Grand Tour of the Scottish Borders (Volume 5): The 4 Abbeys

Route out – Tweedbank to Gattonside to Newstead to Newtown St Boswells to Dryburgh to Clintmains to Kelso to Heiton. For route map click here. Note that Google Maps tells you to go onto the A68 at Leaderfoot but you don’t need to – just use the pedestrian bridge next to the viaduct to cross the river.

Route back – Heiton to Cessford to Jedburgh to Nisbet to Ancrum to Melrose to Tweedbank. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – bright and reasonably sunny in the morning but lots of heavy showers in the afternoon and very windy too.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 62.7 miles
  • Riding time – 4 hours 46 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 33.7 mph
  • Average speed – 13.1 mph
  • Height climbed – 2815 feet

Last Saturday, Dad and I took our bikes on the train to Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders to try out a route I’d been thinking about doing for a while – the 4 Abbeys cycle route. This is a signposted circular route though as we found out, the signage is at times vague or even invisible so make sure you bring a map with you so you don’t get lost in the middle of nowhere. Our route is also slightly different in places but 90% of it is the same as the normal route.

After leaving the station we crossed the old bridge to the other side of the River Tweed and headed along the B6360 through Gattonside. This is a nice cycling road – quite quiet, good surface, relatively flat and nice views across to Melrose and the Eildon Hills. Before long we arrived at the Leaderfoot viaduct and immediately after passing underneath it, we nipped off the road on the right and joined a pedestrian bridge which crosses the

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River Tweed. Here you get amazing views of the viaduct. We then crossed the river and followed the narrow road (closed to traffic) for the mile or so to the village of Newstead with the Eildon Hills getting closer all the time. After cycling up a steep hill to leave the village we came to the junction with the A6091. This road is very busy so be very careful here. Luckily we only had to go on it for 30 yards and then there’s a right turn lane which we used to cross over onto the mainly traffic-free road that goes along the side of the hills and is actually part of Cycle Route no.1. This is a lovely stretch of road for cycling and has great views along the way of the Borders countryside. There’s also a brilliant fast downhill stretch for the last wee bit as you reach the town of Newtown St Boswells.

We zoomed through Newtown and then up a steep hill to the junction with the main A68 road. We only had to cross over and onto a narrow side road but the A68 is busy so we had to be very careful here. Soon we arrived at an old pedestrian bridge with a wooden floor which crosses the River Tweed and we stopped here to photograph the nice views. On the other side of the water we cycled up a steep hill and and arrived at our first abbey of the day – Dryburgh Abbey. You can’t really see anything of the abbey from the road and unless you pay loads of money at the visitor centre you are stuffed – or so we thought. Dad went in and asked the man if we could sneak in and take a quick photo but he wasn’t too keen on the idea. He was though kind enough to direct us to a spot in the grounds of the hotel next door where we could see the abbey over a high wall so we did get some photos after all.

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After Dryburgh we had a lovely ride through the countryside for quite a while, mostly slightly downhill and quite fast on a mix of quiet B roads and minor roads with lots of long straight sections. Eventually we arrived at a junction with the A6089 and we had to turn right onto this road for the last mile or so into the town of Kelso. This short section was not pleasant due lots of traffic and idiots overtaking when it wasn’t safe… However, we made it to the town centre in one piece and after stopping to photograph Kelso Abbey (no sneaking around and peaking over high walls required!) we ended up at Greggs the baker for an early lunch.

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Leaving Kelso turned out to be a complete nightmare. Our intended route (the signposted route) should have taken us along the A699 for a short way and then down a minor road to Roxburgh on the west side of the river. Unfortunately there was some event on down that road and the road was completely blocked with a traffic jam. Rather than sit in a queue of cars (and ruin our average speed!) we took a diversion along another main road instead, the A698, which would take us the same general direction but on the other side of the river. This turned out to be a bad idea as the road was busy, but even worse, it was straight into the strong wind so we struggled to go at a good speed. It was a lovely road surface though and quite flat too. After about 5 miles of this, passing a village called Heiton along the way, we came to a junction where we could turn off onto the B6401 to re-join the official 4 Abbeys route. Thank goodness for that… From there we had a lovely time cycling along deserted

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back roads (we saw only 2 cyclists and 2 walkers and no cars at all for a long time). We also had the chance to forage for wild raspberries at one point which is always nice. Just before Jedburgh, there’s a very long gradual hill to climb and then the road goes steeply downhill right into the town centre. On the outskirts of town Dad spotted a road called Rowan Road so we obviously stopped to photograph it before we quickly heading along to Jedburgh Abbey which is a very impressive ancient building overlooking the main road. It is impossible to miss as you cycle along.

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After a pleasant cycle through Jedburgh town centre and then along a short riverside path, we came upon the main A68 road on the northern outskirts of town. Here the signpost for the 4 Abbeys route isn’t clear but Dad checked the map and we were able to miss out the busy road and take a minor road that runs mainly in the same direction but on the other side of a river. This road was very quiet apart from a recently killed badger which was lying in the middle of the narrow road. Soon enough we came upon the dreaded A698 again and there was no way to avoid it this time. Thankfully it seemed a lot more pleasant cycling on it with the wind at our backs this time. After less than a mile we turned left onto the B6400. We immediately came upon an unusual narrow metal bridge that took us over the river into the village of Nisbet. From the bridge we got amazing views down the river valley to the East and West. We stayed on the B6410 for a few miles, heading westwards and slightly uphill through pleasant and peaceful countryside until the peace ended at the junction with the A68. We just needed to cross over main road to rejoin the B6400 again on the over side but it was very busy so it took quite a while till there was a suitable break in the traffic. It was there that we spotted an unusual stone bench so we stopped for a short break and watched my favourite bus go by (the Borders Buses 51).

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After our bus stop we rejoined the B6400 and cycled through a village called Ancrum. At this point the rain really started to fall heavily so we put our jackets on and pedalled as fast as we could. We had been expecting some showers but it basically rained constantly for the rest of the journey back to Tweedbank. After what seemed like hours of slogging uphill in the wet through what was probably a very nice and scenic landscape (it was certainly quiet and we hardly saw any cars or cyclists), we finally turned off onto the B6359 heading even more steeply uphill, around the Western edge of the Eildon Hills before finally reaching Melrose with an extremely steep and scarily fast downhill section right to the town centre. In the rain, that downhill section wasn’t as much fun as it should have been… Anyway, we made it to our favourite ice cream shop safely enough and filled our faces with raspberry cone (me) and 2 scoop tub (Dad). Dad managed to sneak a photo of the Abbey through the fence too. We made it back to the station with a while to wait until the next train so we went for a quick cycle around Gun Knowe Loch to pass the time. When we got back, the train pulled into the station at exactly the same time as us.

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This was a very long and challenging route with lots of hills but apart from the last hour or 2 in the rain, it was very enjoyable. If it sounds too long for you though, you could easily split it up into shorter sections. Right, I’m now ready for Grand Tour of the Scottish Borders volume 6 – where will we go next…?

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Gorebridge to Tweedbank (Volume 2)

Route out – Gorebridge to Crichton to Fala Dam to Fala to Gilston to Fountainhall to Stow to Langshaw to Gattonside to Melrose to Eildon to Newton St Boswells to Bowden to Darnick to Tweedbank. For route map click here.

Route back – Borders Railway (Tweedbank to Gorebridge).

  • Weather – sunny with a light breeze. Cool at first but warm later.
  • Distance travelled – 44.35 miles
  • Riding time – 4 hours 26 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 35.4 mph
  • Average speed – 10.0 mph
  • Height climbed – 3245 feet

On Saturday Dad and I continued our recent theme of cycling to Tweedbank and then getting the train home to Gorebridge, this time going the hard way over lots of really steep hills. The first part of the route takes you through some of the most scenic parts of Midlothian on very quiet single track roads which are perfect for cycling. The route we took is exactly the same as one we went on previously when going from Gorebridge to Fala Dam so read that blog for more detail. We were out really early (7am start) so this meant there was loads of wildlife out and about. We spotted 2 buzzards, 3 deer and 1 hare in only the first few miles from the house. After Fala Dam there’s a huge steep hill to climb on the way to Fala Village. Fala looks like it would be a fine place to stay so we stayed for a bit, stopping there for a well earned break. I had an orange for my snack and Dad had a much healthier snack (so he said) of a bag of salt and vinegar crisps…

After that we headed out of the village, downhill and extremely fast on the B6457 for a mile or so until we entered East Lothian just before the junction with the B6368. Here, we turned right and headed towards the hills in the distance. Eventually, we came to the junction with the main A68 road – normally a road that we would avoid like the plague as it’s really busy. However, today we had no choice but to venture onto it, turning left and cycling gradually uphill for a few hundred yards before turning off (using the handy right turn lane for safety) onto the B6368 once again – AKA the Gilston Road. By the way, our minute or so on the A68 was actually fine as it was still early in the day and the traffic was relatively light. The road surface was also nice and smooth. Anyway, from this point on, the B6368 is actually a really quiet single track road and it climbs right along the border between Midlothian and the Scottish Borders (actually just inside the Scottish Borders) quite steeply at first up to the high point of 369 m at some historic place called Soutra Aisle. We stopped for a look at it but I preferred the view of the Soutra Hill wind turbines in the distance. The 6 miles we cycled along the road were brilliant fun with lots of amazingly fast downhill sections and some short but steep uphills. The views of the hills and countryside were nice and we saw lots of baby lambs in the fields – and also a dead badger at the side of the road for the 2nd time in 2 days… We also only passed 1 or 2 cars in half an hour which made the cycle even more pleasant.

The Gilston road ends with a fast downhill section which takes you to the junction with the A7 road, the main road between Edinburgh and Galashiels. It’s a much safer road to cycle on than the A68 as it is nowhere near as busy for some reason. We turned left and cycled for a mile or 2, slightly downhill and really fast along the newly resurfaced road, before turning right into the village of Fountainhall. We then took the quiet back road south for a few miles of ups and downs through the peaceful and picturesque Borders countryside. The road basically follows the route of the railway line and luckily we spotted a few trains today, including one with an incredible 5 coaches (most unusual for the Borders Railway!). Soon we reached Stow where we turned off the back road and cycled downhill past the train station and over a bridge across the Gala Water and into the main part of the village. There’s a few shops and cafes in Stow but we only stopped long enough to photograph the 15% gradient sign at the side of the B6362 (signposted for Lauder). We weren’t going that way though and instead followed the Border Loop cycle route sign up an equally steep (or more likely even more steep) narrow road that took us out of Stow and into the countryside again. The road was unbelievably steep for the first while, easily the steepest road we’ve cycled up. Dad checked the map later on and reckons we climbed 200m in only a mile or so. The hill seemed to go on forever but luckily, someone had had the good idea to put a bench halfway up so we stopped there for a snack and to enjoy the views of the hills. After what seemed like forever, the road started to level out a bit to what I would describe as “only quite steep” and the wind farm came into view. It’s quite an amazing sight to see the wind turbines right up close, though today, they were barely turning at all due to the lack of wind… After the high point on the road of 372m it was all downhill for ages and we fairly sped along, trying not to crash at a right-angled bend, before passing a farm and a nice woodland and then reaching the junction with the back road from Lauder to Galashiels.

We turned right here and cycled south towards Gala, mainly downhill and very fast again along a reasonably quiet and reasonably surfaced road. There were some cars but the road is wide enough for them to overtake safely enough. The views along this road are pretty good, especially as you near Gala and the Eildon Hills come in to view in the distance. After that really fun section, we came to the B6374 road from Galshiels to Melrose. We turned left for Melrose. This road was not much fun at all with a lot of traffic and corners, making it hard for cars to get past us. After a few minutes, Dad spotted a signpost for Gattonside Mains and decided to follow it, turning off the busy road and going left onto a deserted single track road. This was certainly a long cut but was worth it to get away from all the cars. It turned out to be one of the best cycling roads ever as it climbed up high above the River Tweed and the views of the Eildon Hills were unexpectedly good. We saw no traffic at all – just 1 horse and 1 dog – and after a couple of miles, the road went steeply downhill and we sped into the village of Gattonside far too fast, even with our brakes on full… We crossed over the main road in Gattonside and then headed for the River Tweed, crossing into Melrose over the Chain Suspension Bridge as we did the last time we were here. Arriving in Melrose, we soon noticed that the town was much busier than usual – we hadn’t realised that the Melrose 7s rugby tournament was on today. Luckily, our favorite bakery and ice cream shop were less mobbed than the surrounding streets so we enjoyed a lunch of 2 macaroni pies (Dad) and a cheese and onion pasty (me) followed by a raspberry cone (me) and a 2 scoop tub (Dad).

After lunch, we had plenty energy and plenty time left before we needed to get a train home so we decided to cycle around the Eildon Hills before heading back to Tweedbank station. For some reason I really like the Eildon Hills and me and Dad often come down here to climb them but this would be my first time cycling around them. First we left Melrose and followed Cycle Route no.1 along a mainly traffic free road to the left of the hills. There’s a gate blocking the road so only bikes can go past a certain point beside the Rhymer’s Stone. Soon you start to get good views to the south as we cycled past the village of Eildon itself and then onto the town of Newtown St Boswells. Here we took the B6398 road to Bowden which is a lovely straight road that takes you around the back of the Eildon hills and gives you probably the best unspoiled views of all. After Bowden (which seemed like a lovely little village), we turned right onto the B6359 which turned out to be suspiciously uphill for quite a while but at least it was a quiet road so we plodded along enjoying the views for a couple of miles. Then we came to the best part of the ride. We followed a signpost for the 4 Abbeys cycle route and turned off onto a narrow road on the left. This turned out to be one of the steepest and fastest roads I’ve ever been on and it was brilliant fun despite a few hairy moments on the corners. It was a bit like downhill mountain biking with out any of the mud, rocks or trees… In only a minute we’d sped all the way to Darnick and from there, we simply had to follow the Cycle Route no.1 signs for a couple of miles back to the station at Tweedbank. We got the 1:30pm train and were home just after 2pm. Brilliant weather, brilliant scenery and a brilliant day out.

How many other ways can we go from Gorebridge to Tweedbank? Who knows…?