8DTM Hawick to Haltwhistle

Border country. So a turbulent history. We are going through Liddesdale. A flash of memory: isn’t there a song? So today’s tune was Lock the Door Lariston, lion of Liddesdale. Lots of sheep, so the Seekers took no2 spot

Newcastleton was one of Scotland’s early new towns, built to design in 1793 through the generosity of the Duke of Buccleugh to his thankful people. One side of the story. Moving the people off the land and out of the old Castleton to make way for sheep, the other. Anyway, it’s a cute and vibrant wee place. And has/is doing a community buy back of the land from: the Duke of Buccleugh estate.

It’s also the land of Merlin, a road side board tells us. Of interest is the Catrail, which is like Offa’s Dyke. It’s amazing what you pass without knowing is there.

Soon across the border. An innocent wee stream is the border with England. It leads into the Kershope Forest and a changing, perhaps more manicured, landscape.

Shortly we’re indecisive at a market junction. As rule followers a closed gate means don’t enter. No signal to check maps. An interesting detour follows and this time closed gates we’re coming through. A later check shows both are ‘yellow’ on the OS map: should have gone through the first one. On the plus side we swapped a steep hill for two fords.

Then the Centre of Britain take 1 in Haltwhistle. This old, industrial, village has a vintage history. Now I think it relies on tourism based on its location and proximity of Hadrian’s Wall.

Tomorrow the Western edge of the Dales. That means one thing…..

7DTM Biggar to Hawick

Leaving Biggar with the thought that BoJo probably wished he’d been born here, we headed into the Southern Uplands.

A deviation to fill in some missing thoughts from yesterday. A new word for us: isogloss. Harthill is where there is a change from the west coast to the east coast accent. It’s also where you have the Tweed going one way and the Clyde the other.

Today’s rivers were the Tweed, Ettrick and Teviot and numerous other wee streams. There were a couple of clues to the climate here. One was the biblical downpour which helped clean the bikes. The other was the Edinburgh resevoir system starting with Talla and Meggett. Built 80 years apart explains the difference in appearance. Both earth banks one has a fine stone finished extraction tower, the other concrete.

One resevoir is higher than the other. No contouring here, the road – our route – goes straight up. From the top the fine views almost compensate for the effort.

The hills here are softer than the highlands. Still great though. We see numerous round stone enclosure without knowing their purpose. Probably sheep related.

Passing the Tushielaw Inn where we stayed in 2000 and 2010, it’s pleasing to see it’s reopened as a small hotel after a few years as a house. Closed today though. Luckily we’d sussed the good stops might be few, so the Coop meal deal we’d brought did the trick.

For all its quiet understated beauty, the impression is this is not on the tourist routes. Nor cycling which is a shame as it’s a fine way north south.

Arriving in Hawick we find a huge (as in £80million+) flood defence scheme. Somebody loves Hawick. The town centre feels as though it’d welcome some of that investment in restoring fine buildings.

Tomorrow England and a far denser population.

Here’s today’s route (as requested!)

6DTM Stirling to Biggar

Today enters the old industrial belt of Scotland. The ‘modern’ Grangemouth is visible on the horizon. Closer are the canals (Forth & Clyde, Union). These were the artery for the movement of coal iron and limestone, industries that once thrived here. We pass the first of these at Carron.

Two ‘middles’ come quickly. The junction of the canals marks the centre point between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Falkirk wheel remains impressive marking of the Millennium. The Falkirk Tunnel raises the adrenaline: wet cobbles in a dark narrow space. Explains the cyclist dismount sign I should have paid attention to. The other middle is at Harthill the watershed of the central belt.

Harthill is also the start of former coalfields. They must have been impressive given the distance between the remaining spoil heaps. Another clue is the huge Blacklaw windfarm. This was built after restoring the open cast which followed the mining.

Braehead is one of three such called places in South Lanarkshire. Top of the hill. You can no longer see the limestone quarries and ‘clamps’.

Pentland Hills negotiated, we arrive at the quietly charming Biggar. Tomorrow the Southern Uplands.

5DTM Aberfeldy to Stirling

Aberfeldy is nestled in a steep sided valley. Wade’s 10000 men must have enjoyed building a road to the bottom then all the way back up again. With breakfast day looking out at the hillside we set off up the same. 3.5 miles and 1000ft of time to reflect and regurgitate.

Songs come back into your consciousness from goodness knows where. Today started with Among the birks (birk=beach, as in the Birks of Feldy) a delightful track from an early Gallagher and Lyle album. Which naturally recalled yesterday’s road signs pointing to the Corries and Killiecrankie. This all helps propel Barbara into a spinning frenzy and the hill is soon behind us.

The mountains morph into rolling countryside akin to Carmarthenshire. Perhaps it’s the soft gentle rain that kindles the association. Crops appear interspersed with cattle who are taking bets on which cyclist gets up the hill first.

After Crief we stopped in Muthill to admire the ruined church. This also gave us the opportunity to fully appreciate the vertinginous cruel shortcut off the main road. Lined with mature oaks beach and hazel there was plenty to keep the gaze away from a distant horizon.

Dunblane and Bridge of Allan look wealthy. Shame the lovely gravestones in Dunblane Cathedral are roped off. Dangerous things which we obviously aren’t to be trusted with. Madness.

Then into Stirling guided by Wallace’s Victorian monument as it looks over the scene of his famous victory. The medieval bridge is impressive, marking another of our central spots.

Now for a pit stop.

4DTM Newtonmore to Aberfeldy

We’d to Wade our way through bridges today. Like castles, the workers who built them after remembered in the stones. The master is recalled by history. General Wade considered ‘his’ 1733 bridge at Aberfeldy his masterpiece. Won’t argue: the designer William Adam, father of the more famous Robert, did a five job. It’s taking traffic today not even dreamt of when built.

The other more temporary stars are lupins and orchids. With lupins to the fore, they have been a constant roadside companion even as the landscape changes.

Today we started collecting the Down the Middle points. A couple of the centre of Scotland (which will depend on how it’s calculated), and two furthest points from the sea. Well 5-8 miles away on hill sides but we’ll accept that.

It’s also worth stopping to look at plaques. An unassuming stone, opposite the Newtonmore accommodation, marked the last horse drawn mail wagon in Britain passing through in 1915.

Large pylons mark the way to the Loch Tummel hydroelectric scheme. Built in the 1940s they are now a part of the skyline, as are the road and rail routes. The cycling route follows the modern A9, again using the disused old road as a cycle track. Recycling!

After a few ups n downs Aberfeldy arrives. A fine wee place. The Birks of Aberfeldy await to be explored another time.