Scotland Day 4 - Melrose to Peel
Readers of this blog last year will remember that one of the biggest challenges for me in doing this sort of walk is the psychological aspect. Over the last weeks I've been pleased to notice that I've been generally pretty calm about what's been ahead, and that has led me to be able to concentrate on the admin of the project together with the physical preparations of getting as fit and strong as I possibly could. But last night the efforts of the wet and gruelling walk yesterday had really taken it out of me, and the familiar worry about whether I'm really up to this all conspired to raise a lot of self-doubt. I generally deal with this by getting an early night, hoping that sleep will soothe. And it was a bit better this morning, helped enormously by some fantastic messages from my friend Sophie, who pointed out just what a lot there is going on in doing a trek like this, and how unsurprising it is to find it all a bit much at times. She wrote that I was shifting out of one life and into another, like the mayfly doing its second adult moult from dun wings to spinner wings. I read this out to David at breakfast and became very emotional, which somewhat threw the waitress. It was just what I needed to hear, and I endeavoured to feel like a spinner winged mayfly all day today.
And as so often, with a more positive mindset comes a more positive day. We had skirted round Melrose Abbey yesterday, another in the series of the Borders Abbeys Way. It was also closed off due to masonry problems, but just looking from a distance was lovely. I nipped into an amazing bakery for a bit of lunch to take with me, and we got seduced by a Clootie dumpling and a fruited bannock too. They are substantial, I was glad they weren't in my rucksack.
Then it was on to the Borders Abbeys Way again for a little while, saying hello to the rabbits who were unbothered by my company, and out to follow the Tweed again. Today the river has got smaller and quieter as I've walked upstream, in the sunlight this early morning it was exquisite.
I passed Skirmish Hill, the site of another battle between the English and the Scots, that was said to have been observed by the teenage James V in 1526. So many of these boy kings, being moved around by men wanting power.
Leaving the battle behind I joined the Southern Upland Way. This runs for 214 miles from Portpatrick on the south west coast, all the way to Cove and Cockburnspath on the east coast. The guide books say that it's a less well known walk, if my experience today is to go by then it's well sign posted, well maintained and generally lovely and varied.
I left the river for a bit to follow the line of the railway, passing a commercial laundry on the way at which I looked longingly. My clothes are pretty fragrant, even though it's only day 4 - the combination of sweat and being inside a cagoule all day yesterday is a pungent one. Alison told me on Tuesday is that there used to be 14000 laundrettes in the UK, but now there are only 2000, which accounts for the difficulty in a walker getting clean. That's my excuse, anyway.
The Southern Upland Way takes a detour away from Langlee, a housing estate to the north of Herriot-Watt University. But if there's a chance for a more direct route, then I will sometimes choose it, even if en route I took in a sewage works (that was far less smelly than me!). The estate looked tough and gritty as I approached, but as I got nearer there was a lovely sense of community from all the people who greeted me, and the gardens were immaculate. Good to walk somewhere different.
Then towards Galashiels. The route I had devised skirted around the town, but I was sorry to miss out on seeing the centre, having read a little about the history of textiles in the area, and spotting what looked like an old mill in the distance. It reminded me of Hebden Bridge last year, and I'd had a happy couple of days there, so I did a diversion to look at the town and enjoy a coffee and spectacular cake. It looked like millionaire's shortbread, but instead of shortbread there was an extra layer of chocolate, and then added coconut too. Temporarily forgetting my plans to only eat things that are nutritious I enjoyed it enormously, and also loved being in the corner as a succession of women came into the cafe to catch up and laugh uproariously at various jokes. More bunting here too, everything looks en fête.
I felt thoroughly restored by my snack, but felt I should leave the cafe as the owner started describing another home made cake made of crushed digestives, condensed milk, chocolate, marshmallows and coconut, as I thought I'd be sucked back in to try that one too. Climbing up Gala Hill the town fell away quickly, and the countryside opened out with more of what I'd imagine as Scottish landscape. Rolling fields, woods and mountains in the distance, rushing rivers, and the only sound the sheep, the birds and my laboured breathing up the steep slope.
A reprise of the step stiles that I saw a lot of last year, always just slightly too high for my less lanky legs, and then a field with a bull in it. He looked at me rather chilled, I looked at him feeling a bit worried. I stuck to the edge of the field, checking exit routes, but he fortunately decided that the cows were more interesting. Wildlife I was happier to see were a stationary heron looking hopefully for fish in the fast flowing water, and then a flash of pale tawny feathers as a large bird of prey flew above me in the woods. I'm saying it was an eagle.
There was a brief interlude when the rain came down, at which I practised my rapid rainproof donning technique, rather like a pitstop. My Formula 1 expert tells me that what I was putting on were my 'full wets' . But aside from that, it has been dry, cool and mainly sunny. Perfect walking weather.
I was due to stop in Peel, after 11 miles or so. But tomorrow's walk is due to be longer, so I took the opportunity of the good conditions to extend today, and thus reduce tomorrow. At the outstkirts of this very quiet little village there was a stone marking the old hospital that stood there till 1988. It would have felt a very different place then.
The rest of the walk was on a gentle road that ran parallel to the river. With no navigation required, I listened to the songs that my kind sponsors had suggested yesterday. I'm really enjoying this new aspect to the walk, I try to listen to each one three times so that I get under the skin of them a bit, and wonder about what it was that led the person to choose it in particular. I've had Claire's Gregory Porter and Jackie's Teskey Brothers suggestions, both new songs to me, both greatly enjoyed. Then I was listening to Richard Ashcroft, suggested by Mel, as I turned a bend and saw the most beautiful view, with all the important things covered. As I stopped with delight, he sang the lyric: 'I'm surprised by the joy of this, say hello to the world again'.
Next to a glorious bank of hollyhocks, David was waiting to pick me up and drive us to our hotel for the night.
Generally I'm staying in bed and breakfasts, pubs or bunkhouses on this trip. But here I thought we'd splash out a bit. Tonight we are staying in Traquair House, the oldest inhabited house in Scotland, at over 900 years old. It is no exaggeration to say that it is extraordinary. It's open to the public till 5, but after that the hotel guests have the run of it. But tonight we are the only guests, so we are temporarily the lord and lady of the manor.
The grounds house various crafts people, and we had a sample of the various ales that are made in the Traquair brewery, using the original vats. Then a great chat to Rob Sutherland, an extremely talented potter, about Raku and the Pottery Throwdown, and the general loveliness of potters everywhere. We bought one of his works of art as a momento of an amazing place.
We had a fascinating tour round the house with Pat, learning about Jacobites and priest holes, about audacious breakouts from the Tower of London, looking at Mary Queen of Scots' shoe and terrifying collections of ancient staring dolls. So much we could barely take it in.
After dinner in a local pub we came back and strolled round the walled garden, had an attempt at the enormous maze and I then wrote this in a 17th century drawing room, surrounded by portraits of the various Lairds and Earls with a Chippendale mirror on the wall. We finally retired to our enormous bedroom that looks over the grounds. My mayfly wings have been spinning today.
Distance travelled: 13.5 miles
Total ascent:1750 feet
Local tipple: half of Armadillo from Durty Brewing
Dinner at Traquair Arms hotel - very good
Watermelon and whipped feta salad
Haddock and chips
Mel - Richard Ashcroft 'Surprised by the Joy'
Claire - Gregory Porter 'Concorde'
Jackie - The Teskey Brothers 'Forever You and Me'
Video of the day