I’m recovering from a cold that has me take actual sick days from work. Not those sick days where you log in and work anyway from the comfort of your own home, but the ones where you’re too ill to even read an email.
By Tuesday I was getting better but the thought of riding 100km was too much to think about. The fact I had a cold was only one reason why I shouldn’t do it. There were several others, not least that the longest ride I had done in a year was 70kms, a year previous. Also that was on the hybrid, riding road bike was going to be a different kettle of fish.
The facts said don’t. But my heart said do. My willingness for adventure got the better of me.
I made sure I was better and by the weekend I was so it was all systems go!
The plan was simple, get the train along the newly opened Borders Railway to Tweedbank then ride to Rothbury in Northumberland where we’d stay over night before cycling to Alnmouth on the East Coast Main Line and getting the train back to Edinburgh. Simple. What could go wrong?
It had been raining overnight in Edinburgh but the frost of the week had gone as I set out to Waverley Station on a cool tail wind, in the dark, the bus lanes were all mine. My road bike handling skills were rusty after not riding it for some time. I was nervous on the wet surface, the lightness of the bike and the thin tyres making me question every manoeuvre.
Buying my tickets, I was waiting for Nina to arrive from Bathgate. Waverley station was rather busy for 6am on a weekend. My god I was desperate for a coffee for warmth as well as caffeine.
Nina arrived. Bouncing. It was her idea to do this ride ever since her parents moved to Rothbury but it was my terms that stated we started from Tweedbank instead of Edinburgh. My cycling legs and more importantly knees would struggle with 100km never mind 180!
Coffee and pastry bought we were sat on the train waiting to go. We were the only ones on the carriage except one guy with a bike who was only going a few stops. We got comfy for the 59min journey.
Arriving into Tweedbank it was day light and light drizzle trickled down the windows. Stepping off the train brought a reality that we had to start cycling in the cold and the damp. Just which way!
We stood on the platform whilst the train driver walked up the platform to turn the train around. I looked at google maps as my orientation was being challenged. Eventually we decided to follow signs to Melrose and then my navigation would kick in. Surely.
It did and we started to put the gas on. The tail wind was fun. We reached the Leaderdale Viaduct in a short time and after a brief photo opportunity we started the climb toward Scots view. The view towers over the valley below offering a vista of the townships of Melrose, and Galasheils and of the Eildon hills with its twin peaks.
Our journey continued around sharp corners and steep descents as my bike handling skills were forced to get better fast. I hung off the brakes. We reached the NCN1 after getting confused over directions again and Nina thinking we were on our way to Melrose still after passing it almost immediately at the train station!
The NCN 1 would take us to Kelso on a tail wind that made riding feel easy. The drizzle had been on and off but wasn’t spoiling the view or our mood, which was still jovial.
Kelso beckoned earlier than expected or so I thought. I decided caffeine was required and warmth so we sat in a coffee shop just off the cobblestoned market square. As we thawed I called ahead to my mates who happened to be staying on our route and had offered cake.
It was 9:45. We’d gone 30kms. In another 18km and we would be having cake again. The route out of Kelso was uphill toward the border. We decided to take an unclassified road (one without a number) which turned out to be awesome. It straddled a ridge, on our left was the vast Tweed Valley. I could see Foulden in the distance where my parents stay and on our right was the Cheviot hills, border country, the top of England and the end of the Pennine range of hills. Snow still lingered on their northern slopes. The road deteriorated as we entered England where no sign marked the border but the change in Tarmac was noticeable. The differences between The Scottish Borders Council and Northumberland County Council were evident.
We managed to get onto a main road to take us past Mindrum onto Wooler. The road surface was better and the road swept downhill. The scenery was fantastic and we were still taking advantage of the tail wind. We arrived at my mates in good time. 49kms in, half way ish.
The cake and coffee flowed. Hospitality was good and it was nice to get comfy warm and have a bit of craic. Three slices down we had to go. Reluctantly.
The road would take us to Wooler now where we’d pick up the NCN68 south. Making the most of the tail wind we arrived into Wooler. No real time to stop and still on a sugar high we continued straight through. There were sharp climbs as we skirted the foothills of the Cheviots. A 15% climb greeted us as we exited the town. The wind was strong from our right. Pushing us toward hedge on a little B road strewn with gravel, mud and grass. Not long out of Wooler we were greeted with the first major obstacle. A ford. The recent rain and snow melt meant the river was fast flowing. We opted for the foot bridge. This was to be repeated further down. Except at this point the ncn68 had turned into a gravel farm track. This was expected though not quite as much. We missed a blatant sign that pointed left but we went right. Through a farm yard, chased by dogs climbing up on skinny tyres across large gravel tracks we reached a dead end. Map out, we realised we were on the wrong path. Turning around we were chased by the dogs again but this time taking the right path. We battled on riding as far as we could on the loose stones where in parts was just mud. The skinny tyres sinking deep into the earth, the lowest gear chosen I was spinning through it. The mud and grit was getting caught on my brake pads causing a build up to occur. I clipped out and squirted the pads with my juice. Attempting to clip back in my cleats were clogged with mud. I decided to push where Nina was waiting by a gate. A ford was ahead and thankfully, a foot bridge too.
It was 1pm and 70kms in. Time for lunch by the stream. The cold westerly wind coming in off the hills didn’t encourage us to hang about. We estimated that the mud would last for another 300m and we’d just push the bikes up the muddy hill. The track was beginning to look like a ridable surface, I located a stick to clean my cleats which seemed to do the trick and after some twisting and encouragement I was able to cycle slowly.
Once I reached some semblance of a flat smooth surface I put some gears in and immediately I unclipped. The mud was stuck.
We stopped as I washed my shoes in a nearby puddle and eased the mud out. A cyclist on a mountain bike appeared and offered us advice on the road ahead and surprisingly kept his disbelief that road cyclists were attempting this part of the route to himself, though his face painted a different story. We mustn’t have been the first ones to do this.
We took joy at riding on Tarmac even though it was riddled with cracks and holes. Not long in we were at a gate again. This time a grass track was on the other side. A smoother surface and ridable too. We made tentative progress. The grass track turned to mud. Thick sloppy wet mud chewed up by cattle. There was no way around it. And ordinarily I would have just got on with it, especially if I was running but I did want to keep my road shoes and overshoes dry and mud free given I had time to go and feet get cold on a bike.
I waded through the mud in the shallowest bit. Mud oozed into my cleats through my cycle shoes which are actually Tri shoes made with holes so water can drain which also means water goes the other way too. Oh well. We pushed and walked. Hard to do when in SPD-SLs putting strain on the shins and calves. Another ford and another bridge. We were basically on an ancient drovers road. The path on the otherside of the stream wound its way up a man made cut that seemed like it was made years and years ago as thick bush, moss and grass adorned the steep walls of the cutting. Rotten trees were being reclaimed as soil and there were deep channels in the track where water must have flowed with force down. We reached the road and that was the last of the mud. Nina took my foot and cleaned my cleats like she would when cleaning a horses hoof. I neighed in jest.
We were off. Fighting the side wind. Heading down toward the Ingram Valley. From there we would turn east for a while to bypass the hills and cross the river. The Ingram valley road is beautiful. Wide, good surface, bounded on either side by large grass verges. The fence on the left was 10m away and the grass on the right was stopped only by the river. That wide open space coupled with a tail wind was the most fantastic feeling on a bike I’ve had. It was fast and level and no traffic. I felt like I was flying, with safety and freedom.
The fun stopped as we dismounted to cross a narrow bridge that seemed to cross the river at its widest point. Nina questioned the structural soundness of the bright as the concrete floor was loosely laid on a metal frame. The blocks rocking as you stepped from one to the other.
We were back on road again and hitting some climbs. We weren’t 100% sure of the best route to take. On the brow of a hill we could make out the hills that sit on the northern side of Rothbury, we could see they ended to the west and could see the Simonside hills that were to the south of Rothbury. So we knew we had to go west before we curved around in between these two hill ranges. The multitude of lanes where the sign posts changed which village they posted on each junction. We had no desire to cycle further than we needed to as our energy was low and so was our spirit. We were to get completely knocked for six as we had to cycle uphil into the wind.
It was tough going and the hill cominitued for a lifetime. Finally we started to descend. My bike handling skills had improved by this point and I enjoyed the last part of the ride on main roads. In the distance to our right we could see a massive rain cloud entering the valley and by the time we reached Rothbury we were in it. Just in time.
We ended up in the Newcastle Arms for a few well earned pints before a really good nights sleep.