Spithope and Will’s Bothies
Route: Morebattle – Hownam – Spithope – Kielder – Hawick.
Date: June 2017
Distance: 59 miles or 94 kilometres
I forgot the camera and so had to take these photos on my phone, which is why they are very blurry. Sorry!
A spate of glorious June weather saw us heading off on a wee trip south to visit Spithope bothy, Byrness and Kielder. I had serious misgivings about it being midge season, but the weather was just too nice to ignore. We drove to our old home town of Morebattle and left the car there and began cycling south.
This is looking back towards the sheep farm where we used to live. You can just see the workshop I built as a tiny dot in the centre of the photo.
We headed off on the bikes up the Hownam valley, but in the roasting hot afternoon we couldn’t resist a wee swim in our favourite old swimming spot.
Catching tadpoles in the river.
Fording with style.
We found a spring, but the water was too far down to reach.
The Hownam valley is a stunning place for road cycling.
I love ignoring signs like these.
A roadside drinking trough, carved from a solid piece of stone.
As well as the camera I also managed to forget the stove, so we had to improvise and build a small fire to cook our noodles and veggie sausages. Tea time en-route.
The road ended and we began the long slog through rough terrain up to the border. This was very hard going.
The midges were horrible.
As the sun set I started to get worried – we were struggling with very tough terrain and losing the light fast. Thankfully we reached the border and the fire road just at last light and found the bothy soon after with help from the moon, ignoring the bridleway which was very overgrown. This meant negotiating the steps down to the burn to get to the bothy, but it wasn’t too difficult.
Spithope bothy next morning. It’s a tiny little hut adjacent to a sheep pen. It was probably where shepherds would rest overnight on their way to market with the sheep.
It is a small bothy, with sleeping platforms for 4. There were two men at the bothy already when we arrived so it was a bit of a squeeze until they left early the next morning.
A French mime artiste writing the bothy book.
Bridge on the bridge
Carrying the bikes up the steps to the forest road. After this we headed down to Byrness in anticipation of a large lunch at the pub/hotel there, only to find that they no longer serve food. Ever.
After the Byrness disappointment we scoffed some biscuits, then pushed on along the Forest Drive gravel road to Kielder, passing this viewpoint on the way. It was as hot as France and hard going because of it. The start of our ride was at the 100m contour, the border was at 433m, after which we went down a couple of hundred into Byrness then up again to this viewpoint.
Reading interesting things about moths at the viewpoint. He then mansplained about moths for several miles afterwards.
Heading south and west on the famous gravel roads towards Kielder.
After a welcome feast at the Anglers Arms in Kielder we headed west along the old railway line in the evening light. This is the part of the line that links Kielder to Riccarton junction. I wanted to try this route ever since our last cross-border trip, to see if it was easier than the route over Bloody Bush we took that time. It was, for the most part.
We crossed into Scotland and ignored the instruction to turn around and go back to England again. Not likely!
The old railway track was very overgrown and a bit of a challenge at times, but it was flat at least, which was welcome after the endless up and downs of Forest Drive.
An enthusiast seems to have bought the old station house at Saughtree. It has a few metres of track and some old carriages and engines.
This looks fairly benign, but it was what Joe accurately described as ‘the worst 20 minutes of any cycle trip ever’. This cutting was full of stagnant water and liquified cow shit. We had to tiptoe along the narrow strip of firm ground at edge of this, dragging our bikes through the muck as we went. This disturbed huge clouds of midges that we couldn’t get away from and we were eaten alive. It was grim as there was no quick way out.
We made it to Riccarton junction at last light and bedded down in a thankfully-tidy Will’s bothy for the night. I was stunned to find that the cigars we found there on our last visit were still there untouched. In the morning we made it back to Hawick in under three hours – quicker than the last time we stayed there in spite of the long grass now found along the old railway track. The next day a friend gave me a lift back to Morebattle to collect our car (in case you were wondering).