FKT: Alison Caldwell - Border Abbeys Way (United Kingdom) - 2020-11-22

Route variation
Standard loop
Gender category
Start date
Finish date
Total time
19h 55m 12s

Given the lack of races just now and the inability to travel far and wide to explore new places I made a bit of an impulse decision to tackle the Border Abbeys Way this weekend. It wasn't one of these carefully thought out long runs but more of a solo adventure offering a distraction to the current way of life. After the very wet weather recently and the shorter days of winter, I knew this was going to be a tough course but had I predicted just how tough it would be? No. What followed was a much slower than anticipated slip and slide around some of the muddies and boggiest trails I have ever been on.

My day started out at 06:45 outside Kelso Abbey, which I'm sure is much more impressive in daylight but both times I saw it this weekend it was dark.  After a brief, not well marked, jaunt out of town I quickly found myself on the trails running alongside the River Teviot. At this point it was still dark and so I wasn't lucky enough to have a view of Roxburgh Castle, which I believe sits impressively above the trail.  The trail was quite muddy at this point, a theme that would continue throughout the day, and I quickly found myself wishing I had waited until daylight before tackling this section.  But after only a few miles it was light enough for me to pack away the headtorch and enjoy a rather grey start to the day with a few rain showers.  Not much time had passed before I found myself facing my biggest fear on long runs - a field full of cows!  Some people would describe my fear of cows rather irrational but nevertheless I find them very intimidation and scary.  I carefully negotiated my way through the mud, cow pat and unnerving beasts and made it out the other side of the field alive - phew! I then enjoyed a short teasing of some road and track before finding myself sliding my way back along the edge of the river.

It was not long before I found myself approaching Jedburgh and facing the first short diversion of the day, after the trail has been damaged during all the flooding and storms the Borders have faced this year.  Luckily the diversion was just a short stretch through the adjacent housing estate. A little further along the trail I found myself wading my way through a flooded underpass with thigh high freezing cold water - winter running in Scotland at its finest!  I negotiated my way through Jedburgh past the beautiful Abbey and Castle before climbing my way to the best view of the day from the top of Black Law. It was boggy, and of course muddy, but by the time I reached the top the grey, rainy sky had cleared and the blue skies had opened up a magnificent view! I then had the pleasure of negotiating some muddy descents and making my way through Denholm. Coming out of Denholm there is a semi-permanent diversion in place as the original trail no longer exists - a victim of a landslip during one of the many storms in the area.  

After the diversion I was finally making my approach to Hawick. I had initially planned on stopping at a shop whilst passing through Hawick but the queue outside the Spar on the route put me off and so I decide I would trudge on and try and make it to Selkirk before sunset.  After a steep climb out of Hawick I found myself briefly on the rolling hills of country roads and was starting to enjoy myself - but this was short lived.  I spent a couple of miles hiking the steep ups and enjoying the steep descents but after not long I found myself back in some boggy fields.  I put some music on a continued to trudge along and after a couple of miles found myself passing through Woll Golf Course.  At this point I hit my lowest section of the day, the heavens opened, I was getting cold and wet, and the mud was really starting to get to me.  I just wanted to have a few miles of enjoyable running but every time I tried to hit some sort of pace I found myself fighting to keep my shoes and stay upright - I’ve been to drier, less muddy XC races!  After an hour or so the rain eased and i was on another short county road climb before hitting my favorite section of the trail, a beautiful long fired road descent, my favorite kind of running! Of course this didn't last long, but I soaked up every minute of it that I could.  For a lot of the section between Hawick and Selkirk the trail is shared with waymarked horse trails and unfortunately I think this is part of the reason the trail has ended up so muddy and boggy - the constant churning up of the trail.  I didn't quite make it to Selkirk before darkness hit and found myself digging out the headtorch after what had felt like only a few hours of daylight - but that's winter for you! 

After what seemed like miles more mud and bogs I soon found myself in Selkirk. At this point I almost didn't stop to refuel but at the eleventh hour my sensible head kicked in and I made the decision to quickly pop into a shop for a magic can of coke, some chocolate and a bar of Scottish Tablet. I also took this opportunity to throw on some more layers as it was beginning to get rather chilly!  After my quick refuel and layering I was on my way again.  If I’m honest beyond Selkirk the rest of the run is a bit of a blur of mud, bogs, trails and running along the river bank.  After what seemed like forever I found myself passing Melrose Abbey, which looked stunning at night!  At this point I sent my parents a quick text as I knew they would be starting to worry that it was 9pm on a Saturday night and I still hadn't uploaded anything to strava for the day. Something along the lines of "don’t worry I'm alive, the trail is a muddy mess and is taking me forever. I still have about 20 miles to go but I am fine".  I continued to follow the signs all the way to Dryburgh Abbey - it was here that the way marked route differed slightly from the GPX i had found online.  The way marked route goes passed the Abbey but not around the river bank as the gpx suggested so this was a nice welcome surprise - about  0.2 miles less mud to deal with!  After Dryburgh the route seemed to drag on, I have never known miles to pass so slowly.  I felt like I was still moving well running/jogging where i could but mostly just negotiating the mud.  I also got really cold at this point and had to stop for a couple of minutes to dig out more layers - at least it made carrying a rucksack full of kit all day worth it.  After what seemed like forever I finally found myself descending into Kelso and making my way to the finish, back where it all began.

I managed to slip and slide my way around the route self-supported in just under 20 hours.  A lifetime away from my target of around 16 hours. I had never been on any of this route before and as such had no idea of the conditions I faced underfoot.  Perhaps a route to try in the summer after a long, dry stretch in weather.  Maybe I will be tempted but I think I’ll wait until my feet have dried out before deciding that!  My biggest lesson her was never underestimate an FKT attempt on a route in winter - particularly on one you have never set foot on before!