Tuesday, September 21, 2021
HomeStoriesOf Peblis To The Play; the Tour of Britain in Peebles

Of Peblis To The Play; the Tour of Britain in Peebles


Peebles for Pleasure” (Of Peblis To The Play) says the sign, and the good folk of this part of the world, one of the oldest Royal Burghs in Scotland, certainly do know how to enjoy themselves – today they warmly embraced the first ever visit to these parts by the Professional Tour of Britain, now in it’s sixth year of running in it’s current form.

I’ve recently married Gillian, a lass from the town, and over the last few years I’ve taken part in the many annual festivals, gala celebrations and sporting events — there seems to be something happening all the time and today was yet another example of the fun-loving and family-oriented nature of these great Borders people.

Of Peblis To The Play
Loads of leaders’ jerseys in Tiger Lilly gifts. Photo©Martin Williamson

This morning, the third stage of the race set out on it’s only Celtic leg, heading for the finish at Gretna — still in Scotland, but only just – and was sent off by a townsfolk who threw themselves fully behind the event.

Of Peblis To The Play
There’s some current and future champions amongst this lot. Photo©Martin Williamson

Most of the shops, hotels, and cafe entered the spirit of the occasion; taking part in a “pre-race Big Breakfast”, and dressing their windows with cycling-related displays celebrating the excitement of Britain’s biggest race starting from the small market town.

Forsyths the Bakers know their cycling history. Photo©Martin Williamson

Peebles (or, “the auld burgh toon” as it’s known) nestles in the beautiful Scottish Borders, and was a favourite visiting place for successive Kings and Queens of Scotland.

King James I of Scotland had a particular fondness for the place, and his famous humorous poem “Peblis to the Play“, written in the 15th century after witnessing the “Beltane” festival for himself, provides a wonderful picture of the joyous festival and fair that took place annually in the town – and still does by the way – on “Beltane-day”.

Of Peblis To The Play
This shopkeeper must have read Brad’s book. Photo©Martin Williamson
Of Peblis To The Play
The art shop even changed their display pictures to cycling ones. Photo©Martin Williamson

The prevailing note of the poem is undoubtedly one of happiness and the laughter of children, and the summertime festival’s influence is still as potent nowadays in binding more closely the hearts of all lovers of Peebles to the place of their birth or adoption. It certainly has worked for me.

Despite the town being used to things “going on”, the High Street was clearly buzzing this morning, particularly when the team buses and cars started to appear, at around eight-thirty.

Of Peblis To The Play
Peebles High Street, transformed into a UCI Race HQ. Photo©Martin Williamson

Cycling is hugely popular in the Scottish Borders, and in Peebles in particular – with the Glentress and Innerleithen mountain-biking trails just outside the town.

The Peebles cycling club boasts no fewer than five current children’s British Champions, who enjoyed getting their picture taken with British Road Champion, Kristian House of the Rapha Condor team.

Of Peblis To The Play
British Elite Road Champion Kristian House, with British Youth MTB Champion Grant Ferguson. Photo©Martin Williamson
Of Peblis To The Play
Candi TV’s Russell Downing moved up to the big league. Photo©Martin Williamson

A quick chat with Russell Downing, who last week signed the long-sought-after ProTour contract with Team Sky, following his mightily impressive win in the Tour of Ireland.

We thought you deserved a place in a top team after your ride to 40th place in the Worlds last year…

“Ah, it wasn’t that good mate, I was only 49th!”.

Yes, but in the same bunch as Bettini and Boonen, Russ!

Of Peblis To The Play
Wonder if Malc will be riding UCI 2.1 races when he is in his fifties? Russell’s 48 year-old team-mate Malcolm Elliot is lying 7th overall — quite amazing. Photo©Martin Williamson
Of Peblis To The Play
The Police Special Events Unit – best job in the world if you’re into motos. Photo©Martin Williamson

There’s Richard Latto, a chap from the town who I know from competing in triathlons, Richard is also a senior police officer with Lothian & Borders Traffic Division and was responsible for coordinating the local police presence with the race’s own police unit.

“I’ve been working with the dedicated police mobile events unit and the various regional councils for a couple of months, to ensure enough of a police presence for public safety and for the safe passage of the race — it’s not like the Tour de France, where every little farm track on the route has a gendarme there all day, because this race runs on a ‘rolling road closure’ basis, we can do what we need to with just two motorcycle outriders and 15 cops, positioned at the pinch points.”

Of Peblis To The Play
Ed Clancy and Dave Brailsford chat. Photo©Martin Williamson

Halfords’ Ed Clancy was in discussion with Team Sky’s boss, Dave Brailsford, present at the race this morning “to finish a little business”.

Clancy to Team Sky too?

“Nope. I’m going to continue aiming for success on the track, with the World Champs early next year, and the Commonwealth Games the following season.

I’m different from Wiggo, he always knew he had a great road rider inside him — I don’t think I do!.”

Of Peblis To The Play
Brice Fiellu want’s to borrow my leg warmers (they’d be about a foot too short!). Photo©Martin Williamson

Brice Fiellu – Agritubel’s stage winner at Arcalis pottered by, on his way to the sign-on.

I joked with him that on the second rest day at the Tour de France, when Ed Hood and I were shooting the breeze with Silence Lotto Director Henrik Redant, Brice came up and asked us if the Silence team boss Marc Sergeant was around.

Right then, we thought; that’s you off to Lotto next year. Brice laughed;

Ha, no, that didn’t work out, but my brother and I are signed with Vacansoleil, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to do even better next year.”

And this race today?

Well, it’s a bit cold here this morning, can I borrow your leg-warmers?”

By now, it was time to go and see Cervélo Test Team’s Dan Fleeman, who was going to officially open my friends’ new bike shop, Bspoke Cycles — handily sited just 20 metres from the team buses.

The lure of an espresso or two helped of course;

“For surewe do have a coffee-machine in the team bus – but it’s the bus that’s at the Vuelta!”

Dan did the business with the scissors, and stayed as long as he could for a good old ‘blether’.

Of Peblis To The Play
Dan officially opened Gary and Ewen’s new bike shop/ Photo©Martin Williamson

Gary and Ewan were chuffed that Dan kindly took some time out to cut the tape for them, but couldn’t believe what happened next — very much in demand, Olympic Champion and fourth in the recent Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins, popped over for a look at the Felt bikes in-store.

Of Peblis To The Play
Track Champion Rob Hayles Photo©Martin Williamson.

Outside, with race announcer Anthony McCrossan counting down the minutes ‘til the off, Halfords rider, ex-World Champion on the track Rob Hayles swung by. Coffee Rob?

“Nope, toilet!”

Rob is looking forward to riding for Scottish-based team Endura Racing next season, but we can’t say who else is on the roster, quite yet.

Inside the shop, Brad was still signing autographs for the ever-growing crowd, keen to catch a glimpse or say hello to the superstar track-turned roadman. Not a bad shop-opening after all then lads!

Brad was more than happy to sit and have his picture taken with babies bouncing on his knee — someone asked “You ever thought about politics after cycling?”.

Of Peblis To The Play
Despite being one of the biggest names in the race, Bradley Wiggins spent time signing autographs and chatting. Photo©Martin Williamson

I took a look at my watch — oops… Brad, it’s nearly time for the depart, have you signed-on yet?

“No, I haven’t actually… best be off then, don’t think they’ll wait for me!”

David Menzies, one of the race commissaires, joked with me earlier that there hadn’t been any official warnings or fines so far (he sounded just a tad disappointed) — “All the riders are being unusually well-behaved this year!

Hopefully Mr. Wiggins won’t be the first transgressor, for missing the sign-on then.

Of Peblis To The Play
The bike-mad children of Peebles lead the race around the town. Photo©Martin Williamson

The children – including some riders I think we’ll see in this race in six or seven year’s time – from the Peebles Cycling Club and the High School Club led the peloton for a lap of the town, whooping and waving at the crowds they embodied the love of cycling and the sense of fun we’d all like to share.

Then, after waving goodbye as the riders reached Glentress (kilometre zero) and headed south-west towards Galashiels, it was “back to class” time.

Of Peblis To The Play
The bunch head out of town to the start. Photo©Martin Williamson

Entire schools had come out to cheer on the riders in the town, and with around 3,000 children in 25 schools across today’s parcours having picnics and sports days in order to see the race, it’s been an exciting day for the children, and for local cycling fans, businesses and residents alike.

Of Peblis To The Play
They start ‘em young here. Photo©Martin Williamson
Pippo Pozzato’s white outfit wouldn’t last long in the typical Scottish winter. Photo©Martin Williamson

Sitting with my pals in the bike shop with a coffee, naturally, after the dust had settled, we reflected on the great send-off everyone in Peebles managed for the riders today. We’re sure the race appreciated it, perhaps almost as much as Dan appreciated the coffee!

Of Peblis To The Play
Bye ToB – see you next time. Photo©Martin Williamson
Martin Williamson
Martin is our Editor, Web site Designer and Manager, and concentrates on photography. He's been involved in cycling for over 42 years and has raced for many of them, having a varied career which includes time trials, road and track racing, and triathlons. Martin has been the Scottish 25 Mile TT and 100 Mile TT Champion, the British Points Race League Champion on the track, and was a prolific winner of time trials in his day, particularly hilly ones like the Tour de Trossachs and the Meldons MTT.

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