Day 56: Borders
Jedburgh to Melrose. 18.8 miles. Miles to date: 838.4.
It was hard, on entering the breakfast room of the B&B, not to notice the strange atmosphere.
Everything was… much quieter than usual; three guests munching muesli in deathly silence.
So I sat down quietly and did the same, hoping my snap, crackle and pops wouldn't ruin the contemplative mood.
The silence was not to last.
There was a pot of tea in the middle of the table. When I reached for it the man opposite me threw up his hands and struck an expression of wordless horror.
Meanwhile, the woman beside him exclaimed: “No! That’s his!” (motioning at the guy with his hands held aloft). “If you’d like tea you’d better wait for the owner.”
“Sure,” I replied, grateful at least that the wall of silence was now broken.
I got chatting to her. She was a retied Australian on a world tour with her husband sitting opposite. They’d just been in Skye and were staying in Jedburgh en route to the Cotswolds.
The guy opposite me stayed resolutely mute.
When ten, fifteen, twenty minutes passed without him uttering a word I finally put two and two together. He was a St Cuthbert disciple on the Trail who was undertaking his pilgrimage in devoted silence.
I continued chatting with the Ozzies. They weren’t travelling on a shoestring. This particular trip – all nine weeks of it – had involved a dawn balloon ride over Windermere, a cruise around Alaska with day trips on seaplanes, a private yacht to visit the Scottish Isles. And there was more to come.
Quite what the pilgrim opposite – dressed plainly and eating All Bran – made of his fellow breakfasters it was, of course, impossible to say.
Today’s walk was through the Scottish Borders.
For most of our island's history these have been contested lands.
The late 13th and early 14th centuries saw the Wars of Scottish Independence, at the end of which Scotland retained its status as an independent state.
From the late 13th to the early 17th century the lands were the domain of the Border Rievers – raiders from both sides of the border who’d cross it to pillage anything from livestock to women. Family feuds were legendary and violence was common. Despite state attempts to impose a semblance of order on the area with march wardens patrolling the expansive no-mans-land, royal authority in both kingdoms was too weak to end the lawlessness.
Nowadays the area – a quiet backwater that most tourists hurtle past while heading to Glasgow and Edinburgh or further north – would probably like to see rather more in the way of English visitors.
But the peace is part of the Borders' softly spoken charm. This is an area of rolling hills and moorland, of wide salmon-rich rovers and agricultural plains, of secluded beeches and cliffs. And beautiful market towns.
Pity then that today’s walk – which barely put a foot wrong – left me cold.
Sometimes a walk does everything right, but still falls flat.
Today was one of those days.
A stroll along the River Teviot proves yet again how wonderfully maintained the St Cuthbert’s Way is. The path through riverside meadows feels as if it has been mown in the last week. Wooden walkways mean you rarely touch mud. Waymarking is flawless.
Over a wobbly suspension bridge with an Indiana Jones feel then through old yew woods around Monteviot House and the trail picks up the Dere Street roman road, the old highway between York and the Antonine Wall – northernmost frontier barrier of the Roman Empire.
The path here is along old oak and beech avenues and – as you'd expect – uniformly straight. Nor are you hemmed in by farm fields. Whether it's a feature of the Borders or Scotland generally, footpaths are given room to breathe, often passing through wooded wildlife corridors that extend for 20–30 metres each side. It means that even when you're a stone's throw from arable crops you feel like you're walking the wilds.
In Jedburgh, where every street name seems to have the Jed- prefix, I was so hoping to find Jedward drive. Without luck sadly.
Bridge over the Teviot.
Wildflower meadows – cut back for the path – alongside the Teviot.
Woods around Monteviot House.
Monteviot House – seat of the Marquis of Lothian.
Dere Street roman road.
A few miles along the roman road you come to Lilliard's Stone – a reminder of the area's bloody history. An inscription on the tomb reads:
Fair Maiden Lilliard lies under this stane, Little was her stature but great was her fame; Upon the English loons she laid many thumps, And when her legs were cuttit off, she fought upon her stumps.
Like many maidens of the time Lilliard had lost her lover in combat to the Earl of Hereford's English troops. To avenge his death she'd taken up arms in the Battle of Ancrum Moor where she too had fallen, a-thumping those English loons. It was a battle the Scots were to win – before the Earl of Hereford's troops returned for further raids in the endless cat and mouse border disputes.
Allan. His LeJog walk will take 26 years.
The trail kept on throwing up goodies.
In the village of St Boswells I stumbled upon Britain’s Best Bookshop (according to the Telegraph). Superb it was, too, from the literary wallpaper in the loo to the moreish coffee-chocolate cake.
In Boggyhall Wood I ran into my first south–north LeJoger, Allan. How long had he been on the trail?, I asked. "Since 1998," he replied. Allan is chipping away at his walk, one short stretch at a time. He expects to finish in 2024.
Into Bowder and the trail passes the fantastically named Pant Well, an octagonal shaped sandstone well built in 1861 that bought clean water into the village long before the role of dirty water in spreading disease was known.
The trail then heads north into higher country; the wooded flanks of the three rust-red Eildeon Hills that I'd spied on the horizon from the Cheviot three days earlier. The airy saddle, ablaze with heather, gave fine views north and south – and a raven's eyed view of Melrose, my stopping point for the day.
To end what should have been a fine day's walk, Melrose is a handsome treat of a town; a high street on which every house is a showhome.
But I still wasn't feeling the walk.
The distant Eildon Hills – a landmark in the Borders region.
The walk made use of riverside paths in lovely old woods.
Roxburghshire is a historic county in the Southern Uplands of Scotland. Today it is part of the Borders.
Wooden walkways through the woods.
St Boswells' pretty high street.
Tea and cake in the fantastic Mainstreet Trading Company, St Boswells. The photos are of authors who have visited.
This is the bookshop's mobile Book Van: a converted fire engine that takes authors to Borders schools.
The River Tweed, which flows through the Borders to Berwick-upon-Tweed. It is one of Scotland's great salmon rivers.
Eildon Hill North.
The Pant Well. Tee hee.
Striking birch avenue in the woods below the Eildon Hills.
I don’t know whether I was finally hitting the inevitable drop after the highs of the Pennine Way.
Or whether the increasing aches and pains caused by my new boots were bringing me down.
Maybe it was because these days that stitch together trail highlights can sometimes feel like an exercise in passing time. Time that passes, like the miles, too slowly.
Sometimes you get days when the distance drags.
When 835 miles is 500 too few.
When you see friends in pub beer gardens wiling away the hours as you plod on and on and on.
When you want to put your feet up for a day and watch telly.
When you pass a Pant Well and don't manage a smile.
When you miss home.
Today was one of those days.
Rust-red path down towards Melrose.
Couple on Eildon Mid Hill.
This was a lovely touch. They makers of the stairwell had built a little bench into the design so people can take a break halfway up the steps.
Next: Day 57 – Melrose to Innerleithen.
Previous: Day 55 – Kirk Yetholm to Jedburgh.