Innerleithen to Peebles. 10.1 miles. Miles to date: 868.2.
A few years back I found myself involved in an aggressive scone eating contest.
It was during a kind of formal lunch ahead of a rugby match. When the puddings were bought out I entered into a challenge with another guest who wanted to prove his masculinity by eating more scones than me.
If I was a betting man, I would have backed him. Not only because he was a good ten stone heavier than me, but also because he really didn't want to lose.
Nevertheless, I had a secret he could not have known: I love scones.
So it began. The first five or so were a joy. The second five were harder work. All that flour. All those sultanas. The jam. (The jam bit was voluntary, I think, but the scones were too dry without it.)
The contest became more bitter as empty dessert plates started stacking up. It didn’t help that the scones were being washed down by liberal quantities of Fosters, creating a sweet and sour combination that comes without recommendation.
By scone 17 (these were small scones) the pressure was on. My rival and I faced off across the tabletop, each with demons and doughy confection to conquer. My opponent's face was now livid red as he scoffed more puddings, crumbs dropping from his beard, clotted cream and blackcurrant jelly smeared over his napkin.
On the pudding joust went, the room around us emptying as those we'd come with lost interest in our immature display of one-upmanship. By now the only person left was a waitress cleaning tables, who was finding idle amusement in bringing us leftover scones from other tables so that the battle could continue until its grim, jammy end.
I've no idea who won.
We realised, too late, that neither of us was keeping a tally. And the mounting effects of the lager meant an accurate count was unlikely. There was also a suggestion, from both sides, of foul play. Realising that we'd missed the first half of the rugby we abandoned the challenge, shook hands and spent the rest of the day feeling nauseous.
It was an event I remembered fondly as I went downstairs from my lovely AirBnB bedroom in Innerleithen to find a tray of grapes and scones waiting for me.
And while I don’t make a habit of scones for breakfast, LeJog justifies almost any kind of over-consumption.
Plus, as I say, I love scones.
I abandoned my zen approach to accommodation on Day 2 of LeJog way back in St Ives. Originally I’d planned to get to my planned stopover place and walk the streets until I found somewhere decent to rest.
Unfortunately in St Ives I spent the best part of 40 knackered minutes wandering around and ended up with a B&B that was both expensive and mediocre, with – *grrr* – windows you couldn't open.
From that day on I've been booking at least a day or two ahead so that instead of spending the day's walk worrying whether I'll be sleeping in a bus shelter or under a tree I can, instead, enjoy it.
To arrange accommodation I’ve used a mix of Booking.com, direct bookings, YHAs and AirBnB. As I’ve walked north and become more confident in how far I’ll travel in a day I’ve booked ever further ahead; right now I’m ten day's ahead. This forward planning has become more critical as we enter the summer months, when B&Bs and hotels are often full – especially in tourist hotspots.
Generally speaking I’ve lucked out on accommodation. There have been a few misfires: the Def Leppard tribute pub in Wadebridge; the all-night extractor fans and cheese sandwich incident in Wheddon Cross. But they’ve been exceptions. Most of the rest – including bunkhouses and YHAs (especially the YHAs) – have been great.
Bridge over the Tweed leaving Innerleithen.
But I’ve enjoyed the AirBnBs most of all.
Not because of AirBnB. I dislike AirBnB.
But because you get to stay in all kinds of homes, where you’re extended a welcome few B&Bs can match. Of my many AirBnB highlights there was the cosy terraced house in Portreath, where host Sue washed and dried all my clothes in front of her log fire. Bridget’s home in Kirkby Malham was a picture-perfect Yorkshire cottage where she propped my sodden boots above her Aga all night. And I can safely say I’ve never discussed the benefits of Belgian coalition government at the breakfast table before, but the international-flavoured conversation was a highlight of my stay, along with the home-baked bread, in Martin and Soman’s immaculately restored townhouse (with a tortoise) in Glastonbury.
It's not just the accommodation or the extra kindnesses offered that I love about AirBnBs. It's the scraps of local information that get passed on.
And in Innerleithen my AirBnB host Karen was able to fill me in on one of the strangest customs I've come across yet on LeJog.
Wander long enough through the hillside town's streets and you notice that selected houses are decorated in blue and white bunting. Some of them also have placards as well: “STANDARD BEARER”; “DUX BOY”; “STANDARD BEARER’S LASS”.
What, I asked Karen, was this all about? The answer was a bizarre combination of American Prom, British Sports Day and town-wide Advent Calendar display.
Like many Borders towns, Innerleithen has a long history of competitive games.
Instituted in 1827, the St Ronan's Games (St Ronan is the town's patron saint) are the oldest organised sports meeting in Scotland and are part of a festival that incorporates a range of events, from fancy dress parades to a ball. Central to the festivities is the 'Cleikum' Ceremony when the town’s association with St Ronan – who is said to have cleikin (caught) the de'il (devil) by the hind leg and banished him – is celebrated.
So far, so good.
What takes Innerleithen's ten day festivities to the next level is that each year a few kids are selected from the school to fill the positions of Standard Bearer (who carries the banner depicting St Ronan cleikin' the de'il), Standard Bearer's Lass (his right hand woman) and Dux Boy (who plays St Ronan as he is installed in the Cleikum Ceremony) . This year the 'Principals' are Liam Card and Sally Brown. Each of them are entitled to place large banners outside their houses.
I've discovered a few of these barely comprehensible intra- and inter-town competitions in the Borders – probably a hangover from the family feuds that caused centuries worth of bloodshed in the bad old days. Wandering Innerleithen it was nice to see bunting decorating not just the bigger houses, but also the small new builds and out of town bungalows – even a rambling farm I passed a few miles down the road. There's a lot of pride on display here.
Traquair House. Scotland's oldest inhabited house (allegedly), that has been visited by 27 monarchs.
Most of today's short walk was along the quiet B7062.
View back to Innerleithen.
Oh yeah, the walk.
I walked a few miles down the B7062, climbed up and down a bit through Cardrona Forest then returned to the 7062 to enter Peebles.
That was it.
It was fine. The most exciting thing that happened was searching around in the woods for an hour looking for what the map described as a ‘Fort’ and which turned out to be a pile of stones cradling a pine sapling.
But I wasn't disappointed. The day was not only a luxuriously short leg at 10 miles, it was also sunny, and it is the last day before tomorrow's rest in Peebles. Best of all – hats off again to AirBnB – I’ve somehow bagged a four bedroom house in the town centre for the princely sum of £28 a night. I’m not sure what I’ll do with all the bedrooms. Dress a different blister in each one or something.
The views were of pastoral lowlands and rolling wooded hills.
The 'fort' on Castle Knowe in Cardrona Forest. Whenever I read that something's Iron Age I automatically expect almost nothing, but even so this was a particular disappointment. I did learn one thing, though, the Iron Agers clearly celebrated Christmas.
Trying to actually find the 'fort' was not easy. Witness my Strava route-finding wiggling.
Lots of nice stopping points in Cardrona Forest, which is part of the Tweed Valley Forest Park.
The road to Peebles.
The approach to Peebles.
Outskirts of Peebles.
Peebles town centre.
Peebles, another of these grand old Borders market towns, hasn’t done quite as well as handsome Melrose. There are more closed shops on the high street. More charity shops. And there’s a distinctly old school feel to some of the hotels (and their clientele).
But it’s big enough to have a climbing shop – with the potential for new boots – a hairdresser, plenty of pubs, a shop that sells absurd looking knickerbocker glories and an unassuming Indian restaurant that frequently competes at a national level for best Indian in Scotland.
Which is good enough for me.
I can’t remember a time on the trail that I’ve been looking forward to a break more. I’ve walked 130 miles in the past week, averaging 18.7 miles a day – which is nearly the single biggest stretch of my LeJog to date. So rest it is. I might even stretch to a, gulp, third pint this evening to celebrate.
Nah, scratch that.
I’ll have an early night and see if I can find another scone for breakfast tomorrow.
Sundown, Peebles, from my £28pn balcony.
Next: Day 60 – Peebles to West Linton.
Previous: Day 57 – Melrose to Innerleithen.