Scotland the Kind

Jedburgh was my first overnight stay in Scotland. As I explained in my previous post, the weather was dire as I crossed the border. But by the evening in Jedburgh there were blue skies. I’ve lived and worked and holidayed in Scotland, so I’m no stranger to the country. But it feels different this time – I’ve walked so far to get here, and on foot the differences between places are so much more noticeable.

Three and a bit days into my Scottish leg of my journey, and I’ve been bowled over by the Borders countryside, the weather, and by the friendliness and kindness shown to me. The sun has shone every day. I know it won’t last but it is wonderful to wear shorts instead of waterproof trousers. Along the Cornish coast I walked along paths bordered by bright yellow gorse. Now here, so my much further north, the gorse has also flowered. It has the most wonderful smell on warm days. Vanilla and coconut. Someone should make Gorse Perfume.

Also, I’ve experienced three acts of kindness.

On my first evening, the landlord at The Clock Tower bar in Jedburgh refused payment for my celebratory border-crossing whisky. Thank you Malcolm!

Then a mountain biking girl who I got chatting to up on a hill summit offered me a bed for the night if I was to pass through Edinburgh. And on arriving at a guest house in Innerleithen, the lovely owners, once they’d heard of my journey, asked if they could throw my clothes into the wash. (It wasn’t that I was really stinky, honest!) (NB if you are ever in the area I would thoroughly recommend Caddon View as a place to stay. The best food of my trip so far).

I’ve always driven through the Scottish Borders on my way up to the Highlands. I can now see that this was a mistake. It’s really wonderful. Probably my joint favourite scenery so far along with the Cornish coastal path. Although I don’t like to do favourites. Really, these are isles of wonder. My route has taken me from Jedburgh to Melrose via St Cuthbert’s Way, and then to Innerleithen via the Southern Upland Way, and onto Peebles via an easy amble along the newly opened Tweed Railway Path.

One of the differences that’s noticeable on crossing the border, and proceeding as slowly as I do on foot, is that this side the villages, towns and even farms that I’ve passed feel comparatively more affluent than those I saw in Northumberland and the other northern English counties. It made me realise that distance to the capital city is probably a factor. Places like Peebles and Melrose are not far at all from their capital city, whereas the Northumbrian towns are several hundred miles from theirs.

I would love to walk the Southern Upland Way sometime. My route coincided with just one day of the trail, and it was terrific. All the paths up here so far have been extremely well maintained and signed. The Southern Upland Way is a coast to coast trail. It’s another one of our National Trails. It’s not that popular. Partly that’s bound to be down to it’s name. All you marketing types out the will be well aware of the importance of a name in capturing people’s imaginations. If this trail was called The Scottish Coast to Coast, I bet it would have double the walkers.

One last thing, that tickled me. I said hello to an elderly chap passing me yesterday. He replied, “I like your red curly hair. You must be of the Highlanders, aye?”

Here’s a little video of my first few fabulous days in Scotland…
I made it on my phone so apologies for the abrupt ending – I am still learning how my iMovie app works.

Scotland!!!!!

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Sorry for all the exclamation marks, but today is a big day for me. In cloud and rain, up on a boggy hillI, I crossed the border. I’m in Scotland.

I’m in Scotland!

I’ve walked the length of England. I’m thrilled to bits. This (below) is my crossing the border photo. It’s not got much in the way of dramatic landscape in it, but hopefully you can see the happy face underneath all the layers of clothing.

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Ok, enough of the celebrations. I’ll rewind several days to Plan B.
Plan B worked out pretty well. My alternative route was extremely scenic. On the day of the gales I walked north, underneath the slopes of the North Pennines, along tracks and paths and through quiet red sandstone villages. I stayed the night in a little village called Melmerby, with a proper mr and mrs tiggywinkle who ran a sweet B&B.

The following day was calm, hot and sunny. Ideal weather to go over the fells! Cross Fell, complete with big snow patches, seemed to grin wickedly at me I tramped along my long-way-round-route. If only I had waited out the bad weather in Dufton. But hey ho. Instead I did go north east and over the hills, but on a much easier, lower route. I loved the little green lanes that took me back up to the moors. I met a man who said that the tracks are referred to locally as ‘Lollins lanes’. I may be spelling it wrongly, but what a lovely word. Lollins.

After a wonderful sun baked 23 mile day, I caught up with myself. I.e. I caught up with where I planned to be. I was now down on the north eastern side of the North Pennine moorland, and in the South Tyne valley. (Which is extremely beautiful. Another gem that I would not have known of). Ian and Celeste came up for the weekend, bringing fresh eggs and other food treats.

Hadrian’s Wall was my next days walking – well, half day, as I seemed to race through it. For the first time since, since, well I’m not sure really. The first time since the Dovedale area of Derbyshire probably. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that for the first time in ages, I suddenly saw loads of other walkers. It was bank holiday Sunday. And Hadrian’s Wall Path (another of our 19 official National Trail long distance walking routes) would seem to be far far more popular than the Pennine Way. Interesting. It’s popular with people from all over the world too. I met an Australian, saw Dutch people, Swedes, a Russian couple, and to cap it all I met a family from Honolulu. I think the reasons for its popularity are that the trail is a manageable 84 miles long, never goes higher than 350 metres, is near to roads and accommodation, and of course there’s the whole Roman thing going on.

In comparison to Offa’s Dyke which is a wonderful walk, but the Dyke itself is just a hump in the ground, Hadrian’s Wall is very impressive. At least it was in the stretch I walked, where the Pennine Way coincides for 7 miles or so with Hadrian’s Wall Path. Again I was walking in warm sun, and I felt so happy that my route was taking in yet another marvel of our amazing islands. And I was now in yet another county – Northumberland.

I also realised that I am at last fairly fit. The 23 miles the previous day felt fine, and on this Hadrian’s Wall day I sped along in high spirits, revelling in the sun and glorious views of wall and distant hills. I overtook everyone I came across, and no one except fell runners passed me. There will still be days when I feel low on energy, but at least it is good to know that 777 miles under my belt have made me stronger and fitter.

I read somewhere that on a very long walk, during the first third of the journey you get quite tired and are struggling to get fit. In the middle third, you feel great. Then in the final third your body starts to fall apart! I hope that final third bit doesn’t happen to me.

Having made the rendezvous point for meeting my friend Alex a day early, I was able to take a rest day. I’ve decided on a complete change of route through Scotland. So my rest day was spent pouring I over maps. I was going to have followed the new Scottish National Trail all the way. But on closer inspection I think that it’s (a) very wiggly and (b) includes quite a bit of westerly and potentially very midgy glens. Plus it’s not a marked trail, right now it’s more of an idea than a trail. I have come to the conclusion that it would be more fun to plan my own route north. I’ll keep you posted as to how it works out.

Back to England. The day before yesterday I was joined Alex. Instead of chatting to sheep I had a real live human to talk to. It was a day described as dull by my Pennine Way guidebook, but it was fine, and with plenty of variety. We started with a 1/2 mile of Roman wall, followed by moors, forests, and grass fields. The going was a tad boggy at times, and I was disappointed not to have my camera to hand when Alex decided to get more up close and personal with the bog. I turn round to see her rolling about in the bog, having slipped from a log into the mud. Luckily this event happened early in the day, so there was plenty of time to dry off. We also had a game of ‘Guess How Many Pennine Way Walkers We Will See Today’. It’s more exciting than it sounds. I set the rules. And I won. Funny that. Alex guessed 3, and I predicted 0. We saw one line walker, so I was closest.

Alex kindly had brought a gourmet lunch. We picnicked in a clear felled area of forest. The tree stumps made excellent furniture – providing us with a table and two stools on which to perch. Pickled quails eggs, falafel, and stuffed vine leaves made a welcome change from my usual slices of Soreen loaf with cheese. I’m somewhat fed up of the Soreen but I will persist with it as it’s brilliant for energy. Plus one loaf lasts for three days in my rucksack.

Our day ended with a stroll along the banks of the North Tyne into Bellingham. I now know that the North Tyne and South Tyne rivers flow into the more famous Tyne. In this neck of the woods all three river valleys are wooded and very beautiful. In an interesting quirk of pronounciation, you say “BellingJAM”.

From Bellingham, minus Alex, I strode on alone to Bryness. The lovely thing about walking is that I never feel totally alone. Some days I don’t see a soul. But when I do see another walker, they are always happy to chat. Its so different from normal life, where you’d rarely strike up a conversation with a stranger. I met Jim, a very experienced walker, who I later had supper with as we were staying in the same hostel/inn place for the night. And then I met Guy and Alastair, a father and son duo. Today I bumped into them again, and it was great to have company for the first few hours as we plodded through bogs and saw a sum total of nothing much in the cloud and rain. We shook hands and wished each other good journeys as we parted company late in the morning. Guy and Alastair are just one day away from completing the Pennine Way. And I was heading off the Pennine Way and along Dere Street, towards Jedburgh. Dere Street is a Roman road that runs all the way from York. The Romans would have been appalled at the state of some of the bits I walked on today. All that remained was muddy yucky cow trodden bogs. Thankfully after a couple of miles it improved and became more grassy. Late on in the afternoon I had had enough mud though, and completed my days walk to Jedburgh on quiet lanes.

A final word about the Pennine Way. I didn’t do the very last stage. But I’ve now walked most of it. It’s a wonderful walk. A challenge, but its fabulous to walk high along the spine of England, through three National Parks. The trail is in the best condition it’s ever been, with far fewer boggy bits than in previous years. Yet conversely it has the fewest people walking it than ever. It’s easily completed over three years – taking one weeks holiday each time. Go and walk it!

Right, that’s the end of this essay/chapter. And that’s me. In Scotland.