If you’re fed up turfing along busy bustling city streets, dodging belligerent buses, avoiding taxing taxis and feel the need to take some zones in a pleasant, quiet woodland setting, what better place to visit than the grounds and policies of Newbattle Abbey, Eskbank. There are 12 zones dotted around the area and a spare hour on a bicycle is all you need for an interesting, sometimes challenging, five-mile-long, mostly off-road wildlife-rich circular route. Of course, you can also walk the route if that’s your preference and it’s a favourite of mine for a night run on the Swifty Air kick scooter.
The best starting place, if travelling by infernal combustion vehicle, is the abbey parking area, located just inside the main gate. For the route itself, there is a choice of which direction to take, clockwise or anti-clockwise. During normal weather conditions there is not much difference between the two directions but in wet weather, I would suggest the latter, mainly because the path in Kirk Bank Wood can be really, really, muddy after heavy rains and is easier to ride downhill than uphill. Well, slightly easier. It still very slippery and often great fun, shall we say.
So, following in an anti-clockwise direction, the first zone on the tour is AncientBattle and there’s a couple of ways to get there. First the easy, boring, but quick way. From the parking area, head through the entrance gate, go left a short way, then right into Newbattle Abbey Crescent. Take the next left, then right, and go through the gap at the garages. You will see the entrance to the woodland along the riverside ahead of you, across the grass. The zone is about 50 meters on front of you. Note the GPS signal can be a bit dodgy here. Try not to fall into the river.
The not-so-boring way does away with nasty smooth tarmac and goes off-road, lets say, taking the scenic route. Instead of turning into Newbattle Abbey Crescent, continue for about 50 meters and go right into an almost hidden gravel driveway. At the end keep left and follow the path up river. There’s a few trees for the hard-core techno-bikers to jump over, plenty of tree roots and it can be muddy but nothing too bad.
Zone TheRedWoods is next and again there’s the quick and easy way or the fun way. The easy way is to cross the grass onto Newbattle Abbey Crescent again and continue southwards. At the end, keep left, cross the grass and follow a narrow path to the A7 road. Head left, past the Sun Inn and the caravan park entrance. Before you reach the fork in the road, there’s an entrance into the wood on the right with stone pillars. This is Lady Lothian’s Walk and we follow this for the zone. The “fun” way is to continue following the path upstream from zone AncientBattle through the wood and join the A7 road as above. Note the path is twisty, narrow, muddy, has pedal-catching roots and boulders and low overhanging branches. Nice.
For the next zone, TheSouthPath, you have some cycling to do as it well over a mile away, and mostly uphill as well. Keep following Lady Lothian’s Walk and you will eventually reach some steps across the Ochre Burn, then cross the B703 to join another footpath known locally as Roan’s Dyke Path. Be carefully if you decide to follow this route in the opposite direction as the gravel can catch you unawares. Running water can form ridges and hollows in the loose gravel which can easily throw you off course. Avoid going round the bottom bend at speed as I’ve seen on young lad pulling his bike from the burn after losing control.
Zone Mary is next. At the top of the path, go left through a gap in the wall and follow the path. The zone is where the path crosses the Mary Burn. Note the culvert has partially collapsed and is not all that easy to see at night. Continue onwards following the path until you reach a junction with a wider trail. Now go left again and an easy if rough downhill track will soon have you are the next zone, TheNorthPath.
BattleAbbey is next. Again, head downhill and keep left at the fork. We now head down to the river and will emerge at a footbridge leading to Newbattle Abbey. The final section is steep and the gravel can be quite loose. To reach the zone head downstream and into the once grand ornamental gardens. The zone is at the bottom corner. There’s some handy benches if you fancy a breather. Note there are stone steps here which can be almost invisible at night, particularly when snow is lying. I found this to my cost one night on the kick scooter when I wasn’t paying attention and went over the handlebars.
For zone SouthEsk, located at the 15th C., Maiden Bridge, we again head downstream, crossing the open grass area, then along a path beside a row of beech trees which was once a hedge but someone must have forgot the trim them a few times. There are some slippery tree roots here, so watch out. At the point you emerge from the trees, I once met an older woman standing beside her bike looking rather shaken, pale and soaking wet. It transpired that she stopped at this point but forgot she was clipped into the pedals and toppled sideways into the river, still attached to the bike, just missing the rocks you see some two meters below. She was a lucky lady that day. A passer-by had helped her, and her bike, out of the river.
Once you’ve taken zone SouthEsk, follow the tarmac path heading west. Zone BattleForest is shortly before you reach the wooden gate into the St. David’s housing estate. The zone is much easier to take now having been relocated onto the footpath rather than in an areas of dense woodland. It’s now much easier to get a good GPS signal and take the zone.
For our final four zones, we head for Kirk Bank Wood for zones NewBattle, RecentBattle and OldBattle. Now, a wee shortcut. Just to the left of the wooden gate you will see a gap leading into Newbattle Gardens. Follow the road out and go left along the B703. Just past the cemetery wall, there’s a gap leading into the wood, before you start going downhill. Take care as the road is narrow and can be busy. For the zones simply follow the path, keeping left as you approach the opening in the wall onto the B6392 road to Eskbank. No need to leave the woodland.
We have just the one final zone to take before the tour ends. Emerging from the woodland, keep right across the grass and join a short tarmac access road for Acre Cottage, then along to zone StoneGate. Also known as the King’s Gate, built in 1822 for a visit to Newbattle by King George IV. And there ends our turf tour of Newbattle abbey. Hope you enjoyed the trip. Now go and clean the mud from your bike!
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