A celebration of local adventurers

As you will know by now, we love being outdoors as much as possible here at the Tontine – and particularly exploring all the wonderful hills and trails that we are lucky to have right on our doorstep. But we also like celebrating the phenomenal number of inspirational local adventurers, which is why we are delighted to be sponsoring a series of Local Hero sessions at this year’s Peebles Outdoor Film Festival, which gets underway on Fri 26 Jan at the Eastgate Theatre.

Part of a major festival that also includes a host of big names from further afield, the Local Hero sessions kick off on the opening night with Chutes and Roots – what promises to be a lively presentation by local women’s mountain bike pioneer Lynne Armstrong. A mountain bike coach, former downhill racer, pro free-rider and the woman behind Air Maiden, Lynne will reveal all about her colourful life both here in Scotland and also in Canada.

Saturday (27 Jan) then sees an appearance by David Winton, a cycling-mad dad to an increasingly famous mountain biking daughter, who will talk about his love of tackling long-distance events around the world. Whether reflecting on pedalling from Peebles to Barcelona, riding across Canada, or taking on the famed Transcontinental Race through Europe, David is not short of stories to tell.

The final day of the festival (Sun 28 Jan), then sees two more sessions from local adventurers. It all begins with Bothy Tales, a much-anticipated appearance by Geoff Allan, author of the award-winning The Scottish Bothy Bible, followed later in the day by Scottish winter climbing superstar Greg Boswell. Following a storming appearance at last year’s festival, Greg returns to share tales from his most recent overseas epic, putting up new routes in the wilds of Alaska.

Look out for these and many more outstanding speakers, not to mention a range of world-class adventure films, over the course of the weekend. We might see you there, too – the Tontine will have a stand as part of a mini expo in the café area of the theatre, so do come and say hello!

Further info

The 2018 Peebles Outdoor Film Festival is held at the Eastgate Theatre over the weekend of 26-28 January. Tickets available now from Box Office on 01721 725777, or online www.eastgatearts.com

The full programme can be viewed here, https://eastgatearts.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/POFF_2018.pdf

Photo: Winter climber Greg Boswell on his recent expedition in Alaska

Captivating Cademuir

We always like to share details of local walking trails with visitors and were very excited when Forest Enterprise Scotland recently upgraded a favourite route in Cademuir Forest – the smallest and one of the least visited parts of the Tweed Valley Forest Park.

Nestled on the eastern flanks of Cademuir Hill, close to the John Buchan Way, this delightful forest has a variety of trails that attract walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders alike. A mixed woodland full of Scot’s pine, larch, birch and many other species – including a rich under-storey of ground cover– it’s a wonderfully tranquil place to be. There are usually a few cars in the small car park, but often you won’t see a soul.

One of the most popular routes at Cademuir is the Pilots’ Trail, which climbs up from the car park before leading walkers on a circuit of some of the forest’s most atmospheric spots. Named after two downed German pilots who hid out in the woods here during the Second World War – they were only discovered when smoke from their fire gave them away – it recently saw a significant upgrade, with around 1,000m of old muddy trail replaced with a winding stone track.

On these cold, late-autumn mornings, we’d particularly recommend you walking the route nice and early. Once at the top of the trail, you might be in for a treat as temperature inversions hold the cloud in the valley below. Whichever way you look, the views are tremendous and give a real sense of space so close to the busy town of Peebles.

The trail is quite strenuous in places, so it’s probably best to allow two hours for the whole walk – all the better for enjoying the views, and sitting quietly to listen out for wildlife. Depending on season, there is plenty of bird life to enjoy – this is the haunt of woodpecker, warblers, siskins and owls – while it’s also not unusual to see roe deer here, with the animals often watching you long before you glimpse them.

So, next time you stay with us, why not include a trip to Cademuir in your plans? You won’t be disappointed!

Further info

Cademuir Forest is found on the south side of Peebles. For those who don’t mind a bit of a trek, it can be reached on foot from the Tontine Hotel. There’s also a small car park at the base of the trails. The rerouted and upgraded Pilots’ Trail (5.3km) takes walkers almost to the top of Cademuir Hill. Click here for much more on getting to the forest and the trails that can be enjoyed.

Photograph:  Kate Innes

The Adam Room

Of all the public spaces at the Tontine, it is the historic Adam Room that invariably has the most impact. Once used by the great and good of Peebles as the town’s ball room, it’s a grand, high-ceilinged space that rarely fails to take the breath away.

Part of the room’s appeal is that it’s a little hidden away at the back of the hotel. It’s only when guests come through the front door and step into the Callants Lounge that the Adam Room reveals itself in all its glory.

Although a large area – it comfortably holds 70 for dinner – the Adam Room’s cosy red walls and carpet make it feel intimate and welcoming. And as befits a room that has changed little since its construction in 1808, it features a host of period features, from fine architectural detail to a delightful Adam working fireplace, plus a minstrel’s gallery where the orchestra once played (and still does from time to time!).

It’s also a room that is flooded with light thanks to four huge, arched windows that offer far-ranging views over the heather-clad hills of Glensax. In quiet moments, we often find ourselves standing by the windows gazing at the ever-changing light outside.

We still know people who once came here for balls, dressed in their finest frocks and with lace gloves up to their elbows. Today, however, the room is used for a variety of special occasions, from weddings and festive banquets to birthday celebrations, formal receptions and society meetings. And, yes, we still hold balls here too, with the wonderful old dance floor still going strong beneath the red carpet.

But perhaps the best thing about the Adam Room is that it is enjoyed by everyone. Although the hotel has several distinct areas where guests can eat and drink, we decided very early on that the same menu would be available throughout the hotel. So, rather than just being a place for fancy fine dining, as it once was many years ago, the Adam Room is enjoyed by all for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Guests choose simply where they want to eat, rather than what they want to eat.

A wonderful asset loved by all, the Adam Room is one of our very favourite parts of the hotel. Whether coming to eat with us, or looking to arrange a special occasion, we’d highly recommend you check it out for yourself!

Creative Peebles Festival 2017

It’s fair to say that Edinburgh rather hogs the limelight when it comes to arts festivals in August, but such is the wealth of creative talent locally that you don’t have to head to the capital for an arts fix at this time of year.

This Friday (25 Aug) sees the start of the 2017 Creative Peebles Festival – a 10-day celebration of the many artists, musicians, arts groups, film-makers and crafts people found in this most arty of towns.

The festival opens with the traditional Open Galleries Evening from 7-9pm on Friday. It’s always a great opportunity to check out the huge variety of visual art produced, displayed and sold at a host of venues around Peebles.

Renowned galleries such as Tweed Art (in the Old Town), Breeze Gallery and Tweeddale Museum & Gallery (both on High Street) and Moy Mackay Gallery (Northgate) are joined by a variety of smaller studios and venues around Peebles. The Tontine is delighted to also be involved as we display a collection of paintings by three contemporary Scottish Borders-based artists: Fiona Millar, Alan Richmond and Moy Mackay. All are part of a special festival Art Trail, with maps available from participating venues, including the Eastgate Theatre.

Once again, this year’s festival also offers an exciting mix of indoor performances and workshops, plus a chance to explore the rich history, architecture, nature and landscape of Peebles through an expanded programme of walks and tours. Even locals learn a thing or two on these!

The programme begins on Saturday (26 Aug) with a fascinating stroll that reveals the stories behind the many different bridges that can be found in Peebles today. Other highlights include a look at the railway heritage of Peebles, some of the town’s hidden gardens and green spaces, a tour of L. Grandison & Sons’ treasure trove of a plaster workshop, plus a trip up to Soonhope Burn to learn more about the community of colourful huts that straddle the glen.

Ever eclectic, the festival also sees the Tweeddale Society Festival Lecture by eminent Professor Sir Ian Wilmut (of Dolly the Sheep fame), and Music in Peebles’ 70th anniversary concert, featuring Michael Collins and the Heath Quartet. And this Sunday (27 Aug) look out for hundreds of energetic lip-syncers who will take part in one of the biggest community film projects ever seen in the Borders as a huge flash mob films a music video to Dancing in the Street.

Throw in top-class live music from the glamorous Swingcats and Rachel Hair Trio, thought-provoking new drama from Dogstar Theatre Company, plus the wildly-entertaining Small Town Sarsaparilla and we reckon Peebles more than gives Edinburgh a run for its money!

Photograph: Rich Rowe

Further info

The 2017 Creative Peebles Festival runs from 25 August to 3 September. For much more on the Open Galleries Evening, plus the wider festival, visit www.creativepeeblesfestival.co.uk

There will be mud …

With a range of high-spec trail centres plus an almost infinite number of natural trails, Scotland is a major destination on the world mountain biking stage. And here in Peebles, we’re lucky to live, work and play in one of the biggest mountain biking hotspots of all … an area that looks set to only get hotter for those with a love of hurtling around on two wheels.

Just take a look at all the mountain biking events that take place locally. This coming weekend (19-20 Aug) sees the 2017 Whyte Endura Scottish Open Champs, which is due to finish off this year’s TweedLove season in style. Featuring a full complement of 500 riders, the event has become something of a UK enduro classic, with pro athletes mixing it up with mere mortals to be crowned King and Queen of the Hill.

A wonderfully inclusive discipline in mountain biking, enduro is essentially a stage-race format where riders transfer – often riding together with buddies – between a series of timed downhill sections. Although the big riders are very much in it to win it, enduro is a fun, friendly and hugely sociable way of racing bikes.

This year’s Scottish Open Champs sees a new event base just down the road in Innerleithen, with race stages on both the Caberston and Traquair sides of the valley. And for those who have already competed in two other events earlier in the year as part of the TweedLove Triple Crown Enduro, it’s a chance to score some serious bragging rights. The fact that the rather brilliant Innerleithen Music Festival is also on this weekend is even more of a bonus for spectators and riders alike.

For visiting riders, the event offers a chance to sample just a small part of the vast network of trails found locally – a network that continues to grow and grow. While ‘unofficial’ trails continue to be created high in the forests all around, our two local trail centres at Innerleithen and Glentress are also set for an upgrade.

As part of a multi-million pound plan to upgrade facilities at Glentress, Forest Enterprise Scotland recently revealed that more than £1 million will be spent on around 16km of new trails, including a larger skills area, a range of taster trails, additional descents linking existing trails, plus Enduro-style sections. Meanwhile, headed by a new Tweed Valley Mountain Biking Development Coordinator, consultations are taking place on how best to develop the trails at Innerleithen. Exciting times!

If you haven’t yet tried mountain biking, and are not sure what all the fuss is about, then you really need to give it a shot. And there’s certainly no better place to come than right here in the Tweed Valley – an area widely regarded as Scotland’s premier mountain biking destination.

Photography: Ian Linton

Further info
This year’s Whyte Endura Scottish Open Champs takes place on 19-20 August, with an event base in nearby Innerleithen. If not competing, head along to some of the many viewing points for a taste of the action. For much more on the event, plus the huge range of trails to be enjoyed locally, check out this race video from last year, https://vimeo.com/180707134

Summer events extravaganza!

It’s that time of year when it feels as if there is a major event taking place almost every day here in the Tweed Valley and adjoining Edinburgh. It’s certainly a perfect time to visit and enjoy the sheer variety of events, shows and festivals that take place in the area.

It’s not easy keeping track of them all, but we’ll try to give you a flavour of what’s coming up, from the biggest arts festival on the planet to country shows, traditional music, high-octane mountain bike action and more!

When it comes to festivals they don’t come much bigger than the stupendous Edinburgh Military Tattoo (4-26 Aug) and the world-famous Edinburgh Fringe (5-29 Aug). With both taking place just 20 or so miles up the road, we’d highly recommend staying with us here in Peebles and travelling into and out of Edinburgh each day by bus … it’s MUCH less expensive and considerably more relaxing!

But wonderful as they are, August is not just about the incredible Edinburgh festivals. There’s also a whole range of smaller but equally appealing events right here on our doorstep. Next month sees the great and good of the farming world descend on Nether Horsburgh for the always entertaining Peebles Agricultural Show (12 Aug), while some of Scotland’s finest traditional musicians play at the Innerleithen Music Festival a week later (more on that in a separate blog).

Look out too for top class mountain bike racing at the Whyte Scottish Open Champs Enduro (19-20 Aug) as riders from near and far look to be crowned King and Queen of the Hill. Elsewhere, stimulating mind rather than body, Beyond Borders International Festival of Literature and Thought at Traquair House (26-27 Aug) promises plenty of stirring debate as some of the world’s leading thinkers discuss pressing issues of the day.

And don’t forget this year’s Creative Peebles Festival (25 Aug-3 Sept) – a celebration of the many artists, musicians, poets, film-makers and craftspeople found in this small but incredibly creative town of ours. As well as indoor performances and workshops, there are also opportunities to explore the fascinating history, architecture, nature and landscape of Peebles and around through a series of talks, walks and tours.

It’s going to be quite a summer … we hope you can come and be a part of it!  To BOOK on our Summer Special Offer either call us on 01721 720892; send us an Email or Book Online

Photograph: Rich Rowe

A golden future?

Could the skies above the Tweed Valley and wider Borders soon be the domain of one of our most majestic species, the golden eagle? That exhilarating prospect took a step closer following the recent announcement by the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project of a £1.3m Heritage Lottery Fund grant that will enable it to push ahead with plans to reinforce fragile eagle populations in the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway.

Launched in 2015, the project involves a partnership initiated by Scottish Land & Estates, RSPB Scotland and Buccleuch Estates, but which now also includes Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Forestry Commission Scotland. It follows an earlier report by SNH which found that the south of Scotland could potentially support up to 16 eagle pairs – a significant leap from the two to four pairs currently nesting here (and even then with limited success).

Subject to a licence application being approved, work will begin on increasing numbers of young eagles in the autumn. Then, from summer 2018 and over the next four years, the project team will collect single eagle chicks from broods of two young in the Highlands and raise and release them in secret locations in the south of Scotland. It essentially follows the same procedure for past reintroductions of species such as red kite and white-tailed sea eagle elsewhere in the country.

Once a species that ranged across much of upland Britain, but which is now mostly confined to the Scottish Highlands and islands, golden eagles are rarely spotted in the south of Scotland today. Don’t be fooled by the sight of large birds of prey sitting on telegraph poles and fence posts by the sides of the road – they are usually the far more common buzzard.

Golden eagles are a very different proposition. Much, much larger, with a wingspan of around two metres, eagles prefer rugged terrain, and are more often spotted soaring high above the ground on giant, fingered wings.

Returning this potent symbol of Scotland’s wild heritage to part of their former range is seen by those involved not just as an important step in ecosystem restoration, but also as a major boost to wildlife tourism in the area. We couldn’t agree more!

Further info 

For much more on the project, visit www.goldeneaglessouthofscotland.co.uk
Photograph: Chris Knights/RSPB Images

Hut life

Walkers heading up the track behind the grand old Peebles Hydro are often intrigued by the scattering of dwellings nestled within the folds of the hillside along the Soonhope Burn. The Soonhope huts (or chalets) as they are known represent a piece of local social history, as well as a nod towards a simpler way of life that perhaps more people would like to embrace.

Some are little more than rustic, ramshackle sheds, while others are beautifully kept, with wood-burning stoves, ornate verandas with decking, and well-tended gardens. The range of colours and styles never ceases to amaze, from mock Tudor timber to a wonderful old railway carriage – the ‘Soon Up Sleeper’.

The huts are representative of a wider social movement that took place a century or so ago when landowners were encouraged to provide places for miners, industrial workers and ex-servicemen to breath fresh air and enjoy green space. The building of these simple, temporary bolt-holes – very much off-grid and in touch with nature – have a direct line to the mountain bothies and shepherd’s huts found elsewhere in Scotland, and in turn the huts and wilderness cabins found in Scandinavian countries.

Perhaps the most famous hut community in Scotland, and certainly the largest, is at Carbeth near Glasgow. The origins of the Carbeth Hutters can be traced back to providing access to the countryside for soldiers returning from the First World War, although Carbeth also had close ties with the ship-building industry on the Clyde, with workers able to escape the grime and pollution of the city. Now under community ownership, Carbeth is as strong as ever with the site home to well over 100 huts.

The group of huts at Soonhope is much smaller, around 50 in total, although the sense of community is no less strong. The huts here and elsewhere at Eddleston just north of Peebles are believed to have been built by miners from Rosewell in nearby Midlothian.

As with Carbeth and other hutting communities around Scotland, the huts at Soonhope provide a tranquil environment in which to get away from it all for a few days, the only noise being the sound of bird song and the babbling waters of the Soonhope Burn.

Further info

One of the routes in this year’s Scottish Borders Walking Festival (Dunslair Heights Circular by Shieldgreen and Glentress) passes the huts. However, we’d recommend heading up for a nosey any time, perhaps as part of a longer walk into nearby Glentress Forest or up onto Venlaw Hill.

Do also check out Reforesting Scotland’s A Thousand Huts Campaign – the charity’s push to celebrate and expand the world of hutting in Scotland.

Photograph: Rich Rowe

Walk this way

We’re very excited about the launch this week of the programme for the 2017 Scottish Borders Walking Festival, which this year we are delighted to say will focus on the wonderfully varied walking found around Peebles and the wider Tweed Valley.

Now in its 23rd year, it is Scotland’s longest established walking festival, and one of the biggest all-abilities events of its kind in the UK. Overseen by Scottish Borders Council, the festival moves around the area on an annual basis, with the programme of events organised each year by different Borders’ communities.

This year’s festival, which runs from 3-9 September, has some real treats in store. Walkers can choose from a range of routes from easy to strenuous that between them explore the many natural riches of the area. From gentle riverside strolls to serious treks into high hill ground, including a variety of Donalds (hills above 2,000ft), there is something for everyone. Many of the routes make use of the ancient drove roads that criss-cross the hills in these parts.

The bulk of the walks depart from Peebles, exploring local gems such as Glensax, Gypsy Glen, Cademuir and the John Buchan Way, although the festival also steps further afield to include routes by Drumelzier, Stobo, Tweedsmuir, Eddleston, Clovenfords, plus sections of the Southern Upland Way.

This year’s festival is crammed full of tempting options, but here are three of our favourites in ascending order of difficulty:

  • Tweed Valley Railway Path, Glentress Circular & Janet’s Brae (6.5 miles/10.5kms). A delightful riverside and forest walk with plenty of historical and cultural interest
  • Cademuir Hill Circular and River Tweed (10 miles/16kms). Wildlife, history and stunning views
  • The Glensax Horseshoe via Dun Rig and Glenrath Heights (15.5 miles/25kms). An exhilarating, full-day expedition that includes three Donalds.

All walks are led by the likes of Tweeddale Ramblers, Biggar Ramblers, council rangers and the Innerleithen Walking Group, so there will be plenty of local knowledge shared along the way. Look out too for an accompanying programme of evening social events – an ideal way to round off a great day on the hill!

Further info

The Tesco Bank Tour O’ the Borders, a closed road sportive event starting and finishing in Peebles, will be held on Sunday 3 Sept, which means there will be some pressure on accommodation around the opening weekend of the festival. So, best book early!

For further details, visit Scottish Borders Walking Festival

Photography: On the John Buchan Way, Rich Rowe

Glenlude and the John Muir Trust

Wild Ways

Inspiration takes many forms here in the Tweed Valley … sometimes flying a little under the radar without even the knowledge of those who live here. One great example is the work of the John Muir Trust at Glenlude – a parcel of land near Traquair that is gradually being transformed.

Glenlude will be familiar to anyone who has driven the high, lonely B-road between Traquair and Mountbenger in the Yarrow Valley. It’s a route well-used by road cyclists testing their legs on the steep climb. Lying on the west side of the road, the property begins as a narrow strip of land alongside Paddock Burn but gradually widens to encompass 149 hectares of hill ground close to where the Southern Upland Way passes through Kirkhouse and Traquair.

In the thirteen years since the conservation charity was bequeathed the land, the John Muir Trust has made great strides in its plan to gradually ‘rewild’ a landscape shaped by years of heavy grazing and the planting of uniform conifer plantations. Such ambitions do not happen overnight, but the journey towards creating a mosaic of native habitats has well and truly begun.

Slowly but surely, the Trust is replacing the extensive areas of conifer plantation with native broadleaf trees, and planting native woodland on some of the open areas of grassland. Trees planted today are grown from seed collected locally and nurtured at an on-site nursery.

And during this time, Glenlude has become not just a showcase for what can be achieved through a little imagination and plenty of hard work, but also an important hub for conservation volunteering. Easily accessible from the Central Belt and northern England, the site welcomes hundreds of volunteers from schools, businesses and local groups each year.

Many come to undertake their John Muir Award – the Trust’s environmental award scheme – while others use outdoor education and connecting with nature to help rebuild lives. Phoenix Futures, a Glasgow-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation charity, for instance, manages a part of Glenlude known as the Scottish Phoenix Forest. More than 800 trees have now been planted in the forest, with each tree representing a successful participant in the Phoenix Futures programme.

Between them, staff and volunteers have created not just the tree nursery and an outdoor staging area for the hardening off and growing of seedlings, but a variety of other facilities: a shelter for those who work at Glenlude; a composting toilet and dry store; plus a wild camping area.

Most recently, a Postcode Lottery Grant enabled the purchase of a firewood processor and the installation of secure storage – an old shipping container disguised as a turf-roofed log cabin with a wooden lean-to attached for processed logs. Firewood will soon be offered for sale on a small scale.

Out on the hill itself, extensive brash hedges – the largest of which covers half an hectare – and several smaller enclosures protect saplings from the attention of browsing deer. Within the shelter of the enclosures, natural regeneration is now taking place, with blaeberry, bedstraw and tormentil as well as birch seedlings readily taking root.

All this work has already made a difference to the diversity of species and habitat at Glenlude. Surveys of breeding birds have revealed the presence of more than 40 species, with the likes of black grouse, curlew, skylark and meadow pipit now all believed to be nesting on the hill. There are mountain hares here too, plus water voles and a wide range of amphibians.

It’s a wonderful start, although there is much more to come as the John Muir Trust continues to demonstrate what’s possible when people and nature work hand in hand.

Further info

For much more on Glenlude, including how to get involved, visit www.johnmuirtrust.org/trust-land/glenlude

Photography: John Muir Trust