John Grimshaw, the founder of Sustrans, and David Gray, designer of Sustrans’ C2C way-marked trail in northern England, from the Irish sea to the North sea, are working on a feasibility study to examine whether a former railway line in the Scottish Borders can be turned into a scenic traffic-free trail. Part of the line was built in 1895 to take equipment and materials for the construction of the Talla reservoir, which supplies water to Edinburgh. This 9-mile side trail was used as a railway line for just 10 years and was fully dismantled by 1912. It punches a route through hills with views over to Arran and the Lake District. The full 20-mile trail – the former Symington to Peebles line – starts in Biggar and ends in Peebles, close to the mountain bike park at Glentress.
Grimshaw, a civil engineer and the former chief executive of Sustrans, now acts as a trail building consultant, and Gray runs holiday company Chain Events. The pair have been commissioned to carry out the study by the Upper Tweed Railway Paths, a community body seeking to rejuvenate the local economy. The C2C, created by Sustrans in 1994, has consistently attracted over 15,000 riders every year with an average daily spend of around £40 each. In its wake the trail – not all of it traffic-free – has stimulated the seasonal opening of tea rooms, cafes, bunkhouses, and transport support services.
Gray is originally from the Scottish Borders, riding his his first bike on the newly disused railway in front of Peebles Hydro in 1966. His grandparents ran the Traquair Arms Hotel in Innerleithen, today the location for another of the Borders’ mountain bike parks.
If the feasibility study for Upper Tweed Railway Paths finds that the trail’s bridges and tunnels are safe to use the local community group intends to campaign for funds to secure the trail’s future. Much of the track bed is intact despite being sold off to thirty-four different landowners following the Beeching rail cuts in 1965. One highlight of the trail is the 500m Neidpath tunnel that allows cyclists, horse-riders and walkers to avoid a busy stretch of narrow road into Peebles. In the early part of the 20th century, Nobel Prize winning scientist C T R Wilson used the tunnel – after traffic had ceased for the night – to conduct cosmic radiation experiments with his cloud chamber.
The new off-road route would link in to the existing Tweed Cycle way.
Gray said: “It could enhance other local loops and also broaden the type of cyclists visiting the Borders, beyond the seriously-able downhill mountain bikers.”