It's been a while since I did an outdoor blog. Primarily because I haven't done anything outdoors! Just now it's not the best time of year to be biking and hiking in the outdoors in Scotland, because of midgie hell, as it is officially called. So it was with that in mind Pauline and I chose a more easterly route for our weekend bike trip recently.
In September of last year a new railway line was opened connecting Edinburgh to the Scottish Borders. Or should I say, re-opening, as there used to be a railway on that route until the 60s, when that short-sighted politician Beaching closed everything.
The line runs for 30 miles, and is the longest new section of railway opened in the UK in over 100 years. The last time we built new railway President Roosevelt was in office in the US and became the first to ride in a motorcar; a footway tunnel opened under the Thames in London; the Boer War ended and Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published.
This was my first jaunt on the new railway, and as a train ride it's nothing spectacular, but it was very pleasant trundling through the lush border countryside, and in under an hour we were at the end of the line in Tweedbank.
From here we headed south east to the rugby town of Jedburgh, along small country backroads and overgrown paths following signs for St Cuthberts Way, a 63 mile long distance walking route from Melrose, where St Cuthbert started his religious life in 605AD, to Lindesfarne, his eventual resting place.
Though dry it was fairly windy, but most of the route was along lanes sheltered by high hedge rows or trees. A one point we found ourselves along a pleasant path following the River Teviot. At one point the path crosses the river via a narrow suspension footbridge, interestingly funded by the EU. I guess we wont be getting any more of that then!
A short cycle day brought us in to Jedburgh and we pitched our tent for the night in a local campsite, tucking in to Idahoan Home Buttery Style potatoes, the last of my American stash, and meatballs, whilst watching a bat chasing its own supper through the air.
Day two however was much windier, as we turned north east toward the historic town of Kelso, and we were heading straight into a 15 to 20mph wind for most of the journey back to Tweedbank.
But that in no way spoiled any of the adventure, and on this day there was a lot to distract us. No cycle trip is ever complete without coffee and cake, and on this occasion we stopped in the grounds of the magnificent Floors Castle, the seat of the Duke of Roxburghe.
As castles go it's actually more of a grand country house, built by John Adam in 1720, after any defensive fortifications were needed. Just as I freewheeled downhill round a corner the view opened up. In the sunshine it is an impressive piece of architecture, set in lush manicured grounds.
But coffee and cake were more pressing, and we adjournded in search of Floors Castle coffee shop.
It would be an almost circular route to find the entrance to the coffee shop, being situated behind the castle itself, carefully positioned so as not to show a view of the castle to those unwilling to pay the £12 entry fee. We weren't disappointed. We had our coffee and cake!
Pushing on the next point of interest was a rather roughly carved, 31foot high statue to William Wallace, in the grounds of the Bemyrside Estate, not far from Melrose. Made of red sandstone and erected in 1814, it looks out over an uninterrupted view of the Borders. At Wallace's feet an inscription reads:
"GREAT PATRIOT HERO! ILL REQUITED CHIEF!"
Pauline was the guide for the weekend, and her next "point of interest" was The Scots View. Overlooking the valley of the River Tweed, it frames the distant Eildon Hills perfectly, and is said to be one of the favourite views of Sir Walter Scott. The sun had eluded us much of the day, but just in time for the photographs it cast patches of bright sunlight to carefully pick out the contours of what was an impressive and calming view.
Next on the itinerary was the Leaderfoot viaduct, made of red sandstone and standing an impressive 126 feet high from the river it spans. Opened in 1863 to carry the Berwickshire railway, it was closed in 1965, by, you guessed it, the politician Beaching! in 1981 it had a demolition order hanging over it, but thankfully it's listing was raised to A, and works were carried out to preserve it.
The final stop was very close by, but there wasn't anything to see or photograph. Imagination, with the aid of information boards, was needed, for here was the 2,000 year old Roman settlement of Trimontium. At the height of the Roman occupation, 1,500 hundred soldiers would have been garrisoned here. But it wasn't all military hardship, as in 1996, during excavations, they discovered the evidence for a Roman bath and a 2,000 occupancy amphitheater.
And so it was that this mini adventure in the Borders drew to a close. We arrived back at Tweedbank comfortably in time for the next train home, which was lucky, as there was industrial action on that Sunday. And that led to the trip being rounded off nicely with a free ride home, as there was no one from which to buy a ticket from, and we settled back as we trundled once more through the Scottish Borders countryside.