Having left the country last month for some warmer winter cycling, February sprung a welcome surprise in the form of a brief spell of mild, sunny and calm weather. We took advantage of this to venture for the first time to the dead end at the head of Ettrick Valley. With no cafe that we knew of out there in the wilderness, we set out prepared with a picnic to have at the halfway point. What a thought – it’s still only February and we’re planning a picnic!
Our trip started out in Selkirk, aiming to pretty much follow the Ettrick Water upstream as far as the public road will allow, which was a full 25 miles. Despite the forecast showing warm, sunny weather for mid-day, it was quite chilly and overcast when we set off, so a full four layers were required.
We left Selkirk on the A708, passing the Waterwheel Cafe before turning off left onto the B7039, crossing Yarrow Water. A couple of miles later, we joined the B7009 and met up with Ettrick Water again.
As we closed in on Ettrickbridge, the route became a bit more undulating, at which point some de-layering was required. We stopped at the bridge, where Colette removed her top layer and squashed it into her saddlebag. By the time we’d reached the top of the climb through the village, Colette realised she’d left her camera on the ground next to the bridge and forgot to pick it up again after the luggage reorganisation. Luckily I was there to sail down and bring it back, while she waited.
A few more miles further up the valley, the view opened out and the cloud began to lift as the sun burned off the morning mist. We were on the lookout for one particular horse, which Colette always likes to stop for, to say hello. It’s a Clydesdale or similar type of heavy horse which you don’t tend to see very often, and a very impressive beast it is too.
Carrying on past the yurts, we arrived at a junction where we would normally go right, heading towards Innerleithen. Today we were going to head straight on for the first time, but before that, we paused for a quick cup of coffee from our flasks and a wee snackette to keep us going.
A bit further on, Colette called out from behind “Is that a pub?”. We had just gone past the Tushielaw Inn, but I had only just clocked a white building, no more. Rather than stop and go back, I suggested we investigate on the return leg.
Ignoring the next left turn, which would have taken us in the direction of Hawick, we carried on following the Ettrick Water. In places, the road had the feel of a proper highland glen, with damp, moss-covered ground between the trees, which were draped with lichen.
By this time the sun was shining warm and bright, illuminating us and the hills to our right in a golden light, while the mist hung on above the wooded hills to our left, making them look dark and cold.
We passed through Ettrick and quite a large caravan site with a shop (good to remember that), after which habitation became pretty sparse. The road was freshly resurfaced towards the head of the valley, which was a bonus.
Towards the end of the road, the flat-floored valley became less wide until it formed a simple steep-sided V-shape with the river, now just a burn, running along the bottom. The public road then stopped at a turning place, though a gravel track continued beyond. I had read that there is a bothy maybe half a mile further on. I had imagined that we might continue that far and have our picnic there if the track seemed suitable and/or the bothy looked to be in a picturesque position. However, the bothy appeared to be situated next to a quarry, so we just stopped and broke out our sandwiches at the turning place.
The sun was beating down surprisingly strongly, forcing me to strip down to two layers during our lunch stop. It was lovely and warm and peaceful, and the M&S best sarnies (that we picked up in Gala on our way to Selkirk) were pretty good too. After lunch, the layers went back on for the downhill, bringing us back to Ettrick in no time.
We paused for a look at Ettrick Kirk then pushed on as far as Tushielaw Inn once more. On close inspection, it turned out that the inn was open, so we popped in for a coffee. For a moment, I thought it might make a good lunch stop for our Monday rides, but sadly it is only open Thursday – Sunday, at this time of year anyway.
After that, we retraced our steps fairly uneventfully all the way back to Selkirk. The sun stayed out for the return trip but it was starting to get chilly again by the time we returned. We can’t really complain, as the weather was a real bonus and we were delighted at the day’s ride, discovering a lovely new road that we will surely revisit soon.