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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