From: Melrose to Innerleithen
Distance: 17m / 27km
Cumulated distance: 804m / 1294km
Percentage completed: 68
There were highs and lows to yesterday’s walk. It was the third in a row of 17 miles, which normally wouldn’t have fazed me but the tickle at the back of my throat, that had been hanging around for days, decided to develop into a full blown cold. Everything became slower and a tad more difficult and those characters Good and Bad Julie returned to sit on my shoulders, alternately suggesting I hang in there .. and I get a taxi, just for the one day. Good Julie just about won over but it was a close fought battle. It took the cavalry, in the form of Aussie friends, to get me over the line at the end of the day.
One of the big highs yesterday was waking up in the lovely Burt’s Hotel in Melrose. The food had been inventive and terrific; the hospitality warm and generous. And then to top it all, the owner Nick, donated the cost of the accommodation and breakfast to SANE. A fabulous start to the day. http://www.burtshotel.co.uk
Melrose is famous for its abbey, along with Jedburgh, Kelso and Dryburgh. One of the delights of this journey has been seeing places which I know I will come back and see at leisure in the future. The Borders Abbeys Way is a walk which takes in all the abbeys and is most likely at the top of that list. The whole town is lovely. I took a winding route out towards the river so that I could see the abbey, the rugby club where Sevens began and also St Mary’s where Barney was at school.
The Tweed is one of the great salmon rivers of Britain and the only river in England where a licence is not required to fish. I saw a good number of anglers trying their luck yesterday, standing in the middle of the river, wearing waders. They made for a picturesque sight.
In parts the Abbey Borders Way shares its path with the Southern Upland Way, which was to take me inland across the hills to Innerleithen. The sun shone in the morning, making for dappled shade on the tree-lined riverbank walk.
I skirted past Galashiels and ate lunch in the park by the Old Town. Murphy, the black lab, and his owner Jackie, kept me company for ten minutes. We had another of those incidental chats about mental health.
From Galashiels there was a stiff turn upwards, over Hog Hill to rejoin the Tweed. Before the wind started blowing a gale I was treated to a clutch of playful lambs who came racing towards me, convinced either I was their mother or I had food. Once they’d reached me they stopped, took stock (seeing neither their mother nor food) and immediately turned tail.
There was a copse of densely planted trees at the top of the hill. It was a magical feeling walking through such a dark, silent place. The sun had very definitely taken its leave and raindrops began to fall.
Descending past Calfshaw towards Fairnilee Farm I walked through heady bluebell woods, deliciously fragrant even through my dripping nose.
Once I reached the river I had a decision to make. I’d originally thought I would continue on the Southern Uplands Way which took the route of an old Drover’s Road. But the wind and the rain and my protesting body meant that I plumped instead for the little B road, which ran more or less parallel to the Tweed. There was a lot of trudging but some very cute treats along the way ..
But undoubtedly the biggest treat was friends, Ilse and Tigger, driving up behind me to join me for the next couple of days’ walking. The timing could not have been better. Ilse pulled on her walking boots to finish the last few miles with me while Tigger took my pack. What good friends. The afternoon started to draw to a close and the evening light cast longer shadows across the landscape.
Innerleithen nestles among gently rolling hills. It’s home to Traquair House, Scotland’s oldest inhabited house, dating back to 1107. It was also my bed for the night. A complete splurge for me and a hotel steeped in history. It was once a royal hunting lodge and has played host to no less than 27 Scottish kings and queens over the years.
The 4th Laird of Traquair became the Captain of the Queen’s bodyguard to Mary Queen of Scots. She was one of the monarchs who came and stayed at the house. In fact the cradle in which she rocked her baby son James, is still in the house. With each generation improvements and enlargements were made to the house, the most extraordinary being the diversion of the River Tweed, which was deemed a little noisy in its original proximity to the house. The catholic tradition remained strong with each generation, despite the threat to life this could pose. Not unlike other old papal households, for many years mass was said in a small secret chamber on the top floor. A secret escape route for the priest was hidden behind a concealed cupboard and led down the old stairs. It continued to be used until the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1828.
We once rented a 16th century house in Kent called Porter’s Hall. It too had a secret passage which was concealed behind a false bookcase in the drawing room, leading up to the top of the house. We had a lot of fun with unsuspecting guests!
The Stuart family continued to live in the house until 1875, when Lady Louisa Stuart died unmarried and without children. Traquair was then passed to the nearest cousin, Henry Constable Maxwell of Terregles. He added the name Stuart to his own and so continued the Stuart dynasty. Like any other grand house, Traquair went through crests and dips of fortune and misfortune, with some owners striving hard to undo the the financial debt inherited from their parents and grandparents. The house had its fair share of eccentrics too. Charles the 8th Earl did much to modernise the estate but thwarted his family’s attempts to find him a wife by secreting stinging nettles in the beds of would-be female admirers!
In a fantastic instance of enlightenment, the Labour government after the 2nd World War, awarded grants for custodians of historic houses for their restoration. Traquair did well from this initiative. But it was really Peter, along with his wife Flora, who inherited the house in 1963 who dedicated 30 years of their lives in developing Traquair into the tourist attraction it is today. This included bringing the 18th century brewery back to life and becoming the first domestic brewery in the UK for many years to hold a commercial brewing licence.
Today it is Catherine, 21st Lady of Traquair and her husband Mark Muller QC who ensure the Stuart stronghold, is kept in such fine order.
Black Dog Tails
Hazel is another gorgeous Kiwi guide-dog, sitting perfectly undistracted while the chook wanders around the garden.