BORDER PATROL A708
Start Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway
End Selkirk, Scottish Borders
Distance 33 miles
Riding time 50 mins
Best bit Funnelling upwards between the hills just past Gray Mare’s Tail waterfall is a delight
Come rain or shine, snow or mist; if I let my mind wander with the road, an hour or two on the A708 is as profound as riding gets. Tarmac caresses a swooning empire of mossy hillsides; grey lakes banked with sombre ranks of wise old trees stooping fingers into the water, dreaming of legions of ancient feet. Today it’s my turn, taunting physics on a confounded contraption, to arrive momentarily in a blast of unfathomable combustion like an alien time traveller from the future.
And, even better, the sun’s out.
Spoiled for choice
There are so many great roads and routes in the counties of Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders — that swathe of land south of Glasgow and Edinburgh sandwiched between Scotland and England — that it’s hard to limit a choice to just a single stretch that trumps the rest. You could make convincing arguments for lots of others in the most overlooked and under-appreciated motorcycling landscape in the UK. But we have to choose one, and it’s got to be the A708 between Moffat and Selkirk — selected because there’s a bit of everything crammed into its brief 33-odd miles; fast stuff, dramatic scenery, slower stuff, jumps and crests, even dodgy bits. And a really nice café with a cool view.
The ride starts — as many do here — in Moffat, just off the A74M, 30 miles north of the English border. The Buccleuch Arms Hotel is run by Gs-owning Dave, set up to cater for riders with secure bike sheds. Dave is well-versed in attending to the needs of wet, cold, tired, hungry, thirsty, aching bikers, or just motorcyclists happy to be left alone to relax. It’s a no-brainer to spend the night here and start out the next day, following one of Dave’s well-known routes.
As it happens, we’re riding together today; Dave on his faithful BMW, and the A708 is his personal favourite too.
He’s spent 20 years exploring the region, and recommending routes. As soon as Moffat’s houses fade away and national speed limit signs appear, the hills in the distance and the inviting curve of the road lures us on. For the first few miles the dry, black, granular tarmac is cracked and weathered, but still gives grip to warming tyres as we chase the vanishing point along Craigieburn Ridge. We pause for the traffic lights where the chewedup road narrows in a U-bend under the trees, then get walloped by the sight of the valley walls as the trees fall back — if you can take your eyes off the road.
Which isn’t advisable — complex bends ping at us, swinging the bikes left and right in a flurry of physics. Past a couple of farms, we nod at other riders coming the other way — as far as popularity goes, you’ll see as many bikes on the A708 as you will cars.
Waterfalls and lochs
Gradually the walls of the Moffat Water valley funnel in, looming closer in a steep-sided press of moss green flecked with grey, tumbling rocks between a patchwork of dark conifers. The scenery is as beguiling as the road. We stop at Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall car park, and Dave marches me up a ridge to see the cascade showering down a crack in the hillside.
It’s a longer tramp to get closer, so we jump back on the bikes and head uphill as the road leaves the river and begins to cling to the hillside instead, protected from the drop on the left by an unyielding row of concrete stumps and a railing.
The road straightens to run past the rustling blue Lock of the Lowes — Sam or Alex? — and then winds its way to the head of St Mary’s Loch, and the Glen Café. The café is usually well-stocked with bikers and has plenty of room to park. The views across the loch are great, and it’s a perfect place for a brew and a sandwich.
Refreshed, we head further along St Mary’s Loch to sweep around the long right-hander at Cappercleuch — and it’s here we face a choice: carry on the A708, narrowing through Yarrow and on to Selkirk; or turn left, over the winding track to Meggethead and past some stunning views across Megget and Talla reservoirs to link up with the gorgeously fast and flowing A701. We go left – and so should you!