Advertised as a challenging 3 day ride (+/- 240km/ 5000m climbing). I’ve been eager to try The Capital trail route since hearing about it. By starting in Berwick upon Tweed I was also able to add a couple of days and included an option to do the “Peebles loop” if I had time left over. By combining my traveling days straight from/to work I could just squeeze it all into one week. In hindsight this was all very optimistic for a trip to Scotland in January.
I’d looked at the various options for getting myself and bike from Amsterdam to Berwick. With more time, cycling from the ferry or taking the train from Newcastle would of been an option, but for convenience sake and much against my principles (and the fact that I only had an hour to get from work to Ijmuiden) I sold my soul to the devil and just took my car…
I left the car at the (free) long stay parking at the Quayside in Berwick and set off from the infamous bridges into a typically British wet and windy January morning.
The joys of once again being on the road after a disappointingly quiet year on the outdoors front meant the weather and winds did little to dampen my spirits. For the first day I’d chosen to follow the published ” Coast and Castles” route. Once outside of town the route follows mainly quiet back lanes meandering between the hills, farms and sleepy border villages.
A pot of Tea next to a coal fire at the pub in Norham allowed my fingers and toes to defrost then I spent most of the rest of the day zigzagging across the Scotland/England border and the rather flooded river Tweed.
With only a brief stop out of the wind for a coffee in the afternoon.
I picked up the Highland trail just after dark near Melrose though soon had to take a couple of small detours when the track disappeared into the river.
About an hour later after a nice climb out of Melrose, a detour through the woods around a flooded lake I found a nice spot to wild camp behind a wall out of the wind. Half an hour later moving into the the more windy woods to escape the swamp.
After 80km of headwind, rain and almost an hour messing around making a suitable spot to camp I was happy to finally settle down to a light dinner and a cup of coffee. I felt content and happy to finally be on the road again.
I rose late with the sun (an advantage of Winter trips) to a cold frosty start and the wind was already picking up again, but at least the rain would stay away for a while.
Back on the route, the mud and gravel from the previous evening turned to mud and grass and stayed that way for the next hour or two. Meaning I spent as much time pushing rather than riding, my Racing Ralph tires had been the perfect choice for the Transandalucia trail but were obviously not chunky enough for grip on damper terrein.
Luckily the route later turned back to forrest trails through the Yair forrest up to the stunning views around the Three Brethren. The views for this part along the Southern Upland way of the route are stunning, certainly one for the hiking list too.
From here the route down became challenging again due to the light dusting of snow on the track. Any illusions I still had of completing 240km in the next three days were melted away in the next hour with each skid, slip or dismount for a little walking.
By 2pm I reached Innerleithen where I popped into a cafe to defrost for an hour and refill my belly.
I left Innerleithen with a full belly and thinking the avocado, 100g of salami and a handful of nuts in my backpack would be more than enough for the 18km to Peebles along the old drovers road. At around the half way mark the farm track became well……interesting.
Within five minutes I’d gone from cycling to pushing my bike to carrying it and wondering if I should turn back to Innerleithen and take the road to Peebles. Another five minutes later I was huffing and puffing but loving the view and the challenge.
The snow got deeper and it slowly got darker. The thought that it was only another two kilometers to the top of the pass kept me motivated though in the back of my mind the doubts started and the ” what ifs..” But hey, I was having fun, had a full belly and still felt strong. Once it got dark the wind picked up and it started snowing, an hour later it was only one kilometer to the top of the pass to go, the snow was now 30cm deep and my thoughts where turning to, I’m screwed, its just as far either way now, and so I pushed on, carrying my bike for 100m, getting my breath back and checking my gps to see if I was still on track. As time carried on I picked up the pace, it was tempting to just camp and sit the storm out, but the thought that the snow would only be deeper the next day pushed me on for another hour or two, later following the contours of a ” shortcut” rather than going up and over the hill.
I still felt fit and strong though slightly worried that the constant rolling of my ankles on the heather under the snow could go wrong at some point, especially if I got tired. By now I was carrying my bike for 100-200m then returning for my bags and was getting very practical ” 1 avocado, 100g salami, nuts, 1/2L water and maybe enough gas left to melt some snow…..Enough for one night…..”
At some point I found a small flat spot on the side of the hill, it was obvious the next couple of kilometers were not going to get any easier so I took the opportunity to set my tent up on a flat spot. The confidence and experience of already doing several winter trips in recent years, meant it was a very practical and calm situation rather some kind of survival or panic. My recent conversion to an LCHF (Low Carb Healthy Fat) diet also meant I didn’t have worries about getting hungry or running out of energy with so little food with me.
Despite it being about -2 outside my summer tent I wasn’t too cold in the night and slept reasonably well, considering. I’d packed for this trip knowing this could happen and had just enough gear to ” survive fairly comfortably”. When I woke up I put my gas canister under my fleece to warm it up (gas canisters are almost useless when its so cold) once it was warm I fired it up and was able to melt snow for a stock cube soup in no time.
Once packed up I continued on my snow adventure and spent the next 4 hours shuttle my bike and gear the 4km until the snow changed over to mud and rain. I arrived in Peebles some time after lunch rather damp and cold but still in high spirits. I made the practical decision to splash out for a B+B to dry off and warm up while making a new plan, continuing on the Capital trail in January obviously wasn’t going to work.
Peebles is a lovely spot to hang around for an afternoon in a pub and make a new plan. The next morning I set off into the cold for a day and half heading East again along the quiet country lanes of the borders, enjoying views of the hills from a slightly lower and less white perspective, even including a small detour to the Wallace monument (where’s the Gromit Monument?).
By lunch time the next day I arrived back in Berwick.
The Scottish Borders: Enough Hiking/Cycling (on and off road) routes for all tastes and levels of ability. Friendly people, Steeped in history, lovely scenery, cosy country pubs, wild camping is allowed, so is drying off in a B+B for a night 😉. My 6 day plan became a much different 5 day plan because of weather and slightly over ambitious planning. Thats fine, thats part of being a flexible cycle tourist. I had a blast during my short escape, my mind and body are once again sharp. I’d recommend the borders to anyone, though like most of my trips would recommend going a few months later than I did……