16 Jul Britain’s Friendliest Racecourse…
Britain’s Friendliest Racecourse…
The beautiful Scottish Borders are home to the lovely market town of Kelso. It’s a quiet place where time takes its own time and the river Tweed and the Teviot meet. Surrounded by stunning countryside and with a population of less than 6,500 it’s more like a large village than a town. Sir Walter Scott, who attended Kelso Grammar School in 1783, said of the town, “it is the most beautiful if not the most romantic village in Scotland”.
The town has a wealth of history. It’s unique in Scotland for having a cobbled square fed by four cobbled streets; a William Adam designed house completed in 1726 and a picturesque arched stone bridge – designed by John Rennie who later built Waterloo Bridge in London. The ruined Kelso Abbey and Floors Castle, with its magnificent gardens, are nearby and well worth a visit.
It’s a friendly, warm place full of folklore and legend. In Roxburgh Street is the outline of an imprinted horseshoe. Legend has it that it marks the place where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s horse threw a shoe as he was riding through the town on his way to Carlisle. Kelso has a long association with horses and the Bonnie Prince’s steed isn’t the only horse to have passed through the town. Each year in July, the town celebrates the border tradition of Common Riding, also known as Kelso Civic Week. The festival lasts the full week and is overseen by the Kelsae Laddie with his Right and Left Hand Men. It’s the Laddie’s job to visit neighbouring villages on horseback along with his henchmen, and climaxes with the Yetholm Ride on the Saturday.
Of course Kelso’s love of horses isn’t contained to a single week in the summer; Kelso has its own racecourse, and if horseracing was solely about picturesque locations then Kelso Racecourse would romp home a clear winner. There’s no doubt that a day at Kelso races is something special, but just what is it that gives Kelso its special magic? Well, firstly it has a great atmosphere. It was voted the Best Small Course in Scotland and the North of England in 2007 and 2012 by the Racegoers Club, it’s even been voted ‘Britain’s Friendliest Racecourse’ in a Sunday Times survey.
The first recorded race meeting in Kelso took place at Caverton Edge in 1734. Races were also later held at Blakelaw. But it wasn’t until 12 July 1822 that the foundation stone of the Grandstand of the current racetrack at Berrymoss was laid. Although the classical style building was built in 1822, it was designed years earlier in 1778. The building includes a private viewing area for the race’s patron the Duke of Roxburghe and hasn’t changed much since its construction. In 2011 it was protected as a category A listed building and is recognised as “the finest example of its building type in Scotland and a particularly rare and important survival in a wider UK context.”
Kelso was a flat racing track until 1888, when the United Border Hunt moved to the course. Since then, Kelso has staged exclusively National Hunt fixtures, the most notable being the Borders National in March and the Grade 2 Premier Kelso Hurdle race. Of course, a day at the races can mean different things to different types of racegoer, so it’s worth checking the fixtures to see what’s on. Racing takes place from October to May with the highlight for families being Family Fun day and for the racing aficionado the Cheltenham Trials Day or the Premier Hurdle Day. There’s no dress code at Kelso but most people dress smartly in smart casual clothing. For the ladies who love to dress up, Kelso offers a great opportunity to show off their best on Ladies Day in May.
The course itself consists of two sharp, left-handed tracks – a chase track of 1 mile 600 yards and a hurdle course of 1 mile 330 yards. The course has a really long punishing uphill run-in of 2 furlongs. It’s very much like a smaller version of Cheltenham with imposing steeplechase fences and that very long uphill finish, as tough as the Grand National course finish at Aintree. As a result, Kelso provides a useful trial run for both Aintree and the Cheltenham Festival.
There are two enclosures to choose from, the Members Enclosure and the Paddock Enclosure. A member’s day badge gives access to both and all the features within the Members Enclosure, including prime viewing positions at the winning post, three bars, Tote facilities, and a Charity run Tearoom. The Paddock Enclosure has a large covered area for viewing, extensive bar facilities and also incorporates the Parade Ring and Winners Enclosure. Tickets for the Paddock Enclosure cost £12 for midweek fixtures and £13 at the weekend. A Members Enclosure day badge costs £16 during the week and £20 at weekends.
There are plenty of food and drink options to be found throughout the course; from a Bistro offering a carvery option, to full meals and snacks. The Charity Tea Room serves teas and sandwiches with proceeds going to the charity running the tearoom on any particular raceday. There are also plenty of mobile catering units which serve everything from roast pork sandwiches and burgers to donuts.
The racecourse is located approximately 44 miles from Edinburgh, 21 miles from Harwick and 68 miles from Newcastle. By road the course is one mile north of Kelso on the B6461 Ednam Road. Kelso is off the A698 by the A68 & A7 from Edinburgh and the A699 from the West. The racecourse postcode for sat nav is TD5 7SX. Parking is free. The nearest station is Berwick-on-Tweed and is 22 miles from the course, buses operate. Helicopter landing facilities are available on Course by arrangement.
The racing at Kelso is always first class and enjoyed by both serious race enthusiasts and those who simply want to enjoy a fantastic day out at a racecourse which has managed to retain both the elegance and historic splendour of horseracing. It’s a great day out in beautiful surroundings with good facilities, plenty of refreshment options and a really friendly atmosphere.