ROAM THE WILD FRON­TIER

Me­an­der along the River Tweed, through the qui­etly ma­jes­tic hills and his­toric mar­ket towns of the Scot­tish Bor­ders, with a ro­man­tic tale at ev­ery turn.

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents - Don­ald Greig and his part­ner Dar­ren Flint are the au­thors of travel and walk­ing guides to south­ern Scot­land and Suf­folk (slowbri­tain.co.uk). They also run a B&B in the South­ern Up­lands.

Some years ago, while firmly en­trenched in city life, I found my­self es­cap­ing with in­creas­ing fre­quency to the fer­tile val­ley and hills of the Tweed. The city was Bris­bane and the Tweed in ques­tion formed part of the North­ern Rivers re­gion that strad­dles the Queens­landNew South Wales bor­der. Beau­ti­ful as it was, though, it was al­ways my na­tive Scot­land that was on my mind.

Fast for­ward to to­day and my part­ner and I are liv­ing in the South­ern Up­lands, where we of­ten ex­plore the course of the orig­i­nal Tweed across the Scot­tish Bor­ders – 97 miles of water­way, 17 of which also mark the bound­ary be­tween Scot­land and Eng­land.

The Tweed has in­flu­enced the tex­ture of the Scot­tish Bor­ders, both fig­u­ra­tively and lit­er­ally – the epony­mous rough, woollen cloth has been man­u­fac­tured along its banks since the 18th cen­tury. This ma­jes­tic river is also in­ter­na­tion­ally fa­mous for its salmon fish­ing.

Adorned by gra­cious abbeys, de­light­ful mar­ket towns and an­cient cas­tles, the Tweed me­an­ders across the old coun­ties of Pee­b­lesshire, Selkirk­shire, Roxburghshire and Ber­wick­shire. His­tory abounds, with many a tale of dar­ing raids by the Bor­der reivers (the raiders of the 13th to 17th cen­turies) and of vi­o­lent clashes with the English dur­ing the Wars of In­de­pen­dence. There’s also a fine lit­er­ary tra­di­tion, from Sir Wal­ter Scott to the Bor­ders Book Fes­ti­val held ev­ery sum­mer at Mel­rose.

COAST AND COUN­TRY

Our jour­ney starts in the east, just across the bor­der at Ber­wick-upon-Tweed, a hand­some town that has ping-ponged back and forth be­tween the Scots and English. To­day, it has a char­ac­ter all of its own – it’s not quite ‘of’ any­where ex­cept it­self. Its mighty de­fen­sive walls make for a mem­o­rable walk. The Ber­wick­shire Coastal Path runs north­wards from here for al­most 50 miles to Cock­burnspath, which is also the start of the 212-mile, cross-coun­try South­ern Up­land Way.

The small town of Eye­mouth eight miles north of Ber­wick tum­bles down the hill to the nar­row streets around the har­bour. St Abbs, four miles or so fur­ther on, is a tiny fish­ing vil­lage near the com­pelling 300-foot clifftops of St Abbs Head Na­tional Na­ture

Re­serve, which pro­vides pent­house ac­com­mo­da­tion for ful­mars, puffins, kit­ti­wakes, guille­mots and more.

In­land, the Ber­wick­shire Merse lies be­tween the Tweed and the Lam­mer­muir Hills in the north. The stretch of river that sep­a­rates Ladykirk in Scot­land from the Northum­brian cas­tle of Norham is one of the most pop­u­lar fish­ing beats, while at

Cold­stream, where the small mu­seum cel­e­brates the rais­ing of the Cold­stream Guards in 1650, the river arcs south­wards to en­close ‘Ba Green’ meadow. It is said that own­er­ship of this small en­clave was an­nu­ally con­tested with a game of ba – a sort of me­dieval foot­ball – be­tween Cold­stream (in Scot­land) and Wark (in Eng­land), with the win­ners claim­ing the meadow. Cold­stream, with the larger pop­u­la­tion, al­ways had more play­ers and there­fore al­ways won, so the meadow be­came part of Scot­land. In­stead of run­ning down the mid­dle of the river, the bor­der here now runs on the south bank.

North of Cold­stream lies the pretty vil­lage of Duns, with mar­ket square and statue of Wo­jtek, the Syr­ian brown bear that be­came the un­likely mas­cot of the Pol­ish Free Army, when it was en­camped in the Bor­ders dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. Head north be­yond Duns and the brood­ing and des­o­late Lam­mer­muir Hills rise to vast open moor­land. For the full ex­pe­ri­ence, turn up the vol­ume and lis­ten to Donizetti’s tragic opera Lu­cia di

Lam­mer­moor, in­spired by Sir Wal­ter Scott’s The Bride of Lam­mer­moor, as you head out into the wilder­ness.

Most of the Lam­mer­muirs are man­aged as grouse moors and this is a good area to spot golden plovers, curlews and mer­lins. You may also see moun­tain hares.

THE BOR­DER ABBEYS

Be­yond Cold­stream, fol­low the Tweed up­stream for en­dear­ing towns, his­toric houses and cas­tles, and the Bor­ders’ cel­e­brated 12th-cen­tury abbeys. Su­perla­tive Kelso is charm­ing: ar­chi­tec­turally im­pres­sive, it not only boasts the largest cob­bled square in Scot­land but also the largest in­hab­ited cas­tle in the coun­try, Floors Cas­tle, which is per­fectly set on the banks of the Tweed. Kelso Abbey was one of Scot­land’s largest and wealth­i­est houses and its ru­ins are one of the most note­wor­thy

ex­am­ples of Ro­manesque ar­chi­tec­ture north of the bor­der.

A lit­tle fur­ther on, strik­ingly set at the foot of the dis­tinc­tive peaks of the Eil­don Hills, lies genteel Mel­rose – think cafés, del­i­catessens, book­shops and quaint cot­tages, as well as an abbey that was so beloved by Robert the Bruce that he chose to have his heart buried here. Mel­rose has come into its own in re­cent years thanks to the re-open­ing of the Waver­ley Route rail­way in 2015. Named af­ter Sir Wal­ter Scott’s Waver­ley nov­els, the Bor­ders rail­way ser­vice that runs from Ed­in­burgh is the long­est new do­mes­tic rail­way to be built in the UK in over 100 years.

In be­tween Kelso and Mel­rose, in a dreamy river­side set­ting, lies Dry­burgh, home to the most ro­man­tic of the Bor­der abbeys, which was a favourite of Sir Wal­ter Scott, who chose to be buried here along­side his wife. Close by, also on the banks of the Tweed, is Scott’s home, Ab­bots­ford, a labour of love that was only com­pleted af­ter his death. From the hill­side above Dry­burgh you can take in the Eil­don Hills from Scott’s

“STRIK­INGLY SET AT THE FOOT OF THE PEAKS OF THE EIL­DON HILLS LIES GENTEEL MEL­ROSE”

View, a suit­ably utopian vista for this key fig­ure of the lit­er­ary ro­man­tic move­ment. So fre­quently did Scott linger at this spot that, en route to his fu­neral, his horse came to a stand­still here un­prompted.

The fourth abbey, Jed­burgh, oc­cu­pies a grand po­si­tion atop a hill in the cen­tre of this small Royal and An­cient Bor­ough, which lies just 10 miles north of the bor­der at the Carter Bar in the Che­viot Hills.

GO WEST

The abbeys in this re­gion are linked by the 64-mile Bor­ders Abbeys Way cir­cu­lar walk, which also takes in the towns of Selkirk and Haw­ick, both known for their Com­mon Rid­ings com­mem­o­rat­ing the cus­tom of pa­trolling the marches on horse­back. These an­nual events are as en­thralling as the Bor­ders’ other big pas­sion, rugby (rugby sevens was in­vented in Mel­rose and each spring the cham­pi­onship is a huge draw). Haw­ick, known for its cash­mere and knitwear, is also where you’ll find the re­gion’s new­est dis­tillery, owned by the Three Stills Com­pany, as well as an ex­cel­lent pre­sen­ta­tion of the area’s tex­tile in­dus­try at the Bor­ders Tex­tile Tow­er­house.

Head fur­ther west and be­tween Mel­rose and Pee­bles you’ll en­counter a se­ries of small vil­lages strung along the banks of the Tweed. Here, too, is Traquair, where you’ll find Scot­land’s old­est in­hab­ited house dat­ing back to 1107. Pee­bles it­self is bustling, well-to-do and strong on in­de­pen­dent shops. A lit­tle fur­ther on, at Ed­dle­ston, is the fas­ci­nat­ing Mapa Scot­land, the largest 3D re­lief map in the world.

The bonny val­leys of Et­trick and the Yar­row make up much of the far west of the re­gion and feel wilder and more re­mote than any other part of the Bor­ders. This is an area to be savoured for its sense of iso­la­tion, its wildlife and sheer beauty. It is also fine walk­ing coun­try, re­plete with rolling and steep-sided hills grazed by white-faced Che­viot sheep.

At its cen­tre lies St Mary’s Loch, which at three-miles long is south­ern Scot­land’s largest nat­u­ral loch. On a hill over­look­ing the loch, the lonely ru­ins of St Mary’s Kirk make an at­mo­spheric set­ting for the an­nual ‘Blan­ket Preach­ing’ ser­vice each July, which re­calls the days of the 17th-cen­tury Con­venan­ters when re­li­gious up­heaval led to many min­is­ters preach­ing out­doors.

Sir Wal­ter Scott used to pass through this area reg­u­larly and it was in these val­leys that he formed his close friend­ship with James Hogg, the poet shep­herd to whom he was in­tro­duced by his pri­vate sec­re­tary Wil­lie Laid­law (from whom I’m de­scended). A statue of Hogg stands at the south­west end of St Mary’s Loch. Head fur­ther west still, up into the

Lowther Hills, to end this trip across the Bor­ders by pay­ing homage to the de­lights of the Tweed at its source, Tweeds Well. The spot is marked by a cairn at a layby on the scenic A701 route from Ed­in­burgh, and if you’re minded to fol­low an­other of Scot­land’s rivers, it may help to know that both the An­nan and the Clyde rise nearby. “An­nan, Tweed and Clyde rise a’ oot o’ ae hill­side,” goes an old Bor­ders say­ing. It’s all a very long way from Queens­land.

“JED­BURGH ABBEY OC­CU­PIES A GRAND PO­SI­TION ATOP A HILL IN THE CEN­TRE OF THIS BOR­OUGH”

TOP Fif­teen sand­stone arches span the Old Bridge, which strad­dles the river at Ber­wick-Upon-Tweed be­fore it opens out to meet the North Sea ABOVE The White Wall was built in 1296 to pro­tect Ber­wick Cas­tle from an at­tack along the river­bank

TOP The Tweed curves through Cold­stream, where its south bank marks the bound­ary be­tween Eng­land and Scot­land ABOVE The 12th-cen­tury Au­gus­tinian monastery Jed­burgh Abbey mixes Ro­manesque and early Gothic ar­chi­tec­ture

TOP Ab­bots­ford – the home of novelist Sir Wal­ter Scott – is a Gothic mas­ter­piece, filled with cu­rios and arte­facts, and set within sump­tu­ous gar­dens ABOVE Once a law­less place, the Bor­ders were peace­ful by the time Floors Cas­tle was built in 1726; the bat­tle­ments are all for show

TOP Pee­bles is an Area of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty that of­fers world-class salmon fish­ing ABOVE Et­trick Water is a trib­u­tory of the River Tweed, and is known lo­cally as Wild Et­trick

TOP The views around St Mary’s Loch have been in­spir­ing writ­ers and artists for cen­turies ABOVE For­ever watch­ing the wa­ters and skies, a me­mo­rial to the poet James Hogg stands on the bank of St Mary’s Loch

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