A bikepacking residency

Two weeks ago I attended an event at Abottsford, the home of the world-famous Walter Scott. An inspiring place by itself, but the event, hosted by MBTAG, the new Midlothian Borders Tourism Action Group, brought people together that came there with the mindset to change things. The idea behind the meeting was to identify what the Borders and Midlothian have to offer, and understand what can be done with partnership work to improve the offering for visitors. 

A short jump back in time, I can still picture myself in a cafe with Kim Harding, director of the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, talking over a cup of coffee how I could help the festival becoming more ‘dirty’. Mountain biking didn’t feature to a great extent in the festival, and I volunteered to change that. What followed were weeks of riding trails, first finding a good off-road route east of Edinburgh, then discovering the Lammermuir Hills, and after all this was finished there was a trail called the Capital Trail. Those few months in 2015 exploring the Scottish Borders, East Lothian and Midlothian were an utmost exciting time. And the final feedback for the Capital Trail encouraged to do more.

I sit here typing this, able to call myself the first person that has cycled around the world on a bikepacking setup. I love sharing my experiences, but while I understand the need of everyone asking the question what’s next, I have probably disappointed most people with not having the next massive trip up my sleeves.  Instead I am happy to retreat to a much more local perspective, developing bikepacking in Scotland. For that very reason this website exists.

I was intrigued when Teyl talked about the Ale Water Valley at Abbotsford. Another hidden gem in the Borders, and while I have possibly been there in my time on the road bike, I certainly haven’t explored it’s potential for bikepacking. We got to chat briefly on the day and I was delighted to find an email from him the next day, asking if it would be interested in looking for cycling opportunities in the area. Without knowing too much about the area I said yes. The reason for my yes was Teyl’s quick approach and his presentation at the meeting. I could picture a few very engaged people that want to make a change. Not just talk. That’s the environment I love, so I said yes.

A few days later Teyl drove me around the region, and I was blown away how beautiful some parts of it are. While I still haven’t even had a look at a map I am pretty sure I’ll find ways to create a bikepacking adventure in there. Four lovely tucked away villages, friendly locals, chatty cows and superb views. All I need to do is to take my bike and explore.

Teyl sweetened the deal with offering me a week in one of the cottages on the Whitmuir Farm. While I am out riding and exploring the region during the day, this will give me the chance to reflect each night and work on the route, and update you on the progress here. It’s possibly the first time since returning from the round the world trip I have the ability to kick back and do so, another reason why I am really looking forward to this.

As part of the week I will speak on 28 Mar at the New Woll Estate about my trip around the world (tickets here), and I will also make sure to check out the excellent food at the various local places. This will be as much about the riding and adventure as it is about engaging with the local community and creating something new by combining existing stuff in a new way This is the essence of bikepacking for me.

I am pretty sure the week in the Ale Water Valley will be a unique one, watch out for updates here.

(Markus)

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