The England-Scotland divide is where you will find the town of Kelso, a place equipped with a well-regarded racecourse. As it lies ever so slightly north of the border, it is one of five racecourses in Scotland and one that offers National Hunt racing between September and May. During this period, Kelso has 14 scheduled race meetings and, as their motto goes, they provide a ‘warm borders welcome’ at every single one.
Given Kelso’s quite remote location, there is a good chance you might have to spend some time travelling before you reach the racecourse. If this applies to you then it can be nice to relax in a nearby hotel before making the full journey back the following day. Alternatively, there are a couple of popular cities/towns nearby that allow you to visit Kelso as part of a fun day trip.
Kelso is by no means a large town but it is quite a popular tourist destination. With many making a trip to see the town and the nearby surrounding countryside, this has led to a healthy demand for hotel rooms. As such, there are several options at your disposal should you want to stay in the heart of Kelso. The Ednam House Hotel, a mansion set by the riverside, is one popular option but does come with an added premium.
For a slightly cheaper option, you cannot go wrong with any of the Cross Keys Hotel, the Queens Head Hotel or the charming Duncan House. In addition to these, you have some smaller bed and breakfasts or guesthouses so the selection is certainly not limited. From all the places listed, Kelso Racecourse is within walking distance as you are only 25 to 30 minutes away on foot.
Just over 20 miles to the northeast, but on the other side of the border, you have the seaside town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. For anyone with a love of exploring places on foot, Berwick is a fantastic place to be. As well as human-made delights such as the Elizabethan Walls, the place is full of some lovely natural sights including a long sandy beach and luscious parks. Having been a tourist hot-spot for many years, there is a handy selection of hotels nearby including a Premier Inn and a Travelodge.
Edinburgh within Range
There are no direct public transport connections between Edinburgh and Kelso so it is a journey that is considerably quicker by car. On the road the racecourse is around 70 minutes from the centre of the Scottish capital so it is still a viable option for a day trip, requiring no early start. Obviously, Edinburgh is rammed full of different places to stay although we would recommend picking somewhere towards the south side of the city centre if you want to have easier access to Kelso. The Travelodge Cameron Toll fits the bill for this, as does the Best Western Bruntsfield Hotel.
About the Racecourse
Kelso has a reputation of being one of the friendliest racecourses in Britain and this is something they are very proud about. It is partly because of this welcoming atmosphere why the place has been, on numerous occasions, voted the Best Small Course in Scotland and the North of England by The Racegoers Club. As such, especially for those that have never been to a National Hunt meeting before, Kelso is a place well with looking into.
If you do decide to try out one of their 14 yearly race meetings then you will need to know how to get there. Although it is largely surrounded by countryside, public transport options are available. Buses run from Berwick-upon-Tweed (extending to Galashiels) while the nearest train station is the one at Tweedbank which has a service to/from Edinburgh. Kelso run a shuttle bus from Tweedbank station on race days, at a cost of £10 for a return ticket. You must pre-book this service in advance should you require it and you can do this when buying your tickets.
For those arriving by car, Kelso is virtually in the middle of the A68 and the A697. From either of these main roads, you are only around 15 minutes from the racecourse. Although the course is hard to miss, your target postcode should be TD5 7SX. As for parking, there is a large grass field just across the road from the entrance gates where you can leave your car free of charge.
It is also possible to park inside the course, alongside the finishing straight. This will set you back £10 per car (£20 on Ladies Day) but it includes your admission into the course so there is nothing extra to pay. By being in the centre of the course you will also be able to bring your own food with you, something that is not permitted in any other enclosure.
While certainly charming in appearance, thanks to its Georgian grandstand and countryside surroundings, Kelso is certainly no walk in the park for horses that visit here. This is particularly true for many mid-winter meetings as conditions can get very tough, placing a huge emphasis on stamina. Even if a horse is a fair way ahead over the last jump, they can still end up caught if they have little else to give.
Both hurdles and chase races share the same back straight but they separate at the far end of the course. The hurdles circuit cuts in earlier than the chase circuit, meaning runners spend more time on the turn. The only other thing to note is that Kelso does see a fairly high rate of fallers/unseated jockeys on the chase course. Subsequently, you probably want to pick a horse that has a decent record of clearing the obstacles when placing your bets.
There is no formal dress code enforced at Kelso Racecourse so you are largely free to wear whatever you want. If you want to fit in with the crowd though then smart casual is very much the standard, as it is as most racecourses in Britain. On Ladies Day, many spectators go the extra mile to look extra dazzling as it adds to the fun of the occasion.
Particularly for any winter meeting, be mindful that the car park is on a field that can get muddy. Although you will not need to walk on the mud for long, it should be something you consider when weighing up what shoes to wear.
The original grandstand at Kelso dates back to 1822 and is the centrepiece of the entire course. Boasting lots of authentic Georgian features, this grandstand gained listed status in 2012 which is very rare for a racecourse building. In addition to this, there are two extra stands, both offering a more modern look as they were built in 1995 and 2001. On the bend, you have the Younger Stand where the Owners and Trainers Bar is located while further down the straight is the more accessible Tweedie Stand.
A variety of hospitality packages are available with prices ranging between £75 and £105 but your standard entry will usually cost £16 to £20 if purchased in advance or £20 to £25 if purchasing a full-price ticket. Advance tickets stop being sold a week before a meeting so after this point, you will need to pay full price. Tickets must be purchased online but you can choose to have a paper ticket sent to you, rather than an e-ticket you show on your mobile phone.
If you are not bothered about having access to the stands at Kelso then rather than a standard admission ticket, you can simply purchase trackside parking. There will be no cover or facilities here, but at £10 per vehicle as standard, you have a cheap way of seeing some live racing.
A season finale is always a big occasion but Kelso ensures theirs is extra special by making this Ladies Day. Hosted in May, the sun is often shining for this meeting and it helps add to the glamour of the occasion. Not that people need much incentive to dress up but there are three prizes up for grabs each time: best-dressed lady, best-dressed couple and best hat. This is always one of Kelso’s best-attended fixtures but there are other stand-out options too.
The end of calendar year meeting, usually held between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is one of these as it helps keep the festive feeling alive that little bit longer. It is a time of year to be with friends and family and many choose to do so while enjoying some good quality racing action. We also wanted to highlight Morebattle Hurdle Day in early March as this sees two of Kelso’s biggest races on the same afternoon. In addition to the Class 1 Premier Chase you also have, as the name suggests, the Class 2 Morebattle Hurdle with its £75,000 purse (as of 2021).
Historians have found evidence of racing taking place close to Kelso as early as 1733. A local newspaper reported that a two-day meeting was being held at Caverton Edge, situated around five miles away. Liking what they saw decades later, the Royal Caledonian Hunt Club ended up sponsoring a race in 1779 but they did so only for seven years before turning their attention to Ayr.
Racecourse Changes Locations
Although Kelso hosted a rather prestigious King’s Guineas race in 1793, the meetings became irregular at Caverton Edge. In an attempt to revive the local racing scene, racing was held at Blakelaw, around three miles south of Kelso. It proved to be a hasty decision though as it was quickly apparent that the site was not suitable for racing. Because of this, racing moved to Berrymoss, the current home of Kelso Racecourse, the following year with the first stone of the grandstand placed on 24th September 1822.
1823: New Grandstand Opens
Funded by the Duke of Roxburghe and using the designs of prolific architect John Carr, the new and impressive grandstand officially opened in April 1823. For the following decade, Kelso Races enjoyed healthy crowds but numbers began to dwindle afterwards and eventually became so low that racing was halted in 1847. The Border Hunt Steeplechases Group did eventual see the return of a regular annual meeting but only between 1883 and 1911. In doing so, they brought the end of flat racing at Kelso, which has focussed on National Hunt events ever since.
Attempts to Burn Down the Course Unsuccessful
In 1912, Kelso added an extra fixture to their schedule but while under the name of ‘United Border Hunt’ races. The schedule change was almost very short-lived as in May 1913, three suffragettes tried to burn down the course. They did not succeed, however, and were jailed for their efforts. The United Border Hunt name stuck until 1952, at which point the course changed to its present title of Kelso Racecourse.