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  • Writer's pictureJane Smith

Scotland Day 5 - Peel to Peebles

We had breakfast this morning in the Still room, where the Traquair House housekeeper would have worked, organising the business of the house, and listening out for the bells in the hall that were used to summon the servants. All the bells have different pitches, as the servants were mainly illiterate and couldn't read which ones were which. Underneath the bells were also a collection of swords and a copy of Mary Queen of Scots death warrant. Just a typical B and B.

Breakfast was amazing, and for once I had an appetite. Just as well, as it was a huge bowl of spiced porridge followed by an omelette, with oatcakes as a chaser. People often say what a joy it must be to be able to eat as much as I like, due to the exertions I make every day on a trek. Actually in normal life I mainly eat as much as I like anyway, but there is a different focus when you're considering whether what you consume is going to nourish you enough to give your body the best chance of doing what will be asked of it. I'm very mindful of having enough protein at every meal, and to not put too much processed food into my diet. That doesn't mean I'm being ascetic about it, I've definitely been eating the odd cake! But it doesn't feel like deprivation when the decisions are about performance as opposed to limitation. As my lovely physio has said, I have to think like an athlete. So try, despite finding that idea a bit hilarious.

The forecast for today was to be pretty rubbish from 11 ish. But instead of me setting off straightaway to make the most of the dry, we used a little bit of time after breakfast to look round the house again, with nobody there. There is a brilliant museum room, with all sorts of artefacts, such as a 550 year old Bible, an ancient toilet, Mary Queen of Scots' rosary and crucifix, plus the cape in which the 4th Earl of Traquair escaped from the Tower of London, where he was imprisoned due to supporting the Jacobite rebellion. The guide book for the house describes the Earl's wife Winifred devising the plan for the escape, which was to smuggle him out of his cell disguised as her maidservant. Great thinking. And then it goes on to say: 'Her bravery extended to ensuring her maidservant was rescued as well'. So I should hope!

We realised just how little about the rebellion we knew, but there was a very thorough exhibition describing it in great detail. We gave it a little while, until David said 'this is too much about Jacobites for this early in the morning'. I couldn't disagree.

He took me back to the hollyhock bank to restart the walk along the quiet old drove road. Having been driven along it yesterday, then back today, and then finally walking along it again, it wasn't a section that filled me with curiosity, but needs must. Except that needs didn't must. After a mile or so I met Mike and Christine, who were trimming the hedges bordering the road. It was great to have a chat to them, and I was so touched when they invited me in for coffee and cake. I demurred as I'd only just set off, but was very happy to accept some advice about the route. Turns out there is a fairly newly opened bike route at the next village, which was going to possibly cut a mile off the day, and also be traffic free and level. I'd been telling them about my 'just say yes' day last year, and felt that this was time to do it again. So I ignored the frantic protestations of both my OS app and my Garmin, and headed off on a new path to the one planned.

I ended up eventually on Cycle Route 1, which goes from Dover to John O'Groats. I'll be rejoining it a lot further north next month. This is cycling country, last night at dinner there were lots of people I could imagine in Lycra, all having hearty dinners, and there are lots of cycle shops and bike hire outfits too. You can see why they'd want to use this route, it was well surfaced and extremely well signposted. And they don't mind a pedestrian claiming a bit of it as their own.


Taking this new route meant that I was to walk through some villages instead of being mainly on a forest road. The first was Walkerburn, which was built in 1854 to house the workers for a Tweed mill, which had a very thorough information board. The workers' homes were built on the northern slopes of the valley in order to maximise the use of sunlight. Tragically, Walkerburn had the highest casualty rate as a proportion of its population of any community in Scotland. And then their war memorial statue was stolen to order in the late 1990s, only to turn up again beside the perimeter fence at Edinburgh airport. I felt that was a story that needed more detail.

The railway to the village closed in 1962, and the last mill in 1988, but it felt like a village still with a heart, and in the most dramatic landscape.

Almost to the minute, the rain started at the time forecast, and for the rest of the day I was soggy. In the fields the animals were taking shelter under trees and bridges, and for a while it seemed like only me that was foolish enough to be out wandering in the wet. But then I passed others out taking exercise, runners, cyclists, dog walkers. They all shared a rueful smile with me as we silently acknowledged our situation.

Innerleithen was the next village along, and I had seen it already as we'd come here last night for dinner. Mike and Christine had recommended Loulabelles. I was welcomed warmly despite being dripping wet, and was served a good coffee and possibly the best smoked salmon bagel I've ever eaten. It was a lovely atmosphere, as the Scottish schools broke up yesterday. There were a number of children being treated to lunch in the cafe. So much earlier in the year to break up than I'm used to - they go back in the middle of August. That must feel like such a slog for the teachers to get all the way through to Christmas, I feel for them.

After Innerleithen, Cycle Route 1 follows the Tweed Valley railway path. I've walked along many of these, where the flat straight routes of the old railway lines have been repurposed for leisure. They're great, and this one is typically well maintained, with lots of information posts en route. So I learnt of bridges in the 30s that were used on troop exercises, land owners who insisted on train stops being built outside their houses, land owners who insisted on the railway companies diverting around their land. I love this sort of thing, without it I would have passed these places without any idea of the context and nuance of what has gone before.

The third village was Cardrona. On the outskirts there was a 'jump and pump track'. I'm guessing it's for BMXs, and the information told me that it was a series of low rollers and tight berms. Any BMX experts reading this? It was quite firm that you shouldn't attempt the track unless you are highly skilled, and that 'if in doubt, stay out'. I put my bike back in the rucksack.

Cardrona itself appeared extraordinarily manicured, with a large central green and a number of similar aged houses around it. It seemed a bit out of context. I then saw that the village hall was dedicated to Tom Renwick MBE who 'had the vision to establish a new village in Cardrona, the first in Scotland for 200 years'. I had to look that up. He was a local farmer who spent £5 million to build the 220 houses in the village, together with a golf course and a fancy golf hotel. It was controversial, the Scottish Herald's report on it showed the local community split about the possible benefits or disadvantages. I couldn't find information on how it's regarded now, but it's certainly carefully maintained

I took a short break for an apple in a covered bus shelter, the wet walkers' dream, before the last leg of the railway path to Peebles. Everything was soaking. The cows looked miserable, and walking in waterproofs all day is weirdly enervating. The slugs and snails were loving it though, I had to watch my feet to prevent carnage.


Through a welcome tunnel where I could remove my hood for a bit, and then into Peebles where I met up with David. We've got an Air BnB for the next three nights, with tomorrow being a rest day. It looks like the perfect set up, the cottage is really quiet and comfortable, and so far what I've seen of Peebles is encouraging for a gentle day of not doing too much tomorrow.

Despite the rain, it's been a good day. I feel very lucky to have met Mike and Christine this morning, and then pleased that I had the flexibility to say yes to changing my plans, as without their rerouting suggestion I'd have had a longer walk with far less interest today.


Stats

Distance covered: 12 miles

Total ascent: a paltry 561 feet - that's walking on an old railway line for you!

Calories burned: 1360


Local tipple - Traquair house ale bought yesterday from the Traquair brewery. 7.2%, not one to mess with!

Home cooked dinner - a treat after a lot of eating out

Paneer, tomato and spinach curry with brown rice


Sponsored piece of music - no new sponsors today, but Mel kindly sent me a number of suggestions yesterday, so I continued with her list!

The Verve - On Your Own - Remastered 2016


Video of the day

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