On my previous long rides home day one has had some elements of drama or high excitement. Today went almost exactly to plan though and I was grateful for that. Mainly because this is Rachel's first ever multi day ride and she has added her own element of risk by bringing a bike she has never ridden before, a seat she has never sat on and shoes and pedals she has never worn. That could be a recipe for disaster and we might yet regret it later next week. For today though everything worked, Rachel finished with a smile on her face and there a no (further) grounds for divorce based on bike ride bickering. I realise that this will be an enormous disappointment to those who read my blog principally to enjoy a bit of schadenfreude as I lurch from one painful disaster to the next, normally caused by my inability to navigate and the truculant attitude of my Garmin.
We started our day by riding back into Edinburgh so Rachel could at least see the castle for the first time. Riding in the city centre isn't much fun given that it included a 14% climb up a cobbled street to the castle and so many potholes it induced a kind of hole calling tourettes in both of us. Compulsory castle photo shot completed, we headed out towards the coast before finding our first bit of off road for the trip along a disused railway line, the Pencaitland trail. In contrast to previous years where I have avoided anything that didn’t look like the freshly laid tarmac that suddenly appears in small towns ahead of a royal visit, this time I am actively seeking out trails and towpaths. We will be following National Cycle Network route 68, the Pennine CycleWay, which I selected because it is listed on Komoot as "The UK's Toughest Ride" (it is, look it up). Obviously I didn’t tell Mrs B this before she agreed to come. Or indeed before we started. She will only find out this when she reads the blog post for today. Anyway the route officially goes from Berwick upon Tweed to Derby, but we decided to start in Edinburgh principally so that I could visit the small village of Gifford, population 700 some 35km south of the city. Gifford is home to the Lanterne Rouge cafe which won Scotland's cycle cafe of the year award last year. How could I resist going to a cafe with the same name as my cycling club?
I contacted the owner in advance and told him I'd like to present him with a club jersey to hang with his collection on the cafe walls. He loved the idea but was bewildered why anyone would do such a thing. Obviously he has no idea how far I will go out of my way for an Instagram photo. (See last year's 85km diversion to take a photo at the town sign in Verden in Germany because it is twinned with Warwick.) This was only a short journey and it also became the first place all day another cyclist spoke to us. This was really weird. We passed loads of cyclists and as always, said hello, only to be greeted by stoney faced stares. Could they tell we were English? Are all cyclists north of the border Nationalists? Do they disapprove of bikepacking? Or perhaps are just irritated by people looking like they were enjoying themselves? In any case four students on a club ride pulled up outside the cafe all sporting kit from different University cycling teams and excitedly asked us about our ride. All four turned out to have 'home counties' accents but loved living in Edinburgh. Make of that what you will. Curiously while the cyclists have been unfriendly, car drivers up here have turned out to be respectful and patient. Except the ones driving Audi's obviously. They were reassuringly wankers.
Post cafe stop we headed uphill and the massive dinner plate gear on Aesir was called into action for a series of long climbs. The effort was worth it though. The 10km or so we spent riding along a thin strip of grey tarmac through hills of purple heather was definitely the highlight of the day. The photos are not going to do it justice. There was time for more tea and cake in Duns, yet another one horse town, before the final 25km of B roads into Berwick.
Pizza and beer await. All will be well. At least until Mrs B realises how much climbing she is going to be doing.