The B7076 is a service road alongside the M74 in the Scottish Borders. It mostly seems to be the old A74, and links the towns of Gretna, Lockerbie and the wonderfully-named Ecclefechan (where the tarts allegedly come from, but no one there has Ecclefechan heard of ’em*), all the way up to Glasgow-ish, though I never seem to get farther than Lockerbie.
It’s also the dullest road in the UK (if you think I’m wrong, email firstname.lastname@example.org). I understand why it does get used so frequently on events, as it’s a useful road. It has very low traffic levels, it’s a direct link between towns, and at night, it’s well-provisioned with 24 hour services for the traffic flogging along the motorway. But I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough after riding it no less then five times this year. No less, and no more.
Naming and shaming – Westmorland Spartans 300, Tan Hill 600, Hot Trod 400, Mille Pennines 1000 and Border Raid 600, all of these rides included the B7076. At least Paul managed to find some pleasant lanes inbetween Langholm and Gretna on his Westmorland Spartans, so a big thankyou to Mr Revell for subjecting us to no more than a couple of miles of the B7076.
I’m being a bit (!) unfair, but I’m still sick of it. It’s a chewy surface, it’s just endlessly straight, with unchanging, soul-crushing views. Nevermore! Well, until next year, at least.
That apart, I did enjoy the Border Raid. Aidan Hedley organises excellent events. He even drove us to the pub the night before, and you know you’re in safe hands on his rides. Rider instructions included a list of fine places to eat en route so he has his priorities right. Aidan’s rides also start from the excellent Kirkley Cycles cafe-cum-bikeshop in Northumberland, where the owner Tim is a top bloke who let us camp the night before. Which gave me a glorious view of the sunrise:
Onto the ride, then. I’m a bit blasé about long rides these days. I know what I’m doing and I’ve enough experience to get away with making it up on the fly. So I let Dale faff and we set off after the main group. We independently decided to thrash past the airport and straight into Newcastle rather than along the official route (the rule of allure libre means you can take any route between controls), and this actually put us miles ahead of everyone else, though we didn’t realise it at the time, and I was keeping an eye out for cyclists on High Level when we crossed the Tyne Bridge.
The transit of County Durham is a familiar bit of navigation, and Dale and I were the first to reach the control at Richmond. Technically you can’t win an audax as they’re officially non-competitive, with maximum time limits to prevent racing, and times aren’t published, so each finisher is equal. This led to the famous saying, “there are no winners in Audax, only losers”. But we were winning! I had a train booked back from Morpeth at 5.15 on the Sunday, so I couldn’t dawdle too much.
We hung onto our lead down to Topcliffe, where Aidan and his team of helpers had laid on a huge spread at the village hall. I did my best to reduce the cake mountain.
It was getting hot by then. Someone said the temperature was as high as 27 degrees Celsius! Well, that is hot for me – I’m acclimatised to the UK’s eternal autumn, and 15 degrees or so is perfect, thank you very much. We had a pub stop to top up on water, and Duncan rode past us to take the lead. Just Coke, no beer, since you ask.
The fast lads caught up with us up Wensleydale, but I couldn’t hold their pace into the hateful westerly which clawed at us all the way from Topcliffe to Sedbergh. It was like riding through treacle at times. We had an extra stop to play with the moorland ponies above Sedbergh, and to get out of the wind. One of the ponies kept trying to eat my glove, probably for the salty sweat crystallising out of me in the heat. Let no one say this sport isn’t glamorous.
Our lead was comprehensively lost at Sedbergh, though I was pleased to see that the fast lads, Jack and Gavin, had become distracted by the temptations of the town fair and ice cream, and they were still there when we left.
It didn’t take them long to catch us up on the climb past Cautley Spout. Luckily, the temptation to chase was firmly quashed when Dale’s rear tyre deflated on a gnarly lane. Phew!
A few other riders passed us, but not Dale’s clubmate Ingrid. Both Dale and Ingrid were riding their first 600, and Dale quite wanted to finish before her. I’ve shuttled on rides with Ingrid before, and she is quick on the road, but she seemed to be having relaxed stops. It’s all about the time off the bike – it’s easy to lose a half-hour here and there if you get too comfortable at the stops.
Once Dale had fixed his puncture, we seemed to take ages to get going again. The heat had sucked my appetite away, and I’d eaten barely half of my cheesy beans on toast at Sedbergh. It was hilly, and I half-thought we might have been better off on the main A683 road to Orton, but the old road through Kellet was gorgeous. And the Orton-Shap road is a marvel, as you cut under the M6, then ride inbetween the carriageways of the motorway. I do enjoy roads like that, as they feel like secret byways, away from the rush and roar of heavy traffic, but separated by no more than the width of a barrier.
I should, therefore, enjoy the B7076, but the differences are simple – the Orton-Shap road is an occasional treat to be savoured, and it’s amongst proper northern hills, and it’s a short swing-past and away. The B7076 was yet to come, after a stretch along the A6 and a circumnavigation of Carlisle. It’s always better not to ride through Carlisle.
At last, we hit the B7076, and we were in a decent group, but I’d had enough. I stepped off for a piss and a fag, and rolled into Lockerbie Truck Stop with Dale at about half past midnight. The bar was shut by then, unlike last year, when Rob Stewert’s indefatigable efforts were going until about 1 in the morning.
Lockerbie Truck Stop is becoming a bit of a favourite – there are no frills, they’re utterly relaxed about bikes, truckers, they’re open all night and the food is plentiful and quick. For long distance cycling, it’s perfect. I had a meal and booked a room and grabbed a couple of hours’ kip.
Come daybreak, we were back on the road. I’d selfishly insisted upon only two hours’ sleep, which is just enough for me, but it proved not to be enough for Dale. We had a decent breakfast in Galashiels where I ate my fifth and sixth Muller Rice pots of the ride, washed down with lots of coffee, and we went to cross back into England. We were crap Border Raiders, really, as we didn’t burn or pillage anything, and all we brought back was some receipts and Scottish money. Even so, it was too much for Dale, and he chose a 4* park bench for a much-needed snooze.
I was on my own and clock-watching after that, playing with numbers in my head and working out the minimum speed I needed to maintain on the road and how much time I could stop. Not that much in either case. I wasn’t so distracted that I missed the scenery at the border crossing, circling the Cheviots down to Wooler. I grabbed some chocolate at the garage to eat along the way.
I’m vaguely familiar with the Hills between Wooler and the coast, but the Hill was quite a shock. After 500-and-odd kms, it was like fucking Ventoux. I reckon there’s an unwritten rule that the biggest bastard hill must be in the last part of the ride. Not only that, the descent to the Till dene was so rough that I broke a rear spoke. Not a huge problem, but it was a frustrating loss of time to remove the broken spoke and true the wheel enough to clear the brakes.
Richie overtook while I was pushing up Ventoux from the valley, then he rolled back up the bank at Seahouses while I was munching my ham n cheese sarnie from the Co-Op.
He’d tried and failed to get fish n chips – Seahouses was heaving, as you’d expect on a sunny summer Sunday, and a few riders bunched back up. I planned a ten-minute stop, but best plans etc. It was a quarter to two before we left, and I didn’t expect to make my train.
However, Richie was setting a hell of a pace, and I was struggling to keep his wheel with my cafe legs. We dropped Dale, and I thought I may as well hang on as long as I could. We were soon in a totally non-competitive two-up time trial. It was only 66 km back to the finish from Seahouses, so it didn’t matter how much I thrashed my legs. I nearly lost Richie on the descent from RAF Boulmer where my little legs were spinning away on fixed, but I held on, and started to have to wait for him a bit on the climbs. He was on his super-shiny Scott with deep section rims, and I kinda wanted to show him up on my battered old steel Dave Yates with just the one gear.
I didn’t deliberately drop him in Morpeth, but I must’ve slalomed through the traffic better than he did, as I looked back on the climb away from the river, and he was nowhere to be seen. I rode on into the headwind to the finish, and won! Also, Dale beat Ingrid.
More importantly, dear reader, I made my train home.
*joke stolen from Dale.