For a special treat Fonab Castle is one of Scotland's finest luxury hotels. It is located on the banks of Loch Faskally in Pitlochry, Perthshire. The lochside views are hard to beat, especially if you select a room with a loch view balcony. Enjoy innovative cuisine using many Scottish ingredients and select a gin or whisky from the extensive bar menu.
The hotel has a choice of 9 different room types. There are rooms inside the castle, in the modern extension attached to the castle and in the lodge buildings which are a short walk from the castle. If you are looking for a loch view room then most of these are in the modern extension and the lodge buildings, rather than in the castle itself. I found it difficult to decide if I wanted a room with castle features or a room with loch views.
Room with a View
As my stay was a special occasion I booked a loch view hotel room, located in the modern extension attached to the castle. This has a balcony overlooking Loch Faskally and Ben Vrackie. The balcony was my favourite place during my stay. We were blessed with good weather so I was able to sit out here for many hours.
Not much happens here and that is the delight of this hotel's location. There might be the occasional fisherman on a boat. Pheasants sometimes appear on the lawn. You can watch the mist slowly covering Ben Vrackie's snowy cap. The loch sometimes has ripples and sometimes it is completely still and reflects the surrounding hills and trees on its surface.
The style of the rooms is modern and elegant. A Scottish touch in the design comes in the form of the Tweed sofa and the Tweed cushions. Everything in the room is immaculate and high quality.
A card on the bed lists the choice of pillows that you can request- duck, goose, memory foam, head & neck support and back support. The bed was luxurious and provided the most perfect deep sleep. Inside the closet there are slippers and dressing gowns that have the Fonab Castle logo.
The room has a Nespresso coffee machine and one of my favourite things to do was to sit out on the balcony with a morning coffee. Another Scottish touch is the Tunnock's tea cakes supplied with the coffee facility. These are one of Scotland's most famous sweet treats- a chocolate, marshmallow and biscuit concoction that is truly addictive.
The room is also supplied with a copy of Scottish Field and a wine magazine, Decanter.
There is a shower, but no bath, in this room. Toiletries are from Thierry Mugler. The shower cabinet is massive and the water pressure perfect for a long, luxury soak.
I loved the antler coat hooks on the back of the bathroom door:
Fonab is very much a mixture of the old and the new. This is clearly seen in this photo where the glass and wood modern wing is seen to the right of the castle.
The stairwell is where you can find the most interesting fusion of these two architectural eras. The stone walls of the castle turrets can be found alongside modern chandeliers and polished wood floors.
The castle is made of red sandstone from Dumfrieshire. It was built in 1892 by Lieutenant Colonel George Sandeman. His family had made their money from cotton manufacturing and importing wine, sherry and Port from Spain and Portugal. The Sandeman name lives on in the present hotel- it is the name of the fine dining restaurant. This is located within the castle in a room full of original features, like fire places and wood paneling. Sandeman port also features in the well stocked bar.
During the First World War Fonab Castle served as a Red Cross hospital for wounded soldiers and there is a plaque marking this occasion.
The Lounge Bar is the venue for this delightful experience. This room has loch views through floor to ceiling windows. Choose a chesterfield sofa with tweed coverings or a leather chair. There is a tartan carpet, but this room is definitely more modern than traditional with the chrome tables and a wine cellar behind a viewing window at one end of the room.
The afternoon tea can be upgraded with gin or champagne. The fizz is from Ruinart, the oldest Champagne house.
On this special occassion it was the champagne afternoon tea that I had booked. The choice of teas is excellent and I can thoroughly recommend the Fonab Blend. It has a wonderful vanilla and coconut taste. I was going to have a go at describing it, but the menu description does it so much better:
Afternoon tea at Fonab is not your usual cucumber sandwiches and scones on a teird stand. They have their own unique take on the tradition. It begins with an oyster with champagne foam. The oyster was coated in batter and the foam is one of those things you could quite easily eat a lot more of. The oyster shell was resting on a sprinkling of salt.
Next up was the beetroot macaroon and truffle croquet. The beetroot dish was particularly amazing as the sweet vegetable flavour worked really well in the format of melt-in-mouth macaroon. I loved that the croquet was served on a small log to give it that connection to the countryside outside the window.
After we were finished with these delights our server arrived with a trio of small dishes. There were smoked celeriac and onion, crab beignet and chicken and foie gras, although we asked not to have the foie gras. All three were delicious.
The smoked salmon sandwich arrived on one of those beautiful tree trunks. This was a triumph of a sandwich with delicate slices of cucumber, a thick slice of salmon topped with globes of lemon mayonnaise and some herring roe. The Salmon is smoked on-site, using beech briquettes and hickory smoking chips and this gives it a lovely flavour.
Finally comes the cake stand with the warm fluffy scones and the jam and cream to spread all over them. The scones were on the bottom layer of a modern and elegant stand and on the top there was a delightful selection of cakes, including a macaroon and a lemon meringue tart.
vMy favourite of the cakes was the coffee layer cake. It was so moist and creamy. There was also a dark chocolate window box filled with mousse and cherry pieces- sensational.
Walks in the grounds
Fonab Castle is right next to the paths alongside Loch Faskally, so there is easy access to the great outdoors. From the Lounge Bar you can see the staircase leading down to the loch. At the bottom of this stair you can turn right to head into Pitlochry via the Pitlochry Dam Visitor Centre, or turn left for a pleasant walk along the shore of the loch.
The walk is through woods with sections where you are right next to the water. Despite the close proximity to the busy A9 this is still a peaceful place of moss covered tree trunks, birdsong and the scent of pine.
Spa and Swimming Pool
Fonab boasts a 15 metre pool and a jacuzzi, located in a separate building a few steps from the castle. This is not a place for serious exercise as the pool is not deep and is kept at a warm temperature. Gentle, relaxing swimming is the order of the day.
There are also steam rooms and a sauna. Spa treatments include facials, manicures and massages.
There is a choice of two restaurants at Fonab. There is Sandemans Fine Dining, a 3 AA Rosette award-wining restaurant located in the castle part of the hotel. There is also the Fonab Brasserie in the newer part of the hotel with the loch views. This is where I ate. The starter of West Coast crab lasagna was delicious with the moist crab meat working so well with the fresh pasta and the broth.
For the main course the sea bass with fennel, sea herbs and smoked herring roe looked beautiful and tasted superb. My partner had the fillet steak. The beef is aged for 28 days and this enhanced the flavour.
For dessert I had the Scottish snowball. It was intriguing to find this on the menu as a snowball is something you would normally find in a high street bakery, not in the restaurant of a 5-star hotel. It was a refined version of this Scottish classic cake. Raspberry jam, coconut and crumbly biscuit are the main components and it was absolutely divine.
To accompany dinner there is an impressive selection of wines. If wine is your thing you will be in heaven at Fonab. The benefit of having a sommelier working in a hotel is clear to see- the wine menu reads like poetry and everything sounds amazing. Even the wines with the lower price point tasted like the best I have ever had.
Whisky and Gin Bar
Fonab is rightly proud of its huge selection of gins and whisky. The bottles are displayed in enormous cabinets, so you can have a good look at what is on offer. The gin cabinet is on the central staircase so you must pass it every time that you come this way. If you are bewildered by the choice the bar staff are on hand to help. If you are selecting a gin they will listen to what you like, what flavours you enjoy and then make a recommendation.
All of the staff at Fonab were friendly and pleasant. They made you feel relaxed and cared for.
A choice of juices, smoothie or a Bloody Mary kicks off breakfast. You can then choose from a selection of three continental options. These are beautifully presented on a tiered stand that brings a touch of elegance to breakfast. A bit like an afternoon tea, served in the morning. It is a really lovely touch to present breakfast in this way. Our selection was the granola with yoghurt and lemon curd, the pastries and a selection of Scottish cheeses. All of it was superb, particularly the tart lemon curd.
For my cooked breakfast I selected the French toast with maple syrup and bacon. Delicious and perfectly cooked.
How to Get Here
Fonab Castle is located about 1.2 miles from Pitlcohry train station. If you are cycling from the station the route on my map avoids busy roads.
The hotel offers a free pick-up from the station. During my visit I used this service as the bicycle was at home and we had a lot of luggage. They sent a BMW with leather interior; a nice bit of luxury for our arrival. It is at odds with my sustainable transport beliefs, but I think it is okay as a one-off when I am using train and bicycle on all of my other journeys.
It is not cheap to stay at Fonab Castle, but if you are looking to splash out on luxury in the Scottish countryside this is the place to be. The lochside location is the standout attraction and when you combine this with excellent service, a spa, fine dining and an impressively stocked bar it makes Fonab a prime candidate for a luxury Scotland experience. It is advisable to book direct with Fonab Castle for the best deals. They often have seasonal packages and if you can avoid peak summer times and weekends you can find a good deal.
Other Castle Hotels
Further north in Dornoch you will find Dornoch Castle Hotel. Read my review.
A cyclosportive is a short to long distance event that usually runs for between 50 – 100 miles. These organised events attract hundreds of participants, making them exciting for riders of all abilities. A sportive is different to a race. It’s more of a personal challenge. Some still like to aim for the win, but ultimately the only race is against the clock and your own personal best. As long as you can keep a minimum time then you can come along and enjoy the festival atmosphere.
Countries like Denmark and France are still the most well known for cycling. In France you can: take the Paris-Nice challenge, ride La Grand Corniche in Monaco (a city usually known as a gaming destination to rival Las Vegas), or take on one of the famous sportives like Etape du Tour or La Marmotte.
Scotland may not have the Tour du Mont Blanc, but it is still one of the greatest places in the world for cycling (I may be biased, but still!), as well as having some of the most scenic sportives that the planet has to offer.
The Bealach Mor sportive has been running since 2006 and has to be one of the most challenging rides that Scotland has to offer. In this event you take on the UK’s biggest road climb, a gruelling 626m hairpin ascent from sea level in just 10km. This is truly tiring stuff, but the views over the Isle of Skye from the top are (arguably!) worth it.
The route is a total of 90 miles and offers stunning views of the cliffs and seas of the Applecross Peninsula. Total elevation is over 2000m, so this sportive should really be taken seriously. Due to popular demand, there’s now a shorter 43 mile route, which still takes you over the Bealach na Ba ascent.
The next Bealach Mor is on Saturday 31st August. The starting point is at the village of Kinlochewe.
Etape Loch Ness
This is a classic cyclosportive in the North East of Scotland. The route starts and finishes in Inverness, making it one of the most accessible options. You can take your bike on the train from most Scottish cities. General entry for the 2019 event has now sold out, but you can still take part with Team Macmillan while places last. The event is on 28th April.
The route is simple enough but, like any sportive, you should make sure you’re up to the task before taking part. You will ride South East along the northern banks of Loch Ness, ride all the way to the bottom and back again. Along the way, you’ll face 900m of elevation, most of it in the middle section where the road pulls away from the loch.
Isle of Mull Sportive
If you really want to see the wilderness of Scotland, the Isle of Mull is the place to be. It’s not the easiest event to get to, but this sportive is unique and mind-blowing. Well worth the effort for the rugged coastal scenery and homegrown feel.
The race takes place on single track roads and although they are not closed they don’t really need to be – you’re unlikely to see any cars on the roads anyway. Run entirely by volunteers, this one has a personal touch and intimate atmosphere that adds to the sensation that you are taking part in something special.
With over 2,500m of elevation over 87 miles, the Isle of Mull, like most sportives in Scotland, is not for the feint-hearted. A shorter course is available at 43 miles.
Tour O The Borders
The final pick on the list is another highly organised and sponsored event in the Tweed Valley, Peebles. Though you will be hit hard by the ascents at Talla Wall early on, most of the Tour O The Borders route is actually quite manageable, with elevations of 1,430m over 74 miles and a shorter course available.
This is a sharp contrast to the Isle of Mull sportive. It’s big and bold. There’s plenty of other riders and plenty of hot dog stalls. But you also get to take in breathtaking scenery along the border of Scotland and England - and you can actually breathe for most of it.
The next Tour O The Borders event is on 1st September.
A rustic stone exterior with windows overlooking fields of green, a Scottish flag on the tower fluttering in the light wind and a sprinkling of birdsong. This will be your first impression of Huntingtower Castle, just 3 miles from the centre of Perth. It dates from the 1400s and is one of the many Scottish castles to be associated with Mary Queen of Scots. The mostly traffic-free cycle route to the castle is alongside the River Tay and River Almond.
How to get there
The North Inch is a huge park with a golf course and playing fields. The cycle path runs through it, alongside the River Tay. This is not spectacular cycling, but certainly easy and relaxed.
The path turns away from the River Tay and then proceeds alongside the River Almond. This path is lined with wild grasses and pretty wild flowers. I spotted several butterflies.
This could be an ideal bike ride to try out some new cycling gear and I came across a great website with quality shorts, jerseys, jackets and more.
You will come across a sign for Huntingtower Castle that directs you away from the cycle path. This takes you onto quiet country roads.
The first sight of the castle transforms some rather ordinary fields and countryside into a special moment. On a bright sunny day it is quite a striking vision of towers and rustic stone.
From the outside you are given the impression that this castle must be relatively intact- just look at all the windows which are still glazed. However, on entering the building you will soon find that it is largely ruined with empty rooms and bare walls.
This emptiness does not prepare you for Huntingtower's greatest surprise. It has magnificent painted ceilings that are full of life and colour. See if you can spot the angel, rabbit, lion, dragon and deer in these ceilings. Speaking of deer- they still visit the castle's grounds, but I didn't see any this time.
The ceilings are not the only evidence of the former wealth of this castle. look out for the secret compartment within the thick walls, once a place to hide valuables.
The wealthy family that built this castle, in 1488, was the Ruthvens. They had a significant part to play in Scotland's history with the 3rd Lord of Ruthven hosting Mary Queen of Scots during her honeymoon.
Then there was the astonishing Gowrie conspiracy. In 1582 King James VI was kidnapped at the castle by William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie. The King was let go, but the following year the Earl of Gowrie was beheaded. In 1600 James went to visit the 3rd Earl of Gowrie and claimed to have found an assasin lying in wait. Some sort of altercation occured and Gowrie and his son ended up stabbed to death. Their bodies were then tried for treason and then hung, drawn and quartered. The Ruthven name was then abolished by Parliament.
Huntingtower Castle has roof access. It is always exciting to stand atop a castle tower and survey the surrounding landscape. This is not a breathtaking view with sweeping vistas, but it is pleasant enough with an outlook of fields and woods. Bear in mind that this area of Perth is built-up with major roads a stones through away and you will have noticed the industrial estate alongside the cycle path.
The roof is the best place to let your imagination take you to another of Huntingtower's fascinating moments. When the castle was first constructed it consisted of two seperate towers with just a 3 meter gap between. The daughter of the 1st Earl of Ruthven had occassion to leap between these two towers!
The name of the daughter was Dorothea and one night she visited her lover who was staying as a guest in one of the towers. Her mother heard a rumour about this afair and went to investigate. When Dorothea heard her mum's footsteps approaching she had no choice but to take a leap over to the other tower and her own bed. Her mum later apologised to Dorothea for being suspicious, but the next night Dorothea married her lover.
In later years the Murray's took ownership of the castle and they filled the gap between the two towers. Another interesting historical connection is that Lord George Murray was Prince Charles Stewart's military comander at the 1745 Jacobite uprising.
It will not take long to explore this castle. Thirty minutes will suffice, but a bit longer is needed if you want to read all of the information panels. You could combine a visit to the castle with a trip to Branklyn Garden and Kinnoul Hill. Head to my blog page to find out more.
Coffee and Cake
There is no cafe at the castle, but being so close to Perth city centre means that there is plenty of choice. My recommendation is Effies on the High Street.
This vintage tea room has the atmosphere of a Victorian parlour. The walls are adorned with mirrors and old portraits and chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Tea is served in large silver tea points and there are silver tongs in the sugar cube bowls. Cake is served on china with flower decorations. Tables are decorated with old postcards under a glass top. This is a place to take your time and enjoy the refined traditions of tea drinking.
I tried the coffee cake and I found it to be very light and fluffy, the lightest cake that I can remember having.
At the next table there was a woman with immaculate bouffant hair. She was talking to her friend. "We had a brilliant weekend!" We had another baby, well my nephew's wife did. It's her fourth. Only 6 pounds."
Effies is a special experience and I will be back the next time I am in Perth. If you are looking for something more substantial than cake they also do main meals like macaroni, scampi, baked potatoes, salads and sandwiches.
Head to my Perthshire page for more ideas of things to do in this region.
Kinnoull Hill provides one of Scotland's most spectacular views. The fact that it is in the city of Perth means it is easy to get to. Branklyn Garden, renowned for its collection of blue poppies, is on the way to Kinnoull Hill. And it has one of the cutest tea rooms I have ever seen.
How to get there
The walkway on this bridge is very narrow, so there is no way that you can cycle it. I pushed my bike across it and really had to lean in for people passing in the opposite direction.
This bridge provides fantastic views of the River Tay and the city. It crosses over Moncrieff Island where there is a golf course.
Once you are across the river you join a path that heads up to the A85 road. There are steps involved, so not great with a bicycle. Turn right to reach the entrance to the gardens- it is only a few steps away, so if you did bring a bike just push it along the pavement. The A85 is a busy road, so there is really no point in trying to pedal this short distance.
You will be able to pick up a garden guide and map at the ticket kiosk. The site is quite small, so it will not take you long to walk around.
A 1920s Garden
The garden is in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. It was created, in 1922, by Dorothy and John Renton. They were gardening enthusiasts with social connections to some of the most prominent plant collectors of the era. This meant that they were able to obtain seeds from around the world and they were particularly talented at recreating the ideal growing conditions for the plants you see today.
They also built a very fine Arts and Crafts style house which you can see from the outside, but it is not open to the public.
The Blue Poppy
One of the most noteworthy plants in the collection is the Himalayan Blue Poppy, from Tibet. When the Rentons began cultivating it the new colour of poppy was a sensation and people travelled from all over Europe to see it. It has won numerous horticultural awards and you can buy it from the plant shop.
It is a delight to walk around this place. You don't need to be into gardens to enjoy the colours, scents and landscaping. The birdsong and trickling water from the rock garden add to the peaceful atmostphere.
The rock garden is an impressive feature, especially when you consider the immense effort that went into creating it. The Rentons had to get rid of their tennis court to make space for it. Boulders were quarried from nearby Kinnoull Hill and gravel was dredged from the River Tay. It was worth the effort as many difficult to grow species flourished in this rock garden.
Time for Tea
The highlight of my visit was the very cute tea room at the gardens. You can either sit inside a pavilion, decked out in dark wood, or take a table outside. With the weather being so nice I took the outdoor option, facing the immaculate lawn. It is a basic operation with a menu limited to tea, coffee and scones, but that's all you need to enjoy this special place. It was bliss with the sun in my face, birds tweeting and gorgeous gardens for a view. This has to go down as one of my favourite tea rooms in Scotland.
Up the Hill
The footpath up Kinnoull Hill is adjacent to the entrance of Branklyn Garden. You can leave your bike locked up outside the entrance to the gardens and then take to the path. You can spend hours exploring the paths on the hill, but if you just want to reach the view shown in my photo it takes about an hour, but less if you go at a fast pace.
The hill is thick with trees and the path is steep in places. It is quite easy to get a bit lost as there are numerous paths with junctions, so I just tried to stick as much as possible to what I thought was the edge of the hill and looked for gaps in the trees so that I could check for a view.
The outlook from the top of the hill is breathtaking. The River Tay meanders towards the horizon where there is a line of hills. There are fields in different shades of green and brown. In the foreground there is a tower atop a steep rocky outcrop. This is a folly designed to replicate the castles of the Rhine Valley in Germany. The Earl of Kinnoull built it because it reminded him of his visits to the continent.
When I walked back down the hill I ended up somewhere different to where I had parked my bike. It is easy to get lost, so you should factor this into your timings. It meant a long, but pleasant, walk through the Perth suburbs to get back to Branklyn Garden.
If you did bring a bicycle and want to get some use out of it there is a lovely path alongside the river. Instead of going back across the railway bridge you can head north on the path by the River Tay. This will take you through some magnificent gardens the provide very pleasing views of the city skyline across the river.
The path ends at Perth Bridge. If you cross over to the opposite shore and take a left onto Tay Street you will be able to return to the railway bridge that you crossed at the start of the route and from there you can return to the train station. Perth Bridge is normally very busy with traffic, so I recommend just pushing the bike along the pavement. That way you can also enjoy the river views!
If you want to do even more cycling then cycle route 77 can also be joined on the other side of Perth Bridge, heading towards Pitlochry. You can take this route to Huntingtower Castle, just 5.5 miles away. Head to my blog to find out more about this castle and how to get there.
I was given a RearViz cycling mirror to review. This mirror is attached to your wrist, rather than to the bicycle. I think it looks pretty cool and if you would like to find out how I got on with it then read on...
The RearViz mirror is produced by RVI Active, an Australian company that specialises in innovative safety products for the sport and fitness market. The RearViz was their first product.
I have never used a bicycle mirror before, so this was a new experience for me. I had never felt the need to use a mirror having been content to look over my shoulder to see behind. I have seen other cyclists using mirrors and always wondered if they were helpful, so this was my chance to find out.
The product is presented in a plastic bubble packet. The rear of the packet has an explanation of the mirror with the key features clearly highlighted. An instruction leaflet is enclosed. This is simple to follow with a combination of diagrams and text.
I think the RearViz looks very cool. In the closed position it reminds me of something like a chunky divers watch. The front opens up to reveal the mirror, a similar mechanism to a compact makeup mirror.
The fact that the RearViz looks good and does not look obviously like a mirror is a major plus point. I did quite a bit of online research into cycling mirrors and found that they suffer from an image problem- they are seen to be a bit 'geeky' and can give the impression that the rider is a novice. Despite the obvious safety benefit of mirrors this can put off many cyclists from using them. RearViz have possibly overcome the image problem of cycling mirrors by making something that is a lot cooler than a handlebar mounted mirror.
It is pretty easy to set it up with the Velcro armband, so that you can attach it to your arm. Deciding on the best place to position it on your arm was the most time consuming element of the set up. The instructions advise that most riders prefer above or below the elbow, but I found my wrist to be the best place.
You simply have to sit on your bike and experiment until you get the right position for you. When you open up the mirror you will find that it swivels and you must also get this into the perfect position to be able to see effectively in the mirror. The first time I did this it took me a while, but the more I used the mirror the quicker I got at this. Due to the fact that you are going to close the mirror over at the end of your ride it means that you have to perform this set up at the start of each ride, which you wouldn't need to do with a handlebar mounted mirror.
Take it With you
A handlebar mounted mirror is something that a thief could take from your bike, or someone could damage it accidentally or deliberately. Parking your bike in a city location brings a certain amount of risk to the accessories attached to the bike- that's why you will probably take your helmet, lights, computer and other items with you. The fact that the RearViz is worn on the arm means you don't have to worry about this.
Most cyclists do not use a mirror. Why? I think this is a combination of the fact that it is not a legal requirement and that it is seen as somewhat nerdy to use a mirror. My opinion is that I was always comfortable with looking over my shoulder, but when I really thought about all the turns on my cycle commute I soon realised that I was not always that comfortable. Some of the turns, such as on steep downhills or on cobbles, felt like I would lose balance if I tried to look over my shoulder. However, with the mirror I didn't have to go through this feeling of risking a fall for the sake of looking behind me.
There were other situations where I felt that I needed to focus on what was going on in front of me and that trying to look over my shoulder could be too risky. For example, a narrow road with lots of traffic that I had to wait for a gap in. In these situations the mirror came into its own.
Attracting New Cyclists
Any cycling invention that helps to get more people using bikes is great. We already know that perceived risk of accidents prevents many from taking up cycling. They will be nervous about having to look over their shoulder and losing their balance, but the RearViz can help to overcome this fear.
Get Over the Novelty
For the first few days of using the mirror I couldn't take my eyes off it. I loved the novelty of being able to see who was behind me, without turning around. Sometimes I felt that it was taking my attention away from from what was in front of me. It took some discipline to stop myself peering into the mirror too often and only to use it when necessary. This novelty soon passed and the mirror simply became like any other accessory on my bike- useful.
Cycling with Children
This is an added benefit of a cycling mirror and one that the manufacturers should promote more. If you have a rear child seat on your bicycle it is impossible to see what your child is up to. You simply cannot turn your head far enough to see unless you come to a complete stop. My child is very quiet when we go out cycling, so I cannot tell if he is enjoying the ride. With the RearViz I was able to observe him looking around at the world passing by and, more importantly, I could see his smiles that I would otherwise have missed. The mirror made a bicycle ride with my child even more enjoyable because I could watch how he was reacting.
I really enjoyed using the RearViz. It is a great looking product with an obvious safety benefit. For city commuting on busy roads I will continue to use the mirror, but on quiet country roads and cycle paths I don't feel the need. The one exception is when I am out cycling with my child as I can use the mirror to enjoy watching how he reacts to the ride.
Safety benefits of a cycling mirror in city conditions
Can keep an eye on children when using a rear mounted seat
Easy to take with you
Available in different colours- black, blue, green, orange, purple
Adjusting the mirror each time that you ride.
Competition! I have one RearViz to give away. All you have to do is tell me why you would love to have this product in the comments below. The best comment wins the mirror. Due to postage costs I can only accept entrants from the UK. Closing date 31st March 2019.
I received a free RearViz mirror to review. The opinions are my own.
If you would like to purchase the RearViz you can click on the image below to take you to Amazon:
The highlight of this museum is a guided tour by a former miner. These men are full of stories and provide a fascinating insight into their working life. The museum is easy to reach from Edinburgh using the Borders Railway. It is walking distance from Newtongrange Station.
How to Get There
The museum is 8 miles from Edinburgh. It is located alongside Newtongrange train station on the Borders Railway, so you don't really need to use a bicycle to reach it. There are plenty of cycling routes in the Scottish Borders, so you could do a stop-off at the museum then get back on the train to head further south. The train takes about 20 minutes from Edinburgh.
A path links the station to the museum. It is uphill and really unsuitable for cycling so if you did bring the bike you will be pushing it or locking it up at the station. A nice feature of this path is that it has information panels that tell the story of the mine.
At one time coal mining was a hugely significant part of Scottish life with 148,000 miners employed in Scotland at the industry's peak.
The path takes you past a scene of industrial decay with mine buildings looking like they are being reclaimed by nature. The museum is contained within the site of the Lady Victoria Colliery. It opened in 1895 and was named after the wife of the Marquess of Lothian who owned the land. The mine closed in 1981 and became the museum.
As you approach the entrance to the museum there is a small garden area that has gorgeous flowers and plants. A wheel from a winding engine has been put to use as a water feature and there are cute little paths winding through the trees and bushes.
The Victorian-era industrial architecture is beautiful with huge windows, impressive brickwork and glazed tiles inside.
Contrast this to the functional concrete bridge that is attached to the building and crosses the A7. This was built in the 1950s to link the building to a bath house.
Before the bath house was built the miners had to go home dirty. Their houses had a tin bath that was filled up with a kettle. If there was more than one miner in the family the most senior man got first shot at the bath. My tour guide, John, said of the youngest son, "By the time you got to the bath it was not very warm and not very clean."
Signing-up to one of the guided tours is the best way to experience the mine. My guide, John, had started working as a miner at the age of 15. He wore orange overalls and a helmet with a lamp.
John talked through the various stages of going to work in the mine. First he picked up his lamp and then walked down the gangway. "This was the last opportunity for men to have a cigarette so this gangway was always thick with smoke. "
The next stage of John's journey to work was the lift down to the mines. It was a double deck lift that could take 30 men on each deck and took 1 minute and 20 seconds to reach the pit. "Made my stomach go," John told us.
The lift had two speeds and when it was used to carry coal back up to the surface it took just 40 seconds. "The lift operator was a trusted man who could never leave his post and had to make sure that he got the right speed when carrying men in the lift. Can you imagine if he used the coal speed when the men were in the lift?"
The tour includes a visit to the engine room where the giant winding machine that carried the lift up and down to the mine is turned on for visitors. The room smells of engine oil and it is quite a thrill to see this huge wheel being turned by massive pistons. This was the most powerful winding engine in Scotland.
The largest part of the mine site is an area where coal was sorted and carried around in railway wagons. There are tracks, gangways and control booths spread over a giant area.
There is lots of interesting equipment to spot on the way around the tour route, including a National Coal Board train engine and coal wagons.
Our tour visited a reconstruction of an underground mine tunnel. It felt very realistic and John provided an excellent insight to life below ground. "No toilets in the pit" he told us. "You found a corner and then put a stone over it and put an x on the stone with chalk, so other men would know not to touch it!
John pointed out the first aid station. This included a morphine container encased in concrete as the men used to break it open and steal it.
"120 pit ponies lived underground and never saw daylight," John said. They had been used to haul coal wagons "Once they tried to take the ponies up to the surface in the lift, but they kicked and made such a fuss. When they were retired and went to the surface they were found to be blind."
Later, in the museum, I found an eye guard for pit ponies. The 1911 Coal Mines Act made it mandatory for the ponies to have eye protection from the uneven sharp walls of the pit. It is upsetting to think that prior to this date the animals would be easily injured when walking through the tunnels.
Pit ponies learned how to open the miners' sandwich tins. These metal tins had been invented to stop rats from getting at the men's food, but the ponies could figure them out and steal a cheese and jam sandwich if a miner was not careful!
A stark illustration of how challenging mining life could be was provided by John: "In the days when private companies ran the mines and a miner died they lost their house; the family had to leave."
The cottages that you see around Newtongrange village had been built for the miners.
One mine manager was particularly strict and used to walk around the village to see if any of the gardens were untidy. If they were the miner who lived in that house was called into the manager's office and given a row and his wages docked to pay for some other men to tidy up the garden.
Look out for the canaries- the museum keeps a few in cages. You will probably hear them chirping before you see them. Mines used to breed their own canaries as they were the best way to detect carbon monoxide. The birds would be overcome by the poisonous gas before the miners and this gave the men an opportunity to escape.
The museum site is massive as you can see from the map above. It includes an impressive collection of artifacts that have been put together to tell the story of the coal industry. It begins in the 12th century when monks were the first to mine coal. I was surprised to learn that coal is used in the manufacture of many products, including paint, batteries, lipsticks and soaps.
I read about a job that young boys had been employed to do- Trappers- which involved opening and closing ventilation doors for passing coal wagons. These boys sat on wet ground, sometimes up to their knees, for 12 hours per day performing this repetitive task. It was common for these poor lads to subsist on a single oatcake during their shift, so I felt lucky to be able to enjoy a very fine Empire Biscuit with my coffee in the museum's cafe.
If you fancy something more substantial the cafe has a good selection of sandwiches, burgers and baked potatoes.
I really enjoyed my visit to the museum. Even if you do not have a strong interest in coal mining you will find it fascinating, particularly if you take the tour from one of the ex-miners with their unique insight into this world. The museum is open 7 days per week and there is an admission charge. Visit the website for details.
The Mining Museum is in Midlothian. Visit my Midlothian page for ideas of more places to visit in the region.
I used the Borders Railway to travel to the museum. Read my blog post 8 Reasons to Love the Borders Railway to find out more about this line.
A true story of cycling incredible distances for a purpose; not to break a record or to escape a boring job. Pradyumna Kumar (known at 'PK') cycles from India to Sweden to marry his wife because he cannot afford the plane ticket. This book is much more than a cycling story- it is a harrowing tale of the cruelties of the Indian caste system. Don't expect too much detail on the cycling part of the story as the focus is very much on the childhood and later life of PK, but it is a fascinating tale and provides the important backdrop to the cycling journey.
A word of warning: this is not purely a cycling travel book. If you are hoping for a tale of a bike ride that begins from page one then you might be disappointed. The bicycle ride does not actually begin until page 175! This perhaps makes the title of the book somewhat misleading, but the bike ride is simply the conclusion to an incredible story about a boy growing up in India.
Due to PKs position in the caste system (the Indian class system, but much more complicated than a western class system) he has a very cruel childhood. He is an 'untouchable' and that means when he goes to school he is not allowed in the classroom with the rest of the children. He has to stand outside on the veranda and observe the lesson from there. During playtime he is relegated to a corner of the school yard and not allowed to play with the other children. It is a heartbreaking beginning to PKs journey in life.
Luckily PKs talent as an artist helps to save him from poverty and this leads to some incredible circumstances, such as meeting the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. He has a lucrative business painting portraits at a fountain in Delhi. This is where he meets his future wife, Lotta, a Swedish backpacker on the hippie trail. Lotta must return home and PK remains in India, but this is the woman that he wants to marry so he decides he must go to Sweden to make this happen.
And so the bike ride begins, although PK also uses planes and trains for part of the way thanks to kind gestures from strangers. PK has a way with people and everyone warms to him, so is not short of help. Although the bike journey is lacking in the detail that you would get from a true cycle travel book it is clearly an incredible achievement. In fact, it is more impressive than many of the rides that have been written about by people who want to break a record or do something adventurous because PK has done no preparation and has very little money. He begins the journey on a very cheap women's Raleigh bike. He has no specialist equipment, no bicycle clothing and no fitness training. He is using a bicycle for what it was invented for- cheap and efficient transport.
The bicycle journey is interesting to read because he travels through many countries, including Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Austria, Germany and Denmark. PK records his impressions of these lands and the people that he meets. It feels a little bit rushed, but that is simply because PK is not doing this journey for the pleasure of travel but to reach his future wife.
PKs motivations for undertaking a long-distance cycling journey are hard to top for storytelling- escaping the caste system and marrying the woman that he loves. It is a fascinating and moving tale. Don't buy this book to read about a cycling adventure as you will be disappointed, but buy it for this extraordinary story of love that happens to involve bicycle travel.
To buy this book click on the image below and you will be taken to Amazon:
Cycling is one of the most important and popular pursuits in the world. It’s an excellent way of making sure you get fit and healthy, as well as being a lot of fun. Once you become a more confident and able cyclist, you will probably feel bolder getting out on the road and taking a tour of the UK by bicycle.
If you choose to do this, it’s important to understand what it takes to have the best experience you can, and a good way of achieving this is to make sure you stay safe and look after yourself. Here are five of the best ways of staying safe on your UK bike tour.
1. Make sure your bike is perfect
There are a lot of tips you can use to make things safer, but one of the biggest is to ensure that you have the best possible bicycle. You’ll want to put together a checklist of everything you’d like (or need) your new bike to have. There are plenty of buying guides that will help you ensure your new bicycle ticks all of the right boxes.
2. Brush up on the Highway Code
When you’re travelling around on your bike, you need to make sure you’re familiar with the rules of the road. Being as safe as possible is majorly important, and something that you need to focus on as much as you can. That means improving your knowledge of the Highway Code, and even taking quizzes to make sure you know the rules and regulations. This is going to help you stay safer on your travels.
3. Wear protective gear
Protective gear is so important when you’re out on the road. There are so many different bits of gear you can use that will help keep you safe when you’re on your travels. Firstly, investing in the best helmet money can buy could literally save your life. Also, consider what other protective gear you might need on your UK bike tour, especially if you’re going to be battling against the elements.
4. Choose the right route
It’s absolutely essential to make sure you take the right route when you’re on a UK bike tour. There are a lot of routes you could attempt, but you need to be sensible and ensure you’re not biting off more than you can chew. Some routes can be dangerous if you are an inexperienced rider, and so it’s crucial you plan ahead. For instance, the Deeside Way Cycle Path route could be perfect for beginners, especially those looking to have a leisurely sightseeing experience.
5. Rest when you need to
As well as not picking a route that is too ambitious, you need to listen to your body, too. Make sure you rest when you need to. You have to be alert and healthy, and make sure you stop regularly to get your energy levels back up each day. Plan breaks along the route, but also be prepared to take some time out when you’re feeling lethargic.
When it comes to being safer on your bike tour, you need to make sure you think carefully about all of the different elements involved. If there is anything you think we’ve missed, make sure you let us know in the comments below.
This is a guest post
Cycling isn’t a sport reserved only for gym bunnies and adventure-seeking diehards on specialized mountain bikes. It’s also a great way to get out more, enjoy the outdoors, or even just get from A to B in a greener method than driving, but faster than walking. Plus, it’s so simple to bring into your everyday routine!
The pros of cycling daily
There are numerous health benefits for cyclists. Cycling can improve your mental well-being for one, with a study by the YMCA finding that individuals with a physically active lifestyle recorded a well-being score which was 32 per cent higher than people who were inactive. There are obviously many ways to exercise, but cycling stands out as it allows you to take part in physical exercise, get outdoors and explore fresh surroundings.
It's also a fantastic way to sneak out and get some all-important time alone with your thoughts. Graeme Obree, a former hour record holder, expanded on this aspect in particular by telling Cycling Weekly: “Getting out and riding will help [people suffering with depression] … Without cycling, I don’t know where I would be.”
Of course, the benefits to your body should be considered too. For instance, the activity promotes weight loss — between 400 and 1,000 calories can be burnt per hour depending on your level of intensity and your weight — and it also builds muscle, especially around the calves, hamstrings, glutes, and quadriceps.
Your general health will also appreciate you taking up cycling. Cycling has been found to reduce the risk of you developing cancer or heart disease, improve your lung health, allow you to enjoy better sleep, and increase your brain power. It’s not just your health and well-being that will see improvements if you cycle more regularly either. Pedaling to and from a destination can actually take a shorter amount of time than completing the commute in a vehicle, depending on the distance and the level of traffic encountered of course.
If you’re looking to save a little money, cycling can help with that too. Cyclescheme.co.uk imagined a scenario back in 2011 whereby a cyclist travelled for five miles to work every day and then another five miles to get back home. Covering a 48-week year — holidays were taken out of the equation — the organisation found that 2,400 miles will be covered, which would account for around £320 in fuel costs if a vehicle was used to travel the distance. That sum was based on the average cost of fuel during 2011; just imagine the savings today seeing as though fuel prices have continued to skyrocket over the past decade.
Bringing cycling into you commute
How about cycling to work instead of driving or walking? Cycling Weekly has some handy tips about how to commute to work using a bicycle. The best-selling cycling magazine recommends a bike that can handle any weather and only needs minimum maintenance, such as a road bike. Consider fitting your bike with mudguards too — no one wants to arrive at the office with mud and muck covering their clothes — as well as wide tyres which will work to spread the load, improve comfort levels, and provide enhanced grip during wet weather.
Remember when you’re buying cycling gear to buy a white front light and red back light. You’ll need this for after dusk and before dawn. It’s advised that you use these lights throughout the day too though, as they’ll improve your visibility. You may also want to buy a backpack that you can fill with your essential work items and then carry over your shoulders while you cycle, or a pannier rack for your bike if you often carry a lot of stuff during a commute.
It’s very important to be able to ride with confidence too. To help, Cycling Weekly advises: “Hugging the curb often encourages drivers to pass closely, which will only increase any nervousness that caused you to do so in the first place — so avoid this and keep a safe distance that affords you room to swerve around a pot hole should you need to.
“When approaching junctions, check behind you and move into the centre of the lane when it’s safe to do so — this prevents anyone from overtaking or undertaking when it’s not safe to do so.”
It’s a vital skill when riding to commute that you can look behind you while cycling. Cycling one-handed is another essential skill, as there will be times when you need to release one hand from the bike’s handlebars to indicate and tell other road users that you’re about to make a turn.
A good-quality lock will keep your bike secure at work. It’s recommended that you apply one lock to the frame of the bike and then a cable lock to the wheels if they are attached by quick-release skewers. On the topic of security, try and leave your bike in a location that is monitored by CCTV too.
Be ready to head into the office after your ride too! Keep a pair of appropriate work shoes at work which you can quickly slip into once you’ve arrived, and pack some dry shampoo and wet wipes to look the part if your workplace doesn’t have its own shower.
With cycling offering so many benefits, we’re sure you’ll enjoy bringing it in to your daily routine!
Author BioLee Dover is a senior copywriter at Mediaworks with an interest in sports as well as researching into healthier ways of living. He has a BA (Hons) in Magazine Journalism. Away from work, Lee is also a keen runner and is an athlete and coach for Houghton Harriers & Athletics Club. Since joining the club in 2015, Lee has competed in various road, track and cross country competitions — on a regional and national scale. Highlights of his running career to date include his victories at the 2017 Lambton Run 10K and the 2018 South Shields 10 Mile race. You can follow his progress on Twitter via the handle @leedover1.
This book, by Dominic Gill, records an epic cycling journey that starts in Alaska and ends in the southernmost city in South America. There are huge distances- 18,449 miles- beautiful landscapes and physical and mental challenges. Similar adventures have been written about, but this one has a key difference- it is done on a tandem bicycle. The author sets out alone on the tandem and picks up strangers along the way, 270 of them. It is a unique twist on the familiar tale of a man fed up with his job and yearning to do something different and finds the answer in a long distance bicycle trip.
"The attractiveness of bicycle travel struck me then more than ever before. No windows blocking out life's real accompaniment. No travel-induced sleep causing you to miss the small stand selling bright, shiny mandarins or mouth-watering fruity juice. From the seat of a bicycle, everybody and everything has a voice, a smell, an influence on your immediate future."
This quote perfectly illustrates the effectiveness of Gill's writing style in capturing the beauty of travel. It also demonstrates the author's love of cycle touring, but the book doesn't start out that way.
Gill has taken a very honest approach to the first chapter of this book and recalls the sense of dread and nervousness that overcame him in the first days of his journey. He paints a rather bleak picture and nothing you will read in these first few pages will inspire you to copy this trip. I thought that it perfectly captured those feelings of loneliness and despair that an adventurer is likely to experience and this immediately made the author likable and human. It made me want to read on and discover if things got better for him.
They did get better and his morale greatly improves as the journey progresses, largely as a result of the incredible hospitality of the people that he meets along the way. It takes a bit of time before he picks up his first passenger on the tandem, but they soon become a regular feature. I had assumed that he would be picking up locals looking to travel in the same direction. There are some locals, but it is mostly other travellers with time on their hands to take a turn as "stoker", the name given to the rear cyclist on a tandem.
I was slightly disappointed that I was not going to learn very much about the local people and their way of life from the type of passengers that he was carrying. He has more interactions with locals from his daily living like eating and arranging a place to sleep and these encounters paint a vivid picture of the cultures and countries that he passes through, more so than the majority of the tandem passengers. In fact, there is perhaps a lack of detail about the people that sit on the back of his bike, considering that this is the main premise of the book.
Not all of the tandem passengers prove to be worthy companions and Gill is upfront about the annoyance that some of them cause him. For example, the passengers that do not put in their fair share of effort so that he has to do all of the work and drag them along whilst they coast in the back seat. It is another honest portrayal of the realities of adventure cycle touring.
What I liked the best about this book is that there was more of a focus on what the author was seeing and experiencing in the 15 countries that he travels through than on the fine details of cycling. This made up for any feelings that the encounters with passengers lacked some punch.
The book is incredibly well-written and the author has a talent for making you feel like you are there. He is a great observer and uses all of his senses to perfectly capture a place in words. This quote is a great example of this:
"Latin America is a happy land generally but Colombia is up there on the podium. Even construction workers leaning on their shovels and watching us go by made the happiest clowns look like mere amateurs. "
This book was a joy to read and if you fancy giving it a go you can purchase it from Amazon by clicking on the image below:
Smailholm is a classic example of a defensive tower house that was once common in the Scottish Borders. For 500 years the border between England and Scotland was a treacherous place with wars and raids a constant threat to residents. It was essential to build a home that could withstand attacks and Smaiholm provides an opportunity to visit one of these dwellings. The tower is a 10 mile cycle from Tweedbank station on the Borders Railway.
How to get there
Step One: Take the Borders Railway from Edinburgh Waverley to Tweedbank (55 minutes). Bicycles are carried free.
Step Two: Cycle 4 miles from Tweedbank to the Leaderfoot Viaduct, via Melrose. You can read the details of this route in my Leaderfoot Viaduct blog.
Step three: Cycle 5 miles from the Leaderfoot Viaduct on the C78 road.
Beware that the start of this road involves an uphill slog. The C78 has very low traffic volume, less than B-roads. It was almost deserted when I rode it, which made for glorious cycling. It did not matter that the scenery was not particularly outstanding, just fields, because I had a wide road, well-surfaced, all to myself. At one point a vole scurried across the road in front of me, its legs moving at a furious pace.
After 5 miles you will find the sign for Smailholm that directs you onto a single-track road. After one mile you will arrive at the tower. On a field adjacent to this road I found a group of sheep lying exhausted with the remains of turnips scattered around them. They had been feasting and were too exhausted to run away from me when I pulled over to take in this scene of over indulgence.
On the final approach to the tower the road becomes a rough, gravel track.
The landscape becomes increasingly rocky and totally different to the farmland that you have left behind. It comes as a surprise that such a craggy land exists in south Scotland. It feels like somewhere in the Highlands.
It seems like the owners of the tower managed to seek out the only rocks in the Scottish Borders so that they could stick it on top of one.
It was for good reason that the tower was built here. The border between England and Scotand was a place of strife and it was essential for homes to be fortified. Smailholm was attacked by English raiders many times in the 1540s.
It was only in 1548 that the attacks stopped because John Pringle, the Laird, made a promise not to attack England or to interfere with English raids into Scotland. In return his lands were guaranteed to be left alone.
The Pringle family had built the tower around 1450. They were one of the wealthiest families in the Borders, making a living from farming. Smailholm was their farmhouse and it really says something about the world they lived in when a farmhouse has to be a tower with 2.5m thick walls.
The Pringles sold Smailholm to the Scott family in 1645. The most famous member of this family was none other than Sir Walter Scott, Scotland's renowned novelist. He spent time here as a child, recovering from polio, and this place inspired his love of the Scottish Borders.
For me the outside of the tower is more impressive than inside. Its situation on top of the only rocky outcrop in the area, standing guard over the farmland is mesmerising. Just look at the size of the stones that have been used in its construction. Look up the side of the tower to the sky. This is a formidable building.
The only way into the tower is through this small door:
The building has five stories linked by a spiral staircase with a rope banister. I loved how the age of the tower was written into this staircase with the wear on the steps and the scores and indents on the central pillar.
The the rooms are mostly empty, apart from an exhibition of figures that feature in Walter Scott's ballads. This means there is no furniture or objects to take up your time. There are interesting architectural features like the vaulted ceilings, window seats and fire places.
For me the highlight of a visit inside the tower is that you can access the rooftop. From here the views are incredible. You can clearly make out the oddness of this landscape- that this rocky ground is truly a one-off because it is largely surrounded by mainly flat farmland.
It does not take long to look inside the tower. It is the outside that is the best aspect of Smailholm. The tower on top of the rocky outcrop looks fantastic and you should take the time to walk around and capture it from every angle.
Other Things to See
Don't leave the area without a look at Smailholm Church, in the nearby village. It is very pretty and can be dated back to 1150.
On the return journey the road crosses over the Leader Water, not far from the Leaderfoot Viaduct. There is some lovely walking here with a path heading through the forest and alongside the water.
More on the Scottish Borders...
One of the most magnificent landmarks in the Scottish Borders is the Leaderfoot Viaduct. It is a breathtaking sight with its 19 arches that span the River Tweed. The good news is that it is very easy to travel to. A 4 mile cycle from Tweedbank station on the Borders Railway will take you right there.
The Borders Railway makes it easy to visit the viaduct. The last stop on the line, Tweedbank (around 55 minutes from Edinburgh), has a cycle path beginning at the station. This is well signposted, so just follow the blue cycle route signs to Melrose. This route is a mixture of traffic-free cycle path and quiet roads.
Once in Melrose you might want to explore a bit as this is one of Scotland's finest towns with lots to see. Read my blog about Melrose for ideas of things to do.
In Melrose head north on Abbey Street which becomes Annay Road. You will pass Melrose Abbey and soon reach The Abbey Mill. This began life as a corn mill, likely for the Abbey. Later it supplied barley to the Abbey brewery. These days the building houses a country clothing shop with a tea room upstairs.
I popped in for coffee and a scone that was still warm from the oven. It was fluffy inside and one of the best I have tasted. The room has enormous sash windows that let the sun pour in.
Once you reach the end of Annay Road you turn left, onto the B6361, to proceed through the village of Newstead. Oh-so-pretty cottages are jammed right against the road on both sides, flowers spilling from window boxes. Country village perfection indeed.
Once you reach the end of the village you take a left and then the first right (there are cycle route signs showing the way). This will take you to a road that has a gate across it, meaning a traffic-free cycle from here to the viaduct.
This road takes you through the site of a Roman fort called Trimontium. This is the largest Roman site in Scotland. You will come across this stone that summaries the story of the fort:
At regular intervals, along this road, there are interpretive panels that tell you more about the fort. There were several people walking this route and stopping by the panels.
Trimontium was a cavalry fort that housed about 1000 troops. It was well furnished with an amphitheater and bath house. Archaeological digs uncovered amazing objects, like a brass face mask with elaborately braided hair, a bronze cavalry parade helmet and a stash of silver coins. Most of these items can be seen in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and some at a museum in Melrose.
The first sight of the viaduct will blow you away. Queen Victoria described it as "immense" and that is exactly what it is. After miles of tranquil countryside and fields this man made structure suddenly appears and dominates, but in a way that seems to enhance the landscape.
It is interesting that we regard these once functional structures as beautiful and not detracting from the natural environment that they rest in. However, a nearby road bridge that carries the A68 over the river would be generally considered as ugly. You cannot deny that these Victorian railway structures have an elegance that is rarely matched by modern equivalents.
The road proceeds under the viaduct, but just before it does you will notice a staircase. Stash the bike and jump up there to take a look at the top of the viaduct.
Unfortunately you cannot walk across the viaduct as it is fenced off, but you are able to look down the grass covered track bed.
I found reference to a plan to have some train carriages with a tearoom and museum parked on the viaduct, but this never came to fruition. I quite enjoyed its forgotten state as it meant using my imagination to picture trains crossing it and to simply enjoy the thrill of being so close to such a magnificent structure.
The road beneath the viaduct provides the perfect vantage point to marvel at the incredible height and scale of the arches. From a distance the columns of the arches seem very slender, but close up they look indestructible.
Cycle on to the old stone bridge. It is from here that the best views of the Leaderfoot Viaduct can be had. This bridge dates from 1776. It used to carry the A68 road until it was replaced in 1974 by the adjacent modern bridge. Only cyclists and pedestrians can use this old bridge today, so you are able to pause here for as long as you like.
The story of the viaduct is that it was built to carry a railway branch line to Duns and then connect with the East Coast mainline. It opened in 1865. There was a storm in the late 1940s that caused damage to the line and passenger trains ceased at that point. Freight was still hauled across the viaduct until 1965 when the line was finally closed.
Although the Borders Railway from Edinburgh saw trains return to this part of Scotland it is unlikely that the route across the viaduct will open anytime soon. Even in its heyday the line received small numbers of passengers.
Across Scotland there are many remnants of railway infrastructure and this viaduct is one of the most magnificent. I thoroughly recommend coming here and with it being so easy to get to using train and bicycle there is no excuse not to! Why not bring a picnic?
The Leaderfoot Viaduct is one of many places that you can reach easily from the Borders Railway terminus at Tweedback. Here are some other ideas:
Visit one of Scotland's best independent bookshops- Mainstreet Trading in St. Boswells.
Head to Scott's View, one of the most beautiful views in the Scottish Borders.
Explore Melrose where you will find a great selection of shops, an abbey and beautiful gardens.
For a great day of exploring in the Scottish Borders take the train to Tweedbank and join the cycle path right at the station. It only takes 8 miles of cycling to see an abbey, an enormous statue of William Wallace, an outdoor sculpture and one of Scotland's finest views.
The Borders Railway makes it easy to visit the Scottish Borders. The last stop on the line, Tweedbank (around 55 minutes from Edinburgh), has a cycle path at the station. This will take you on a mostly traffic-free journey to the attractions highlighted on this blog.
After 1.75 miles you will arrive in Melrose, one of Scotland's most charming towns. Read my blog about Melrose for ideas of things to see and do in the town.
Just after Melrose the route takes you onto a road that is closed to vehicle traffic. This involves a steep climb, but this is followed by a smile-inducing descent. After passing through Newtown St. Boswells the route requires a crossing of the busy A68, but this is a simple case of pushing the bike over to the large island in the middle of the road and then pushing it over to the other side. This will set you off on a minor road that descends towards the River Tweed.
Dryburgh Suspension Bridge
Here you will find a suspension bridge, built by the Earl of Buchan. In fact, this Earl had a hand in most of the things that you will see on this journey. There is something exciting about crossing a bridge on a bicycle- the river views being seen from an elevated position and the fact that you can easily stop in the middle and watch the water flowing beneath you. This bridge has a walkway of worn planks that shoogle as bicycle tyres pass over them.
Temple of the Muses
On the other side of the bridge you will notice a round Greek-looking structure on top of a hillock, among woods. This is the Temple of the Muses. It can be reached by following the cycle path around the corner where you will find a gate and a short path up to the temple.
The temple was built by the 11th Earl of Buchan to honour the Scottish Borders poet, James Thomson. Thomson lived in the 18th century and famously penned the lyrics to 'Rule, Britannia!' The bust on the top of the temple is Thomson.
Inside the temple there is a sculpture of bronze figures, representing the Four Seasons which was a series of poems by Thomson. The sculpture was installed in 2002- prior to this there had been a statue of Apollo with 9 muses that went missing.
The naked figures are clasping each other in a supportive embrace. All have different facial expressions. I was fascinated by the face with the eyes closed and head looking down, clearly deep in thought. What is she thinking?
This is simply a lovely spot to spend a bit of time. The bridge, the temple, the sound of the river- it is perfect. In the Springtime there are clumps of snowdrops to add a touch of panache to the woods around the temple.
Just a two minute cycle will bring you to the next attraction on this tour. It is a classic ruin in the countryside, like something from one of those romanticised 19th century paintings.
The abbey is renowned as the burial place of Walter Scott, one of Scotland's most famous novelists. Earl Haig, the commander of British forces for part of the First World War, is also buried here.
Although the abbey is a ruin there is a lot that has survived. The immense size of the windows and doorways is awe-inspiring and the quality of the stone carving incredible.
I put my hand on the stone. It felt sturdy and strong and must have taken some effort to destroy. Successive attacks by English armies left Dryburgh in its present state. It was burned down in 1322, then re-built, then smashed up again in 1385, re-built again, and destroyed a final time in 1544.
The same Earl of Buchan who built the Temple of the Muses acquired the ruins in 1786 and took them into his care. He saw himself as a champion of Scotland's heritage and worked to preserve what was left of the building. He is also buried here.
The site is incredibly peaceful and gives a good impression of a canon's life of devotion and tranquility. Visit on a weekday in spring and there will be few other visitors. There will be birdsong and daffodils to brighten your walk.
The Chapter House is one of the best preserved parts of the building as it still has a roof and walls. Inside there was Gregorian chant music on a sound system and I took a seat to listen and imagine the life of a canon. They took a vow of silence and had to pray eight times a day, even in the early hours of the morning. If they looked sleepy an official would shine a lantern in their face. The canons had piss-pots under their robes so that they could relieve themselves without interrupting their duties.
Coffee at Dryburgh Abbey Hotel
Next to the abbey there is a baronial hotel. It must be a fine place to stay with its large bay windows, riverside location and garden walks, but I came for the coffee. There are lounges with sofas and armchairs that make for a relaxing cappuccino destination. The woods next to the hotel are thick with snowdrops in the spring.
Gigantic William Wallace
Do you want the good news or the bad news?
Good news is that the next item on this tour is only 5 minutes away. The bad news is that it is mostly uphill. However, it is worth it to see the incredible William Wallace statue; the very first Wallace statue in Scotland.
On leaving Dryburgh you will pass this pretty ensemble of a red telephone box, red post box and stone cottage:
Wallace is one of the most famous figures in Scotland's history, largely as a result of the 1995 Mel Gibson film. The same Earl of Buchan who built the temple and the bridge was also a big fan of Wallace and he commissioned the statue.
Leave the bike in the car park (there are racks) and take the 5 minute walk through the woods.
I was taken aback by how big this statue is. It looms up from the woods. This Wallace has a kilt and legs with bulging muscles. He carries a shield with a Saint Andrew's cross and his sword is as long as he is tall. I am sure the intention is heroic, but I think the curly beard and piercing eyes make it appear somewhat cartoonish.
1.2 miles of cycling from the Wallace statue will take you to one of Scotland's most beautiful view points. Scott's view is named after literary giant Sir Walter Scott- this was one of his favourite places in the Scottish Borders.
The view encapsulates all that is beautiful about this part of the Scottish Borders. A valley of trees, fields and river that rises to the three peaks of the Eildon Hills.
It is easy to see why Walter Scott loved it here. In fact, he came here so often that his horses knew to stop without being asked to.
The cycle is uphill with the final stretch on a twisty road. The view is already magnificent even before you reach the top, so you will be tempted to stop numerous times to take it all in. Once at the top you will find a lay-by so that cars can stop. There are benches for those who would like to sit for a while.
Every time that I come to this view I have to pinch myself that it really is this easy to reach from Edinburgh, using the train and a bicycle.
Scott's View features in my video about cycling in the Scottish Borders:
For more ideas of places to visit and cycle routes in the Scottish Borders visit my Scottish Borders page
When you're planning your next break in the UK, booking a luxury holiday cottage will ensure that you have the blissful, relaxing holiday you deserve. The UK boasts hundreds of these self catering properties, and from plush renovated cottages to cosy traditional country cottages, there's something for everyone. Whether it's a romantic trip for two or a family holiday with the little ones, a cottage allows you to have your own space away from the hustle and bustle that you might expect with a hotel. So without further ado, here's our list of the most luxurious holiday cottages in the UK:
1. Darley House in Derbyshire
A beautiful Georgian house on the edge of the Peak District National Park, Darley House is a tranquil and comfortable house where you can escape from all your work and home stresses and really relax. You can enjoy the peaceful gardens and surroundings created by former owner Sir Joseph Paxton (designer of the Crystal Palace). Soak up the luxury and history of the recently renovated property which combines all the modern comforts with the beautiful period decor to create a fantastic atmosphere.
2. Tredington Mill in Warwickshire
It's not often you can stay in a historic converted mill on its own island, with a stunning view overlooking the river. There are 2 cottages at Tredington Mill, each offering 4 cosy bedrooms. You'll feel like you've arrived at an idyllic, magical spot away from all the hustle and bustle of daily life. The original features like exposed beams and large mill windows transport you back in time and the garden and courtyard overlooking the mill pond is the perfect spot for al fresco dining. You could even do a spot of fishing!
3. Higher Scholes Cottage in Keighley
With spectacular views over the moors, a luxury hot tub, log fires and four posters, Higher Scholes is the perfect place for a romantic break for two. There's no end to the finishing touches which really make this cottage a paradise to stay in, from heated floors to fresh flowers all around the house and complimentary wine, fruit and biscuits to indulge in when you arrive. Whether you're here for a honeymoon, a holiday to mark an anniversary or just a chance to escape from the world for a few days, you'll have an unforgettable experience at Higher Scholes Cottage.
4. Oak Barn at Old North Chew Farm, Bristol
This beautiful barn conversion boasting traditional oak framing is a great choice for larger groups, sleeping up to 16 guests. You can socialise in the large private country garden, relax around the log fire or chill out in the games room. Set in picturesque countryside, there are plenty of walking routes and great local pubs nearby or you could explore the historic cities of Bristol and Bath, just a short distance away.
5. Tamar in Portmellon, Cornwall
This darling cottage with spectacular sea views is a cosy retreat for a couple or a family. Vintage leather sofas invite you to relax in the open plan living space with views over the Portmellon beach and cove, whilst the quiet reading nook is the perfect place to curl up with a book. The kids will be delighted with the great games room, stocked with PS4, flat screen TV and airplane reclining seats!
Mainstreet Trading, located in the village of St. Boswells in the Scottish Borders, is a magical place to visit. Not only is it one of the best bookshops in the country it also has a cafe, deli shop and homewares shop. This place is so good that it is worth making a special journey just to come here. The Borders Railway makes this a straightforward day trip from Edinburgh.
The Borders Railway, Scotland's newest railway line, makes it easy to visit Mainstreet Trading. The last stop on the line, Tweedbank (around 55 minutes from Edinburgh) is directly opposite a cycle path that takes you 1.75 miles to Melrose and then around 4 miles to St. Boswells. All that you have to do is follow the blue cycle route signs.
Melrose is one of Scotland's best towns with plenty to see and do and a great selection of independent shops. Read my blog about Melrose to find out more.
Cycling on a Closed Road
The sweetest part of the cycle route occurs just after Melrose where you pedal onto a road that is closed to vehicle traffic. At some point in time this road was given over to the cycle network and gates installed at either end. The white lines are faded and the cats eyes have weeds growing out of them. On a autumn day, with leaves blowing around and the verges overgrown with trees and bushes, there is something post-apocalyptic about this road.
The road features a tough uphill, but it is worth it for the fast descent waiting at the other end. There is also a fantastic viewpoint overlooking the countryside and hills.
Lookout for the Shetland ponies in one of the fields alongside the road. I saw a woman taking one for a walk- she had a West Highland Terrier on one lead and the Shetland pony on another lead.
After the closed road the route takes you through Newtown St Boswells and down to the A68. This is the point where you must deviate from the cycle route- it crosses the A68 to access quieter roads in the direction of Dryburgh Abbey, but you need to turn right and travel on the A68 for 1 mile to get to Mainstreet Trading.
The A68 is a busy road, so I used the pavement. I have done this a couple of times and have never met a pedestrian. The road is just far too narrow and fast to risk cycling it.
It will come as no surprise that The Mainstreet Trading Company is located on Main Street in St. Boswells. It is a long building with an archway that leads through to a yard, which is a good place to park the bike.
You will also notice the Mainstreet Trading van, a classic Citroen, that gets used to travel to schools. They have an ambition that every child in the Borders will be able to meet a Scottish children's author when the van comes to visit their school.
The building was originally a general store that pretty much sold everything. Supermarkets killed it in the 1970s and it was then used as an auction house prior to its current life as a bookshop.
I felt so excited about exploring this place because I had heard such good things about it. It exceeded my expectations. For someone who loves books and coffee this is a dream place to spend a few hours. They have over 7000 titles in stock and you can browse them whilst the smell of coffee tickles your nostrils.
I overheard a woman say to her companion, "It's got all the books you heard about and wanted to read." The range of books and the way that they are presented is inspiring.
The stripped wooden floor adds to the joy of walking around and browsing the books. You are encouraged to fill out a card with the name of the book that started your reading habit and post it on a wall where others have done the same.
At the cafe the cakes are displayed enticingly in a glass case with the name of the cake written on the glass. I took a slice of the chocolate vanilla layer cake and ordered the courgette soup with lemon which arrived with basil leaves and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar on the top. It was all delicious, exceptional quality food.
On the other side of the yard at the rear of the bookshop you will find the building that houses the deli and homewares department.
There is an irresistible selection of specialty foods, like olives, meats and cheeses. There is also a good selection of local produce, including beers from the Born in the Borders brewery.
The homeware department focuses on unusual independent suppliers and there is a good selection of quality stationery, cards and notebooks.
Don't just take my word for how good this place is. Mainstreet has won several awards, including Deli of the Year, Independent Bookseller of the Year, Children's Bookseller of the Year and Scottish Independent Bookshop of the Year.
It is worth having a little walk around St. Boswells for the idyllic cottages and well tended gardens. There is also a wonderful old fashioned fishing and hunting store called the Borders Gunroom.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle. Follow my blog on Facebook: