Highlights of this cycle route:
Distance: Around 9 miles one-way, 18 miles return.
Terrain: Mostly tarmac cycle paths, some A and B roads that have low traffic volume. Mostly flat.
Getting there: Train to Tweedbank, around one hour from Edinburgh. Bicycle reservations not required.
First off, take a trip on the Borders Railway
The Borders Railway is the newest railway and the longest railway to be built in the UK in 100 years. It is a superb tourism asset as it makes it much easier to access the scenery and visitor attractions of the Scottish Borders.
Read my blog: 8 Reasons to Love the Borders Railway
You can also take a look at my video that shows how easy it is to use the Borders Railway for exploring the area by bike:
Journey time to Tweedbank is under one hour from Edinburgh. Once the train passes Gorebridge the view starts to become special with rivers, hills and sheep farms. There are tunnels and viaducts and the track twists and turns frequently, giving the line a unique character that makes it endearing.
Right next to Tweedbank station you will notice signage for cycle routes, so exploring this area by bike is very simple. Just follow the signs.
You want to take the path alongside the train track, heading back towards Galashiels. Follow the signs for Innerleithen.
Soon the path takes you alongside the River Tweed. I loved this ribbon of tarmac through meadows of little white wildflowers. It was a joy to ride.
This path smells sweet, fresh and woody. It is worth taking your time to spot the variety of wildflowers along the way.
There are also glimpses of Abbotsford, the home of Walter Scott, through the trees, on the other side of the river. This house, once home to one of Scotland's most famous literary figures, can be visited by bicycle, but I saved this for a future trip.
Further on, the road passes a trio of impressive timber-framed houses. They have gorgeous gardens and large bay windows looking onto the river. It looks like a scene from a country living magazine where everything is photogenic and perfect.
After about 3 miles on this road you take a left, crossing a stone bridge over the River Tweed. This will take you towards Selkirk.
The approach towards Selkirk is via a cycle path that runs alongside the busy A7. This is the least interesting part of the journey because you are just looking at a main road, but it does not last for long and it is superb that a segregated cycle path has been provided on this road.
The route does not take you into the centre of Selkirk, but passes the outskirts where there are impressive mill buildings, some ruined, some beautifully restored.
You get a great impression of how significant the textile industry had been in this town from the scale of these buildings. At one point it provided jobs for over 1000 people. It is sad to witness this visual display of the decline of an industry, but there are also positives to be found. Still in operation in this area is Lochcarron which weaves the largest range of wool tartans in the world. There is a visitor centre, shop and cafe.
From here it is only 3.5 miles to reach Bowhill House. This is by means of the A708, but don't worry because this is one of those quieter A-roads.
Whose side are you on?
The road passes fields where a great battle took place in 1645, the Battle of Philiphaugh. Imagine over 5000 men exchanging musket fire. You cannot tell who is on the side of the Covanters and who is on the side of the Royalists because there are no uniforms. Only a piece of paper or grass pinned to their hat symbolises which side they fight for. I wonder how many of the deaths resulted from mistaken identity? There is a battlefield walk with Interpretive panels at the fields.
The Waterwheel Cafe is also located here. It is a chalet-style building, made from Scots Pine, which gives it a striking interior.
For the remainder of the A708 you will have glimpses of the Yarrow Water through the woodlands that flank the road. You cross this river on a stone bridge to enter the Bowhill estate.
In comparison with other stately homes Bowhill can appear plain on the outside. It lacks in decorative architectural features like stone carvings and columns, but I think there is an elegance to its proportions, particularly when seen across the landscaped gardens.
One frequent visitor had been Walter Scott, one of Scotland's most renowned literary figures, and he was impressed, describing the house as 'sweet Bowhill.' It is the inside of the house where the magic begins with beautiful art, furniture and antiques, so let us step inside.
Visits to the house are by guided tour. My guide's name was Walter and he loved everything about Bowhill. His catchphrase was 'unbelievable', applying this to all of the things he found incredible about the house. "This clock dates from 1640 and is still ticking. Unbelievable."
Later he remarked on the tapestries, "the colours are just the same as the day they were made. Unbelievable."
There are many fascinating objects to be seen in the house. If art is your thing there are works by Canaletto, Raeburn and Gainsborough. I was intrigued by a curious long sofa with two separate seats at each end. I learned that these seats were for the chaperons to keep an eye on the courting couple who would be seated in the middle.
I adored the pair of French cabinets that had birds nests painted on them. One cabinet had a nest with two eggs and the cabinet on the other side of the room had a nest with chicks inside. "But look!" exclaimed Walter, "there are three chicks, so one of those eggs must have been a double yoker." If there are children on the tour Walter pretends to do a magic trick asking the kids to look at the cabinet with the eggs and then turns to the other cabinet and says "Ta da! And now there are chicks!"
Our tour visited a room that housed a collection of miniature portraits. These are incredibly detailed for their tiny size and I was surprised to learn that hairs from squirrel tails were used to paint them.
Despite all of these riches Bowhill has a lived-in feel. It is still used by the Duke and his family and I liked seeing the trappings of modern life dotted around, such as plasma televisions and modern paperbacks lying alongside the antique volumes. In one room there was a lingering scent of last night's crackling fire, a basket half-full of logs and a novel resting with a bookmark, so it really felt like people had been making used of this room.
Photography is not permitted inside the house, apart from in the kitchen, so here are some shots for you to enjoy.
The most striking thing about the kitchen is its double height, essential because of the heat that would have been generated in this room.
All this display of pots, pans and jugs was making me hungry so I headed to the tearoom. The sweet potato and coconut soup hit the spot and gave me the energy to explore Bowhill's extensive grounds.
I must tell you about the giant chess set that I found at the rear of the house. It has to be the most scenic location for a game of giant chess with a backdrop of rolling hills and forest.
My favourite thing about the grounds was the Upper Loch, artificially created for the sheer pleasure of having a loch in your garden. It was dug out in 1816 and that must have been some job without the aid of mechanical diggers. The loch is surrounded by woodland, which means a delightful walk through the trees when you do a circuit of the water. During my visit, pretty clumps of daffodils were in full bloom.
I was short on time so I used the tarmac roads to cycle some of the grounds, including the route up to the ruins of the 15th century Newark Tower. I passed a pair of lambs cuddled up together and sleeping. It was the cutest thing I had seen in ages.
The tower had been a royal hunting lodge and it provides an exciting 'wow' moment as it suddenly appears after a bend in the road.
Although you cannot go inside the tower it is interesting to walk around the outside, peer up at the crumbling remains of windows and put your hands on the hefty stone construction.
Reluctantly I had to leave Bowhill to catch the train home. This had been a perfect day trip using train and bicycle. Bowhill is just the right distance from Tweedbank station to provide a decent amount of cycling and plenty of time to visit the house and the grounds.
The Bowhill website promotes cycling, not just driving and public transport, as a means to reach the house. I was really impressed by this as it is quite rare to find cycling mentioned in the 'how to get here' sections of visitor attractions.
Food and drink is just as important to the travel experience as the scenery, history and visitor attractions. There has been a huge growth in craft beer producers in Scotland and I always try to find a local beer in the areas that I visit. Tempest Brewing Co. is located in Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders and they produce a wide range of exciting and innovative drinks. The Borders Railway makes it easy to visit their retail shop.
Having taken many trips on the Borders Railway to Tweedbank I noticed sings for Tempest Brewing Co. at the station. I decided to follow the signs into a nearby industrial estate to pay a visit to their shop.
The shop is located within the brewery. There is a rather functional entrance, distinguished only by the signage outside the door. When I went inside a staff member welcomed me and directed me past the stores of beer barrels to a small office area where there is a fridge filled with bottles of the entire Tempest range. I was excited to see everything in one place, as supermarkets and shops usually have just a selection of the range on offer. The shop also sells the clothing range, which includes cycling tops.
Tempest is one of my favourite craft beer producers. I love all of their creations because they use innovative flavour combinations that make this a unique and exciting product. They even have a beer for cyclists.
During my visit the staff were very excited because Tempest had just won 7 awards at the Scottish Beer Awards, including Scottish Brewery of the Year.
I bought half-a-dozen bottles of beers and stuffed them into my panniers to try them out when I got home. The member of staff who served me was particularly enthusiastic about Marmalade on Rye. He said he just loved it and described it as 'so moreish.' I couldn't agree more. It is another delicious creation from Tempest.
There are many exciting cycling routes in the Scottish Borders and taking the train to Tweedbank is one of the best ways to access them. With Tempest Brewing Co. just a few minutes walk or cycle from the station it would be foolish not to pop in and take back some fine craft beers.
Scotland’s newest railway and the longest railway to be built in the UK in 100 years is the Borders Railway. It travels from Edinburgh to Tweedbank in the area of Scotland called the Borders. The line has opened up an entire region to bicycle day trips.
In 1969 this railway line was closed as part of the cuts recommended by Doctor Richard Beeching. This left the Scottish Borders as the only region of Britain without trains. The original line went to Carlisle in England and in 2015 it reopened as far as Tweedbank. The line was officially opened by The Queen on the same day that she became Britain's longest serving monarch. The railway has been a huge success with passenger numbers 22% greater than the forecast.
8 Reasons to Love the Borders Railway:
1. Instant Access to Superb Cycling Routes
As soon as you get off the train at Tweedbank there is a cycle path right in front of you. This is National Cycle Route One and it takes you to many of the attractions of The Scottish Borders. Melrose, with its historic abbey, is only 2.5 miles away.
The railway now makes it easy to take a bike to a region of Scotland that was challenging to get to by public transport. In the past you would have to take a train to Berwick-upon-Tweed in England in order to cycle into the Scottish Borders. This necessitated overnight trips, but the new railway makes day trips easy.
2.. Stately Home Day Trips
There are some magnificent houses in the Borders, all within reasonable cycling distance from the railway. Fine art, antique furniture, stunning plaster ceilings, tea rooms and walks in the gardens are the reasons to come to these houses. Mellerstain (top left photo) is 11 miles from Tweedbank, Thirlestane Castle (top right) is 6 miles from Stow station, Bowhill (bottom left) is 9 miles from Tweedbank and Traquair (bottom right) is 16 miles from Tweedbank.
3. One of The Great Scenic Railway Journeys of Scotland
Scotrail promotes this line as one of six Great Scenic rail journeys in Scotland. Once you leave Gorebridge station (4 stops after Edinburgh) the urban areas fade from view and what you see out of the train window starts to become spectacular. There are forests, rivers and rolling hills populated with grazing sheep. A tunnel, viaducts and lots of curves give the line character and a touch of excitement.
4. Short Journey Time
Edinburgh to Tweedbank takes just less than one hour. It is incredible that this close to the capital city there are open spaces and miles of quiet cycle routes. For the ultimate rural experience get off at Stow station. It is only 45 minutes from Edinburgh, but feels far, far away and provides access to quiet country roads.
5. Cheaper Tickets
A competitive fare structure was deliberately introduced to encourage travel on the Borders Railway. This means that you can travel to the end of the line for £10.10 single or £11.20 off-peak return (correct as of October 2016).
6. No Bicycle Reservations
Borders Railway does not require bicycle reservations. This makes it a good option for impulsive, last-minute trips as you do not need to book your bicycle in advance. Some other rail routes have mandatory reservations for bicycles that can become fully booked, so you need to plan these journeys in advance. With the Borders Railway you just turn up and go.
7. The Brewery Next to the Station
Take home a taste of the Borders. Tempest Brewing is located in the industrial estate next to Tweedbank station. You will notice signs, near the station, directing you to the brewery where the shop is open on weekdays. Tempest was voted Scottish brewery of the year in 2016. They even produce a beer specifically for cyclists, which I previously reviewed.
8. Visit the Home of one of Scotland's Greatest Writers
Less than 1 mile from Tweedbank is Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott. In the nineteenth century Scott was one of Scotland's most prolific writers, producing 23 bestsellers and achieving worldwide fame. You can explore many of the rooms of Abbotsford, including Scott's wood-paneled study.
Excellent book about the Borders Railway
This book delves into the history of the original railway, its closure and then the campaigning and political journey to get it reopened. A fascinating read and full of photographs. You can purchase it on Amazon by clicking on the image below:
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle. Follow my blog on Facebook: