Looking Out To Sea

Cycling to the Borders

I went on my first solo long-distance ride recently, from Edinburgh to Melrose, about 45 miles in total. The sky was largely cloudless and the wind non-existent. Apart from the dangers of dehydration and sunburn it was perfect weather for cycling.

Getting out of Edinburgh took too long. I started using the CycleStreets app which didn’t give me any vocal directions. I was stopping on every street corner to check if I’d gone too far or needed to make a turn. Eventually the app lost my location entirely and then crashed. After restarting it was unable to continue from my current location and I was entirely sick of the whole thing. I was conscious that I had left later than I intended and every minute spent faffing with this app was a minute I wasn’t moving.

I fired up Google Maps and navigated the rest of the way with the Navigation feature, including voice instructions. My phone was in the back pocket of my jersey so it wasn’t always easy to hear what the voice was saying but this was still better than no voice at all. In future I would use headphones and have the nearside earbud in for instructions while keeping the other ear open for traffic.

I was trying to stop as little as possible so didn’t really lunch. I had two sandwiches and a caramel wafer with me but didn’t take the time to halt and rest properly. This was (obviously) a mistake. I should also have stopped somewhere to get a water refill. Instead I wasted time trying to get through the back entrance to Dalkeith Country Park. It seems to be part of NCN1 but had been padlocked. Thankfully a driver was there waiting for someone to let him through and he helped me lift the bike over the 7ft gate into the park.

There were several good stretches of path coming out of Edinburgh to the east and heading south past Musselburgh and through Dalkeith. From there I was in the hills above the A7 almost the whole way to Galashiels. The roads were really quiet but in excellent condition — at no point did I feel stressed by the traffic while travelling through the hills. It was just me and the inclines and the declines.

The pain started to kick in about forty minutes from my destination. My little toe stopped appreciating the pressure from the pedalling action inside my shoe. The long hours in the saddle took their toll. I felt really relieved during the last stretch into Melrose, down hill all the way and clear of cars.

I rolled past the Melrose town markers at bang on 6 o’clock, some 4¼ hours after leaving the house. The average speed for the whole journey was about 10mph but this isn’t at all indicative of actual travelling speeds. The first hour was so stop-start I probably did less than 5mph whereas there were sections on freshly laid A7 with a tailwind where I’d be travelling more than 20mph. In future I’ll remember to use an app which tracks location and time and speed properly.

It was an amazing ride and I am much wiser now about the availability of cycle-friendly roads and trails. The obvious next step is to do a similar route but take more time: time to admire the scenery; time to take photos; time to eat lunch; time to deviate from the path if a tea room or interesting tourist attraction is signposted. Time to hunt down that lemon drizzle cake.