The last day of our Scottish holiday began in a B & B in Melrose. The night before, on examining the “What’s on” folder in our room, we found Christopher Rainbow’s Tandem Hire, operating out of a tiny hamlet near Jedburgh. This was only a short drive away, so we decided to give it a go. We booked the tandem by text message and received a return call pretty well straight away to confirm the booking.
We arrived at Timperdean Cottages before 10 a.m. and were greeted by the sight of three Thorn tandems on the lawn, leaning against stakes. Chris appeared and was immediately surprised that a potential customer had heard about Thorn tandems. Jan decided on the softest saddle available, we selected the largest tandem, Chris supplied us with an under-scale laminated 1:50000 OS map of the area and we were off.
The weather was bright and sunny (from our experience over the past week, Scotland sees little else!) and this time with a pleasant fresh breeze blowing away the oppressive humidity of much of the previous week: in other words, perfect cycling weather. We headed north-east to begin with, and then turned off the busy A68, ignoring a sign saying “Private” and cycled through the grounds of Harestanes and then crossed the B5400 up a fairly steep hill heading north. I engaged the lowest gear, and we twiddled away for quite a long time before going down the other side. There were occasional protests from behind, sometimes because of the steepness of the hill, at others because I was allowing our steed to gather such momentum before slowing our frequent, swooping descents.
We took a right turn towards Fairnington, through an avenue of massive beech trees, and then meandered our way towards Roxburgh. This was something of a disappointment as I expected Roxburgh to have rather more there than it actually had, a pub at least. My misunderstanding was based upon having remembered that David Steel, the Liberal Party Leader from the 1980s, represented the Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles constituency and I thought that somewhere that had an MP ought at least to have a pub. Attractive though Roxburgh was, it was not an active commercial centre on a Sunday morning. There was a buzzard and a heron, though, and the River Tweed was flowing nearby, so there was some compensation for our unslaked thirsts.
We returned via several tiny hamlets called Rutherford something-or-other, where barley was being harvested, finally entering St. Boswell’s via the A68. We didn’t like the look of the big pub on the main road, so went through the village, expecting some other hostelry, but again were disappointed. After a bit more meandering, we found our way to the most elegant Dryburgh Abbey Hotel. We were dressed in our scruffs, but still we went in and were given a warm welcome. Jan chose a fishcake, I opted for the smoked salmon, and we sat outside on a seat overlooking the River Tweed as we did our best not to allow the wasps to share our lunch.
I was conscious that time was getting on, and it was about 3 p.m. when we left the hotel. I knew that we had about another 15 miles to go before we handed the tandem back to its owner and that at least 3 hours driving lay ahead of us before we reached our bed for the night in deepest Salford. We headed towards Whitelee, as I was not keen on riding on the A68 again. There were, of course, some more hills to climb, and we did this with a fair bit of straining and the occasional graunch of the derailleur as we put too much stress on the chain and I mistimed the changes. However, we didn’t get off, and it wasn’t too long before we were turning the corner from the B6359 towards Ale Water.
Here, the lack of detail on the map made life a little tricky: the road deteriorated to a rutted, stony track before fording the Ale Water and we didn’t feel confident in tackling the steep climb afterwards on such a rough surface, so the next 200 yards or so were the only walking we did. Once it resumed its status as a road, we found that the wind was behind us and we really cranked it up on some of the downhills, now gathering sufficient momentum on the rather wider road that we could keep up our pace much of the way up the hills as well.
We saw a sign saying “Ancrum 4” and it was barely 15 minutes later that we were speeding into the village. Imagine our delight on coming across the pub, so obviously open for business. We bought drinks, and that was an extra special reward, as Kildonan Ale, brewed by the An Teallach micro-brewery in Dundonnell, was being served. Apparently, the brewer comes from Ancrum and visits his mother every month or so, filling the car with barrels each time he makes the 250 mile journey from Wester Ross.
After a brief conversation with a local, we downed our pints and were on our way again, for the last mile or two back to Timpendean Cottages. We paid Chris his money (£35 for a day’s tandem hire) and left triumphant. The total ride was little short of 40 miles and there had not been a single complaint from my trusty stoker. It was at least double her previous longest ride and now I’m going to have to buy a wide, soft saddle to replace the Brooks Flyer which I had thought would be the ideal choice.
Our route can be found at http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=334036