27 March 2024 – Sa Calobra with Oliver, take 2


Ever since last year’s trip to Mallorca and Oliver’s first attempt at the Sa Calobra climb, he has been keen to come back and try it again. This time he set himself the challenge to become one of the elite few (hundred) Strava users who have completed the monstrous climb in under 30 minutes. To put that in perspective, there are over 139, 000 who haven’t reached this milestone.

To achieve this goal, Oliver has focussed closely on his fitness, training and nutrition, as well as garnering a host of super lightweight components to build up into an ultra-light climbing bike. Now we just had to get him to the bottom and let him go for it.

On the allotted day, we took a pre-booked taxi from our hotel to the aqueduct at the orange juice shack, a few miles short of Sa Calobra village. It was quite chilly after we exited the taxi, with damp patches on the road from some overnight rain that hadn’t yet dried out.

We set off at our own pace on the shorter Coll dels Reis climb on the inland side. I joined up with Oliver at the top, where I handed him a bag and he got rid of all kit that wasn’t absolutely necessary for his attempt into it, then stashed it in some long grass. 

The descent then started, making sure to keep it safe, and I stopped here and there for some photos. It was warmer, unsurprisingly, at the bottom compared with the top, and it looked like a lovely sunny day. We took off our descending outer layers, and I carried Oliver’s for him. I was going to carry his phone too, to relieve him of a bit of extra weight, until he realised that he wouldn’t be able to listen to music as he cycled, which was important.

At 10.05, after a final couple of photos, he was off, with me not too far behind. Then we passed the actual start of the climb and he accelerated into the distance. I pressed the lap button to keep an eye on the time, and also to monitor my own average watts during the climb, as it would be nice for me to try and beat my own personal best time as well.

At the steep part just before the viewpoint layby about a mile or so in, I had to push quite hard and noticed my average going over just over 200 watts. I thought if I could average over 190, I would stand a chance of a PB, so I was hopeful. 

The climb was pleasant in that it was sunny, but not too hot, the views were awesome as ever, there was very little traffic of any sort due to an early start, and I wasn’t finding it too much of a slog keeping the watts on target. 

I noticed the time creep up to 30 minutes on my timer then carry on to 32 and more. I wondered whether Oliver had made it, then a WhatsApp came in saying just “29.02”. He had done it, YESSSS.

I carried on with my effort, and although the watts were flagging a bit, I thought I still had enough to get my PB. At something like 45 minutes in, Oliver appeared on the descent, before turning round and catching me up. He then started with the words of encouragement, a bit like a sergeant major. It was effective though.

Rounding the steepest hairpin. Photo taken by Mallorca Cycling Photos.

After reaching the big “tie knot” turn and getting in sight of the long last straight, he shouted “Come on – 250 watts all the way to the top.” To which I gasped “I can only manage 210!”

However, when I looked down at my Wahoo, it was reading more like 250! The average started creeping up towards the high 190s. Then at the end I just went for it, seeing that I might just break 54 minutes. And I did: 53.39. Beating my old PB of 58.25.

Celebratory sub-30 minute photo!

Once I got my breath back, we headed back down to the aqueduct and we got ourselves coffees. I also thought I deserved a slice of an interesting looking chocolate waffle cake which turned out to be delicious and came with a gratuitous bounty bar balanced on top. Strange, but good!

Next we carried on past the Repsol garage and started the descent to Caimari. We were very much going against the flow, with hordes of cyclists coming up the way, and cars trying to overtake. There was one bus going the same way as us, which got stuck at a hairpin, waiting for four oncoming cars. We took advantage of a hiatus in proceedings as they looked at each other and nipped past the stationary bus. If we had waited, it would have been a very tedious descent, heavy on the brake blocks.

After Caimari, we headed for Campanet. Then Oliver decided he wanted to have a blast along the valley road, so we agreed to meet up at Bar 1919 in Puerto Pollensa for lunch.

I got there and looked for him, but Oliver wasn’t there yet. So I got a table and ordered a Coke. Oliver arrived a few minutes later, after following a bit of a detour. We ordered lunch: a chicken baguette for Oliver, and the usual for me: club sandwich.

Oliver’s meal arrived and he got started on it, but mine didn’t appear. We saw loads of club sandwiches arriving at nearby tables but not ours. It turned out they had somehow forgotten mine. Oliver was keen to get on and do more miles, and that had been my initial inclination too, but now I was scunnered. We just paid, then Oliver went his own way and I just bought a ham and cheese baguette from the Spar, which I took to my room to eat, and then relax with a beer. I was happy enough with my day and didn’t really need to do any more.

In the meantime, Oliver headed back the way and did the Coll de Sa Batalla climb, earning himself the accolade of 2nd fastest of the day, to go alongside his fastest of the day on the Sa Calobra climb. Not a bad day’s cycling I’d say.

Oh, and just to round things off, Oliver’s estimated time of 29.02 turned out to be officially 29.01. He was so close to breaking the 29 minute barrier, which did sting a little, until he remembered how much of an achievement his new PR was. Holding an average of 345 watts on that climb was epic!

Nerdy technical supplement

Oliver thought it would be a good idea to add some extra info for the benefit of anyone else who finds this and is targetting a PB on the Sa Calobra climb, specifically the sub-30 minute goal.

The general consensus is that you need to be able to hold 5 w/kg to beat the 30 minute barrier on Sa Calobra. There weren’t any 2000+ ft climbs locally to try that out on before going to Mallorca, but he had done that on Zwift, so the goal seemed achievable, barring some unforeseen incident, like getting stuck behind traffic (which was why we got there early). So the focus was on getting the watts up high enough and the weight low enough to make the equation come out to the magic 5. He made sure to be as aero as possible on the climb, and then everything else was in the lap of the gods.

  1. WATTS – Oliver’s Garmin recorded an average of 345 W for the duration of the climb. Checking out his power meter pedals against his Wahoo turbo trainer before the trip, showed they were reading about 1.8% lower. These results are within the stated accuracy from the manufacturers, so it is impossible to know exactly, but he might well have been averaging as much as 351 W in reality. So his w/kg average range was 4.9-5.0.
  2. KILOS – On the morning of the ride, Oliver weighed himself on the luggage scales in reception at our hotel, getting some strange looks into the bargain. All his kit was meticulously weighed too, so here is his list for the weight weenie fraternity… 
    Body weight: 70.25kg
    Bike weight as ridden including bottle with approx 100ml of carb mix: 6.6kg
    Kit weight…
    Shoes: 665g including heavy but comfy G8 insoles (100g)
    Helmet: 265g
    Glasses: 25g
    Bib shorts: 190g
    Jersey: 105g
    Aero arm warmers: 48g
    Aero socks: 50g
    Whoop: 28g
    iPhone: 262g
    Shokz open run headphones: 27g
  3. THE WIND – We definitely benefited from a tailwind but exactly how much is hard to know. Oliver sent this myWindsock data for the climb.  
  4. And lastly, for any more info, here is a link to his Strava activity


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23 January 2024 – Port de Bernia


Colette and I settled on the Costa Blanca as our winter cycling destination this year, and chose the Cap Negret at Altea as our hotel. We had been there once before in 2017, but it has been refurbished since, and we were keen to check out the revamped cycle facilities. Colette was also hoping the food quality had improved since last time, as she didn’t have too good memories of that aspect.

Well, when we arrived, it turned out that 10 cycling teams were already in residence and the bike storage spaces were completely used up. Luckily we were allowed to take our bikes up to our room and assembled them on the balcony. Note to anyone thinking of coming here at this time of year – make sure you have all the tools to put together your bike, and ideally bring a track pump, as you probably won’t get access to the hotel cycle zone.

After getting the bikes together, we just had enough time before dark to visit the local supermercado for essentials. Next, we got a chance to check out dinner, which starts serving at a cyclist friendly 6.30 pm. Maybe it was just for the benefit of the visiting cycle teams, but the quality of the food was so much better than we remembered, with plenty of choice. Even the desserts were tasty – none of those eye-catching but completely tasteless slices of cake that we’ve had elsewhere. 

If you like rubbing shoulders with pro cyclists at the buffet, then this is the time to go. We were particularly excited to recognise the Trek Baloise Lions at a table close to us, but made a point of not bothering them during their dinner time. Or maybe we were just a bit too starstruck!

Our first day was marred with a bit of rain to start with, but it never got too bad and then stopped completely about lunch time, but we didn’t venture too far from base in case it got bad.

The race passing Colette on the Coll de Rates

The next day, we took the tram to Gata de Gorgos and rode back over Coll de Rates. I decided to see it I could beat my personal best up the climb, only to be pulled over by police close to the top, in order to let a pro bike race pass through. It was the “Classica Communitat Valenciana 1969” and in the end, was won by top sprinter Dylan Groenewegen of Team Jayco AlUla.

Sunday was a day of rest, since we had bought tickets to see the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup race in Benidorm. It was a complete fluke that we’d booked the week that included this race, but since we’ve been avid watchers of the cyclo-cross for the past few winters, it wasn’t an opportunity that we could pass up!

We took the tram and arrived during the junior men’s race. After buying some obligatory souvies, we found ourselves a good spot, unfurled the Scotland flag and made ourselves as comfortable as possible. The flag was in honour of Cameron Mason, who we were cheering for, although to be honest, we cheered for everyone, especially those we recognised.

From top left, clockwise: Me with chopped up hot dogs and bacon on fries!; Colette sporting the flag; Michael Vanthourenhout; Wout van Aert (eventual winner)

We enjoyed the atmosphere and all the racing, apart from the moment when Cameron crashed in front of us. I hope we didn’t put him off. There’s no need for me to go into details of the races as I’m sure there are plenty of great write-ups out there already. I will just show some of the photos Colette took of the action.

From top left, clockwise: Tom Pidcock takes the lead midway through the race; Cameron Mason – come on Cam!; Tom Pidcock; Mathieu van der Poel

Right, after all that preamble, now I will get to the day of the ride in question. This was going to be a ride along an appealingly snake-like road through an area known as Pinos, leading to Port de Bernia at the summit. I decided that we would take the tram to Teulada to start, riding through Benissa before reaching the minor road into the mountains.

After leaving the tram, Strava routing quickly took us onto a busy dual carriageway, thankfully with a wide enough hard shoulder, which we used. It was a bit slow, being mostly uphill, until we reached a turnoff for Benissa. The map apparently showed us continuing on the main road though, so I stopped to look at another map to double-check. At the same time, another rider with distinctive Zwift kit paused just beyond us and I think was having exactly the same routing conundrum. 

In the end, both of us took the slip road, and followed signs to take us into the town of Benissa. The road through the town was uphill in the direction we were going, and still fairly busy with traffic, so we were relieved to finally get through and out into quiet countryside.

Fairly soon, we reached a sign describing the climb of the day that lay just ahead of us, i.e. the Port de Bernia. Zwift man had got there ahead of us and had taken his photo, so he left and we took ours. The climb is quite long at 15.2 km, but only with 2% average gradient. The climb starts out steady but not hard, then flattens out completely before a 3 km section of steep gradient, maxing out at 17% according to the sign.

Although the last bit was pretty scary sounding, I just parked it mentally and got on with enjoying the climb on a lovely sunny and calm day. I planned with Colette that I would stop every mile or so for her to catch up. That worked well, and we passed Zwift man again taking more photos of the views. Then he overtook us and we didn’t see him again.

The climb was very enjoyable, with plenty of twists and turns to keep the views ever changing; dotted with pine trees and distant mountains. After a while, we reached the flat area, and rolled along nice and easy, but sooner or later, the steep section was going to catch up with us. It did just round a sharp corner, with the road suddenly rising steeply ahead. I shouted over to Colette that the steep stuff had started, got into my lowest gear, and prepared for some hard work.

After a while, I reached the 17% section, where it was not just me who was slowed to a crawl, but other riders too. Once the gradient let off a bit, alongside the next kilometer marker, I stopped for Colette to catch up. When she appeared, she didn’t want to stop for a rest, as she had already had one further down, so we got on with tackling the remainder of the climb (still steep, but the maximum on this section was “only” 14%).

I stopped at the end of the steep stuff for my final wait. By this time, quite a few riders came past who were making a big effort up the climb. I think my shouts of “Bravo!” as they passed were generally well received, as they were certainly well deserved.

When Colette arrived, I congratulated her too, but feared she might have been thorougly sick of this climb by now. But the opposite was the case. She rated this as her favourite of the week, with better scenery than Coll de Rates for example. The good news was that we still had 2 km of the climb left, this time at very gentle gradient.

Before we reached the very top of the climb, we found a restaurant off to our right, down a short gravel path. The Bar Refugio – Vista Bernia was open and able to give us some light lunch. We had bread with aoli, cheese and ham and a small bowl of very tasty beef stew. The restaurant had a very impressive panoramic view over to the sea, although our attempts to photograph the view didn’t do it justice.

View from Port de Bernia

Next, we got back on the road and finished off the climb. There was a large group of cyclists taking a rest there and taking snaps of the views out west over the mountains. After the climb of the day came the descent. It was quite fun, but a bit more bumpy than your average road in these parts, so I took it fairly easy. It didn’t seem to take all that long before we were reaching the bottom, where the gradient eased as we approached the town of Xalo.

I checked the time, and we didn’t have a hope of getting back to the station at Teulada for the next tram. That meant we could take it easy and aim for the one after that, an hour later. So we stopped in Xalo for a leisurely coffee in the warm afternoon sun.

Cortado and Americano in Xalo

The next village we reached was called Lliber, with a very slow set of traffic lights that we remembered from when we passed through in the other direction earlier in our holiday. When they finally changed it was like a free-for-all of bikes and cars trying to get through as fast as possible.

The route I’d planned on Strava had 3 more smallish hills to cover, totalling about 600′ between them, taking us to and through Benissa. The roads weren’t as bad as the way out, but still quite busy with traffic and not too scenic. I would definitely work on improving the route if we were to do it again.

When we got to the top of the last hill, I told Colette it was downhill all the way from here. It usually isn’t, but the last 2 miles were a lovely easy freewheel back into Teulada, where we arrived with 15 minutes to wait for the tram. We admittedly did spend quite a bit of time waiting for and riding trams back and forth on this day, but it was well worth it, as I don’t think we would have had it in our legs to reach the Port de Bernia by bike alone.

I would definitely recommend the tram as a way to extend your cycling range for a couple. There is an apparent max of 4 bikes per tram, and we reached that on one of the tram rides this week, so you aren’t guaranteed to get on. Best go out with a plan B in case the tram is full…


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29 December 2023 – Bowbeat wind farm


With a good looking forecast for the 29th, Colette and I decided to head out for a bike ride. Oliver suggested we join him for a gravel ride up to Bowbeat wind farm, and Colette was keen, as it gave a chance to try out her new e-gravel bike off-road for the first time. She hurriedly got a pot of soup on the go first thing, then we headed off in the car over the Granites to get parked fairly close to the turnoff for the wind farm.


Oliver, on the other had, cycled all the way from home, as he needed the extra kilometres for his Rapha Festive 500. We met up then turned right, away from the Innerleithen road and towards Leithen Lodge. It was the first time that Colette had seen it, and she was very impressed by the orange-painted Arts & Crafts style house, which immediately became her favourite.

After the obligatory photos, we carried on, away from tarmac and onto forest gravel roads. It was pretty flat to begin with, although there were plenty of rain-filled potholes to dodge along the way. I felt that I was having to try a bit harder than normal, following Oliver, and Colette on her power assisted bike.

Oliver has really taken to riding gravel in the forests, as it gives a more sheltered ride during really windy weather when he might otherwise be forced to stay home on the turbo, and also because there are a lot of long, steady climbs to train on. The particular one he chose for us today is known on Strava as the “Bowbeat windfarm main climb”, and is 3.78 miles long, with 1001 ft of elevation at an average 5.0% gradient.

Once we reached the start of the climb, Oliver zoomed off, while Colette and I stopped fairly quickly for a photo opportunity. Colette set the assistance level on her bike to maximum and set off, soon to become an orange dot in the distance, which disappeared around the corner not to be seen for quite some time.

The weather for our ride didn’t turn out as we might have expected from the forecast. No clear skies, but instead low cloud with occasional fine drizzle. At 1-2 degrees C it was a bit colder too, but I certainly didn’t feel it on the climb, and had to unzip to let out steam!

One thought that worried me a little was that Colette, being in between me and Oliver, and without the assistance of a route map, might take a wrong turn. There is zero phone reception in this forest, so getting lost might not be easily remedied. Luckily, there were road signs pointing out the way to the wind farm, which happened to be the route we were using, and Colette duly followed them. 

As I approached the top of the climb, the gradient got that bit steeper, sitting around 10% for a lot of it. I was slogging along at a cadence of about 50 in my lowest gear, wishing I had a couple more lower gears to make things easier. It was a relief when I reached the top, alongside the first of the wind turbines, where I stopped for a rest and to get my bearings.

Although I had no idea where they were, Oliver and Colette were stopped maybe a quarter of a mile further on and could see me. They had continued that bit further, since Oliver wasn’t sure exactly where the Strava segment ended. Colette gave me a call (there is phone reception on the plateau of Bowbeat Hill) and told me to keep on going.

We joined up and took a little time to enjoy the scenery and take a few photos. Colette was buzzing, really happy with her new bike. She wasn’t entirely convinced with the bike for road riding, making her go just little faster overall than on her normal bike. But with these gravel climbs, it has made the difference between making it up and having to get off and push. It means she can get much more out of the off-road riding. 

From our vantage point at about 2000 ft elevation, we could see way to the north, over Midlothian and the Forth to the hills of Fife. To the south however, the top of Glentress forest was shrouded in cloud, so better photos will come on a return visit on a clear day. One feature that stood out very clearly though, was a short but unbelievably steep climb on the road ahead. Oliver said yes, we are going that way…

On my one and only previous visit to the wind farm, I had made my way up from the other direction, and so met this hill on the way down. It was so frighteningly steep that I wanted to stop the bike and walk down, but it was too late by that time, and my attempts at braking just locked up the wheels and started me skidding on the loose gravel. If I’d managed to stop, I would probably have gone over the handlebars it was so steep. So I had no choice other than to let go of the brakes, hold on, and hope for the best. Luckily I made it down, very quickly, in one piece.

This time, I made it up safely but much more slowly, by pushing the bike up alongside Colette. Meantime, Oliver powered up and reached the top just 2 seconds slower than the fastest recorded time for the climb!

After all that exertion, we had now reached the point where we could “relax” on the descent. It certainly wasn’t a particularly technical descent, but common sense dictated that you had to be on the lookout for patches of loose gravel and the like that might otherwise catch you by surprise. I would actually say that this route was one of the least technical gravel rides that I’ve done, and is easily suitable for any beginner (and that’s where I’d rank myself at my current level of practice).

We reached the flat section again and passed a group of cyclists mending a puncture. They indicated that they had it under control, so we waved and carried on past the lodge and back to the car, leaving Oliver to continue his own ride home. By the time he caught up with us, we were showered and had the soup warmed up just in time for lunch. Perfect timing and a perfect way to warm up after a very enjoyable ride.





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10 December 2023 – Cardrona gravel loop


A few months ago, while having a coffee at the No 1 coffee shop in Innerleithen, I was leafing through the shop’s copy of “Great British Gravel Rides”, when I came upon a quite short route starting right there outside the door. I took a wee photo of the route and made a mental note to check it out in the summer.

In the meantime, Oliver has got interested in doing gravel routes as a way to spice up his winter training, being a welcome change from doing the same old road routes in the rain. I suggested that we try this one out, as I figured it shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours (for me) to complete.

Oliver drove us down to Innerleithen and we got out the bikes on a cold and damp, but quite still day. Probably the type of day that would drive me to Zwift normally, but we were quite excited to explore this new route, and by the time we got going, we barely felt the cold.

We used the Tweed Valley cycle path to take us to Cardrona, and it was the first time that Oliver had used it. I warned him that he’d be constantly having to slow down for other users, but it was probably the quietest I’d ever seen, so we made swift progress.

After passing through the houses at Cardrona, we turned left at the roundabout, and right onto the back road to Peebles. After maybe half a mile, we came to a car park on the left, marking the start of the tracks through Cardrona Forest. A well-surfaced forest track called Kirkburn Road led off uphill to the south from here, so Oliver took off to get a good climbing effort in, while I went at my own more sedate pace, stopping for a couple of photos along the way.

Kirkburn Road

The climb lasted about 1.6 miles, before the route took us away from the excellent surface of the forest track onto more of a muddy singletrack. This continued up for a short while, before levelling off at a gate, where Oliver was waiting. He managed to take a wrong turn along the way, but still got there well ahead of me.

We were now away from forest, and had a good, although somewhat misty, view over to the valley and more hills beyond. From here, we descended gradually at first on a boggy grass track. I found it quite tricky on my gravel bike and managed to slip and fall a couple of times. This was terrain more suited to a mountain bike, but my lack of practice and skill were more likely to blame for my slow progress.

Oliver was making faster progress than me, so he waited for me to catch up where the track flattened off just before heading more steeply downhill on a grassy slope. As soon as I hit the wet grass, I could feel the bike slipping. Braking hard caused it to skid too, so I ended up riding tentatively down the slope continually pumping the brakes so that I didn’t pick up too much speed and get out of control. Looking back at the stats, I see that the gradient was over -20% for some of it, so no wonder I was a bit nervous!

A sight of the glen to our left, with Loch Eddy hiding somewhere near the top

Another gate took us via some easier road to Glen Estate and past a castle. After that, we began the second climb of the day. The slightly muddy surface of this road made it harder going than it might have been, although it didn’t stop Oliver disappearing from sight very quickly! Near the top, a nice view of a steep-sided glen was visible to the left, as was the road that would take us back the way a bit later on.

After we arrived at a shepherd’s house, next to a picturesque cascading burn, the path forward became less distinct. In fact, we just had to trust in the map and cross a burn in approximately the right direction before the path became visible. The terrain was grassy, bumpy, boggy again, so I gave my legs a rest and pushed for a minute or two till it started going downhill.

From there it was mostly ride-able without too much risk, but there were a few bits where we thought it advisable to walk the bikes. Oliver managed to fall off twice on this section, once rolling partway down a steep bank, but no harm done.

Loch Eddy

Finally, the tricky downhill section ended next to the bijou Loch Eddy, where our arrival scared off a couple of ducks. This looks to be a private fishing loch, the access road to which made for a much easier surface to continue our descent. Our gravel bikes were in their element here for a change.

At the end of the descent, there was a very short ramp to close off the loop past Loch Eddy and take us back to Glen Estate. My legs were feeling tired at having to climb again, and I was contemplating just getting off and pushing the short distance required, when I noticed my Wahoo telling me the gradient was 20%. Ah, that would explain the feeling in my legs then! I decided not to give up at that point, and slogged on to catch up to Oliver who was waiting at the top.

We then took the paved road away from Glen Estate in the now steadily increasing rain. With lots of water on the road, I might have been nervous on skinny road tyres, but I was confident in the gravel tyres keeping us planted. In fact, we were still having fun, despite being dirty and soaked through.

The final bit of gravel on the planned route would have been accessed by riding into the grounds of Traquair House, but since it was just a small stretch, we decided to keep to the road and continued our fast descent towards Innerleithen, adding a little more respectability to the average speeds.

We had both had a great fun day out, albeit at the expense of a lot of cleaning of bikes, clothes and bodies afterwards. We had also worked up a good appetite for lunch, and were very glad for the soup and rolls that Colette had ready awaiting our return.


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12 September 2023 – Newcastleton and Tinnis Hill


With a spot of nice weather in the forecast, it looked like a good time to go and bag another one of Simon Warren’s top Scottish climbs. This time, Tinnis Hill, starting from Newcastleton.

When planning the route, I noticed it was really quite hilly in the general area, so a ride of a shade under 30 miles would be plenty, as I wanted to make sure Colette would remember the experience fondly afterwards!

We drove down the A7 to Langholm and parked in the practically empty car park next to the river, then headed off south through the town and out as far as the traffic lights, where we went straight ahead onto a minor and quite bumpy road. A significant tail wind helped us initially, as we played postie piggyback along the undulating rural road. After a few miles, the postie reached the end of his round and turned back, but we carried on south, till we stopped to look at the view from a high bridge over the River Esk.

From there, we headed towards the A7, but cut off left just before onto a minor road that runs parallel, as far as the village of Canonbie. Our plan was then to follow the B6357 all the way to Newcastleton, but we had to stop and re-evaluate when we were faced with a Road Closed Ahead sign, with no suggested detour other than a vague instruction to “use the A7”.

A bit of checking on the Roadworks Scotland website showed where the closure was, so we were able to follow the B6357 as far as the crossroads at Harelaw, then take a detour to the right. The road as far as Harelaw included a couple of fairly steep climbs, but our detour started promisingly with a fast downhill, taking us over the border into Cumbira.  Then the road turned sharply onto a steep uphill, which finished with a stiff 16% gradient before levelling off a bit.

Our detour then took us left onto a single track road, with a bit more traffic than you might have expected, most likely due to similarly re-routed locals. The road was very undulating, but despite that, was delightful to ride along. The sun was shining and the views were superb, and we felt lucky to have been diverted along this way, which we would most probably not have chosen otherwise.

After a few miles, we caught sight of the roadwords on the other side of the valley. There were loads of vehicles working along quite a long stretch of road, meaning we’d have had no chance of being let through if we had decided to risk it. Beyond that, we could see the conical shape of Tinnis Hill: our after-lunch destination.

Here was me thinking it was all either up or down

Our fun detour road packed a little surprise in the shape of a couple of hairpin bends before we came to the final descent into Newcastleton. We turned right at the T-junction with the B6357 then on into the town until we reached the Olive Tree cafe. The cafe looked very busy, but luckily there were a couple of small tables free, so we were able to stop for a nice lunch with very enthusiastic service.

Once we got going again, we only needed to go a hundred yards or so before turning left onto Langholm Street. This is where the Tinnis Hill climb began, very quickly getting up to 12% gradient, taking us up and right, past the entrance to the local golf course. After that it eased a bit to something like 4-6% until about a mile in, where the road turned SW and then it flattened off a bit more. With a bit of a tailwind now, I went into the big ring and started to pick up a bit of speed.

It was a little frustrating to have to slow down and briefly stop a few times to let cars past on the very narrow road, but I did my best to put in a decent time (for me) on the segment, and stopped for a rest once I’d passed the end point at the cattle grid at the Borders / Dumfries & Galloway border. Tinnis Hill loomed large from this high vantage point, where over to the south, I could clearly see the Solway Firth opening to the west.

Once Colette caught up, we carried on downhill for a while across the moor, down to a small bridge, where the road began a final climb split up into two ramps totalling about 500 feet. This was a bit of a blow to Colette, who thought we were over after the Tinnis Hill climb!

At the end of the final ramp, we came to various memorials to the local poet, Hugh MacDiarmid, who loved the wildlife of the moors. The info board mentioned wild goats, which I might have noticed if I’d been looking around more. Luckily Colette saw them and stopped for photos before we joined up again.

Next, there was a fast descent which had to be taken carefully due to the blind corners, which brought us out on the A7 just north of Langholm. A quick pedal on the flat took us back to the car park, which was now busy and where an ice cream van was now in residence.

We quickly packed away and made for the van for a couple of cones. Unfortunately, this was the poorest ice cream I’d had in years, but still vaguely edible, and I was definitely ready for some, so I wasn’t going to chuck it away. We didn’t let that spoil the vibe, as it had been a superb day of slow cycling on undulating terrain through glorious countryside. We must explore this area further in the future.

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03 September 2023 – Tushielaw to Tibbie Shiels


When the day of Oliver’s first sportive ride approached (the Tour of the Borders), we were keen to go and support him somewhere along the route. With the roads being closed to normal traffic, there weren’t all that many places to choose from. However, I remembered cycling off-road to Berrybush from Tibbie Shiels, near St Mary’s Loch a good few years ago,  providing an option so that I could meet him as he passed the Glen Cafe over there.

We drove down to Selkirk, then up the Ettrick valley towards Tushielaw. I dropped Colette off at the junction just before so she could get a head start, then parked at the hotel and cycled back. From the junction, I headed uphill, but I didn’t catch up Colette till nearly the top. We then paused at the top of the climb by the Berrybush sign to find out how Oliver was doing, as he had activated live tracking on his phone. He appeared to be on the Devil’s Beef Tub, heading towards Moffat, making really good time. 

Colette and I now went different ways. I headed off-road into Berrybush forest, following the Captain’s Road off-road track. Colette didn’t fancy going off-road, so she carried on down the normal road to the crossroads at the Gordon Arms, a few miles distant.

Berrybush forest

My route continued going uphill for a while on gravel roads through the forest. It was a lot more open than the last time I passed through, as a lot of the trees had been felled in the intervening years. After the road topped out, it descended for a short while before coming to a gate.

Captain’s Road

After that, Captain’s Road became more of a grassy landrover track, heading quite steeply downhill. The views over towards St Mary’s Loch opened up for a very pleasant, if quite bumpy descent, with plenty of sheep randomly crossing in front, so that I didn’t want to let the speed get up too much.

The road flattened out at Tibbie Shiels, and after crossing the little humpback bridge, I reached the “Road Closed” sign close to the Glen Cafe. I chatted to some of the people waiting around for the riders to arrive, then popped into the cafe for a takeaway coffee. They were busy inside laying out macaroni pies for any of the hungry sportive riders who choose to take a refuelling stop.

Meantime, Colette reached the Gordon Arms crossroads to a round of applause by the waiting stewards. She chatted to them and told them that she was waiting to cheer Oliver on and to take a video of him riding round the corner.

By this time, Oliver was well beyond Moffat, and it didn’t take too long before he was closing in on my position. I was holding a spare water bottle that he had given me, in case he needed it, so I placed myself at the side of the road to hand it over. Pretty soon, a sole rider on a white bike came flying past and I started a stopwatch.

One minute and fifteen seconds later a group of seven riders flew past, with Oliver on the front. He shook his head, indicating that he didn’t want to take the bottle. I was glad of that, as it could have been a bit sketchy at the speed he was going. Then he was past before I could shout any encouragement or even tell him the time gap.

As the riders carried on towards where Colette was waiting, I started heading back up the Captain’s Road. The climb was fairly steep in places, but still manageable in my lowest gear. I actually really enjoyed it, and it made me think about getting back to doing more off-road cycling.

Rounding the corner at the Gordon Arms. Many thanks to the anonymous steward for this photo.

Meantime, Oliver’s group was closing in on Colette. She started taking video, but as they approached, she got overexciting cheering for him and ended up with a video of the road. Luckily, one of the stewards took a photo as they passed, and shared that with Colette.

By the time I got back to Berrybush, Colette was still on her way back up the climb from the crossroads, so I went down to meet her and we continued up together. We paused here and there to check on Oliver’s progress, and by the time we were at Berrybush again, he had finished, crossing the line in third place! 

Cows in no rush to move!

We only had a descent left to get us back to the car, but we had to stop halfway down, as there were cows lying on the road. They got up and gradually moved off when a car arrived. The occupants of the car had been on their way to Oban but had been redirected due to the closed roads. We discussed some options for rerouting with them before getting underway again and returned to the car.

The drive back was a bit frustrating as we were out of phone signal for quite a while before Colette managed to get in touch with Oliver to talk about his experience of the Tour of the Borders. He had a great time and took really well to riding in a fast-paced group, considering he’d never done anything like it before. The rider who was leading when we saw them, Chris Browell, worked really hard and stayed clear of Oliver’s group all the way to the finish. Oliver made a break for it as they closed in on Peebles, but he ran out of legs at the very end, and he was pipped for 2nd place by Nikki Elder on the line. What a great effort, we’re so proud of him!

[As an aside, the timing chip puts Oliver as 7th fastest around the course, as a quirk of where exactly you are in the wave of riders as you file past the start. But forget that, he finished THIRD!!!]



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5 June 2023 – Dyfi forest


As we haven’t been doing any rides worth talking about recently, I thought I’d go back to last month, when we were on holiday in Aberdovey, Wales. It was a bit of a family gathering, and Oliver and Kirsty and the boys came too. As well as bikes of course.

Oliver was keen to try out some of Simon Warren’s “Greatest cycling climbs” in the area, and there were a few within striking distance. We started by having a crack at the Dyfi forest climb.

We set out at 8.30am on another sunny morning, this being the middle of the early June heatwave of 2023. However, there was a fairly stiff easterly breeze to contend with, and we were heading east from the start.

Pretty soon, Oliver stopped to pick up a Red Bull from the local shop. I carried on, and sure enough, he caught me back up within a few minutes. The coast road we were taking was fairly winding and wooded for much of it, giving us a bit of protection from the headwind. I was a bit worried that the traffic would be heavy with us starting out on the main road at rush hour, but it wasn’t too bad, and everyone waited patiently till they could overtake.

After a while, we reached the top of the Dovey estuary and the turnoff for Machynlleth. We went straight on, and after the roadworks for the new bridge to Mac, we turned right onto a minor road, headed for Aberangell and the start of the climb.

The road was quiet and pleasant to ride along, with views of the Dyfi valley over to our right. Then we got a fright as a squirrel decided to cross the road just as we were passing. It ran right up to Oliver’s back wheel and then must have got caught up, as it span right round with the wheel, through the seat stays and down onto the ground on the other side. It then managed to find its feet and scurried away into the undergrowth. That was a close call, both for the squirrel and Oliver, as it could have ended much worse for both of them.

A bit later on, I needed a stop to take some painkillers, as I’d been suffering from a sore back for a few weeks. The bumpy nature of the little side roads had set it off again, but luckily the ibuprofen kicked in quite quickly and half an hour later it was forgotten about.

Oliver also took the chance to check our progress towards the start of the climb, when he discovered that we were heading for the finish of the segment, and therefore we were at the wrong side of the mountain. That caused a bit of consternation until I discovered that there were two Dyfi Forest climbs, one from either side. And I had plotted our ride based on the harder one!

The road started to get steep as we entered Aberangell and found our way to the start of the climb segment. I waved Oliver off, then settled in to do the climb at an easy pace. Perversely, as soon as the climb started, the road flattened off, then even went downhill for a short while, but it wasn’t long till I started to see warning signs for a steep road ahead.

I stopped at the bottom of a short dip to take a photo, but stupidly didn’t change down gear. When I started again, the gears complained loudly as I clunkily changed down all the way to my bottom gear.

It was very steep straight from the off, and soon reached 20% gradient in places. It carried on like this for over half a mile, before levelling off and giving me the chance to catch my breath a bit. I could start to appreciate the scenery of Dyfi forest a bit better now. Areas where the trees didn’t encroach fully on the road afforded some great views across the forest.

There then followed another half mile section where the gradient ramped up to severe again, till I got over the top eventually, and found Oliver waiting for me on the other side. He was pleased at finishing in the top 10 of the nearly 1000 people who have attempted it. 

Then we had the descent, where I would have preferred to have disc brakes for the steep drops. The descents were mixed in with short, steep bits of climbing too, with the odd stop to take photos. 

At one point, I hit a bump and my water bottle came flying out and skidded over to the left of the road. I stopped and walked back, noticing a steep drop into a ravine at the side of the road. Luckily my bottle was stopped from rolling off into the irretrievable deep by a clump of grass. I thanked my lucky stars then carried on to catch up Oliver, who was waiting at the bottom, wondering what was taking me so long.

We had reached the (ex-)slate mining village of Aberllefenni, which Colette and I passed through on a previous visit to Wales, and Oliver and I would pass through again later in the holiday on an even bigger and more climby day.

But for now, we were concerned about getting back to base. Our route took us through Corris, where we turned left and onto a very narrow road leading south. However, after Oliver had a close call with a car coming up the other direction, we bailed out onto the main road and enjoyed an easy gradual descent to the roadworks near Mac that we had passed through earlier.

Oliver knew that there was a near 10 mile segment coming up from the Dyfi bridge back to Aberdovey. He decided to go for it as an all-in time trial effort, while I took it a little easier and enjoyed the ride and the continued sunshine on what was becoming another hot summer’s day. When I caught up with Oliver at the holiday house, he a big smile on his face after clocking up another Strava KOM!



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07 May 2023 – The Bealach na ba!


It’s the summer of 1972 and I’m in the back seat of a black Austin along with my brother, sister and dog. My Dad is driving us the final few miles to our holiday destination near Applecross, while my Mum is screaming with her hands over her eyes. Those are my memories of the Bealach na ba, or the pass of the cattle as we knew it then. In the meantime, I believe the perilous switchbacks have been widened, and crash barriers installed, to make it safer but no less awe inspiring.

I have never been back, although since taking up cycling, it has loomed large as one of the bucket list challenges that we should try. But us getting older, and the advent of the NC500 (meaning that the narrow singletrack road is now busy with tourist traffic), have conspired to push it further back, to the extent that I believed we would never actually attempt it.

Then our son Oliver declared that he wanted to ride the Bealach. I accepted the challenge with some trepidation, while Colette politely declined. The plan was to go up on the day before, stay somewhere overnight, then get going bright and early next morning before the traffic built up.

That seemed like a reasonable plan, so we booked a B&B at Strathcarron a couple of months in advance, to coincide with a bank holiday. Only when it came to it, the forecast for the ride day was awful and the day before was good. So we switched it around, and got going early on the Sunday morning, arriving at Shieldaig around 11am. We drove on a wee bit till we found somewhere to park then got ready to tackle the ride.

I got ready before Oliver, so just set off and let him catch me up, which he did just as we arrived at Tornapress, at the foot of the big climb. We turned right, and I wished Oliver good luck as he set off, hoping to post a good time. I pulled in to let a camper van past, then set off much more sedately, passing the big blue sign that states all of the very good reasons that you should NOT be attempting to drive along this road.

After crossing the River Kishorn at sea level, the road took a left and began gently to climb. I soon passed the turnoff for Kishorn Port, which was developed to construct rigs during the oil boom of the 70s, and despite lying unused for a number of years since then, there is clearly something quite large being constructed there now.

The road then turned more inland, and it would be impossible not the be impressed by the majestic rocky peaks that appear in your view, especially on such a warm and sunny day. After about a mile or so, I caught up with a couple of heavily laden touring cyclists just as we came to a viewpoint. I decided to stop and take a few pictures, as well as take on a snack to keep me going.

By the time I got going again, the woman tourist was pushing her bike. It was going to be a long walk, but still doable in a couple of hours or so. Her companion was fairly far ahead, making good progress, and I very gradually caught up on him as I progressed and the gradients got gradually steeper and steeper.

I could see a bend in the road ahead, and once I finally reached that corner, the notorious switchbacks came into view, at the top of a long, straight and very steep looking section of climb. I was now into my very bottom gear, and wishing for a few more easier gears.

In fact, I had attempted to fit an extra small granny ring to my chainset, but when testing it, it had a tendency to drop the chain when shifting down from the middle ring (I use a triple). Reluctantly, I went back to the standard one, but at least it would shift reliably again. Triples can be tricky to get working right, while doubles are a doddle!

Anyway, about maybe halfway up the steep grind, I caught up with the male cyclotourist, who was tiring, and soon had to stop and push. I knew my number was up too, and decided as soon as my heart rate reached 180, I would start pushing myself. That didn’t take long, so I dismounted and began walking the bike uphill.

As I was pushing, I saw a figure in the distance at the top of the switchbacks looking down. I wondered if it was Oliver, and yes it was, as it happened. He had long since reached the top of the climb in a time of around 34 minutes, which sounded amazing to me, although he was expecting to do a little better. 

My heart rate gradually dropped as I continued to walk, and where the road flattened off a little leading in to the start of the switchbacks, I climbed back on the bike and got going. The rest really did me good, and I felt strong enough to negotiate the hairpins, but only by taking the flatter outside line. That did confuse one oncoming car when I moved over to the right side of the road on one of the bends, so I made like I was stopping at the crash barrier to look at the view till he was past me.

Oliver was waiting above me and shouted “get out the saddle” so he could get a better action photo. After I caught him up, he suggested we get some more photos at the viewpoint, but my Wahoo was telling me that if I continued, I could get a sub 1-hour time for the climb. So that’s what I did, pushing with what little strength I had left and Oliver urging me on, it was just like our Sa Calobra day earlier this year.

We paused at the car park at the highest point of the road and took some photos. Then it was time for the descent to Applecross. Oliver disappeared ahead of me again, while I took it easy, as my rim brakes weren’t as effective as his hydraulic discs. There were quite a few blind bends where you might need to scrub off a lot of speed very quickly if a car suddenly appeared coming towards you.

Then I felt a bit of a worrying side wind, so played it safe. I had to shake out my left hand a couple of times, as my fingers were beginning to cramp up on this very long descent. At last, I came in to Applecross and found Oliver waiting at the T-junction at the bottom.

The Bealach na ba was over and we’d survived! There was plenty of traffic to be negotiated, but it all went off without incident and we had some great weather to admire the scenery. If we’d decided to do the pass in wind and rain the next morning, there would have been fewer cars for sure but the fun factor would have been a lot less and the fear factor a lot higher!

Now we started the return leg around the coast road. This was constructed in the late 70s I believe, and it certainly wasn’t there during our 1972 visit, or else my Mum would have insisted we use it! It doesn’t go above 500ft, so being blocked by snow is less of an issue compared to the Bealach. However, it does go up and down a lot, and most of the day’s climbing was going to come from this section.

Oliver asked whether he might get lost if he went ahead, and I told him no, so he went haring off again. There was a decent tailwind here, so I felt like I was flying at times, apart from when hitting those steep little climbs, where you just went slower and slower till you needed to get into the bottom gear and grind up to the top.

The scenery was nice though and I was really enjoying the ride, despite the odd period of trudging, as it would inevitably be followed by a whizzy fun descent. I went on like this for an hour or so, then stopped to try and check in with Oliver, where I found my message wouldn’t send due to lack of reception.

A slightly longer climb took me to a picture postcard view over Loch Torridon, and just as I was stopping for a photo, Oliver called. He’d just got back to the car, while I was still about 9 miles short. I suggested he pack up and drive to Shieldaig for some refreshments, and I would join him there. I liked that, as it would shorten my ride a bit and I was getting tired.

A minute later he phoned again to say the car had a puncture. Oh no, so it was back to plan A. I would join him at the car and in the meantime, he would get the spare on.

Soon, I got to a bend in the road with a good view of  Shieldaig Island, making me feel that the end was in sight. However, the amount of up and down packed into the last mile or two of this little road was unbelievable. I was beginning to flag, so having to stop for a moment to let a mother duck escort her ducklings across the road was a welcome break.

A creaking noise from the cable guide under the bottom bracket was beginning to annoy me, and it was starting to have an affect on the crispness of the shifting at the back, so I stopped just before the T-junction at the end of the road to sort it out. If anyone had seen me turn the bike upside down and spit on it, they would have thought I’d gone mad! It did the trick though.

Next, I turned right and started the final leg back to the car. It was into the wind and mostly slightly uphill, so the last few miles seemed to drag till I finally caught sight of Oliver’s car with hazard lights blinking. Luckily, he had managed to get the spare on without any issues, so I just needed to help him get the wheel with the puncture stowed away in its place underneath. 

After that, it was off to the B&B to get showered and then a short walk to the Strathcarron Hotel to enjoy some beers in the still warm sun at the tables outside. There we could reflect on the day’s adventure, comparing it with our experience of Sa Calobra earlier in the year. 

The Bealach na ba and Sa Calobra climbs are very similar in terms of total distance and total elevation, and even the amount of time we took to climb them. However, Sa Calobra is fairly steady, while the Bealach is fairly easy to start and much steeper at the finish, which makes it by far the harder of the two.  

We ended the day with a gentle constitutional walk to ease our leg muscles, while admiring the mountains surrounding us. As ever, this part of Scotland, while the weather is kind, is very hard to beat.





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07 April 2023 – Kelso – Hownam loop with “gravel” sections


Today’s ride was based on the exploration of a stretch of road that has intrigued us for a number of years, and now we finally got a chance to ride it. Initially, I envisaged it as a narrow minor road, but a bit of research showed it to be a grassy offroad track. So for this we needed our gravel bikes. and I made sure to change the tyres on Colette’s to wider gravel-specific ones, as she normally uses this bike as a road bike.

We arrived in Kelso on a lovely sunny morning, with barely a breath of wind. The downside was it was a chilly 5 degrees C at the off, so we were well layered up. After the usual departure south from Kelso, we took a right at the Jet petrol station along Jedburgh Road. 

Once we reached the edge of town, we spied an unmarked opening on the right and joined a dirt track leading in the direction of Roxburgh. We have Lynne to thank for the chance to get this bit of offroad under our belts before the main event later on, as she sent us the info the day before.

The track, which is presumably a disused railway line, ran through woods for the most part, with occasional nice views over the the right. There was a little mud here and there, but with a few dry days, I’m sure it would become an easy, fast dirt track suitable for any bike.

After a while, the track opened out onto a viaduct over the river Teviot. There were good views up and down the river from here. Progressing over the other side, the track deposited us onto the road at the south side of Roxburgh. It looked as if we could drag the bikes up a steep slope here to get onto another ex-railway path, but my hastily drawn route took us further south along the road.

It wasn’t long before the route deviated back offroad, taking us through a gate into a grassy field. On the other side of the wall there, we could see a crow inside a cage, looking not too happy to be there. Maybe it was our sudden appearance that scared it, or maybe it had been trapped. Anyway, it looked deliberate, and it wasn’t our business, so we carried on through the field, following a track along the grass till it led us down to a gate. 

At that gate, we joined the other ex-railway path that we had seen earlier. This track was quite muddy in places, and our gravel tyres did not seem best suited for riding through the stuff. Luckily it didn’t last long before improving again. Then the track ended at a dismantled bridge, where we carefully walked the bikes down a steep slope to the road.

Here, we turned left and rode along with mud flying off the wheels as we picked up speed. A short distance further, we took a left over the Kalemouth suspension bridge. The bridge is currently closed to cars, but luckily open to walkers and cyclists, otherwise I’d have been completely rethinking the day’s outing.

After the bridge, we had a very brief dalliance with the A698 before turning off onto the B6401. We were now heading towards Morebattle on what is usually a pretty quiet road, but today it seemed more cars than normal were needing to get past us. When we arrived in Morebattle, we understood why, as scores of people were gathering for a very large funeral. It had crossed my mind that we might stop there for a takeaway coffee, but in the circumstances, it was better that we push onward.

Our next destination was Hownam (which we later found out is pronounced “Hoonum”), involving a couple of steeper ups and downs than we had been dealing with up to this point. Once we reached Hownam, we rode through until we saw what we were looking for: a left turn up a hill, with a sign saying that the road ahead is closed to vehicular traffic during the months of April and May. 

The first time we saw this, we though that spring would be the ideal time to visit, as we would have the road to ourselves, apart maybe from some lambs; lambing being the presumed reason for the closure at this time of the year. Well, the road only ran for a short distance round the corner till it came to a gate alongside a house.

Beyond the gate was a field with a 4×4 style doubletrack going steeply uphill. The sign we just saw seemed completely redundant. I mean, who in their right mind would want to drive a car up here at any time of the year? I know ours wouldn’t get very far!

In fact, this path is known as “The Street” and was an important drove road in days gone by. There was no point even trying to ride up this slope, so we both started walking our bikes. I was fully expecting to do some “hike-a-bike” on this outing, and was quite enjoying it. Colette, with her arthritic feet, wasn’t enjoying it quite as much.

We took a rest at the top of the first push, alongside a wood bounded by a stone wall. It was now time to deploy the emergency ham and cheese sandwich to keep us fuelled till lunchtime. It also gave us more of a chance to take in the surroundings, standing as we were, in the middle of the Cheviot hills. Running along the ridge a few miles to the south of us was the Scotland-England border. We hadn’t got all that far from the road, but already it was feeling very peaceful and remote.

As we moved on, the gradient flattened off and we were able to ride for a while. I did pause for a quick detour up a grassy knoll to examine a standing stone. We then approached a very muddy expanse, where I thought that riding through the puddle described by one of the wheel tracks was the best bet at getting over with the minimum of mess. As hoped, it had a good solid base and I made it over without mishap. Unfortunately, Colette stalled halfway through and ended up with wet feet, which wasn’t ideal.

After that, there was another section of pushing, taking us up to a three-way signpost. The Street carried on to the right, while we went through a gate in the direction of Belford. Shortly after that, the grassy track turned to a steep downhill, which both of us were able to negotiate on the bikes, making a welcome change to pushing. 

From the next gate, we did have to walk again for a wee while, till we reached a farm track that headed downwards, gently at first. It wasn’t the easiest to ride though, consisting of rounded rocks varying from grapefruit to football size, set in a soup of mud.

A remote ruined cottage appropriately named Seefew.

As we picked our way down, we were met by a shepherd and two dogs aboard a quad bike. We had a quick chat, and he seemed surprised that we weren’t riding mountain bikes. Yes, indeed that would be the sensible way to traverse this offroad section. He had some good news in that it was now downhill all the way to the road. The bad news was that it was going to get rougher further down.

Undaunted (speaking for myself anyway!), we carried on, alternately slipping on the muddy bits, then bouncing over the rocks. Eventually, I opted to ride the less muddy grassy edge of the track, and we made our way safely down to meet tarmac at Belford farm. The road to the right carries on for a few miles before reaching a dead end, although there are plenty of tracks beyond that to explore should we decide to return. However, we were more interested in going left in the direction of lunch.

The road ran mostly flattish with a couple of little climbs, as we rode alongside Bowmont Water all the way to Town Yetholm. We pulled in at The Plough hotel, parked the bikes and went into the bar, after first taking off my very muddy shoes.

The specials board looked very interesting, and we decided to try out some of the “proper” lunch options rather than just something lighter like soup or a toastie or whatever. Colette looked washed out after today’s offroad adventure, so I thought we both deserved it. She had macaroni with garlic bread, and I had the country pie and chips. The food was great, and I mean really top quality pub grub: far better than we could have hoped for. We will certainly aim to have lunch here again!

After lunch, we were feeling almost too stuffed to move, and meanwhile, the clouds had come over, making it feel colder and less inviting to get back on the bike. However, an easy tempo took us sedately up the hills between us and Kelso. Then once we reached the top of the last hill, the sun came out again, and we sped our way back to the car in no time.

As we looked back over our little excursion into the wilderness, Colette was quick to mention the term “Type 2 fun”, while I have to admit that I had a ball the whole way through! Maybe I should leave it a while till we try another one like that though.




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20 March 2023 – Sa Calobra with Oliver


Just over 6 months ago, our eldest son Oliver started asking to borrow bikes to do some cycling as part of a fitness / weight loss drive. Keeping track of his rides on Strava, it didn’t take long for him to start trying to go longer and faster on subsequent rides, and pretty soon he was hooked. In these intervening months, he has transformed himself into something of a road warrior with an ever increasing list of KOMs and top 10s to his name.

While Colette and I were in Spain last October, we realised that Oliver would love riding those super smooth roads, and challenging himself on the climbs. He jumped at the chance when we suggested a short trip to Mallorca at the end of March 2023, and was particularly looking forward to the Sa Calobra climb, which is must-do climb for pretty much every keen road cyclist in Europe.

So Oliver and I arrived in Puerto Pollensa for a four night stay, leaving Colette at home, as she didn’t want to hold us up. I felt bad about it, but Oliver was going to be holding himself back enough with me on his wheel, and Colette said now I know what its like for her to ride behind me.

We picked up our hire bikes on the afternoon of day 1 and had a bit of a ride around to get the hang of them. Day 2 began bright and early, as we needed to ride out to the Duva hotel to catch the shuttle bus at 8am.

After last year’s experience of the Sa Calobra express, I was keen for Oliver to take advantage of it too, as it allows you to get early to the Sa Calobra road and get it pretty much all to yourself. In fact, it turned out to be a very good idea, as we discovered from the bus people that the direct road (Ma-10) from Puerto Pollensa to Lluc was closed between the hours of 8am and 4pm for roadworks. The bus had to go via Inca and Caimari, then carefully up the Coll de Sa Batalla climb, after which it stopped at the Repsol garage.

Luckily, the cafe was open, so Oliver could borrow one of their track pumps for a minute to reinflate his front tyre after managing to lose most of the air from it with the defective pumps at the Duva while we waited for the bus. Then we were ready for the off.

This year, the drop off point was a bit further away from Sa Calobra, leaving us to cover the 5 miles or so past Escorca to the juice shack at the aqueduct where Colette and I started previously. We stopped at the viewpoint on the way there to admire the view in full sunshine, which was a lot clearer than last year.

The road crew were hard at work fixing the Sa Calobra road when we arrived

Then on and up the Coll dels Reis from the south side, leaving us the long descent down to the seaside at Sa Calobra village. I paused after a short while to look down on the roadworks where part of the road was washed away a couple of months ago. The supporting wall was being rebuilt, and to accommodate the work vehicles parked on the outside of the bend, the hairpin had been extended inwards, making the bend narrower and steeper. But the main thing was that it was still open for bikes (and cars).

Oliver and I both enjoyed the descent, in lovely dry conditions compared to last year’s wet roads. With only a couple of vehicles and one bike to be seen on the whole descent, we could use the whole road to find the best lines round the many corners.

Once at the bottom, we took a few minutes to get ourselves ready, then Oliver set off. Another of the cyclists from the cycle shuttle arrived and asked whether I was going to chase after him. I had to reply that sadly that was not possible, as Oliver was on a mission to beat his target time of 35 minutes to complete the climb. I was expecting to take somewhere close to double that time!

Both Oliver and I were using Strava live segments on our head units to monitor our progress up the climb. My hire bike was slightly higher geared than my own bike, which I brought last year. That meant that the climb felt a little bit less relaxed. I just had to keep an eye on my heart rate to make sure I wasn’t overdoing it, as there was a long way to go.

The display said that I was a few seconds behind last year’s effort pretty much from the off, growing out gradually to over 30 seconds. Then I squinted a bit closer at the display, and I was actually ahead, rather than behind, which gave a little boost. By the time I got halfway, it was looking like I’d have a good chance of beating last year’s time.

By this time, legions of cyclists, mostly in small groups, were now descending the Sa Calobra road, so I had to make sure to be well on the right as they zoomed round the blind corners towards me. Once I got to the final quarter of the climb, I was definitely feeling it a lot harder than last year. That bit of extra effort was telling.

Then Oliver flashed past on the descent, shouting “Don’t stop! Keep going!” as he tried to get stopped and turned around. He then caught back up with me to pass on the news that he beat his target time with a 34:35. I was very chuffed for him.

Now he placed himself in front of me calling out words of encouragement.  We arrived at the roadworks, where he warned that the hairpin was extra steep. And he was right – I had to get out of the saddle and put in an incredibly hard push to get round, as there was too much traffic oncoming to use the easier outside line.

I thought that effort might finish me off, but I managed to keep going up to the loop in the road and onto the final straight. As we got within 100 yards, Oliver called out “Sprint!”, but I was just too spent. Then with 100 feet to go, I went for it and completed the climb, stopping at the second Coll dels Reis sign and taking a long old breather. I had managed to beat the hour with a time of 58:25. This year’s climb of Sa Calobra was much less fun than last year’s but breaking the hour barrier made it well worth it!

We descended to the juice shack for a coffee, then carried on back to the petrol station. We decided not to have lunch at the now very busy cafe there, instead opting to descend down to Caimari. This was the first time I’d gone down this road, rather than up it, and it has to be said that the descent was very enjoyable. 

We parked our bikes outside a cafe in the middle of Caimari just as a large group was leaving, then found a table in the courtyard out back. Oliver asked for a menu, but the guy said no, we could either have pa amb olis or one other thing that I can’t remember (or more likely couldn’t understand). So we had ham and cheese pa amb olis (a local delicacy consisting of an open sandwich drizzled with olive oil) and reflected on our achievements.

From Caimaria, we took back roads to Campanet, where I spied a couple of red kites and tried to tell Oliver, but he had drifted too far ahead to hear. At the little supermarket, we stocked up on water, then headed down to the Campanet valley. I told Oliver to go ahead and have a blast, and wait for me at the junction with the main road.

Next, we turned left for a while, then right onto the lanes leading back to Puerto Pollensa. Oliver was keen to get some extra miles in, so he went off by himself in the direction of Alcudia, while I carried on with the maze of lanes, managing to lose my way till I got onto the coast road, which led me back to the hotel.

By the time I’d showered and opened a can of beer, Oliver appeared after taking a detour halfway along the Cap Formentor road and back, adding an extra 14 miles and 2000ft of climbing compared to my total for the day! After that day’s effort, we both had free rein to stuff our faces with the Puerto Azul hotel’s excellent buffet dinner.



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