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.
Considered the finest home of this size to be designed by the renowned Scottish architect, William Adam, the House of Dun boasts stunning plaster ceilings, tapestries and extensive gardens to explore. You can reach it easily on a bicycle as it is less than 4 miles from Montrose train station.
You approach the house down a tree lined avenue. As you go through the archway into the courtyard look up and notice the maker's name and 'Paris' on the clock face.
This is unmistakably Georgian architecture, with perfect proportions and symmetry. Everything matches. The first floor has tall arched windows that let the light flood into the principal rooms.
William Adam, the celebrated Scottish architect, designed the house for the Erskine family. It was inspired by Chateau d'Issy near Paris. Adam had three sons who were also renowned architects and throughout Scotland you will find many of their buildings. The Adam Style was the name given to the integrated interior and architecture design that was practiced by the Adams.
The main door into the house is framed by four ionic pilasters and an enormous archway.
The violin is not the only surprise in the house. There are also fake doors. The guide asked someone in my tour group to open a door in the hallway. There was a brick wall behind it. Some doors are simply there to create symmetry in a room. Those Georgians were so obsessed with symmetry that they were willing to spend good money on pretend doors!
The house has the expected antique furniture, ornaments and 17th century Flemish tapestries, but I am more interested in the unusual. The 'silent companion', a wooden cutout of a child, is something I had never heard of before. The guide told us that when the Lady of the house was on her own in the parlour she could ask a servant to bring the 'silent companion' for company.
In the servants corridor we stopped next to the bells, which had the names of the rooms next to them. Each bell had a different tone, so that the servants could recognise which room they should go to. The servants would not be able to read. The guide rang a couple of the bells to let us hear the different tones.
The house provides sweeping views towards the Montrose Basin, a tidal basin that is a home to many bird species.
The grounds and gardens are a delight to explore.
My favourite part was the woodland walk with twisting paths, pretty flowers and a river with bridge crossings. It is completely enchanting.
When I paid at the counter I bought some of 'Janet's tablet' to takeaway and dropped some coins in the Victoria bedpan they had for tips. I commented to the American lady that it looked like it was going to be a busy day in the cafe and she said, "I hope so, we do enjoy serving people."
House of Dun is a National Trust property and there is an entrance charge.
The Caledonian Railway is a short distance away from House of Dun. You can ride on steam trains to Brechin. Read my blog about the railway.
How to get there
Take a train to Montrose. It takes around 1 hour, 40 minutes to 2 hours from Edinburgh or Glasgow, depending on which train service you travel on. It is a 3.8 mile cycle from Montrose station to House of Dun, so a day trip visit to the house is a possibility.
The Montrose Basin Cycle Route will take you there, mainly alongside the A935 on a segregated path or on the pavement. The map shows the route to the Caledonian Railway and the House of Dun is marked with the castle symbol.
The Montrose Basin Cycle Route is an excellent example of forward thinking by a local authority. The busy A935 makes it daunting to come here on a bicycle, but by making the pavement shared pedestrian and cycle path it has opened up the area to cycle tourism. Some parts of the pavement are very narrow with little space for bikes and people to pass, but they have made the best use of the existing infrastructure to ensure that it is viable to cycle safely in this area.
Other things to see and do
All in the detail
I like to look for the smaller details in houses like this. I noticed little brass handles on the window shutters that are the shape of fish with upturned lips. It was a lovely detail and I pointed them out to one of the guides. She said, "you are very observant. You know, I've worked here for 11 years and never noticed that before."
The door handles in the drawing room depict Diana, Roman goddess of hunting. One handle has a running stag and the other one has Diana with a bow drawn and a hound by her side. When door handles are this beautiful in a house you know you are in an expensive place.
"The house is designed to fit Sir Hugh's furniture collection," the guide told me. "So, the drawing room was for the French furniture collection."
Above the toilet there is a strange ornament of toads fighting with swords, with one stabbing the other.
You are not permitted to take photographs in the house, but I was able to take a photo of the visitor toilets. It was nice to discover that there is an original Edwardian WC with porcelain bowl, wooden seat and high level cistern.
In the dining room there was a very enthusiastic guide who pointed out the silver galleon table decoration. "Look at the detail, even has men on it." There is a sailor climbing the rigging, one in the crow's nest and one at the wheel. There is a dragon on the prow of the ship and the decking even has the wood grain showing.
The room also had a silver rabbit, pheasant and squirrel. "Their heads come off and there are glasses inside for drinking liqueurs, " the guided told me. "Isn't that marvelous?"
With so much silver in the house it must have been a job keeping it clean. The sink in the kitchen has three taps, one of which deposited rain water, "ideal for cleaning silver," the guide told me.
She was keen to draw my attention to the door from the dining room to the kitchen, "just look at the quality. Mahogany. Nothing but the best."
Sir Hugh loved climbing and in his bedroom here are black and white photographs of him scaling the Alps in the 1920s. He pioneered skiing in the Scottish Highlands. He received many medals for his courage in World War One and in the bedroom there is an interesting portable gramophone from that time. It was nicknamed 'The Trench' and designed for front line service. It is thought that over 100,000 of these gramophones were sent to the trenches to help raise the morale of the troops.
Despite the obvious wealth in the house I felt that it was cosy and not intimidating. It is not a huge house and on a much smaller scale than many of Scotland's stately homes.
Time for tea
There is an elegant tea room with chequerboard tiles, wooden tables and an extensive selection of home baking displayed on a sideboard. You can also get soup and sandwiches. It is a nice spot to relax with a coffee and they also have seating outside for when the sun is out.
The gardens are small, but full of colourful and sweet smelling flowers.
The hilltop walk is the highlight of the grounds of Hill of Tarvit Mansion. At the top of the garden there is an iron gate topped with a flourishing decoration that features two little birds. You pass through this gate to start the hilltop walk
Hill of Tarvit Mansion makes for a great day out and is really easy to reach using train and bicycle. At 2.5 miles it is not much of a bike ride, but you will get exercise exploring the grounds on foot, particularly if you do the hilltop walk. If you are cycling on National Cycle Route 1 the house is only a one mile diversion from the route.
Cycle to the Secret Bunker. From Cupar you can cycle to a secret nuclear war bunker, a fascinating visitor attraction. Read my feature about cycling to Scotland's Secret Bunker
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.
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