07 April 2023 – Kelso – Hownam loop with “gravel” sections


Today’s ride was based on the exploration of a stretch of road that has intrigued us for a number of years, and now we finally got a chance to ride it. Initially, I envisaged it as a narrow minor road, but a bit of research showed it to be a grassy offroad track. So for this we needed our gravel bikes. and I made sure to change the tyres on Colette’s to wider gravel-specific ones, as she normally uses this bike as a road bike.

We arrived in Kelso on a lovely sunny morning, with barely a breath of wind. The downside was it was a chilly 5 degrees C at the off, so we were well layered up. After the usual departure south from Kelso, we took a right at the Jet petrol station along Jedburgh Road. 

Once we reached the edge of town, we spied an unmarked opening on the right and joined a dirt track leading in the direction of Roxburgh. We have Lynne to thank for the chance to get this bit of offroad under our belts before the main event later on, as she sent us the info the day before.

The track, which is presumably a disused railway line, ran through woods for the most part, with occasional nice views over the the right. There was a little mud here and there, but with a few dry days, I’m sure it would become an easy, fast dirt track suitable for any bike.

After a while, the track opened out onto a viaduct over the river Teviot. There were good views up and down the river from here. Progressing over the other side, the track deposited us onto the road at the south side of Roxburgh. It looked as if we could drag the bikes up a steep slope here to get onto another ex-railway path, but my hastily drawn route took us further south along the road.

It wasn’t long before the route deviated back offroad, taking us through a gate into a grassy field. On the other side of the wall there, we could see a crow inside a cage, looking not too happy to be there. Maybe it was our sudden appearance that scared it, or maybe it had been trapped. Anyway, it looked deliberate, and it wasn’t our business, so we carried on through the field, following a track along the grass till it led us down to a gate. 

At that gate, we joined the other ex-railway path that we had seen earlier. This track was quite muddy in places, and our gravel tyres did not seem best suited for riding through the stuff. Luckily it didn’t last long before improving again. Then the track ended at a dismantled bridge, where we carefully walked the bikes down a steep slope to the road.

Here, we turned left and rode along with mud flying off the wheels as we picked up speed. A short distance further, we took a left over the Kalemouth suspension bridge. The bridge is currently closed to cars, but luckily open to walkers and cyclists, otherwise I’d have been completely rethinking the day’s outing.

After the bridge, we had a very brief dalliance with the A698 before turning off onto the B6401. We were now heading towards Morebattle on what is usually a pretty quiet road, but today it seemed more cars than normal were needing to get past us. When we arrived in Morebattle, we understood why, as scores of people were gathering for a very large funeral. It had crossed my mind that we might stop there for a takeaway coffee, but in the circumstances, it was better that we push onward.

Our next destination was Hownam (which we later found out is pronounced “Hoonum”), involving a couple of steeper ups and downs than we had been dealing with up to this point. Once we reached Hownam, we rode through until we saw what we were looking for: a left turn up a hill, with a sign saying that the road ahead is closed to vehicular traffic during the months of April and May. 

The first time we saw this, we though that spring would be the ideal time to visit, as we would have the road to ourselves, apart maybe from some lambs; lambing being the presumed reason for the closure at this time of the year. Well, the road only ran for a short distance round the corner till it came to a gate alongside a house.

Beyond the gate was a field with a 4×4 style doubletrack going steeply uphill. The sign we just saw seemed completely redundant. I mean, who in their right mind would want to drive a car up here at any time of the year? I know ours wouldn’t get very far!

In fact, this path is known as “The Street” and was an important drove road in days gone by. There was no point even trying to ride up this slope, so we both started walking our bikes. I was fully expecting to do some “hike-a-bike” on this outing, and was quite enjoying it. Colette, with her arthritic feet, wasn’t enjoying it quite as much.

We took a rest at the top of the first push, alongside a wood bounded by a stone wall. It was now time to deploy the emergency ham and cheese sandwich to keep us fuelled till lunchtime. It also gave us more of a chance to take in the surroundings, standing as we were, in the middle of the Cheviot hills. Running along the ridge a few miles to the south of us was the Scotland-England border. We hadn’t got all that far from the road, but already it was feeling very peaceful and remote.

As we moved on, the gradient flattened off and we were able to ride for a while. I did pause for a quick detour up a grassy knoll to examine a standing stone. We then approached a very muddy expanse, where I thought that riding through the puddle described by one of the wheel tracks was the best bet at getting over with the minimum of mess. As hoped, it had a good solid base and I made it over without mishap. Unfortunately, Colette stalled halfway through and ended up with wet feet, which wasn’t ideal.

After that, there was another section of pushing, taking us up to a three-way signpost. The Street carried on to the right, while we went through a gate in the direction of Belford. Shortly after that, the grassy track turned to a steep downhill, which both of us were able to negotiate on the bikes, making a welcome change to pushing. 

From the next gate, we did have to walk again for a wee while, till we reached a farm track that headed downwards, gently at first. It wasn’t the easiest to ride though, consisting of rounded rocks varying from grapefruit to football size, set in a soup of mud.

A remote ruined cottage appropriately named Seefew.

As we picked our way down, we were met by a shepherd and two dogs aboard a quad bike. We had a quick chat, and he seemed surprised that we weren’t riding mountain bikes. Yes, indeed that would be the sensible way to traverse this offroad section. He had some good news in that it was now downhill all the way to the road. The bad news was that it was going to get rougher further down.

Undaunted (speaking for myself anyway!), we carried on, alternately slipping on the muddy bits, then bouncing over the rocks. Eventually, I opted to ride the less muddy grassy edge of the track, and we made our way safely down to meet tarmac at Belford farm. The road to the right carries on for a few miles before reaching a dead end, although there are plenty of tracks beyond that to explore should we decide to return. However, we were more interested in going left in the direction of lunch.

The road ran mostly flattish with a couple of little climbs, as we rode alongside Bowmont Water all the way to Town Yetholm. We pulled in at The Plough hotel, parked the bikes and went into the bar, after first taking off my very muddy shoes.

The specials board looked very interesting, and we decided to try out some of the “proper” lunch options rather than just something lighter like soup or a toastie or whatever. Colette looked washed out after today’s offroad adventure, so I thought we both deserved it. She had macaroni with garlic bread, and I had the country pie and chips. The food was great, and I mean really top quality pub grub: far better than we could have hoped for. We will certainly aim to have lunch here again!

After lunch, we were feeling almost too stuffed to move, and meanwhile, the clouds had come over, making it feel colder and less inviting to get back on the bike. However, an easy tempo took us sedately up the hills between us and Kelso. Then once we reached the top of the last hill, the sun came out again, and we sped our way back to the car in no time.

As we looked back over our little excursion into the wilderness, Colette was quick to mention the term “Type 2 fun”, while I have to admit that I had a ball the whole way through! Maybe I should leave it a while till we try another one like that though.




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