Down the Tweed and Over The Cheviots

ITERA-lite started at 4pm outside the impressive and imposing Ettrick and Yarrow Mill in Selkirk. It was only a 15 minute walk from the HQ in the Rugby Club and Race Director Paul McGreal told the assembled racers he wanted to find a start location that reflected the history of the town, which was largely built on the Tweed mills that once flanked the river.

Tom Gibbs checked the GPS watches of racers were in Adventure Racing Mode, and one racer who hadn’t understood the rules had to give his watch up (it was a GPS watch but had no AR mode). The Irish racers gathered for a pre-race team photo and a few of the teams were carrying their helmets for the stage 2 kayak.  They planned to run with them on the first hour long trek, all except the Dutch team who were wearing theirs.

With the formalities over, the countdown began and the race started on time on a fine sunny afternoon.  The first couple of kilometres were non-competitive as it was complicated route out of town and Tom Gibbs rode ahead of the race pack to a point just outside the town, where he pulled over and the race really began.

Stage one was a 10km trek to Yair, climbing up and around the hill of Peat Law to a cairn just below the Three Brethren.  (These are three giant cairns which will be a checkpoint on the penultimate stage of the race).  From there it was run down forest trails into the Tweed Valley to reach the put in at the Fairnilee Bridge.  The racers ran across the three stone spans of the old, arched bridge to get to the kayaks, and looking down could see a small rapid which they would need to negotiate as soon as they put in.

Some stopped to study it carefully, especially when they saw other teams capsizing.  It was clearly going to be a difficult start to the 40km paddle down the Tweed.

The sit-on-top kayaks were set out in the car park of an old mill house and the leading teams quickly prepared for the paddle.  There was a steep bank to clamber down with the kayaks before putting in below the bridge, and teams then hit the rocky step which caused the ribbon of white water across the channel.  Team Endurancelife Celts were first to go straight into the rapid, and their second boat was the first to capsize!

They were not the only ones, many teams tipped over to take a swim right at the start of the paddle, and one managed to get stuck sideways between the rocks.  It wasn’t a difficult spot to recover as there were shallows and reeds not far downstream, but a swim wasn’t the best of starts to the stage!

The Tweed is renowned as a beautiful river and the forests and woods along the banks, the surrounding hills and many landmarks made it an interesting paddle downstream to Kelso.  Along the way there were several ancient abbeys and castles, including Floors Castle near to Kelso, which is said to be the biggest in Scotland. At one point teams paddled under the towering columns of the Leaderfoot Viaduct before taking a series of sweeping bends past Dryborough Abbey.

There were 4 short portages around weirs as well, the first two compulsory, and the second two advisory if teams were unsure. The final one was near the take out in the town of Kelso and it wasn’t a good idea to overshoot or they would hit another weir.

The water was low in places and taking a poor line saw some teams grounded and getting out to push themselves off of the shallows. McGreal said the water was the lowest he’d seen for years, but despite this the leading teams were almost an hour quicker than predicted. The two Endurancelife teams arrived in Kelso first, with Endurancelife Red first at 21.29, arriving just after nightfall. In the pairs race it was Team UK/NZ first off the water, but Team Breizh of France were not far behind.

Before starting the 175km bike ride teams had to walk 1km to a field, where they could pick up their bikes. They have a full night of riding ahead of them across the remote Cheviot Hills and its is likely the lead teams will reach the special activities stage at the Calvert Trust near Kielder first thing in the morning.  That is only if a team takes the full route and not all teams will.  Some will opt to start short cutting the long ride on the first night and there are a couple of obvious options to do that.


Rob Howard, Sleepmonsters