Tom Nash took on Natural Tweed – the final day of riding of the two-week long Tweedlove celebration. A chance to stretch the legs and look beyond the trail centre markings and the race tape in the trees.
Photos: Tom Nash / Ian Linton
It is from Natural Tweed that the Tweedlove Festival first spawned; a celebration of the natural beauty and open access laws that Scotland is privileged to enjoy. Course creator Andy Weir, director of Ridelines Mountain Bike Tuition based in Peebles, knows the local area like the back of his hand so I knew it was always going to be a special route, but not as spectacular as it turned out to be.
Natural Tweed is raw mountain biking. No downhill, enduro, cyclocross, dirt jumping or freeride tags and certainly “not a race”, the key element of this ride is all about riding bikes with a bunch of mates and experiencing the natural beauty of the surroundings. It’s a free event, supported by the Tweed Valley Bike Patrol, and put on to get people into the wilds without the worry of having to be a map reading ninja.
Heading out of Peebles along the hugely popular multi-use path, the sound of birdsong was piercing through the still air and the sheep seemed to be enjoying feasting on the lush grass that has sprung up like a jack-in-the-box after a period of relative warmth. Climbing up through Cardrona Forest, including a short beast of a climb that had lungs truly tested, a cuckoo joined in like a call to singletrack nirvana. And so we headed down Orchard Rig and into one of the most stunning glens I have ridden. Here the route split with an option to do one, or both, loops before heading back. The first loop had a real wilderness feel to it, taking me around the back of the infamous Innerleithen trail centre, out onto open moorland and past the remote Glengaber house. Previously a farm house and then used as a retreat for people recovering from drink or drug abuse, it is a joy that it is now being renovated back to being a stunning home.
Heading into The Glen, this 6km loop has to be one of the most stunning sections of lush, colourful and scenic areas anywhere, caveated with the fact it was a nice, warm, little-wind day. I can imagine that it is really, really bleak when mother nature wants it to be! Double track led me deeper into the glen with the local resident sheep obviously not used to almost 200 cyclists passing by, each one trying to stare me out as I pedalled on by. Looking across the valley, riders ahead were like small, multi-coloured ants, on a march down the track leading back from Loch Eddy. And then the singletrack nirvana arrived; not long in terms of distance, but a narrow rocky path that meandered down the hill and then emerged around a corner with a breath-taking view of Loch Eddy, still as a millpond. Idyllic, and it needed a moment of appreciation.
Back to the stables at Glen House, now the big climb started. Warned about at the rider briefing, this was a real test of climbing prowess as it reached a +28% gradient at its steepest. Cresting at the top of Kirkhope Law, now all I had ahead was a 370m vertical descent locally known as Gypsy Glen. This was breathtaking; with vistas over Peebles and beyond towards the Pentland Hills, this descent threw in rocks galore before turning into dusty, loose double track and then a very fast grassy path that dropped me down into the back of the town. Peddling back to the check-in tent, I thought back to some of the comments that I heard fellow riders say as I bumbled through the field; “amazing”, “that was fantastic”, “this is gorgeous”, “wow”.
Yes, it might not have had the glamour of The International expo or the excitement of a race, but this event is a real jewel in the Tweedlove calendar and I definitely recommend taking the day off next year!