in Hownam Valley. We quickly change from our bright biking clothes and stash the eye catching panniers as we settle down just off the road, behind a leafless copse. This will rank top 5 wild camp this year when the votes are counted, absolutely lovely.
Higher into the Cheviots we climbed the next morning. A few days of sun had enticed the bulbs into flower and we were grateful for the lack of head wind that could make these exposed round backed hills an absolute pig. It may not have been Majorca but by mid day I was in shorts for the first time this year as we headed toward Bonchester Bridge. The lack of traffic and the perfect rolling countryside make this area in particular and the Borders in general one of the best cycle touring places in the uk. I love it, and would recommend it to a friend.
We dropped down to Hawick for a bit of lunch. It is the very heartland of shooting, fishing, farming and rugby and may still hold the record for the largest number of pubs per head of population. It did however look to be on the up a little that afternoon, if only in day light. It has 2 bookshops which is in contrast to Cannock where I grew up which has the largest population without a single bookshop. The sun stayed out, and I was now without arm warmers and getting a crafty and almost cheating early season tan on the legs as well as arms as we headed past yet more fields of prime lambs and proud North Country Cheviot ewes. Touring cyclists and stock both enjoying the warmest day of the year.
The road beyond Roberton climbs high over open, hard to defend land that Romans to Reivers would have known very well and would still recognise now. Tushie Law is a junction settlement of road and river. You could turn left here for Carlisle and the south or right for Edinburgh. Many come this way on LeJo’g and the hard riders of London Edinburgh London pass through every 4 years on that 1,500k Audax ride. The heat of the day meant that we, and particularly I needed a shower, so we set up the tent at the camp site. The Kelly Kettle as usual attracted attention and so did the sheer quantity of equipment that explodes from our bags across grass and tables. We ate by the tent and then went to the pub and watched a 10 year old boy eat more than the two of us had just done. I am sure his parents will blame his glands or low metabolism for his life of obesity.
The great weather could not last. So it didn’t, and it was on with coats as we pedaled up into the mist and towards Ettrickbridge in the morning. If the Borders has a stockbroker belt then this is at the heart of it. All rather nice and desirable and picture postcard perfect even in the gloom. Sand Martins, back for the Scottish summer cheered us up. You have to admire the ambition of the bird. I would have booked elsewhere after the washout and cold of last year. Scotland has two seasons, winter and June and Billy Connolly is as accurate as the met office most years with that.
We were enjoying ourselves and making the route up as we went now. First to Selkirk and then towards Duns turning our route first oval and then a figure 8 before deciding on pretzel shaped. A pint of beer in Duns was an unwise preparation for the nasty climb up and on to the Lammermuirs. So we pitched on the last sheltered bit of flat grass we were going to come across just a third of the way up. Spring sowing had probably been done that day and the headland was going to be our wild camp spot for the night, tucked down behind a bit of a hedge. Nice, but not even top 10.
The Lammermuirs are so little visited that they make the almost un visited Cheviots look busy. Often windswept and always hilly, they are a tough ride on a loaded touring bike but ahead with an all day breakfast was our number 1 cafe at Gifford and our proprietor pals Pam and Craig. We had hardly been on a road that we did not already know on the tour. But, as we came up the main street of Musselburgh “The Honest Toun” ( yes, er, right ) as it says on the signs at both ends after clocking up 200 miles or so. We had had a bit of an adventure starting and ending at our back door. Carbon footprint was zero, which you can’t say about a trip to the sun of Majorca and I even had the start of my cyclist tan lines for the year on our sort of Borders loop.