Day Ride: Over the Border

A long day ride of nearly 300 miles from Northumberland into Scotland and back.

Ever heard of the Border Reivers? They were English and Scottish families and clans who took to cattle rustling and raiding (reiving) as almost a way of life between the 13th and 17th centuries. Sometimes they would cross the border, sometimes they’d reive closer to home. Either way, it was the result of a lawless part of the country that suffered from passing armies demanding victuals and not being that keen to pay for them…

Alnwick Castle – start/finish point and school to young Master Potter.

Anyway, we’re just out to steal a day’s fantastic biking on some great traffic-free roads. Starting from Alnwick, the site of the Duke of Northumberland’s (and Harry Potter’s) castle, we head for Rothbury on the B6341. It’s worth pointing out now that although there are lots of things to see en route, with 290 miles to cover this day is more about riding than stopping to sightsee — you’ll have to come back another day to do that, or stretch this to two or three days.

Descending into Rothbury, Cragside is on your left (visit another day), then onward to Otterburn and left to Bellingham. Follow the main road through Bellingham, but where it turns sharp left over the bridge take the minor road that goes straight on.

Single track roads are part of the route – this is Newcastleton-Langholm.

We’re now heading up the North Tyne Valley towards Kielder, and to reach the famous Kielder Water, turn left at the next T-junction and follow this road as it snakes alongside the river, then climb past Kielder Dam. Stop for coffee (yes, you are allowed one) at Tower Knowe before following a fast sweeping road with views over Kidder Water, through Kielder village where the road narrows and crosses the border.

At the T-junction turn left on the B6357 to Newcastleton, and in the village turn right up the minor road to Langholm (signed ‘Toilets, Golf Club & Police’). Climbing over the moor, this is a birds of prey conservation area with fine views to Solway Firth and the hills of the Lake District.

Keep your eyes open for birds of prey on this route.

A steep descent brings us down to the A7, left into Langholm and once in the town take a right over the river then a left onto the B7068 to Lockerbie. Through Lockerbie take the A709 to Dumfries, and apologies here because this is the start of 22 miles of uninteresting, traffic-filled roads compared with what we’ve just had and what is to come.

On reaching the A75, go straight on for half a mile if you need fuel before returning to the route, otherwise head west to Crocketford. Now this is more like it — the start of 100 miles of absolute biking brilliance going all the way back to Selkirk

A712 looks like fun on a sunny day.

Take a right in Crocketford onto the A712. The road snakes its way through some fantastic countryside with views over the Dumfries and Galloway hills; you can often see red kite soaring here. Eventually the road descends to a T-junction with the A713, where we turn right for St John’s Town of Dairy. On entering the village, the road turns sharp right and climbs before turning left at a junction. Then turn right off the main road onto the A702, which now climbs up out of the village and swoops and twists over hills and along river valleys through Moniaive towards Thornhill. After crossing the narrow bridge over the River Nith the road turns sharp left and heads uphill to a right hand bend into Thornhill – turn off to the left here and follow the road through the trees to the A76. Take a left onto the A76 heading north for about a mile before turning right back onto the A702 for the second half of this brilliant road.

Sweep past St Mary’s loch – if you stop at the cafe, say Guy sent you.

After tight bends under the railway bridge the road opens out into fast sweepers over the Lowther Hills to Elvanfoot and the M74 motorway. Take the first exit off the roundabout, under the motorway to a T-junction and turn right for Beattock (B7076). Just a short run to another roundabout, take the first exit then head south, criss-crossing the motorway for about seven miles before turning left (B719 for Greenhillstairs) over the motorway, then right and climb up out of the valley to join the A701 and descend into Moffat. Just north of here is the Devil’s Beef Tub where the Reivers used to hide stolen cattle.

In Moffat take the road down the left side of the market square (A708 to Selkirk). Out of town, the road pitches and twists alongside Moffat Water as we go up the valley, past the Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall (there’s a spectacular walk up the side of the waterfall to the loch that feeds it but I don’t recommend it in biking gear).

We’re guessing they see quite a few bikes up this way…

The road climbs up out of Dumfries and Galloway, over the top of the pass into Borders, widens and descends down to St Mary’s Loch and the Glen Café,  very biker-friendly and home to Guy Martin’s No1 fan! Carry on alongside the loch and the River Yarrow down to Selkirk. Join the A7 south for a short distance before turning left onto the A699 to Kelso just after the Shell garage. A well-surfaced road climbs past Selkirk golf course, past the Eildon Hills and through St Boswells then follows the River Tweed to its confluence with the Teviot at Kelso. Look out for Floors Castle, seen over the Tweed, as you approach town.

At a T-junction turn right, away from Kelso town centre, straight on at the mini roundabout to the roundabout at Sainsbury’s, straight on again here (B6352) and after about a mile turn left for Wooler (B6396). Continue along this road for just over seven miles and where the road takes a sharp left turn right onto the bumpy B6351, before we join the A697 turning right. Into Wooler, and 200m or so past the petrol station turn left over the bridge onto the B6348 to Chatton. At Chatton turn right for Alnwick, past Chillingham Castle with its torture chamber and back to where we started.

Words & photography: Roger Dixon

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