Cycling in the Scottish Borders
Cycling in the sparsely-populated Borders is a delight for the confident tourer, and can feel like the best of the 1960s. It’s an area of local shops, friendly communities, handsome market towns with good cafes, and little traffic. There’s wilderness beyond the lush Tweed valley, a few notable climbs, and certainly lots of big scenery. Now that the Borders railway – axed in 1969 but rebuilt in 2015 – is back up and running, it’s easy getting to the heart of this under-rated region.
National Cycle Routes are few, apart from the Tweed Valley Cycle Route (part of NCN1) that runs 95 moderately challenging miles from Berwick to Biggar through many of those fine towns: Kelso, Melrose, Peebles, etc. Highlights include going over the historic Union Bridge north of Horncliffe, and two equally picturesque traffic-free crossings of the Tweed at Newtown St Boswells and just west of Melrose. It’s worth detouring a little north of Newtown to (Sir Walter) Scott’s View.
For wild and remote scenery with great climbs and downhills, explore the back roads round Talla Reservoir and St Mary’s Loch. The quiet narrow road climbing and falling gently north out of Innerleithen (also part of NCN1) has unbeatable scenery and can involve miles of freewheel, depending on wind direction. Innerleithen is a mountain biking hub, thanks to the 7Stanes centre, and its chic bistros and cafes are popular with local club cyclists.
Family trails require a bit of research, but there are stretches of car-free railtrail and Tweedside paths in and around Tweedbank (the current terminus of the Borders Railway). They go south to Selkirk and east to Melrose and Newtown. Between Innerleithen to Peebles is another child-friendly traffic-free path of 7-8 miles.
Cycling groups and clubs in the Scottish Borders
Teviotdale Cycling (Teviotdale)
For recreational cyclists who want to ride for fun, fitness and friends
Belles on Bikes Scottish Borders (Borders)
Social cycling group for women, open to all ages and abilities
Think Thrive! CIC (Borders)
Social enterprise helping people improve their lives including via a bike project
Ednan Cycling Club (Borders)
What to take with you on your ride
The only thing you really need for cycling is a bike. And maybe a phone, and credit card: in Britain you’re only a call away from any service you might need.
But unless money is no object, it’s wise to take a few things with you on a day ride. A saddlebag or rear rack and panniers are best for carrying stuff. A front basket is second best. A rucksack is third best. Your sweaty back will soon tell you why.
Cycling short distances in jeans and t-shirt is fine, but on a long or strenuous ride – over ten miles say, or in hills – those jeans will rub and the t-shirt will get damp and clingy. Shorts or, yes, lycra leggings and padded shorts will be much comfier, and merino or polyester cycling tops wick away the sweat, keeping you dry and comfy. (They don’t have to be lurid colours.)
If rain’s in the air, pack a rainproof top. If it might turn chilly, take a fleece or warm top. But the thing you’re most likely to forget is the sunblock.
It’s remarkable how often you enjoy being out on the bike so much that you suddenly realise it’s getting dark. So take lights (which are legally required at night). They’re price of a sandwich, take no space, are easy to put on thanks to tool-free plastic clips, and the batteries last for ever.
Take a puncture repair kit (with tyre levers) and pump. Make sure it fits your valves, which will be either ‘Presta’ or ‘Schraeder’ – realising they don’t match is a very common roadside discovery! Carrying a spare inner tube (make sure it matches your tyre size) makes puncture repair much easier: mend the old one back at home. If you do get in trouble, some kindly passing cyclist will probably stop to help.
Using a helmet is a personal choice – they’re not legally required.
Cycling makes you thirsty, so take lots of water. Long-distance riders talk about ‘the bonk’ – a sudden loss of energy rendering you almost stationary. It’s miraculously and instantly cured by eating something sweet. On short rides you’re unlikely to run out of energy, but just in case, take a snack like flapjack, banana, chocolate or jelly babies.
Taking a packed lunch or picnic will save you money, though that hot drink and cake in a cosy cafe could yet prove very tempting!
Your phone GPS could be invaluable for showing where you are when lost; you can download free detailed UK maps and GPS software before your trip.
Paper maps are still useful, though, so take one: no power source or wifi signal required, and they’re great for suggesting possibilities or changes of plan.