Thursday, 25 July 2013

Traquair to Biggar

I had expected a long day, with over 20 miles to cover, but I had seriously underestimated distances, and it proved much longer than I had thought.

My basic mistake was to assume that, at Traquair, I was almost in Peebles. Not so: it’s about 7 miles by the most direct route – and, since (sensibly, given the traffic) I decided to avoid walking along the B7062 by going past Traquair House and along the Tweed, more like 9 miles.

Traquair House
At least it was a more pleasant walk. Traquair House itself is impressive; there’s then a nice avenue down to a fishing hut on the banks of the Tweed, and a grassy track along the river. The only digressing sight was on the other bank, where the emergency services were attending on overturned car on the road from Innerleithen to Peebles. Not something one wishes to think too much about: cars can be dangerous.

After crossing the busy B 7062 at Howford into the woods, I failed to find the right tracks through Cardrona Forest, which was not surprising. It’s very difficult to navigate through woodland when the map shows unnamed tracks and not all of the possible routes. So it was back on to the B road, dodging traffic for a mile or so, before recognising the right way back into the woods. Then, after a fine view across the Tweed Valley, it was straightforward - apart from a point where a tracked wood truck was piling up logs alongside the drive and virtually blocking the way. It was all woodland walking, culminating in a tortuous descent to the car park at Kirkburn.

Just enough room to creep past on the right hand side
It was then back across the B7062, and a stroll through the Kailzie estate (no charge for walkers, despite it being a tourist attraction) beforfe havo9ng to take the B7062 again for the final push into Peebles itself. At least there was a pavement for the final stretch into town. Nevertheless, it was already well into the afternoon before I finally reached the beginning of the John Buchan way, another long distance path, which was my intended route for most of the rest of the day’s walk.

The first stretch is up across open moorland, and then around the flank of a large (but unnamed) hill. This, in retrospect, was really annoying: it would have been easier to have taken a more direct route to the point where one crosses the Manor Water. Looking back, it appeared that there was a path, but nothing is marked on the map, and no signs on the trail, and I am hesitant about taking risks across high ground, even if the weather is non-threatening.

The flank walk on the John Buchan Way
It was nearly 3:00 by the time I reached the bridge over Manor Water, where I stopped for a short lunch break. Then it was a further two miles (according to the signs) to reach the Tweed again at Stobo. It felt more like three: it was one of those stretches where one never actually seems to reach one’s destination, but simply to walk along the same contour without actually descending to the river.

The John Buchan Way then crosses the next range of hills, climbing to over 400m on the way to Broughton. The sign says I’s 6 ½ miles; the best part of three hours at normal hill walking pace. Quick mental arithmetic suggested that if I took this route it would be well past 9:00, and possibly nearer 10:00 p.m., before I finished the day’s walk.

The Tweed again at Stobo
So I elected the quicker; shorter, less interesting road route to Broughton. The initial stretch was along the fairly busy B712, but the major part of the route was on a very minor road with (fortunately) very little traffic. I felt vaguely guilty about missing out on the high route, and regretted the fact that I had started out later that morning than I might have wished, but since it actually started to rain I felt my decision was vindicated. Not that the rain lasted long, nor was it heavy – but it might well have been less moderate on the heights. And I did save an hour, reaching Broughton just before 6:00.

At Broughton it was a quick walk down the main road to the dismantled railway track to Biggar. It was now a fine evening, and I was able to make excellent, rapid progress over the five miles. Here there is no scenery to celebrate: just flat fields either side of the old railway and the canalised stream (Biggar Water) which it follows, and gentle hills rising on either side. There are power cables suspended from wooden poles along the whole route, so I found myself counting the paces between the poles, working out how many poles there are per kilometre, and carrying out other silly exercises all the way. Only on really dull bits does one resort to such devices!

Not much further to go! A helpful distance indication
on the old railway line from Broughton to Biggar
The final stretch into Biggar was across the local golf course. It was surprisingly extensive: I think there must have been 36 holes rather than the standard 18, though I didn’t investigate. Then it was the High Street, and the Elphinstone Hotel by 8:15. Just time for a quick shower before last orders for dinner – a well-deserved (and surprisingly well presented) sirloin steak.

Once again, I found myslef next to walkers – this time local residents, Ken and Heather. He is a photographer and owns a gallery next door to the Hotel; she makes jewellery. He walks whenever he can, and was very helpful in helping me plot the route to New Lanark for the following day.

My technology had failed me (insufficient battery life), so over dinner I worked out the distance I had travelled. I knew it had been a long day, but the actual figure – 43.1km – was a real surprise. No wonder I slept well that night.

Rain before breakfast, but clearing by the time I left at about 10:00 (which proved to be rather later than I should have started). Fairly bright for most of the day, though cloudier early afternoon – though the threatened rain never materialised.  17 to 22C. 43.1km (by map measurement); max altitude 303m; 578m of ascents; 525m descents. Partly grass or stony tracks (John Buchan Way), but around 11 miles of road work, and 5 miles along the old railway line from Broughton to Biggar.

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