Katherine Moore

Exploring the Scottish and English Borderlands by bike — Borders 350

Geoff Holland

Exploring the Scottish and English Borderlands by bike — Borders 350

Mountain Biking Collection by Katherine Moore

Do you have a penchant for hills and history? If you’re looking for a challenging bikepacking route that’ll test your climbing legs while indulging you in the rich history of the Scottish Borderlands, the Borders 350 could be the one for you.

Hill bagging and ancient roads aside, this meandering 350 mile (563 km) route also takes in some of the most quaint and characterful towns and villages across Northumberland and the Scottish Borders, which contrast perfectly to the remote expanses of moorland, hill summits and isolated stream valleys you’ll ride.

Ideally you’ll need a mountain bike to tackle the Borders 350 route, although it can be done on a gravel or adventure bike with good tread on wide tyres if you are happy to walk a fair bit. There are some steep gradients on loose terrain too, so inevitably there will be some hike-a-bike no matter what bike you’re on!

Open Access Legislation in Scotland makes this route possible, so make sure you’re respectful of the environment and follow the Outdoor Access Code (outdooraccess-scotland.scot).

There are a number of free-to-use bothies, youth hostels, hotels, and guesthouses along the route if you’d rather not camp or if the weather is rough. Remember that this does not apply when you cross the border into England.

The best time of year to ride the Borders 350 is either side of the midge season, either late spring to early summer, or in September/October. It’s not recommended for the winter season due to potential severe weather and difficult terrain with the extra water on the ground.

Travel to Peebles, the start and finish point of the circular route, can be a little tricky as there is not a functioning railway station in Peebles. The nearest is in Galashiels, which is a 20 mile (32 km) ride away. Alternatively you could leave a car in or near Peebles for the duration of your trip. Find out more and plan your journey at scotrail.co.uk.

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

    Difficult
    08:34
    45.4 mi
    5.3 mph
    5,475 ft
    5,350 ft
    Expert gravel ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    The first stage of the official Borders 350 route will lead you out of the bustling Scottish Borders town of Peebles to the tiny Broughton village, a wonderfully indirect route covering 45.4 miles (73.1 km) which is a real sign of how this route will go on over the following stages.

    You’ll head down to the Ettrick Forest and touch on spectacular Loch of the Lowes before heading back north into Tweeddale.

    Start your Borders 350 challenge by hugging the River Tweed out of Peebles, south-east along the water before crossing to take the forestry tracks heading up into Cardrona Forest, climbing past Wallace Hill and up the steep inclines to the summit of Birkscairn Hill.

    Enjoy the stepped singletrack descent from this first summit of your trip, joining the Southern Upland Way to drop down to the shores of St Mary’s Loch. You’ll see clear blue waters for miles down the valley here as you follow the doubletrack road on the southern edge to meet the bridge dividing this water from Loch of the Lowes.

    Glen Cafe comes highly recommended here, a popular spot with walkers, cyclists and motorcyclists alike, with incredible views from their picnic benches over the loch.

    After a refreshing break, start to head up the western shore of St Mary’s Loch before peeling off left on the Border Loop to Megget Water. Take the valley gravel road before Cramalt Castle up and over Dollar Law, the highest point of this first stage. It’s a tough climb up here so leave plenty of time. At the steepest points you may need to walk and push your bike.

    A little descent leads you to the small climb up Pykestone Hill before a steep and thrilling gravel road descent to the next valley in Drumelzier on the River Tweed once again. Follow the quiet and beautiful paved Dreva road to the east following the Tweed, before looping back to the west from Stobo Kirk.

    The last part of the ride follows a singletrack trail up next to Easton Burn, climbing much more gently now. At Hammer Knowe the way turns to doubletrack for a short while, before the singletrack then takes you into Broughton village.

    If you’re stopping near here for the night, a short ride to nearby Biggar will offer accommodation options. Thankfully the Right to Roam legislation in Scotland means that you can wild camp freely in the countryside here, but make sure you follow the Outdoor Access Code.

    Difficult
    04:08
    30.6 mi
    7.4 mph
    2,950 ft
    3,275 ft
    Expert gravel ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Stage 2 leads south to the spa town of Moffat, famous for its unique toffee and for being the former hub of the wool trade.

    The route will cover 30.6 miles (49.3 km) and take you over Common Law, through Tweeddale, past Fruid Reservoir and down into Annandale.

    It’s a gentle start to the stage with a flat section on back lanes following the route of the Tweed Cycleway. The trail changes to unpaved doubletrack and soon tackles some short and steep gradients of up to 18 per cent as you traverse the lower slopes of Common Law.

    After following by Holms Water, push your bike up the steep gradient to pass between Blakehope Head and Middle Head, descending the moorland down to Stanhope in Tweeddale.

    You’re back on pretty flat territory for the next stint as you follow stream valleys and through Tweedsmuir woods to the village. The semi-paved doubletrack road leads you on to Fruid Reservoir, which together with Talla feed down into Edinburgh city. Skirt the northern shore before continuing south across Ballaman Hill and the Crown of Scotland hill, gently climbing this time.

    Take the Annandale Way off the tops and down into the valley on the singletrack descent, briefly joining the road before taking the parallel double track alongside the river and then lane into the town. In Moffat you’ll find plenty of places to eat, drink and stay - just don’t forget to try the unique tangy-sweet toffee while you’re here!

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  • Difficult
    10:24
    61.4 mi
    5.9 mph
    5,875 ft
    5,775 ft
    Expert gravel ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    It’s a tough start to stage 3, only a short distance to the river before the gradient ramps up pretty sharply. Make your way up Big Hill on the Southern Upland Way and complete your greatest ascent of the stage just after breakfast!

    In total on this stage you’ll cover no less than 61.5 miles (98.8 km), the longest of the eight stages on the Borders 350. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time here and are well stocked for food and water at the start.

    The Southern Upland Way you follow is a mix of single and doubletrack, summiting near Ettrick Head next to Wind Fell. From there, you’ll descend sharply to Over Phawhope Bothy, then more gradually down the Ettrick Water valley.

    After passing through Ettrick village, the next climb is up through Craik Forest on double track forestry roads. Despite the sharp initial incline, the path then contours around the major peaks, down around Sauchie Law and heads east towards Craik.

    Before you reach the village, pick up the Romans and Reivers route which will lead you steadily up Craik Cross Hill. Gently descend to ride into the Eskdalemuir Forest, more fast double track roads helping you to cover this stage’s large distance. The last trail takes you around Stennieswater before dropping off the hillside to Arkleton.

    There’s no accommodation options in Arkleton, but of course you can wild camp nearby thanks to the Scottish Right to Roam. If you’re looking for a bed for the night, take a short ride south to Langholm where you’ll find a handful of options.

    Difficult
    04:34
    30.9 mi
    6.7 mph
    2,675 ft
    2,425 ft
    Expert gravel ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    After the mammoth third stage, this 30.9 mile (49.7 km) ride will be quite a relief, no doubt! This stage takes you to the little village of Kielder at the north shores of Kielder Water in Northumberland National Park, having passed by the Newcastleton trails and crossed the English border.

    The doubletrack out of Arkleton will be a heavy start, ramping up constantly to the peak of Auldshiels Hill. Descend to Tarras Water and follow the gravel road east to Newcastleton in the next valley.

    From the village, take Dykescroft Road up into the forest in the direction of the Newcastleton Seven Stanes MTB trails - you might even see some fellow riders here!

    Take the forestry roads once again past the stane and down to the stream which marks the English and Scottish border. Follow along it on the Reivers Cycle Route heading north east and cross into English territory when you leave the water to head due east.

    Pick up Bloody Bush Road near Akenshawburn and descend gently to the west shore of Kielder water, tracing the reservoir’s edge heading north to the village. Here you’ll find not only the castle visitor centre and cafe, but several accommodation options from hostels to campsites and inns.

    Difficult
    09:28
    53.9 mi
    5.7 mph
    4,950 ft
    5,350 ft
    Expert gravel ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Another big stage is on the menu today, stretching 53.5 miles (86.1 km) across the northern borderlands of Northumberland. Start by climbing out of the village and onto Forest Drive, a long gravel road summiting at Blakehope Nick Overlook. Do take a minute or two to explore here! Follow Forest Drive down Blakehope Burn and into Redesdale, then turn left on the road to Byrness. Turn right after the village onto the paved road and climb through Redesdale Forest. Join the Pennine Way at Croquet Head and head north into the heart of the Cheviot Hills.It gets really quite remote up here. If you need shelter in rough weather then pop by the Yearning Saddle mountain refuge on your route here. The Pennine Way takes you over Lamb Hill, Beefstand Hill and Mozie Law, before the singletrack descent of Cock Law, reaching Bowmont Water in the valley. Start to climb past Sourhope village, where the tracks heading north lead you back to the Pennine Way once more. Reach the top of your climb near The Curr peak, before a fun and rocky descent on singletrack to Burnhead. From here you follow the gently descending road to Kirk Yetholm, the official end of the Pennine Way.Take this quiet lane now to skirt around the northern extremity of the Northumberland National Park, before the last stint into Wooler town along a singletrack way at the Humbleton Hill. Wooler is a beautiful little town which you’ll no doubt enjoy, with plenty of places to quench your thirst and appetite, as well as find a place to rest your weary legs for the night.

    Difficult
    04:19
    28.0 mi
    6.5 mph
    2,825 ft
    2,575 ft
    Expert gravel ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Phew, stage 6 is the shortest of them all! At just 28 miles (45 km), you can use this day as a bit of a rest for your tired legs before tackling the final two stages. You’ll stay south of the border on this ride before returning to Scotland for stages 7 and 8.

    This route generally heads south, albeit wiggling to cover some great trails en route. Make sure you have plenty of supplies on this stage, as there are few facilities on the route.

    You’ll pass back into Northumberland National Park to start the stage, climbing toward Broadhope Hill on singletrack. It’s really surprising how quickly you can leave behind the cosy bustle of the town behind and find yourself in the wilderness once more.

    The next challenge is to climb Harthope Burn - a rocky, technical and sometimes steep path. Don’t be baffled if you have to push your loaded bike here! After that effort, you’ve now earned a very long and fun descent, following singletrack trails off Langlee Crags, past ‘The Dod’ and down to the road, passing along Admiral Avenue and finishing your descent in Brandon.

    Join the Pennine Cycleway (komoot.de/collection/888214) here along the beautiful River Breamish, leaving the village of Ingram behind to start another off road section. Take the path past Cochrane Pike on the edge of the Northumberland National Park, up and over into Prendwick.

    The last section is on quiet back lanes, which gradually climb to lead you to the village of Alwinton. It’s a pretty little place with a few rooms at the Rose and Thistle Inn here - make sure you book in advance to secure your place.

    Difficult
    08:42
    54.8 mi
    6.3 mph
    4,875 ft
    5,050 ft
    Expert gravel ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Rejoin the Pennine Cycleway to start the penultimate stage of the Borders 350, where you’ll be riding 54.8 miles (88.2 km) to the Scottish Borders town of Hawick. It’s a pretty hilly day, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time.

    Start by climbing into Kidland Forest on fire roads, joining the Border Country Ride up Clennell Street gravel road. Descend off the tops into Upper Coquetdale, down the glorious Usway Burn trail.

    Continue to contour around Shillhope Law before crossing the hills heading north west to Hownam. It’s a wild world up there, following an ancient way known as ‘the street’ before the sharp doubletrack descent into the settlement.

    Enjoy a more gentle stretch next as you follow the paved road alongside Kale Water, climbing gently through Chatto and Sunnylaws. Cross the water at Dere Street to head north again, where the road crumbles into remote double track once more up and over Plea Shank and Rashy Knowe.

    Turn onto the dead straight road heading north west now to close in on the spectacular town of Jedburgh, the mighty abbey visible from miles around. Do take some time if you can spare it to take a closer look inside.

    For the final leg of the stage to Hawick, climb up Black Law from Jedburgh and steam down the other side with a steep descent to Bedrule. Once you reach the River Teviot, you follow the banks all the way into the town of Hawick, where you’ll be greeted by a number of establishments where you can eat, drink and rest the night, all in preparation for the eighth and final stage.

    Difficult
    06:20
    32.8 mi
    5.2 mph
    4,400 ft
    4,175 ft
    Expert gravel ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    With breathtaking views and stunning singletrack sections, this final stage makes for an awesome conclusion to the Borders 350.

    Covering a modest 32.8 miles (52.8 km), you should have enough time at the end of this stage to celebrate completing this challenging long distance bikepacking route, and arrange your overnight stay or onward travel. You’ll leave the town of Hawick to come full circle (albeit a very oddly shaped circle) back to Peebles where you started, what might feel like a long time ago!

    You’ll find yourself on a paved road heading up Drinkstone Hill to begin with, which soon turns into a fun doubletrack climb to the summit on the Borders Abbeys Way. You continue in this direction to join the road into Ashkirk, then take the Cross Borders Drove Road through the forestry to lead down to Ettrick Water, where you’ll find the town of Selkirk.

    Here’s a good place to stock up on any goodies you might like to keep you going for the final leg, where you first take the Corbylinn Road climb up to the Three Brethren, an impressive stone monument at the hill summit. Hopefully you’ll have a clear day as the views from here are incredible.

    Rumble along the tops for a while as you join the Southern Uplands Way and the Cross Borders Drove Road, a beautiful singletrack path across the moorland. The descent starts from Minch Moor down toward Traquair.

    Continue along the Cross Borders Drove Road, taking the steep gradient over Kirkhope Law before your final descent into Peebles. Even though you may be tired and sore, this last descent is as good as any other on the trip; fast, rocky and technical down from the moorland to civilisation once again.

    That’s it, well done. You’ve mastered the Borders 350, now go and celebrate in one of Peebles’ great cafes or pubs!

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    8
  • Distance
    338 mi
  • Duration
    56:30 h
  • Elevation
    34,000 ft

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Katherine Moore

Exploring the Scottish and English Borderlands by bike — Borders 350