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Tour of Britain - Day 1 - Scottish Borders

Friday, 13 September 2013

Cycling in the Scottish Borders. Photo by Dave Barter.


Scottish Borders

Tarmac tranquility north of the border

Grade: Difficult
Distance: 122.8km/76.3miles
Ascent: 2,181m/7,155ft

Stage 1 of this year's Tour of Britain rolls from Peebles over to Drumlanrig Castle, in southern Scotland. First up in our Tour of Britain, with Dave Barter's book Great British Bike Rides, is our very own Scottish Borders ride, starting and finishing in Newcastleton. Over to Dave:

Scottish Borders mapThe local back-road network is fantastic for extended periods of tarmac-based smiles, and this loop captures the essence of the region. It’s based upon a documented ride known as the ‘Southern Borders Loop’, but has been tinkered with to make the riding that little bit wilder and to escape a few sections of busy road.

If I lived up here I’d do this ride every single weekend. There’s something about the loop that I just can’t put my finger on, it seems to have just the right level of ‘demanding’ and the ideal amount of ‘scenery’. The brushes with civilisation are there when you want them and gone when you don’t. I find it hard to document the highlights as I enjoy every minute of the ride. But let’s have a go picking out a few:

Leaving Newcastleton, there’s a nicely gradiented climb heading towards Hawick and gently transferring you from pleasant lowland farming scenery to wilder moorland and forest. Every time I ride this, I end up visualising myself racing in a Grand Tour and attacking the peloton on the lower slopes of a majestic climb. You ascend to over 1,200 feet in altitude but would hardly know it as the hill sneaks you up into the sky.

The climb up the Borthwick Valley, following the river, is also sublime as you gain height in isolation with only the odd logging lorry to contend with. A word of caution concerning the loggers: they know these roads well and hammer round them at speed, so be wary of their presence and take pains to avoid them. The Alemoor Reservoir is your reward at the top, along with a relatively restful period as you scoot along the Ettrick Valley, looking out for red squirrels on the way. Another valley, carved out by the River Esk, sees you into Langholm where the wildest part of the ride begins.

The hardest ascent of the day comes in the climb over the moors to Tarras Lodge and back down into Newcastleton. This section will ask a few questions of even the fittest cyclist, with an extended set of climbs that are exposed and wild. They seem to carry on for ever – particularly the final section up from the lodge. There’s no tea shop or shelter up here and you’re completely on your own as you fight your way up with only the sheep staring in admiration.

I like to ride the route from Newcastleton, which in my view is one of the friendliest towns in Great Britain. Every time I come here I’m reminded of how helpful and welcoming the locals are and how cycling has become part and parcel of the local community, with this route and a mountain bike trail centre on their doorstep. Fill the car full of all sorts of bikes and make a proper break of it. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Scottish Borders stats page

For full route information, and details of all 40 of Dave's routes, check out Great British Bike Ridesand save 20% at checkout with offer code TOUR2013

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