Hard to believe I know, but It’s been three whole years since our last
debacle expedition. As far as I remember (with an aging, wine soaked memory), the last ride Walney to Wear was pretty wet, and thus, at least we have continuity. That’s right, the main feature here is water, and plenty of it ; that which commeth from above – RAIN. Add to that steep climbs and very unpleasant illnesses, and there you have another couple of days of masochism…..
Driving from Wylam to Annan was uneventful, pretty dry and with splashes of sun. The closer we got to Annan however, things looked less pleasant, with the gloomy black clouds to our west becoming more threatening. Annan was a pretty run-down little town that had clearly seen better days – but to be fair, so had we all.
The départ was to be from Annan harbour, and as you can clearly see, this was a thriving, prosperous, hive of enterprise. Strangely, it wasn’t actually raining at this point, but don’t let that disappoint you, it soon kicked in and got the riders nice and wet.
The first meeting point was scheduled to be St. Mungo’s House. Unfortunately the good saint was keeping a low profile (well, if your parents had been cruel enough to name you Mungo, you would too), neither I, nor our intrepid adventurers could find the damned place.
Perhaps it was a blessing from Mungo, but we actually had a phone signal – a very rare event on these rides – we therefore agreed to carry on and meet in Millhouse Bridge for our packed lunches.
At this break another feature of the ride made itself known – the crackling of Mike’s nut bag. (No sniggering at the back please). He managed to make a big bag of nuts and fruit last the whole ride – for energy he reckoned. As usual Steve stuck to his spartan regime of (semi) legal gels and energy giving “substances”. Roger’s diet of almost neat Ribena seemed a more enjoyable one to me.
While the rain continued to fall, our next rendezvous was to be in Moffat. This turned out to be a pretty OK little place. It had a bakery and several pubs, although there were many closed and boarded up places. It looked as though Covid had been the last straw for many struggling businesses, and they’d never reopened after the lockdowns. Sadly an common experience in our weary little island.
We therefore met in the car park at the back of The Buccleuch Arms Hotel. This had actually been selected by Mike as our first overnight stop. Sitting in the car park, it became clear to me that The Buccleuch was a magnet for big, butch, hairy motorcyclists. Thankfully, Steve had intervened earlier and booked us elsewhere, so we were able to avoid such ruffians. What they’d have made of Mike’s nut bag is anyone’s guess.
Next stop – the Devil’s Dumplings (please refer to Miriam Margolyes in Black Adder). This highly trumpeted landmark and viewing point near Moffat is actually called The Devil’s Beef Tub. Obviously a much more sensible name (??). It was touted as a wonderful viewing point for the local geography and topography of the Tweed valley. A-hem.
As you can see, it was actually very dreek and the mist clung to the hillsides tenaciously. Whatever breath taking views there were, were avoiding us just like Mungo. There was however a thoughtfully placed tourist information plaque at the viewing point. This utterly failed to explain, or even mention, The Devil’s Beef Tub. Instead it rambled on about Robert The Bruce sticking it up the English – which is a good thing after all.
By this time the riders were pretty soaked, and the long steep climb had them tired looking. Accept that is for Mike. His new electric bike gave him a bit of a smug look, as he cruised up the inclines almost effortlessly. Envious eyes were cast upon his equipment (oooh matron !). The possibilities of his bike exploding in the night and burning us all to death was hardly mentioned really.
After cycling on further to complete the climb, I collected their wet carcases and we set off to Beattock for The Stables Inn. Luckily we weren’t lodged in the old stables – which looked a bit rough, but on the top floor of the main block. This of course gave the riders an opportunity to moan about carrying bikes up stairs. After a couple of pints and a few bottles of red to wash down the (rather good) pies, they were ready for their beds. I was sharing with Steve, and when we got back to our room at 9:30, he put on the TV and was asleep in seconds. However as he’d had to turn on all the radiators to dry out his gear, the room was like a sauna by midnight.
Starting day two at The Old Stables, the weather report looked a bit better, with only scattered showers, compared to the previous day’s continual rain.
Our first meeting point was at Rachan Mill.
The weather was better, with more sunshine breaking through the cloud. More Ribena, crackling nut bags and drugs were taken on-board. Then it was off to Peebles.
The next meeting point was the main car park next to the River Tweed in Peebles. This had the great advantage of several public toilets. However these required 30p for entry. Who has cash these days ? Luckily Mike scraped some up (cash that is). Thus preventing Steve having to give the gentlefolk of Peebles an unpleasant alfresco mooning experience, due to the previous night’s VERY spicy buffalo wings, but we did warn the coastguard anyway.
Next stop was intended to be a nameless viewing point on the tiny B7007 – now, if that doesn’t sound like a disaster, I don’t know what does. However, while a disaster did occur, it wasn’t the expected one. Finding no where for a safe stop, I carried on up a very long steep climb and waited for them. At this point it’s worth noting that Roger (“I’m down with the kids”) had shown us how to “drop a pin” using WhatsApp. This therefore let them know exactly where I’d managed to find a safe meeting point.
So, this is where the disaster occurs. Gentlemen know that, as far as bladder related issues are concerned, we have it easy compared to the ladies when attempting to take our ease in the wilderness. So, you take particular care of wind direction etc., before letting forth. Of course then the wind knows this, and immediately reverses direction and double it’s strength, resulting in very wet trousers. Luckily I had another pair in the boot, and had to change them in the rain, while waiting their arrival.
Our next meeting point was another one impossible to find by car – very narrow lanes, none of which seem to be on the proper map or Satnav, while the paths on the cycle route map don’t exist on the proper map. At least that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking with it. Eventually the riders found a country house called Arniston House near Gorebridge and waited for me, this turned out to be no more than 200 metres from where I was waiting.
After a pleasant hour or so ride, we met up again near the delightfully named Bog Road. At this point sore limbs (and bums), meant we loaded up into the car and set off for The Craigie Hotel at Penicuik. A nice 30 minute drive on minor roads in the sunshine. On arrival, dropping the gear and bikes into the rooms – on the third floor with no lift !!, thence to the bar for refreshments.
At this point it’s worth noting that Roger has invented a new way of making us feel ever so slightly embarrassed at the bar. He insists on drinking a lemonade with a lager top – Sandra really needs to have a word here. This was made more acute by the surrounding local clientele, who seemed mostly to consist of pissed Scots “ladies”, who were very leery and loud – it was a hen do of course. Luckily it was too cold outside for them, so we had a bit of peace.
Another very good dinner with plenty of red was enjoyed before another early night – the old men just don’t have the stamina now. It’s from here that my own personal experience very quickly plummets off scale. Clearly something in the food was dodgy, as I awoke at 2 am and the world fell out of my rear. As it continued to do all night. The guys left me in bed and Mike drove them to their start point, comming back for me and then driving to the end point of the ride at South Queensferry. From here he rode off to meet the others so they could complete the ride together. Luckily there was a good, clean loo very near the car park, otherwise it would have been even worse for me. The constant smell of fried fish was not at all helpful however.
In summary, it was actually another very enjoyable time spent with interesting things to see, and enjoyed in good company. Clearly, less rain and less food poisoning would have improved things a tad, but wouldn’t it be dull if everything went well. Nietzsche suggested that pleasure and pain were inseparable ; There is no pleasure without pain. Nietzsche knew a thing or two, as Monty Python told us : “There’s nothing Nietzsche couldn’t teach ya ’bout the raising of the wrist, Socrates himself was permanently pissed”. Now that’s what I call Philosophy.
Next year we have vowed – well I have anyway – to start planning earlier, and to try and be wherever the bloody rain isn’t.