Now I’m definitely no trainspotter but for a long time I have had an interest in the Waverley line. The one time rail link from Carlisle to Edinburgh was decommissioned in 1969 at the hands of DR Richard Beeching and his cut throat handling of the British rail restructure. A cut which subsequently left a whole region without any form of rail service despite having no adequate road links. Effectively cutting the Scottish Borders off from both Edinburgh and Carlisle…. The line has its place in history for this alone but it was also highly famed for its beautiful journey across Southern Scotland. Climbing steeply through hills , moorlands and past riversides it was renowned by many. It boasted the steepest rail track inclination of its kind in the UK. And right now its very topical due to the Government rebuilding it at the cost of ten million pounds a mile, yes you read that right, TEN MILLION! … From Edinburgh to Galashiels they are re-building it with the intnetion fo an early 2015 opening . Locally there is also a campaign to continue rebuilding it all the way to Carlisle again. If I am honest I really wish I had thought of running it way before the work had started on the Northern section, as to have ran the whole line from Edinburgh to Carlisle would have been mint, and quite the achievement 🙂
I live barely 2 fields away from the what is now a long track-less causeway that carves its way through the Borders making its presence known with bridges , derelict old railway buildings and long overgrown embankments. Everyone from my area has walked, played or looked upon this railway line … it is just begging to be explored fully 🙂 I run along it a lot , in both directions, normally as a start or finish to a longer run, but I have never until recently ventured beyond my regular section on my Stobs camp run. I have recently found a bit of motivation in my running again and this trip beckoned , so after a little recce last week It had to be done while the momentum was there, so a plan was hatched. I would go from Central Hawick where the old Railway Station had been and run from there all the way along the Waverley line to Carlisle staying true to the track as best I could.
I plotted the course out on Map My Run and decided that I would leave late Friday night, running 13-14 miles and hit the bothy at Riccarton before sunset for a decent sleep before heading for Carlisle 30 odd miles away early the next morning. The weather looked to be on my side so it was on 🙂 The plan had been for a solo mission, however my mate Mark Watson rang me on Thursday afternoon wondering if I fancied a hill run in the evening, I told him I couldn’t and filled him in why. Secretly sewing the seed of interest nicely, an hour later he was back on the phone and he was coming 🙂 I expected this, the lad likes a challenge. EXCELLENT !!
As usual a last-minute deadline had me working late, rushing home, grabbing my kit and heading to meet Mark all in the space of 15 minutes. I parked the car right next to the bus stop. We would be getting off right there on our return. After all I certainly didn’t want to walk far after 45 miles of running 😉 We saddled up our packs and headed off ! Straight up an old railway embankment left from the long gone bridge and right away we were running down the old line .. The Waverley adventure had started. Soon we had left Hawick behind and had started to weave our way over old bridges and through the tree-lined avenues of the old line, at a steady pace we notched up the miles and soon we were approaching the Whitrope tunnel , the 4th longest in Scotland at 1200+ feet. We couldn’t run through it as it has been fenced off due to a cave in. Instead we followed a bridlepath up and over the hill , this was to be our highest point of the trip at 1406 foot.
After a long descent we found ourselves at the Border Railway Heritage site where a group of enthusiasts have rebuilt a section of the railway and now run it as an educational tourist attraction. It is quite amazing to come across this station in the middle of nowhere. From here we had just a couple more miles of running before we arrived at “Wills Bothy” , a stone shelter renovated and equipped to commemorate William Ramsbotham a mountaineer and fell runner who the day after breaking the Cader Iris fell race record , died climbing on the same mountain . an extraordinary fellow by all means.
Fourteen quality and continuously interesting trail miles full of beautiful hills, old railway buildings , Jacob sheep and highland cattle , not a bad nights work. Satisfied we settled in to the bothy , shed our sweaty running kit and got the fire going .. Mark had a fantastic array of goodies hidden away in his pack and we ate like kings .. the highlight of my night was a little tin of beans and sausages , we know how to treat ourselves us lads 😉 😀
the morning and my alarm was buzzing .. brrrrrrrr, it was a beautiful crisp morning , 3 degrees and sunny … I slipped my running kit on and found my hat .. gloves would have been nice but unfortunately no cigar …. we sorted out a little breakfast but our intention was to punch out the next ten miles to Newcastleton and have something substantial before embarking on the final 20 miles. The run from the bothy was fantastic , the views staggering in the early morning light as we ran along the track sat high up in the forest and took in the views of the valley far below us .. soon we were dropping down into Newcastleton, a beautiful little village not far from the English Border. Home alos to one the world famous 7 Stanes MTB venues .. Here we filled our boots with rolls and coffee , before heading along the line to Penton the next railway station on the track …
Here however progressed was hard fought , we had found the first of what would be some epic bushwhacking .. up to this point the running had been on perfect trail , now we were up to our necks in jaggy bushes and nettles . There seemed to be a switch that tripped in our brains, maybe from tired legs, it was one that prevented us heading back over old ground to find a way round , we fought on regardless with dogged determination .. and for this we paid severely .. falling out of this Scottish jungle exhausted and severely stung by uber-virulent nettles from ankle to knee .. I had tan lines from the stings .. f**** I was sore. if you intend to do this run , then seriously look to find a detour for this 2 mile section it just isn’t worth it 🙂 I am still paying for our battle today 😀
After this we had a good time , running great trail , following the river Esk all the way to Longtown with ease and found the High street stape, Spar . In hindsight we should have called it a day here and waited for the bus but we intended to get to Carlisle no matter what ! Our legs were still good and we only had 5 more miles to go .. what could go wrong ? 😀 The trail from here gets pretty rough and very overgrown. And Gypsies littered the last few miles , using the track as a scrapyard or small holding where ever there was a road access. One particular gypsy didn’t want us to cross his land and when he agreed his last words were watch out for the horse …
I had to run and quickly jump a fence from that particular very aggressive sabre toothed horse and f*** me with 40 mile in the legs that wasn’t easy ! It was nearly RIP when a herd of cows stampeded us , crashing through a fence in front of us , taking half it with them… then a Bull in the last field from home was just icing on the cake.. The mental image of Mark and I running/limping for that final gate still has me laughing … but we made it , we certainly did … the Southern section of the beautiful Waverley line made a fine running adventure indeed ..
The trip along this line was at times beautiful, the views up high were staggering especially on the cold brisk morning we encountered but that wasn’t what made the trip .. It was how continuously interesting this trip was ,throwing bothies, bridges, tunnels , the architecture of old stations and even the way mother-nature had grown around this disused line …. I dare you to try it sometime , have a change from pacing the roads or being in the mountains .. make an effort to find this Waverley line and enjoy something different, it will repay you a thousand time over … three cheers for the Waverley line !
notes: Hawick to Newcastleton in my opinion is a very fine trail run worthy of 5 stars anywhere in this country , you will be rewarded with excellent running , fantastic views and continuous interest … after Newcastleton there are nice sections but nothing quite as continuous due to some parts being overgrown and the views not really comparable to the section before.