I needed a challenge. Something adventurous to do that would provide some physical difficulty and let me see new things. A friend – Scott – and I decided that we’d give Scotland a go. Our limited time meant that 8 days were up for grabs so Edinburgh to York seemed sensible. We thought it’d be somewhere between 5 and 7 in total, with a little extra for accidents or mistakes.
And I’m glad we had the extra time.
The LNER train from York to Edinburgh was pleasant enough. In fact, Edinburgh was a dream. The quiet canal ran pretty much through the centre and out into the countryside providing the perfect pathway for traffic-free cycling. Once we’d dipped from street level, Edinburgh seemed to disappear and before long we reached the Pentland Hills. It wasn’t long until we’d realised that this route wasn’t going to be a breeze despite the gentle start. Chunky gravel and cleats (even mountain biking ones) don’t seem to match too well and several pushes later we were tired. The views more than made up for the effort required and Edinburgh began to shrink into the distance. Rolling trails entirely free of other people took us into beautiful places bringing us out from time to time at gates and crossings. Our mistake was not checking the map enough and, after one small wrong turn, we were off route with a choice between fish and chips in the town downhill or a climb back up the track to rejoin the route. Inevitably, the lure of fish and chips was too much and we descended – something we’d later regret. With refuel complete, we climbed back into the hills and began the search for a spot to camp. A nearby carpark with toilets seemed to be a sensible place to aim towards as we’d be able to use facilities. Embarrasingly, my choice to strike out towards that very car park took us over a peak and, as we approached the valley below, a sudden realisation swept over us that we’d been here already. About 2 hours ago. We’d created a circular loop… under my navigation. Furious with my mistake, we pitched for the night at the side of a reservoir.
The previous day’s mistake meant that there was time to make up on the second day. We packed down early, made use of the car park facilities (we might as well since we’d made it there), and then launched into a road stretch to Peebles, straight down the main road. It wasn’t the kind of adventure either Scott or myself had planned for, nor would I describe it as being especially enjoyable. There were still good views, however. Weatherspoon breakfast bouyed our spirits and the cycle network from Peebles to Innerleithen meant that we finally got off the main roads for a while. Over breakfast, we’d decided Hawick would be the target to put us ‘back on track’ for the day and so horribly endless climbs near Selkirk was our task until we finally arrived at our campsite for the night. Warm showers, water refills, and a dehydrated Tikka Massala were the reward before a great night sleep.
Day three was a turning point. Over another Weatherspoon breakfast (you’ll see a theme), we chatted about our other bikepacking trips. I’d not yet found the same enjoyment in this one and came to discover that I’d been destination hunting rather than enjoying the journey. My target had been places instead of views and experiences. Armed with that new realisation, we altered the route and did away with Cycling UK’s off-road masterpiece, instead replacing it with some road sections, cycle networks, and bridleways to make the final route both shorter and less demanding than the original. We hoped this would allow us a slower pace and more time to enjoy. A successful decision realised as we spent the day climbing through the Cheviout Hills, amazing views stretching out forever on all sides, zig zagging towards the Scotland-England border. Crossing the invisible line was a huge sense of achievement and we spent a moment basking in the fact that our legs had carried us back to England. From the border, Kielder campsite was a short journey and we rewarded ourself with some hearty food in the pub nearby.
Day four woke us with rain. Wet tents packed away, we set off around the side of Kielder Water. The highlight of the trip for me, Kielder forest and water showed us gorgeous views. The wet start to the day meant that the track around the outside was muddy, slippery and great fun. My legs and bike were covered with dirt and it felt almost like a mountain bike trail at points. The Calibre Lost Lad performed admirably and my bags kept my belongings dry. The whole experience was fantastic. Finding a pub en-route and deciding to stop for lunch (it was Scott’s birthday) capped the whole morning off lovely. From there, we cycled the remaining distance to a campsite we’d found online just south of Hexham.
Hexham to Darlington (or nearby in both cases) was another mostly off-road pedal. After our Weatherspoon breakfast, National Cycle Network trail 14, mostly an old railway line, meant that we covered some great miles whilst avoiding almost all the hills in the area. Regular stops were needed at this point as our legs began feeling fatigued more easily than days previously but all the same we plodded along to reach the Countryman Inn pub at Bolam. The final ascent was marked online as a bridleway on the OS map but little evidence was there that anyone visits, much less cycles along the track – it was seriously overgrown. Thankfully, the pub campsite was accommodating. I received a message from my brother at this point wanting to meet up with my niece and we decided to make for York the day after because of this.
Our only 100km+ ride of the trip was the final day back into York. Skirting the edge of towns, doing our best to dodge main roads, we edged ever closer to the final destination. Small hills which rose ahead of us seemed nothing more than bumps in the road after the enormous climbs of the Cheviot or Pentland hills earlier in the trip. The final familiar riverside cycle track led us straight into the heart of the City. York Minster stood as the finish place for our trip – a local place and reminder of where we’d started.
Without tracking our route, and because we’d changed it so many times on the go, I’ve got no idea of the total number of miles. We reckon it’s somewhere around 250 – 275 in total but we’ll never be entirely sure. What I do know, however, is that cycling home has never felt so rewarding. Now, where shall I go next..?