Did about 4 days of Ray Young’s 350 mile route 3 years ago, starting from Moffat. Ray’s start is from Peebles, but I wanted to reduce the driving, and Moffat is good for parking.
147 miles drive from home (two and a half hours) a few miles north of Bolton to Moffat, just off the M74, stopping for 10 minutes at Tebay services.
Parked up on the big car park and assembled everything, and got going at 9:45am
Pleasant quiet road leading to even quieter country lanes for two and a half miles, then you turn off onto a track which ascends slightly and eventually reaches the forest after three quarters of a mile. Getting warm now so stopped to shed clothing. You’d better get used to these forests, there are plenty of them. But very pleasant riding until after 4 miles of pleasantness, enjoying the birdsong, and the morning air, instead of following the forest track down, it’s boomph !! A nasty little sign pointing “That way” – check gps… yes, it is “That way”…. Oh dear – is there a path ? just about, but it starts going up, and up, and up, and ever up. What a shock to the system. It’s the wrong muscles, it’s calf muscles, ankles, feet, toes, and a lot of wrists, and a lot of using the brakes too ! What ! Yep, the brakes, to stop the beastie going backwards down the hill. And quite a bit of ducking and weaving too because of the spruce branches hanging low… It must be over 700 feet (220metres) ascent in less than half a mile (800 meters), so it is a bit of a beast… (27.5%). Reminded me of the Coffin Road, just checked the contours of that and it goes from sea level to 150 meters in 500 meters – that’s 30%, but then it’s not over, and goes another 200 meters ascent in 1100 meters (18%).
It leaves the forest after a bit and you eventually reach the top, and descend a bit to a good track going north, then south east, and back into the forest. About 6 miles of forest later you cross the B709, but you’re soon back in the forest for 7 miles of riding till just after Greensykes Bothy.
Open country for a couple of miles with Meggett Water on your left, then a quiet single track road for 3 miles when you turn left and head in the opposite direction, on a good track which eventually crosses and follows Stennies Water. On my last foray here I camped just over the bridge.
From a bit past here the track is a bit more difficult and you have to work very hard to keep those wheels moving. There is a massive house and grounds on the right, and I’ve wondered before what’s the story behind such a big house and grounds in such a remote location, with no proper road to it except the track I’ve been on.
As the track improves the gradient increases and it’s hard work in the hot sun, when you have been going for (probably) some 5 or 6 hours, and your route goes north for a couple of miles, steadily uphill, till at the top of the “loop” you descend a bit but it doesn’t last long until you’re climbing again. Before descending I came across a caravan, which had about 10 bunks in it…
tempted to lie down but resisted…
At the top you leave the forest and start a welcome exciting descent for a good two miles (Jock’s Hope) to a farm at Burngrains, so good to leave the forest for a change of scenery:
then easy riding to cross the road (A7) then through the farm at Arkleton to start the next ascent… in my case in the gloomy drizzle. I made a point of re-filling my water bottle (using a Sawyer Filter). It’s evening by now and very gloomy and wet and miserable, but you start descending and cross Tarras Water, and join a single track road, all the way to Tarras Lodge, then 6 miles of road to Newcastleton.
It’s amazing how few people there are…(few=none), and on this road section was passed by only one vehicle.
I rolled into Newcastleton at about 8pm, it was a bit like a ghost town, nobody about. I didn’t stop but just continued straight through, wanting to get my head down before it was too late. I have a bit of a dread of being stuck in the forest when it’s gone dark, and there is nowhere for a decent pitch and no water… this was rapidly becoming the case so in the hope of making two problems into only one, I got some water from a trackside pool – it was about a foot deep so not that bad, but the midges were starting. And onwards trying to spot a decent place to pitch my ZPacks tent.
Everywhere was utterly useless, and it was still drizzling, and everytime I stopped they were out… so I just kept going until by about 8:30 three tracks joined and there was a stream, and a derelict building, and not far from that and clear of the forest was a tree, and enough space underneath to get the tent up… what a relief !
58 miles done.
Midges not too bad at this point, away from the trees and it was getting cool. Freeze dried meal with desert then time to sleep, but after 15 minutes in the sleeping bag my back was cold… the Klymit X-Lite had decided to spring another leak ! It’s let me down this year for the fourth time. I used whatever padding I could including the sleeping pad from my fancy Montane rucsac… but I wasn’t that comfortable.
Quite cold in the morning at 5:30am but got a brew on and decided not to have any breakfast as I should be at Kielder Castle in less than 13 miles.
Left about 7:30 – after a couple of miles the track meets Kershope Burn, which is the border between England and Scotland, so at this point it moves over the border into England. I arrived at the castle at 9am. They only open at 9:30am, so got my sheet out, and lay on the ground for a bit of a nap.
At 9:25am there was another cyclist waiting for breakfast, Jim, on his sit up and beg very smart bike withpanniers on. So we had breakfast together – in fact I had two breakfasts as I wouldn’t be eating much until I stopped late in the evening.
I only left there at 11am and set off in lovely bright weather again (but with a very cold wind) along the Forest Drive for 12 miles to the A696 road. There are a lot of new surfaces on this track, quite big chunks of gravel, and they are very hard work. The wheels just don’t roll over them, even on the flat.
(just spotted on my map a BW following White Kielder Burn and wonder what it’s like. It goes all the way to Catcleugh Reservoir and the A696)
i soon reached the top at Blakehope Nick (1500 feet):
It’s downhill from the top at Blakehope Nick – note the winter gloves ! It was cold despite the bright sun.
Soon reached the picnic spot (camped there previously) at Blakehopeburnhaugh, and used the toilets and re-filled my water bottle, then set off along the A696 past Byrness but turning off after a couple of miles and into the forest and steadily upwards past Spithope Bothy, which is a bit off the track but visible.
A mile or so after this you leave the forest and the character of the ride changes completely, as you enter the open moorland and cross the border back into Scotland, with faint but rideable grassy tracks of the Cheviots. You’re heading for the ridge which divides England and Scotland and maintains a height round between 500 and 600 metres… Greystone Brae 463, Lamb Hill 511, Beefstand Hill 562, Mozie Law 552, culminating in Windy Gyle at 619 metres but the route doesn’t go to Windy Gyle but heads north west along The Street.
It’s mainly rideable with some very good bits too, but it undulates a bit so there is a bit of H-A-B after Yearning Saddle Refuge and a few other bits. It seemed to take ages though getting to where you join The Street.
It’s not all plain sailing on The Street either, some lovely fast descents, then some uphill, and at one point it’s hard to find the track and you may end up trudging through bristly heather till you find it again.
There was still a bit of snow on The Cheviot in the distance.
It’s a bit of a relief to reach the road at Hownam and easy road riding for 4 miles to Pennymuir, after which I planned to camp. I knew there wouldn’t be water up there so when I crossed the river I filled up with 2 litres. I went a mile or so along the track from Pennymuir then set up the tent.
Got my food in and prepared to sleep, but even colder on my second night, so a very sporadic sleep. Up at 5am scraping bits of frost off the inside of the tent… condensation, not much breeze, and quite a frost on the bike when I looked out.
Got some breakfast in and a brew, packed up, and off for before 7:30am, but first I decided to oil the chain a bit. And riding after this there was a faint rumbling coming from the back wheel, which bothered me a lot… I couldn’t work out whether it was the bearings. Strangely after half an hour it stopped…
The route follows Dere Street (another relic of the Romans) before joining Borders Abbeys Way just before Jedburgh. Nice riding.
I rolled into Jedburgh before 9 am and found a cafe which was open, and had breakfast and tea, and more tea, finishing off with an ice cream sittinng outside in the sun.
A big drag uphill from Jedburgh on the road before joining a track through farmland. You reach a hill called Black Law, then start descending soon after. As you enter a gully you are confronted with (yet another !) electric fence, and a stile over it. Very awkward, but 6 feet after getting over this stile there is a repeat performance to be had ! Another electric fence and a stile… who are they trying to keep out ? (The Romans have gone…). Soon after Bedrule I got very confused with my navigation, and took several wrong turns, because after the sawmill there is more than one option, and the gps doesn’t pinpoint within about 50 feet, so I usually end up choosing one option, going a bit, then turning back when I see I’m off course.
But what had happened here is that my Garmin Dakota 20 had frozen, and I hadn’t yet realised it. So I kept getting the phone out, which has Memory Map on and is a lot clearer, but was I confused. I eventually managed to do a hard re-set. This wiped all my data but fortunately NOT my route, otherwise it would probably have been abandon.
I ended up going across a bad field, and at the end of it there was a sawdust track used for pony carriage trotting, boy was that bad to ride ! Like sinking in sand… As this sawdust track got near to a little road, I lugged the bike over a creaky, barbed wire gate, with great difficulty, joined the little road, and made it to Denholm.
I didn’t stop in Denholm but continued along the River Teviot towards Hawick. Some lovely riding along this 5 mile stretch, very hot in the afternoon sun, and some very awkward steps half way along.
Rolled into Hawick, found a cafe, and had a good meal with apple crumble and custard for desert 😝… then it was time to press on.
It’s all uphill out of Hawick, and road too, until you eventually turn left into a forest on what would have been a very nice surface to ride, but the cattle had been there and it was deep potholes which made it very hard work.
Things get a bit better on the Cross Borders Drive Road which joins the Borders Abbeys Way, which leads into Selkirk.
At Selkirk I just kept going as I was keen to find a place to lie down. Perfect spot near Long Philip Burn, where I collected my two litres of water.
Tent up in about 5 minutes and I was in the sleeping bag. No need for food, still full.
Another cold, very cold night, and a cold back, sleeping only in bits.
Up just before 5am – porridge and a big brew, then off, upwards, towards the Three Brethren… (but the uphill is pleasant and rideable):
Some lovely riding from here – the Old Drove Road, Brown Knowe (523m), Hare Law, Cross Borders Drive Road, then the Southern Upland Way dropping into Traquair.
Peebles soon comes into view and this wonderful three mile ‘ridge’ of the Cross Borders Drove Road in the distance: (taken just before ascending to Kirkhope Law on the right)
On this ride I had met hardly any people… in fact no people… as I was descending just before Garwaldwaterfoot I had spotted a walker taking the track on the left, but he had gone by the time I got there !
Descending from Kirkhope Law I met about a dozen walkers starting their walk of the day…(it was nearly 11am)
Coming into Peebles bought some junk food from a Spar…(in fact the caramel topped shortbreads were so bad, I could only eat one, and binned the rest….(at the end of the ride though…😜)
I decided on the first restaurant I came to, an Indian one, and put my bike outside where I could see it, with a small padlock on the rear rotor, and ordered a pot of tea and a big plate of rice and vegetable curry or something, and told the waiter I had to be able to watch my bike…
After a few cups of very sweet tea, I was sending a text, when all of a sudden, the waiter said “somebody has taken your bike” …. Holy Shit, I sprang up and dashed for the door fearing the worst, when a friendly window cleaner said, “it’s alright, I’ll put it back afterwards…”
Then he went on to tell me he’d gone to the pub opposite a few weeks ago on his bike, had a skinful, and forgot he’d gone on the bike, and waking up in the morning suddenly remembered the bike, dashed to the pub to find it still there, and it wasn’t even locked.
But he also told me about professional bike thieves who target MTB events at Innerleithen, and even follow cars to where the riders live so they can get the bike later.
Very hot when I left the restaurant and as I started the uphill from Tantah, and came to a gate, I vowed not to stop and have a nap…but I lay down just for a second and fell asleep for 10 minutes or so.
Brilliant riding after the uphill is over, sweeping along on beautiful narrow singletrack.
Navigation was a bit confusing near Easter Dawyck, and a bit tedious on the way to Hammer Head again due to cattle, but very decent riding in good country. Hot and tiring in the afternoon sun.
Eventually I reached Clover Law and stopped for a rest and some food, before the two mile descent to Broughton:
Not far from Broughton I came across this forbidding looking building:
Going through Broughton I resisted a cafe stop and a jacket potato.
The route takes the minor road on the right, and at Kilbucho House leaves the road on a track through some gardens, where there were ominous signs…
”Private Gardens” and “Beware – German Shepherds roaming”
Due to a very bad experience two years ago (attacked by two Dobermans…but not bitten thanks to my bike ‘shield’) there was no way I was risking it, so I ended up doing a 7 mile detour to get to Glencotho…
I set up camp just before the big ascent to Cocklie Rig, got my food in, and it wasn’t as cold so my fourth night I got a good sleep in 👍
Up early again, brew and porridge, packed and away for 6:25am… but not riding, except for twenty feet… a big push up to the huge wind turbines on Cocklie Rig, and eventually onto the wind turbine service track, and eventually downhill to Kingledores Farm… I made the mistake of taking the service track on the right (uphill as well…) instead of heading to the farm, and soon after the A701.
Pleasant early morning riding on the road until turning left onto a minor road, which after a while takes you to Fruid Reservoir.
All the way along the reservoir looping back on the other side at the end, takes you to the bottom of Macrule Hill, the start of the infamous hike-a-bike which Ray had warned me about.
It’s not so bad at first, east of Macrule Hill, then you realise the line is more right, crossing over to the west of Macrule Hill. Hard work pushing uphill over this stuff, and it doesn’t let up.
West of Ballaman Hill I was sure I had lost the track, but there isn’t one. Soul destroying in the heat with no visible prospect ahead of ‘redemption’…
On and on it goes… 3 miles took about 2 hours, till eventually I started descending and could ride again… but still over tussocky stuff.
Very glad to reach the Annandale Way, not much of a track but at least riding, bumpily, until it goes uphill. Reached the Devil’s Beeftub, and floated down to the road. On the road for 200 metres then off-road again to Eric’s Stane, bit of a push uphill then downhill to cross the road again, and good riding all the way to Moffat, on a good track.
Got back to the car park before 2:30pm, so my little adventure took 4 days and 5 hours, and 4 wild camps… (3 cold ones)
I’m not sure what the mileage or ascent is because of the Garmin re-set, but Ray has it as 331 kms – 207 miles, 6884 metres – 20655 feet
It is definitely very remote, I thought that last time. A lot more remote than the HT550, and a lot fewer re-supply points. There may be a bit more hike-a-bike than the HT550 too.
But overall it was a good trip, and many thanks to Ray for putting it together.
When I got home I discovered that the reason for the ‘slight wobble’ in my back wheel was not wheel bearings but a cracked seat stay !
It’s a Scott Scale 900 and within the 5 year warranty, so I’m expecting a new frame…
(perhaps this should start a discussion of whether carbon is suspect ? I’ve been riding carbon bikes for several years, and this is my first problem. I was riding my other bike a few days later, and met single speed John, on his battered old bike but it had a new frame ! He had cracked the frame a week ago (he only rides steel bikes) – and he tells me he’s cracked half a dozen steel frames in the last few years..)