The days of recent may have been doing their best to eek out every last bit of good weather but the tell tale signs are starting to show. There is no doubt that winter has already began.
It was already dark by the time we gathered in Balerno post work. Heeding the weather report everyone had donned various limb warmers, jackets and gloves to close any gaps that the already chilling air could reach. We discussed the less than positive forecast for the evening and how our planned accommodation of Gameshope Bothy lacked a stove or a fire to warm us through the night. Moral was further weakened when I informed the group of the mandatory river crossing to reach the bothy. Once we had established that nobody was actually that enthusiastic about this bikepacking trip we set off.
The route planning was lacking much finesse, considering views were non existent and incoming weather was threatening, everyone was happy to just get there as fast as possible. The A70 is certainly not a pleasant cycling road but traffic was calm and it allowed our little bikepacking chain gang to make quick progress.
Our tight grouped camaraderie lasted up to the point that the rain went from heavy to torrential*. With the knowledge that Biggar was a mere 5 miles down the road the group broke as minds became focused on simply finding somewhere with shelter and the possibility to buy snacks.
I was thoroughly soaked by the time I rolled into Biggar and found Andrew sheltering in a shop doorway. Shortly followed by Ross and Euan who arrived equally as sodden as we were. It had been really grim. Spirits were low amongst the four of us as we quietly huddled together in our modest sheltered area as the rain continued to batter Biggar High street.
“F@%K THIS, I’m calling a taxi”, Ross pulled out his phone and started dialling numbers. A couple of calls later he had procured transport and was looking very pleased that he did not need to suffer the rain anymore. There would have been space in the taxi for another but either pride, optimism or lack of funds stopped anyone from taking it. Enjoyment of our ride to come was certainly not a contributing factor to that decision for anyone. The three of us got back on our bikes and left Ross to wait for his taxi.
It was only 20 miles from Biggar to Talla Linfoot and the start of the track that takes you to the bothy. Usually this sort of distance would not be a problem but the weather was starting to really push the type 2 levels into the red. Very little was said as we rode, heads down, counting down the miles between us and our shelter for the night.
We turned off the A701 at Tweedsmuir to make the climb up to Talla Water. Any optimism that the weather would improve was gone. The unrelenting rain continued to soak us to the core and gusts of wind slammed into our bodies stopping our bikes dead and forcing legs to pick up the slack. Short climbs were now something to look forward to, a respite from the front wheel deluge and a chance for muscles to generate some body heat.
Euan called for a stop just before we found the turn off as he needed to top up energy levels. In the short time it took him to stuff a flapjack into his mouth we were all shivering as the cold quickly overwhelmed our wet clothing. We had to keep moving.
Swapping tarmac for dirt, my 28c tyres were immediately overwhelmed by the uneven surface. Even Euan, whose bike was shod with chunky MTB tyres, was forced to push on the slippery rocky surface. None of us knew how far up the track the bothy actually was and our lights achieved little as we tried to make sense of our dark surroundings. We continued deeper up the valley following the river that would eventually be our last obstacle. Andrew caught sight of the bothy, once a byre attached to a shepherd’s cottage whose last permanent residents left the valley in a 1905. The cottage is now a ruin but the MBA were able to renovate the old animal shed into the humble bothy it is today.
With the ever present sound of the river in the valley we all had the same unvoiced thought, “what if the river was uncrossable?”. Now that we could see what lay in front of us our concerns were justified. We stood on the bank as the dark water, swollen by the torrential rain of the last six hours, surged in front of us. There was no telling the depth or what river bed surface we would be facing. Odds were high that one of us could start crossing only to be forced to turn back or worse fall into the fast water. I shouldered my bike and began to wade through. Torches from the bank did well to light the river bed but footing was treacherous and the current ripped past my knees as it tried to topple me. Once I was safely on the other side Euan cautiously set off, feeling his way across as I had. Andrew followed, emerging from the river to successfully make it three for three.
We ran to the bothy and for the first time in 6 hours we knew that we would be sheltered from the weather outside. Fireless and with a couple of tables, chairs and wooden sleeping platforms, this basic building was still very welcoming. Wet clothing was peeled off, bikes unpacked, frame bags drained of their puddles and stoves fired up. As comforting steam rose from our pots we discussed our evenings tribulations and the prospect that if the weather didn’t let up the river may no longer be crossable in the morning. I was glad to finally crawl into my sleeping bag and wrap up a day I would rather not repeat. As we drifted into a cold sleep the weather continued to howl outside.
All was quiet as we woke. Gone was the bellowing wind and chatter of rain on the roof. Instead, comforting sunlight was creeping through the windows. The standard bothy morning ritual began; leave the relative warmth of our sleeping bags and get water on to boil for coffee and porridge. Sodden clothes still dripping from the night before were taken from hooks and arranged outside with the hope that they may dry a little in the gentle morning breeze.
To our relief the river was about a foot lower than it had been the previous night and now in the morning light our return across the water was a lot less worrisome. We all strided through with confidence. With the return river journey behind us we could now enjoy the landscape around us.
The Gameshope river has carved out a deep and impressive valley. Jagged rocks littered the steep valley walls making it feel as if we were in the depths of the Cairngorms rather than 60 miles South of Edinburgh. Bikes were fettled with, clothing adjusted and we were ready to set off and reset from the night before.
Today was a new day. What had been dark and miserable was now light and glorious. What had been a cold hike-a-bike in the rain was now a fun descent. What had been the end of a miserable ride to reach an unknown hut was now the start of a sunny ride and the search for hot coffee and soup.
Reaching the road signalled two things. We would soon be effortlessly cruising to a cosy cafe and that we needed to climb the great Wall of Talla. The Wall of Talla climb is notable due to its consistent 20% incline that drags you 500ft above the Talla Water Reservoir. This was no problem for Andrew who dropped to his lowest gear and spun off up the hill. For Euan and myself, who were riding without such luxuries, it was a case of pulling hard on the handlebars a lot, stretching our chains and a healthy dose of zig zagging.
Reaching the top we were certainly warmed up and with a welcome tail wind we were gently helped over the last of the climb. Soon we were tearing down the other side towards Megget Reservoir. The smooth tarmac descent was the first big reward for all the climbing that we had accumulated so far.
With the sun on our backs our clothes started to dry as we effortlessly whizzed through the countryside and we began remembering that cycling was actually kind of enjoyable. Although, we were unable to go as far as saying that the experiences of the night before were worth the niceness of this mornings riding.
The last climb before Innerleithen was dispatched quickly. As we rolled into town the rain started. No.1 Peebles Road Cafe was always on the menu but now it was a no brainer. Sat by the fire we tucked into soup, stew and eggs as the rain showers passed over. Our slightly damp clothing removed and sat near the fire to dry. We couldn’t have asked for better timing, when we re-emerge the sun had returned for our climb over the Granites.
This was the home straight, with tummys full of winter warmers and driven by the prospect of warm showers and dry clothes, we were soon descending down the other side. At this point I really didn’t feel that the previous night had been that bad. Sure I had been soaked to the bone and my nights sleep was cold and restless but now that I was (sort of) dry and warm my prior hardships seemed like an inconsequential part of the ride. Our bothy adventure was still a success but this is mostly because no one was swept away by a river in the night. It had been a test and as the three of us rode into the city we could all be happy to have completed it
*This is the same time the camera got packed away hence the lack of pictures
MAKE FIXED GEAR GREAT AGAIN