Monday, 20 June 2011

The River Tweed: Peebles to Galashiels

Woodstock in the borders? Or a Swingers convention perhaps?

As it turned out, Tweedlove was a week long mountain biking festival taking place in the Peebles area. Curious for the name (which hardly yells MUD, WHEELS & REALLY NASTY GRAZES to me) and the locale (the surrounding hills being what i would imagine MTB'ers would describe as 'gnarly'). That said I know next to nothing (far less that I'd like) about biking.

I was tempted to stay and find out more. Particularly with Frightened Rabbit playing a gig in Peebles the following night.

Much as Saturday night in Peebles appealed, I had come for the Tweed. Arriving at about 9 O'Clock on Friday evening I immediately made my way down to the banks of the River and inflated my boat.

I paddled a few kilometers out of the town as it began to rain, and made camp beside the river as night finally began to fall.

I awoke to the sound of rain drumming on my shelter, and the hissing sound of heavy rain falling on water.

At times along the higher section of my paddle the water level was a little low, and I suffered the awful, awful sound of raft scraping on rocks on more than one occasion. Mostly I judged the deeper channels correctly and floated along. At times I was forced to walk through ankle deep water with my boat floating by my side.

No doubt the water level was particularly low at the time of my visit, as this section of the river is generally regarded as reliably 'runnable' even by canoe (my shallow Packraft should have had no trouble). However, I have heard that water levels in the Tweed are generally falling, year on year, with the finger pointed at agricultural activity.

I ran aground before the bridge at Innerleithen, and took the opportunity to stop for some food. The weather had cleared by this point and just spots of rain fell. Even this light drizzle soon stopped and the sun came out. I portaged around the shallow water and put back in before the easy rapids beyond the bridge.

Not much further down the river from my lunch spot I spotted something in the water only about 10 meters ahead of me. I thought it was a dog at first. There was a sleek brown body arching out of the water but barely a ripple around it. Then it must of heard me approaching because it turned and looked at me briefly before diving under the water. It was the first Otter I have ever seen in a river anywhere. I have seen them at the coast in several locations but never in a river. I paddled gently to the waters edge and got my camera out from the dry bag I store it in while on the water. I waited and watched all around for another ten minutes but there was not another sign of it so I eventually moved on.

I realise there has been little other than pictures of the River in this post up to this point...

... so here's a tree.

This trip didn't come close to doing justice to one of Scotland's longest rivers. I only paddled from Peebles to Galashiels but it was enough to get me interested in planning more for the future. I 've walked in the hills around the head of Tweeddale on a few different backpacks. I'm interested in linking up a backpacking trip through those hills (White Coomb, Dollar Law, Broad Law...) with a source to sea trip down the Tweed, starting at Tweeds Well and traveling all the way down to Berwick-upon-Tweed. When I have the time...

I camped at a spot just before Galashiels and watched the river until it got dark. There were fish leaping from the river, mostly small ones that popped up and back in with little sound but also some whoppers that made real splash. I had paddled about 2 or three kilometers on Friday night and about another thirty on Saturday. In the morning I made my way to the bus stop and back to Edinburgh.


  1. How funny - you must have paddled past my house. I live in Cardrona.

    I've got a trip planned from my house into the hills, over Birkscairn, Hundleshope, Stake Law and Whitehope down to Dawyk. Then I'll paddle back through Peebles to Cardrona. I'm hoping to do it in the next couple of weeks as my first packrafting trip.

    What boat are you using? It looks like your packraft in the photos but you talk about it like it's a kayak or a canoe.

    Tweedlove is a great event. It's named for it's attitude, it's all about loving the area and loving riding bikes. We rode up and back on the Southern Upland Way on Saturday and had a great time.

  2. Hi Johnny

    the boat is an Alpacka Yak. Didn't realise I was sounding like it was canoe/kayak, definitely a raft...

    Great part of the world you live in, I like wandering around the hills thereabouts. I may end up picking your brains for info in the future! Just looking at your route, looks great. I've a plan with a couple of pals to go and get 'Merlined' at the Drumelzier fort later in the year! Will involve Absinthe...

    Wish I'd known about Tweedlove before as I'd have been interested to get down and join in... don't have a bike though but I know there are loads of rental places in the borders.

    Let me know how it is to paddle between Dawyk and Peebles if you get a chance.


  3. Hi Dave,
    Looks like a funny trip. There seems to be more interesting rivers in Scotland than I thought. Are there any rapids on the Tweed also? Despite the low water you were able to go on luckely. Here in the south of Belgium where the interesting rivers are located in my country, there is no single river packraftable at the moment because of the exceptional dry spring and the rain we have now doesn't change that much. I think I should come to Scotland one day.


  4. It's a great place to be, definitely. I'll let you know how my trip goes. I'm in a Flytepacker but I'll be getting a Llama at some point, I think.

    What sort of speed did you make down the river? I'm guessing there isn't much of a current at the moment. Late winter will be a good time - the river can get pretty high at times.

  5. Joery, yes there are rapids at several points along the way I paddled but only up to PR 2/3. There are some small drops (weirs, called 'caulds' in the Scots Borders). I'm a novice but only wanted to portage one stretch. I think there is PR 4 water in the lower part of the river but only for a short stretch.

    Johnny, the current was not too bad despite the low water. I was probably making about 4 mph with not much effort. Didn't actually track my speed though. BTW, there is a lama for sale here: - good price :)

  6. Thanks. That is a good buy. I need to find £700 now!


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