CYCLING A SCOTTISH C2C: SOLWAY TO FORTH
Steve Dyster set off from Annan, with Richard Peace’s guidebook to the Scottish C2C in his pocket, and arrived safely, having consulted it on several occasions, at the southern end of the Forth Bridge. In between were two days of cycling during which the weather was as wildly varied as the scenery, only much more changeable.
Signed, for the most part, with its distinct logo, the Scottish C2C follows sections of the NCR, with some traffic free sections (mainly around Edinburgh), as well as a mixture of quiet lanes. The long ride form Moffat to Broughton down Tweedale is on the A701. In my experience this isn’t an awfully busy road, but do expect some logging lorries moving at speed and the odd occasional pulse of traffic.
Things get busier as Edinburgh’s commuter belt is reached. There’s more traffic on the roads, but more traffic free cycling, too. At the time of my ride, in April 2019, there were a number of construction projects on the route., so expect even more.
At the time of writing the guide-book, there were hopes of improving the approach to Peebles using an old railway line and viaduct. Sadly, there’s no sign on the ground of these hopes being realised. Mind you, the ride round the back of Cademuir Hill is fabulous, though at the expense of a moderate climb and an extra couple of miles.
The total route length is 125 miles on the shorter route; some twenty miles more via Dumfries. Don’t expect it to be flat. Annan to Moffat is more or less undulating; Then there’s the ascent past the Devil’s Beef Tub to the head of Tweedale; the Tweed broadens rapidly, but don’t expect the road to be flat all the way down; from Innerleithen the climb over the Moorfoot hills is steady and long rather than steep; thence it is mainly downhill to the coast.
Choices and choices
Starting on the Solway Coast, with the difficult choice of heading for directly north for Moffat, via Annandale, or taking the longer options and riding along the coast, past Caerlaverock Castle, to Dumfries and on to Moffat. There’s a long, rough, off-road excursion through the Forest of Ae on the way, too. I’d done that – mind I’d cycled up Annandale before – so it was the shorter route that won.
Start at either the harbour in Annan, or down by the Solway at Seafield at the northern abutment of the former Solway Viaduct. Whichever, it is not long before Annan is left. The River Annan is crossed and re-crossed. The peaceful hillside pastures eventually begin to give views of higher hills, which arrive a little before Moffat, and then enclose the road.
Annandale is not remote, but it is worth noting that the only opportunities for sustenance before the bright lights of Moffat, are off route, most obviously in Lochmaben. At least, stock up in Moffat. There’s no chance to do so after that until Broughton, again, just of the main route.
The long climb up to the Devil’s Beef Tub – brought me above the snow-line. The road was fine, despite sleet, hail, and more snow borne on a stiff easterly wind. Take your time to gain the reward for your effort by taking in the view and having a look at the various monuments that stand along the roadside as far as the source of the Tweed. Amongst these is one to two postmen, carrying the mail to Edinburgh, who died in a snow storm. I pulled my jacket tight. Remember that, even in spring, the moors should not be taken lightly.
Amongst the grand scenery of upper Tweeddale, the derelict Crook Inn is a sad sight. Hopefully, the community-based project will come to fruition and it will reopen in one form or another. If it does, please spend some money there.
My aim was to get to Innerleithen that evening – making it easy to complete the route and cycle back into Edinburgh for a train home. Broughton, or on route Peebles, would make equally good overnight stops in Tweeddale. Peebles, will be the choice on many. Bustling streets lined with fine buildings and a sparkling river make it an attractive spot.
Peebles also sees the start of a traffic free section to innerleithen – with some roads through Cardrona. Beyond Innerleithen, there’s a long steady climb over the Moorfoot Hills. Long, winding, and remote, you’ll probably feel that you are creeping over the landscape like an ant on a supermarket car park. I did.
There’s no bailing out up there, but the views are tremendous, especially on a clear day – I am told – once over the second top. The descent is wonderful – seemingly interminable, with some deep, narrow valleys and some attractive villages. Tempting to rush towards the coast, but take a bit of time to enjoy the ride down to Dalkeith – even when the roads get busier – and reward yourself with a cuppa in town and a look around Dalkeith’s interesting mix of buildings.
For much of the way since Innerleithen you will have been following NCR1. In fact, at times you’ll follow various NCN routes and this can, rather did, occasionally prove confusing. Never fear, they all head in generally the right direction – just about.
The Firth of Forth
When the gates are open, the C2C goes through Dalkeith Palace Country Park. A smashing way to link the town to the delightful River Esk Path. Dalkeith Palace was once the ancestral home of the Dukes of Buccleuch. Far from being the only wealthy aristocratic landowners in southern Scotland, they do seem to have had more than enough ancestral homes; Dalkeith Palace, Drumlanrig Castle, Bowhill House, and down in Northamptonshire, Boughton House.
The lovely River Esk Path arrives at the sea, along with the river, in Musselburgh. From there is a kaleidoscope of what the coast of the Forth has to offer. Pleasant views are followed by the sandy beaches and sea front cafes of Portobello; a mixture of cycle paths and main roads takes one into historic Leith, and on to industrial Granton – with its bizarre lighthouse – and eventually to delightful Silverknowes and the beautiful little haven at Cramond, with its ancient bridge. No need to rush to the end, though. The River Almond at Cramond is worth a pause or two – refreshments, weir, wooded banks, harbour, old iron-working site.
I’d cycled through the grounds of Dalmeny House before (on a great Dad and Lad trip from Glasgow to Edinburgh). So, going off route, I followed NCR1. Frankly the only good reasons for this are that it is asphalt surface all the way and that it runs close to Dalmeny station (frequent trains to Edinburgh or across the Forth Bridge).
The route through the Dalmeny Estate is rough in places, but never bad. I was on a road tourer with 700x28 tyres. Passing the great house, one can see why the spot was nabbed by the nobs for a private residence. Glimpses of the firth through the trees, pleasant woodland, and the looming bridges, pas the time.
Since Musselburgh you’ll have noted sections of cycle route with a large population of pedestrians; Portobello seafront, through Victoria Park and on the cycle paths in Leith, along Silverknowes and into Dalmeny. Take your time and ring your bell is my mantra in these situations. Mind you, it wasn’t easy as the headwind of yesterday now blew me along at a fair old rate with barely a turn of the pedals.
Underneath the Arches
One will eventually arrive close to a pier of the Forth Rail Bridge, just next to the ideally sited Honey Pot Café. Perfect, although there are others just a little way on in South Queensferry. For me, it was tea underneath the arches, so to speak, before turning into the wind and following NCR76 and NCR1 all the way to Waverley station. That took about an hour at a gentle pace; train from Dalmeny is a bout 20 minutes.
Stopping to buy spare inner-tubes at Annandale cycles, in Moffat, I chatted with the owner. He suggested that a shorter and better route direct to Innerleithen – avoiding the ‘busy’ A701 – was to head along the A708 toward Selkirk, passing eventually, the Loch of the Lowes, St. Mary’s Loch, band turning north at the Gordon Arms, to arrive in Innerleithen after a climb and a descent. https://www.routeyou.com/en-gb/route/view/6104987/cycle-route/locally-suggested-alternative-to-scottish-c2c-moffat-to-innerleithen
Some cyclists in Innerleithen agreed with this view; “altogether a handsomer and pleasanter way to go, and you come by Traquair House and its brewery.” The choice is yours – miss out the Devil’s Beef Tub, Tweeddale, Peebles? Out of interest, I’ve cycled in the border a good deal, but never between the Gordon Arms and Innerleithen. Both routes have their merits.
The guidebook, Scottish C2C Guide by Richard Peace, published by Excellent books, is reviewed here. Full details of just about anything associated with the route can be found in the guide.
Steve stayed at:
Annan; Rowanbank House, 20 St. John’s Road, Annan www.rowanbankhouse.com 01461 204200 Owners Andrew and Angela do a fair bit of cycling themselves and know how to look after bicycles and their riders. My bike was securely stored, along with theirs, whilst I spent the night in a comfortable room, setting off next morning after a hearty breakfast.
Innerleithen; The Cornerhouse Hotel, 1 Chapel Street, Innerleithen EH44 6HN https://www.cornerhousehotel.com/en-GB01896 831181 Bed, breakfast, dinner, and a chat in the bar, was order of the day for me in this friendly, happy, hotel. My bicycle was stored with the beer, whilst I had a comfortable twin room.
Steve paid for his own accommodation and food throughout the trip, apart from a wee dram for the road paid for by a friendly pub-going cyclist whose brain he had been picking one evening.
PUBLISHED APRIL 2019