Lammermuir Hills

Catching the early morning train from Durham, it was drizzling with rain as the friendly station staff helped me tuck my touring bicycle and luggage into the guard’s car. “I hope the weather improves for you”, he said, which was a lovely blessing indeed. Just an hour later and the clouds had lifted a little as I disembarked at Berwick-upon-Tweed.

My route planning was to ride the shortest distance to Edinburgh, and therefore to ride over the Lammermuir Hills. In the planning stages for this ride I had thought of following the coast but it seemed that most options used the A1. I don’t want to cycle on the A1. I wasn’t concerned about the hills as the route was merely 90km and I had all day to ride it, this is afterall, a holiday.

First things first; ride down to sea level and have a look at the harbour. I couldn’t easily make it to the red and white lighthouse as cycling on the wall is not permitted and I didn’t know how else to get there. I satisfied myself with being at sea-level.  Then back up the hill to leave Berwick-upon-Tweed behind, and it is always a pleasing surprise to look back and see how quickly I’ve climbed a long way from sea level.

Just outside Berwick-upon-Tweed following the A6105 I found the England – Scotland border.  Crossing the border into Scotland didn’t require me to show my passport, for which I was grateful.  It is nice to visit another nation within the same country, I always found it a significant moment to be passing over either the Welsh or Scottish border.

I was conscious of the signs by the side of the road warning Bikers to be careful, and that speed and cornering too fast can result in accidents and injuries. I wondered if choosing this route had been such a wise idea for a Saturday morning.  The reward for choosing this route though, was the gorgeous leafy lanes and little distinctive bridges. 

As I came out of one leafy section I would find myself in a plateau of floodplain type flatland which had been turned over to cattle grazing, and all the while there were large hills surrounding me.

I’d seen St Agnes on the map and wondered what it would look like on the ground, as I have friends in St Agnes, a small coastal village on the North Cornwall coast.

Whiteadder reservoir is just beyond St Agnes, the front of which is hidden among the tress and the road climbs a 14% gradient next to it. The road itself was smooth enough for an easy climb; and once over the top there are good views of the top of the dam and the far bank. As I rounded a corner the rest of the water opened up before me and I saw a small sailing club. Like the reservoir outside Halifax, it at first seems strange to have a sailing club so far from the sea, at the top of a hill. On reflection though it makes sense; presumably a great place to experience windy sailing conditions.

The day, however, was not particularly windy and I cycled along in bright but overcast conditions. The climbing continued, the hills became more lonely and the distant haze which prevented me seeing far increased my sense of isolation. Looking down on to Whiteadder I saw a fish jump clear of the surface and then splash back down. A wind-farm in the distance was barely moving, the tips of the blades sticking above the hillside like the spikes of a fort.

The haziness turned to drizzle as I crested the final hill and in the rush of the descent turned to rain and splattered against my chest. From the warmth of the climbing a moment ago I was starting to get cold very quickly, so when I saw a sign by a little bridge with the words, “Cafe Open”, I diverted right and bumped my way along the dirt track. The potholes in the dirt had recently been filled and I rode past fishing ponds with Anglers hunched over the end of their fishing poles along the bank.

The cafe itself was a small portacabin; and my ‘cycling-specific’ clothing caused a murmur of surprise and humour as I walked through the door, I was keen for a mug of coffee. I was also tempted by the excellent looking “Scotch Pie” and was not disappointed. There were some sly glances at my bicycle and then the inevitable, “Have you come far?” There is no right answer to this question: people will be “exhausted”, “just thinking about it”. Nevermind that, it was an excellent place to stop, the coffee (instant) was hot and wet and strong, the pie was oozing with dark black gravy. Delicious.

I stayed long enough for the drizzle to ease a bit and then resumed my journey downhill. I dropped out of the cloud cover in a few miles and the sun came out again, in the distance I felt it might be possible to make out the coast. I continued to drop until I was in the middle of a very agricultural land and it reminded me strongly of the Tees valley; gently rolling hills, fields with golden crops and all interspersed with small towns.

I started to notice more cyclists now that I was thoroughly clear of the Lammermuir hills, and as the earlier profile shows, it is mainly downhill which helped me keep a brisk pace.  At Mussleburgh I detoured to the harbour, this gave me a nice feeling of riding from sea-level to sea-level.  Berwick-upon-Tweed to Mussleburgh.

From Mussleburgh to Edinburgh was fairly main road riding, and allowed me the chance to ride the A1 anyway, even though I’d wanted to avoid it.  By the time I was riding the A1 it was basically just another street in Edinburgh, but this was bringing me in north of Waverley station and my final reward for the cycle were two wonderful views of the city.

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