The road to enlightenment in the Scottish Borders

I always thought the road to enlightenment would be best undertaken by bike. Bike touring or bikepacking is one of the most meditative and reflective experiences

you can have. However last weekend we went on a bikepacking trip that was a little like stepping into the wardrobe and arriving back in Tibet rather than Narnia, as we rode to stay the night somewhere out of the ordinary in the sleepy Scottish borders.

Those local to the area can probably guess where we went, but starting in Northumberland, England we were soon headed back north of the border. The villages here grew up around the vast plantation forests and can be strange places, coal smoke bellows in mid summer from the chimneys and curtains twitch as you walk past, but on a sunny day it’s a beautiful area to ride bikes.

We set off heading north towards the international border and into Scotland, deep in the ‘proper’ Scottish Borders. These are the lands where cattle raiders of centuries past followed the ancient drove roads over the moors to return home.

Past the town of busy town of Hawick it was back to riding on empty roads through moors and forests. An isolated and lonely area of the country, but with the sun still beating down it was glorious riding.

Eventually the road turned south along the Ettrick valley, past the Ettrick Marshes we followed the river Esk past vast commercial forests and the odd castle. Before too long the golden rooftops announced Tibet was near. We had reached Kagyu Samye Ling. Founded in 1967 by Dr. Akong Tulku Rinpoche and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Samye Ling was the first Tibetan Buddhist Centre to be established in the West and was named after Samye, the very first monastery to be established in Tibet. THe centre host from courses on various enlightened topics and also guesthouse style accommodation too.

We had booked a dormitory room so we could avoid lugging a tent about and to soak up the atmosphere of this unique place.

After checking in we toured the grounds.

We sat in on prayers after our dinner of simple soup and bread. A heartier meal than it sounds!

The Stupa surrounded by prayer wheels is under repair in scaffolding but it’s normally a dramatic sight.

The accommodation rooms are simple but clean and the building has the most amazingly varied library you’ll ever see, from teachings on Zen to Harry Potter! THe tea room’s not to bad either and a popular stop for cyclists on day rides.

After a restful sleep we headed on a cafe fueled route back to England.

At the town of Langholm, Claire’s rear gear cable snapped leaving limited options. A zip tie fix on the rear derailleur let her use an easier gear but it was hard to carry any speed on the downs or flats!

It shows how awesome zip ties are but also reminded me why taking spares is essential on longer more remote adventures!

More peaceful empty riding in the undiscovered road riding of the Scottish Borders, if this area was further south they’d be packs of MAMILS roaming and sunday riders dotting the scenic tarmac.

A quick detour onto a gravel road through a private estate was a welcome detour off the tarmac.

Finally we were back in England after 3 cafes stops. The cafe in Newcastleton involved consuming more caliries than I’d burnt by quite some way!

2 Comments
  1. Love your journals. They remind me to visit the UK for bike-packing adventures somewhere soon :-). About your gear: i noticed a Genesis Croix-de-Fer on one of the pictures? (Oh joy :-)). And what about the Kinesis Tripster?. Gr from The Netherlands.

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    • Thanks Johan, always glad to see people reading them and inspiring trips! Still on my trusty Tripster ATR V2 – perfect bike for me but will post a blog on build changes ahead of our epic Central Asia trip next month. The Genesis Croix-de-fer is another classic all round bike, ideal for small panniers and racks for touring as it’s a bit heavier than some but comfy practical bike. Marion gets the new Kinesis AT to test soon so really excited to look at that and how we set it up for her. Ed

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Any thoughts or questions?