OFF-ROAD cyclists will soon be able to bike from Peebles to Cardrona and Innerleithen without touching the tarmac.
Scottish Borders Council (SBC) has won a £600,000 Rural Priorities grant to develop a path in the Tweed Valley.
Councillor Vicky Davidson, economic development spokesperson, said: “We are absolutely delighted. The award enables the route to be extended to Cardrona and Innerleithen, creating over seven kilometres of new path and linking the two associated world-class mountain bike centres at Glentress and Elibank.”
The Scottish Government and European money – boosted by cash from SBC and the sustainable transport charity Sustrans – will also cover building a footbridge across the River Tweed and creating more core paths in the area, which will boost tourism and employment said Mrs Davidson.
An old single-track railway will be adapted to create the walking and cycling route between Peebles, Cardrona and Innerleithen.
The council hopes to have the new access open by December next year.
Forestry Commission Scotland’s (FCS) Borders manager Bill Meadows said: “This is great news and we are very supportive of the new trail network.
“There are lots of fantastic developments happening around the Tweed Valley, including the new Glentress Peel visitor centre, and to have these forest tourism attractions linked up together in this way is a real boost for the communities involved and the local economies too.”
The project costs, including the trail, bridge construction and way-marking, are estimated at £800,000 and £200,000 has come from Sustrans and SBC.
A feasibility study of the planned route estimates that 27,600 cyclists and 22,400 other users would use it each year, while 5,000 visitors would be attracted to the Tweed Valley specifically because of the trail. That, the study says, would be worth just over £1million to the local economy and create an estimated 15 tourism jobs.
Cycling has been identified as having potential in the Borders and a study in 2006 said the area would benefit from more “low level” routes appealing to families and recreational cyclists.
A council spokesperson said: “It is hoped that this proposal will help to encourage more recreational cycling in the Tweed Valley, and will also help to keep 7stanes centres at the forefront of an expanding market.
“Glentress is currently the most popular visitor destination in the Borders with approximately 300,000 visitors a year.”
Cycling is a key priority in the Scottish Borders Tourism Action Plan and the further development of leisure cycling and walking routes will bring considerable economic benefits to the Tweed Valley, said the spokesperson.
Planning permission for the route was granted two years ago following feasibility and detailed design work.
The first phase of the path, between Peebles and Eshiels, including the restoration of the old railway tunnel under the A72, was completed in May last year.
Work continues this year with an estimated completion date of December next year.
Meanwhile FCS’s new £8.4million Glentress Peel centre, set in 12 acres at the entrance to the Peeblesshire forest, is due to open this spring and includes an orientation centre housing the new osprey viewing centre, exhibition space, showers, toilets and changing rooms, a cafe, a bike shop and hire place and the Peel building for forest rangers which includes business and training facilities.