Bordering on insanity – Southern Upland Way in winter

It’s been a while since I rode an overnighter bikepacking from my doorstep in Scotland. I don’t know why, but recently there’s been a feeling that I have to drive or fly to have a proper adventure. Clearly that’s not true so on Friday afternoon I rolled out of Peebles and headed south. It was not a bad day to ride bikes, a bit wet underfoot but the sun was peaking out behind the trademark Borders cloud cover.

As I rode out of Peebles my brain was scanning an imaginary kit list, what have I forgotten this time…lighter, gas, stove, light, spare socks, map all packed and present I thought, at the later toilet stop I realised it was blooming toilet roll again!

I left the tarmac and my 40mm Nano tyres gripped expertly on the sharp right hander into Cardrona forest. In the Tweed Valley this place is a rarity; there’s almost no bike tracks here but that’s why I like it, no people it’s a wilder place. I leave home with no water, the streams are full and with a small filter bottle I can stop to drink whenever I want:

I am heading for a few sections on the Southern Upland way. It’s a ride of exploration for me no real distance aims just an excuse to go to some new places and see what happens. The first section is wet steep grass and I’m pushing, but that’s OK it’s soon better surfaced and I’m riding with Innerleithen illuminated by a shaft of light behind me.

Then I dip into the forest. The bike is perfect for this mixed terrain.

I’m soon back on a farm track then on tarmac for the climb to Berry Bush above St Mary’s Loch. It’s winter and the thought of me stopping here in the summer to eat wild raspberries on the verge is replaced by the impending 4.30pm winter sunset. I head off onto forest tracks that are new to me. These are initially well surfaced commercial logging tracks smoother than some of the A roads around here! Then the singletrack starts:

I hit Ettrick Valley as the darkness forces me to turn lights on. Then with the shadows gone the rain sneaks in and it gets a bit grim. Why don’t I just turn around to my comfy bed I think, I can still make it OK? I then see through open curtains that someone’s scanning the guide on their TV desperately looking for something interesting to watch. There’s nothing ever on I think, just then a Tawny owl flies alongside me maybe using the light, that’s why I’m riding my bike, yes its cold, dark and wet but I wouldn’t swap this for anything (well maybe somewhere drier). The tarmac ends again and I am on gravel in the eerie dark forest, the Tripster handles the transition seamlessly, I don’t even slow down. As with any good adventure the doubts start to rise in my head. Is this the right valley? What if the Bothy burnt down? Will my kit ever dry out? Then after a while I spy the reflection of an MBA sign on the door of where the bothy should be. There’s no one in and it’s the most amazing place I could hope for. I have a few coals and firelighter for the stove. I spot a log and pick it up only to be greeted by tonnes of split logs. It’s going to be a warm night after all!
Act casual for the bothy shot, yep that should do it:
Fire going well, my candles alight and I settle down on the sofa, yes it’s a bothy with a sofa! I then realise I forgot the rest of dinner I have a bag of Quinoa and some porridge oats, that’s it. Good job I am starving and happy to eat anything, besides the peaty stream water adds a certain earthiness to the quinoa!

Day two starts off wet it’s been raining all night but I was nice and cosy inside. Dawn makes for some awesome moody shots of the bothy.

My now dry kit gets put back on and the bike prepared for the day. It got a little bit muddy yesterday:

I head over the hills to Moffat. The forest gets lonelier past an abandoned caravan and then it starts snowing.

When I reach the “welcome to Dumfries and Galloway” sign it’s blizzarding. Seriously snow, I guess it’s February still. The trail gets boggy as I ride onto open moorland.

From Moffat I’ll take the direct way home I think. The cold has meant my feet are numb and my hands struggle to change gears. The new gloves I bought for the Strathpuffer were supposed to be waterproof, they’re clearly not. In my head I compose a ranting complaint that’ll I send when I get back. Only I won’t, I’ll wimp out and just accept the gloves are rubbish.

It might sound miserable but I’m out on my bike and it’s been brilliant. I roll back home and the sun’s out in Peebles. I now wish I’d stayed out longer, but there’s always next weekend and warming my feet up was a pretty painful process. I buy the next OS map south west and start plotting the next one. Bikes really are great.


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