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 (the long way)

Route out – Gorebridge to Middleton to Heriot to Fountainhall to Stow to Clovenfords to Galashiels to Tweedbank to Darnick to Melrose to Gattonside to Tweedbank. For route map click here.

Route back – Borders Railway (Tweedbank to Gorebridge).

  • Weather – sunny, warm and almost no wind at all.
  • Distance travelled – 46.06 miles
  • Riding time – 4 hours 18 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 29.4 mph
  • Average speed – 10.7 mph

Today, Dad and I decided to get up early and take a advantage of the brilliant weather by going for a long cycle through some of the most scenic parts of the Scottish Borders. For the first time ever, we also decided to do a one-way journey and then take the quick way home – on the Borders Railway.

The first part of the route from Gorebridge to the top of the Moorfoot Hills is exactly the same as one we did last last summer so for more details read that blog. It had snowed earlier in the week and despite the warm weather, we discovered quite a few large snow patches along the roadside near to Middleton and also on the high parts of the B7007 which took us up and over the top of the Moorfoot Hills. We also found an old sofa that some stupid idiot had dumped at the roadside… The highest of the hills in this area is Blackhope Scar and it was still fairly covered in snow which made for some great views as we cycled along the almost deserted road. At the bottom of the hill, just after Garvald Farm, we turned left onto the B709. This is a beautifully quiet section of single track road, roughly 4 or 5 fast, slightly downhill miles in this direction. The scenery was also nice in the sunshine today. We sped through Heriot and after climbing a short steep hill, we turned right onto the Old Stage Road.

The Old Stage Road is another very quiet single track road which takes you through the villages of Fountainhall and Stow. It basically runs parallel to the main A7 road, with the Borders Railway in between them. It’s a lovely road to cycle on because it is so quiet (more bikes than cars), the views are good and despite some quite steep uphill sections, there’s loads of really fast downhill bits. Heading south as we were today, it seemed as though there were more downs than ups and we certainly made good time. Oh, and another good thing about this road – you always see plenty of trains! Two things to note about this road though, there are a couple of cattle grids (one right at the bottom of a really steep hill so be careful not to hit it too fast) and also quite a few places where the road surface is rather bumpy. About 10 miles along this road we came to the one really killer hill of the day. It wasn’t so much that it was steep (though it was) but the fact that it seemed to go on for miles and miles. Thankfully the views were good on the way up and when we eventually reached the top, we found the perfect place to stop for lunch (boiled eggs, salad, oatcakes and crisps), a small patch of Beech trees with a stunning view right down the valley to the Eildon Hills at Melrose and the snow-covered Cheviot Hills in the far distance. After lunch we sped back down the other side of the hill, past a reservoir, a rock called “Dignity” and a field full of ponies. Soon enough, we whizzed down one more hill at 30 mph into the village of Clovenfords in the Tweed Valley.

As it was a nice day, we thought we’d nip into the shop in Clovernfords for an ice cream but unfortunately it now appears to be closed. So we carried on, taking the B710 downhill for a mile or so before turning left onto the A707 which runs alongside the River Tweed. It’s fairly quiet for an A road and we weren’t on it for too long anyway. After 2 miles or so we turned left following the Cycle Route no.1 signpost onto the B7060. This road climbs gradually and you end up quite high up with nice views back down the valley to the river below. After a short while, we turned left onto a very quiet narrow and scenic road which took us a few miles uphill, passing a nice little lake along the way, before speeding back down the hill into Galashiels. Judging by how quiet this road is, it must be a secret back entrance to the town…

At Gala, we skirted around the town centre, taking the A7 for a few hundred yards before turning off on the right just before Asda, onto a nice cycle path along the river side. We followed this path (which later became Cycle Route no.1 again) all the way to Tweedbank. At one point just before Tweedbank station, the path crosses a bridge over the River Tweed where you get an amazing view. It also runs very close to the railway line here and luckily for us, a train sped past at exactly the right moment… We decided not to stop at the station just yet but carried on along route no.1 into the historic village of Darnick and then into the town of Melrose. Here, just next to Melrose Abbey, we did find an ice cream shop so stopped to fill up on sugar and saturated fat. Dad had 2 scoops, the greedy monkey! We had a little bit of time to kill before the train home so we took the long way back to the station via the Chain Bridge. This is an unusual pedestrian suspension bridge crossing the River Tweed from Melrose to Gattonside. No more than 8 people are allowed on the bridge at any one time apparently… We then cycled a mile or so back along the riverside on the B6360 until we came to the B6372 and another bridge over the river, this one a hump-backed bridge with traffic lights. After the bridge, we turned right to go back along the path of route no.1 for a couple of minutes until we reached Tweedbank station again. This time we got on the train and were home in only half an hour!