Deserted by rail?

There was a time when the Scottish Borders had railways running through the area but they now are no more though a restoration of the line between Edinburgh and Galashiels/Tweedbank is in the offing. That will be a partial help though it doesn’t really work for those coming up from the south like myself. It makes little sense to go north to come south again unless you have a reason to go north in the first place; basing yourself in Edinburgh and fanning out from there would be one.

What has brought this realisation my way was a trip to the area last weekend. Travel was by train as far as Carlisle followed by a lengthy ride on the X95 bus service from Carlisle to Edinburgh operated by First Scotland East. Those two hours did allow some gaping at the surrounding countryside, wonderment at the continued presence of single track bridges under permanent traffic light control on the A7 between Carlisle and Edinburgh along with looking out the windows at towns like Langholm, Hawick and Selkirk. Selkirk was where I stopped for a walk to Galashiels and Melrose via the Three Brethren and the South Upland Way but the return trip started from Galashiels after an overnight stay in Melrose and some exploration of the place.

Because of having different stopping and starting points at the Scottish ends of my cross border journeys, I went with two single journey tickets only to find that they were the same price of £6, not too bad considering the distance travelled. However, noticing that a return from Galashiels to Melrose was valid for a month, I’d be tempted to go with that the next time. Day tickets were not advertised on First buses so I stuck with paying single and return fares. Since returning home, I have done some investigation on their website and the cheapest one would have been £5 and it can go up to £9 depending on how many zones through which you need to pass. There’s the multi-operator One-Ticket too but that only makes sense if you are staying for a week or more. Maybe, playing safe like I did wasn’t so insensible and I didn’t imagine making as much use of buses as I did anyway.

All of the buses on which I travelled has Wright Solar style bodywork and felt fresh and reasonably well presented too. Apart from the X95, I also used services 9A (Melrose-Galashiels), 60 (Berwick-upon-Tweed to Galashiels) and 62 (Edinburgh-Melrose). Even the older buses that I saw working services or parking around Galashiels bus station didn’t look too shabby, whatever it is like to ride in them. It is all a far cry from the Alexander Y-Type bodied Leyland Tigers and such like with their high-floored bodies of which First had many in the late nineties or the Volvo Ailsa double-deckers that they started to phase out of operation around the same time.

In spite of any impression given so far, First isn’t the only operator with Munros of Jedburgh and Perryman’s Buses of Berwick-upon-Tweed running services too. The former fans out from its base in Jedburgh across the Borders, north to Edinburgh and south to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Once upon a time, I think that it ran the 67 between Berwick-upon-Tweed, Kelso and Galashiels but that is now in the hands of Perryman’s along with the 253 to Edinburgh whose route hugs the coastline.

The last time that I visited the area around Galashiels, I came over from the east on the 67 after staying a night in Berwick-upon-Tweed. As if to highlight the northeasterly tilt of the Scotland-England border, Berwick is nearly to the north of Galashiels or Gala as it is known to the locals. Now that I think of it, I am not sure why I went up the East Coast Mainline unless there were engineering works ongoing on its West Coast counterpart; not only did it add distance to my journey but it added to the cost of it too. It’s an approach that I wouldn’t take for a walking trip now though it does highlight another lost railway link that lives on in the form of First Scotland East bus service 60, the one that I took in order to ensure a return train trip. Again, there were two hour bus journeys involved so you have to see what this says about the size of the area governed by the Scottish Borders Council, not the most helpful of organisations when it comes to public transport information provision if my poking around its website is a fair reflection of their efforts. Learning from their counterpart in Dumfries and Galloway wouldn’t a bad start.

Given the area’s size and what it has to offer visitors from beyond its boundaries, it is pity that its railways were removed to make it so dependent on long distance bus services. If they still existed, getting a bike to the Scottish Borders for some cycling along its quiet roads and lanes would be so much easier. As things stand, it might be best to factor in a cycle from somewhere like Berwick-upon-Tweed where a more friendly road system and less taxing gradients are in its favour. Taking a folding bike would one workaround though they are not the cheapest of options and I have little experience of using them. Still, I am tempted by the idea and it would allow me to use a train/bus combination to get into an area that is both off the beaten track and worth exploring by bike. That’s not to stay that doing it on foot is a limitation but a little variety never hurt, did it?

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