Canada has its charms for cycling, as does New Zealand, but the finest biking – MTB, trail and road cycling – I’ve ever encountered is right here in Scotland, with the Borders a serious highlight. The most recent arrival joining an already impressive sweep of cycling facilities is the Hike & Bike Hub in Galashiels, an oasis that is equally welcoming to walkers and ‘temporary locals’ seeking to learn more and weave their way into this vibrant local community.
The two big hitters when it comes to mountain biking in the Scottish Borders are Glentress and Innerleithen, world-class MTB trail centres that offer routes for all skill levels and all ages. They are centres that Scotland should be seriously proud of. We should also be proud of the excellent road cycling on quiet and deeply scenic rural roads here in the rolling hills, and around the surging waters, that so entranced Sir Walter Scott. It’s no accident that the UCI Cycling World Championships is coming to Scotland and the Borders this year and that the new 126-mile Scottish Coast to Coast route sweeps through the region.
I’ll be honest – I’ve cycled in many parts of the Borders, but never set off in or around Galashiels, which come to think of it is bizarre. This is a real fulcrum, a transport hub where the Borders Railway calls from Edinburgh less than an hour away. “It’s ok, in the past people have overlooked Gala”, smiles Angela Crow, manager of Hike & Bike Hub, which she runs alongside her husband George Crow, both volunteers. “We’re determined to change that and it’s happening quicker than we imagined. We only opened in February this year, but our opening day was very busy and it’s just blossomed from there.”
Their hub is right in Galashiels Town Centre, near the Transport Interchange and town centre car parks. For their premises, they tried different options and were struggling to secure somewhere when they got the go-ahead for their bike acquisition. In the end, they snared a superb town centre premises that would have become empty otherwise. George explains, “We are contributing to the regeneration of the town centre and being an information point will allow us to share our local knowledge of facilities with visitors. We’re both ex-police officers who returned to Galashiels in 2017, having lived in Cornwall for 15 years. We love the Borders; always have. This is where our hearts lie. We were struck by the fantastic opportunities to walk and cycle in and around Galashiels and wanted to play our part in promoting this fantastic area. Now we have our hub, we are doing just that.”
Pay What You Can
The Hike & Bike Hub focuses on promoting walking and cycling as active travel, as well as healthy leisure activities. They offer an innovative ‘pay what you can’ service, using surplus profits to ensure services are available to everyone. They also dispense information about local walking and cycling trails, information about local facilities, ‘walk it’ walks and other guided walks. It doesn’t stop there as they are also on hand with bike hire, e-bike hire, bike repairs, bike servicing and led cycle rides, with other sessions to come, such as basic bike maintenance and bike-ability skills.
Not simply a multi-use hub, the tireless couple have also mapped out five trails that branch out from the Interchange, all starting and finishing handily here. Angela says, “We picked routes we use ourselves, ones to enjoy for leisure. Now you can come into the Hub and scan to use an App that will lead the way. We have some great out of town cross-country biking around Gala and there is access to gravel routes too.”
Passion and enthusiasm surge from both Angela and George, an impressive drive that stems in part from their own life experiences. Angela explains: “Our young adult daughter was diagnosed with autism in 2020, and we shared her frustrations as she struggled to obtain and retain employment, which motivated us to raise everyday awareness of autism as we learned more about it as a family.”
“Having talked about the need for a dedicated walking/cycling hub for three-four years, we took the plunge and decided to go for it in May 2022. After several twists and turns, and much learning along the way, we got keys to the premises on 23 January 2023 and we opened on 4 February. We want to become an established and inclusive employer for neurodiverse (and neurotypical) staff. We already have two new volunteers (one walker and one cyclist), and once established, we hope to be able to provide paid employment opportunities with a positive action recruitment policy aimed at neurodiverse young adults.”
This focus has obvious benefits for the local community, who they are working directly with. Angela says, “We literally asked people what they’d like to see in our Hub. We put up a board and people can add whatever they like. One thing that came up a few times was a litter walk, so we’re working on that. We’re interested in anything that has a positive impact on the area. We’re open to public suggestions and as a charity, we’re open to all donations too, which go straight back into our work.” They are also reaching out to local youth groups and schools, whilst also building relationships with an independent local bike retailer, links with a social enterprise café, another cycle hub in nearby Stow and a second-hand bike recycler in nearby Tweedbank.
Temporary Locals Welcome!
The Hike & Bike Hub is also keen to strongly benefit people from further afield too, embracing SCOTO’s idea of ‘temporary locals' who contribute directly to the local community and benefit from that, as George explains: “We had one German guy who was in need of directions, so we helped him out with advice on a few local places. And with a few ideas for where to eat too. Another gent from Glasgow was a cyclist who was fairly organised, so we just enjoyed a good chinwag. We love to talk about bikes! Another visitor from Inverness wanted to cycle to Jedburgh, avoiding the main roads. He wanted to become a ‘temporary local’, but didn’t know how, so we helped him along."
This pair of human dynamos are not done there - “We organised the Galashiels Spring Walking Festival this year, which saw 64 walkers join one or more of the 7 walks offered over the weekend of 28-30 April. And we have a regular programme of events and workshops. You can always just pop in for a blether too, and the kettle is always on! We are really proud to be in a position to share our passion for our area with anyone and everyone. We would love to work with other social enterprises in any future town centre hub. We’re dreaming of one day opening a bunkhouse where you can sleep, have something to eat, and gets lots of info on walks and cycles. Also of interest is working on local mountain bike routes and other avenues for people to get out and explore. We love living in Galashiels and, although the last year has been a whirlwind, we have never been happier.”