Tracking with Jacky in The Scottish Borders

Tracking with Jacky in Knysna
July 8, 2018

This was my first visit to the Scottish borders and I was full of anticipation at the prospect of a brand new adventure.  To say I was delighted with my introduction to the lush countryside is nowhere close to describing my feelings of euphoria as I revelled in a truly scenic wonder.

The first words of Andrew and John Lang’s book, Scottish Border Country, read like this:  ‘The “Border” is a magical word, and on either side of a line that constantly varied in the course of English and Scottish victories and defeats, all is enchanted ground, the home of memories of forays fairies, of raids and recoveries, of loves and battles long ago.’  I knew right away I was about to experience that enchanted ground.

Ed and I arrived in Carlisle by train and my very good friend Dawn met us and drove us all the way back to Innerleithen, which is her home town in the Scottish borders and was to be our comfortable haven for the length of our stay. For the next few days she was going to whizz us through the countryside on an almost impossible mission to visit as many wonderful historic sites as possible.

Innerleithen once boasted a thriving textile industry and became an important mill town manufacturing high quality wool and yarn.  It was well-known as a spa and St Ronan’s Wells, which is now a museum, was used as a bottling and bathing facility.  Sir Walter Scott, who used the spa as a boy brought a measure of fame to the town as, in his book, St Ronan’s Wells,  he brought to life the legendary story of the pilgrim monk and his encounter with the devil.

The legend tells how “St. Ronan Cleik’t the Deil by the hind leg and banished him”.  A fictional well had sprung up after the devil had been thrust into hell. The story brought many visitors to Innerleithen to sample the spring water and the Saint’s name has become linked with Innerleithen so that every year a pageant, acted out by schoolchildren, is performed, with the idea that the town should never forget its legendary past.

Although there are no longer operating mills in the town, Innerleithen has achieved a new importance with provision of seven excellent mountain biking venues in the Scottish Border areas.

 

 

 

Before we set off to explore, I accompanied Dawn on an early morning walk in the forest which opens out behind her garden. More breath-taking beauty!  We ambled to the top of the hill and looked out over the whole Innerleithen valley.  Why would anyone want to live in a city when surrounded by all this natural wonder?

 

 

 

We set off for Galashiels with our first stop-over being a hearty lunch at Kingsknowes Restaurant.  The food was excellent and the service first rate

 

 

 

 

I was enchanted with the hotel itself.  It had once been a Scottish baronial mansion and is now a beautiful venue for discerning guests who appreciate the elegance and charm of a by-gone past

 

 

 

 

En route to Galashiels we had stopped off at Thornielee in the Tweed Valley Forest Park and learned the story of Muckle Mou’d (big mouthed) Meg.

Sir Gideon Murray, the king’s treasurer, was desperate to find a husband for his ugly daughter Meg.  The solution to his problem came when he caught a cattle rustler, Willie Scott, making off with his stock.  When faced with the decision, to hang by the neck or marry Murray’s daughter. Willie was at first appalled at a life with this unseemly lady, but he eventually chose the latter. He reasoned, ‘better wed than dead’.  It was not all doom and gloom because Meg was kind hearted and affectionate and they spent many happy years together cattle rustler, Willie Scott, making off with his stock.  When faced with the decision, to hang by the neck or marry Murray’s daughter. Willie was at first appalled at a life with this ugly lady, but he eventually chose the latter. He reasoned, ‘better wed than dead’.  It was not all doom and gloom because Meg was kind hearted and affectionate and they spent many happy years together.

 

 

 

 

 

After Lunch it was off to Jedburgh.  I enjoyed this burgh immensely and spent a happy afternoon walking through the famous Jedburgh Abbey.

What a magnificent building it must have once been and how sad that the structures were now reduced to a gaunt skeleton of their former glory.

 

 

 

 

Jedburgh is one of four great abbeys established in the Scottish boarders during the 1100’s and a holy order of Augustinian monks presided in the early priory.  Their lives were one of contemplation, seclusion and ministry to the community, but destiny was not to leave them in this peaceful sanctuary.  Being so close to the Englishborders put them in a strategially dangerous position.

With its royal castle and wealthy abbey Jedburgh was a tempting target and was frequently fought over during the wars of independence in the 1300’s.  Further attacks for the next two hundred years culminated in the demise of the abbey during the Protestant Reformation of 1560. Jedburgh was where Mary Queen of Scots spent her last night in Scotland.

Sadly I was too late to visit the castle jail and Mary Queen of Scots’ house but both have a wealth of information for the visitor.

What had once been a castle was demolished in 1409 to prevent it falling into English hands and a Gaol superseded it in 1820.  Now it serves as a museum with ‘hands-on’ activities for the visitor.

 

 

 

It was a late night of chatter before we finally fell into bed, tired but fulfilled travellers.  Then, with an early rising, there was the anticipation of the new day’s travels.  Dawn had planned for us to visit St Mary’s Loch along with other sites of interest.

 

St Mary’s Loch in the Yarrow valley is the largest natural loch of the Scottish Borders.  It is stunningly beautiful with an unbelievable expanse of water.  Legendary tales assure us that the lake has no bottom and is the coldest in Scotland.

We stopped over at Tibbie Shiel’s Inn where a large number of campers were enjoying the fishing and the sunshine.  We met the owner of the hotel, which is now a holiday let. He told us something of its history and I made sure it too a good look at the old building before we left.

What interesting history is attached to this historic coaching inn! It started off as a cottage occupied by Tibbie and her husband Robert Richardson.  After his death she was compelled to take in paying guests to support herself and her six children.  The cottage was extended to the category of an inn and soon achieved local prominence particularly with the patronage of important writers such as James Hogg, Sir Walter Scott and William Wordsworth.

We passed Melrose with its famous Abbey where the heart of Robert the Bruce is buried, and then a Roman military camp near the River Tweed at Leaderfoot, which is the site of an early Roman crossing.

Through time this was replaced with three new bridges, one in 1863 which was a stately railway viaduct bridge, another in 1780 and a final modern one in 1973.

The territory of the Three Bridges is superb in its historic and scenic beauty.

 

Our host, Dawn, was keen to show us the Grey Mare’s Tail. I was becoming increasingly enraptured with the magic of the Borders  and couldn’t wait to see our next fascinating revelation.

I was not disappointed.  From far above us tumbled the silver tail of the grey mare.  It is a magical hanging waterfall spilling 200 feet into the Moffat water below.

We watched as intrepid walkers tackled the steep path to the top and I regret now that I didn’t brave the venture as I am told that the view at Loch Skeen is phenomenal.

 

 

 

 

Dawn, Ed and I stopped a while and were entertained by the sheep in the car-park.  They monopolised the road so that motorists had to manouvre their way at a daring 5 mph.

Oblivious to any bother they were causing visitors, they crossed and re-crossed the road as the spirit moved them, showing high dudgeon if they were hurried in any way.

I felt very sorry for the sheep with their ultra-heavy jackets but, knowing the severe winter weather animals have to endure I realised that it was necessary to be so attired.

Of course shearing time was close by and they would soon be ready to grow their new coats.

 

Final destination for the day was the delightful town of Moffat.  It has a population of about 2500 and once laid claim to being the centre of the wool trade and later a well-patronised spa town.

 

 

 

 

We stopped at the Black Bull for lunch.  Ed and I had an enormous plate of fish and chips while Dawn relished the Sunday carvery.  I have read that Robert Burns was a frequent visitor to the pub.  I would have enjoyed sharing a beer with him.

 

We visited the Moffat Museum after lunch and delighted in their many exhibits and the Audio Visual Room story. I was interested to learn that Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding was born in Moffat.

An intriguing tale which brought Moffat into national prominence was the story of Doctor Buck Ruxton.  He was convicted of murdering his wife and housemaid at his home in Lancaster and then disseminating and dumping their remains in a stream near Moffat. A bundle with a human arm had been seen by Susan Johnson as she stood on the bridge and the discovery was reported to the police. Gradually all body parts were recovered and, through skilful police work, Ruxton was finally identified as the murderer.  Today the area is known as Ruxton’s Dump!

With that grim story still lingering in our thoughts, we made our departure from Moffat; but we certainly didn’t let it spoil the joy and pleasures of another Border day.

 

Another day and another wonderful set of adventures!  I was delighted that Dawn was able to take me to Traquair House.  Andrew and John Lang’s book quotes it as ‘….a very fine specimen of the old Scottish chateau with walls of immense thickness. Probably, it is the oldest inhabited mansion house in Scotland, a place full of interest.  And not least interesting, the picturesque old gates at the end of the avenue that have remained so long unopened.’

Why are they still closed?  According to legend, following a visit from Bonnie Prince Charlie, they were closed and never to be opened again until a Stuart King was crowned in London. To this very day the gates remain shut.

Through the 12th and 13th centuries ownership of Traquair changed many times but from 1491 the house has been the home of the Stuart Lairds.

I was very much in awe as I wandered through the splendidly rich rooms of the House.

From the entrance hall I made my way to the Still Room, the High Drawing Room, the library, the King’s Room, the Museum, the Dining Room, all the way to the hidden Priest’s Room.  Here Roman Catholic priests would have been secreted to celebrate Mass for the family and local Catholics.  Only after the Catholic Emancipation Act were parishioners able to worship freely.

Guess what!  You can now opt to stay at Traquair House in one of three beautifully furnished guest rooms on a bed-and-breakfast basis.  A little costly, but doesn’t anything of value come with a price?

 

 

Traquair House has its own brewery!  Originating in the 1700’s, later dismantled and finally resurrected in 1960, and now doing a flourishing trade.  I bought a bottle of the ale to sample and Dawn and I enjoyed a refreshing drink later in the evening.

I am in possession of two excellent books on Traquair, the official guide book and A Gift of Time by Flora Maxwell Stuart.  Both are exceptionally good reading!

 

My last afternoon in the Borders was spent with the Historian John Rogerson, and another journey of exploration awaited me.  Have you ever felt impassioned to create something really remarkable and even though time slips by you still feel an urgent need to fulfil a dream?  Well, there was such a man in Peeblesshire who created a phenomenal relief map of the whole of Scotland, and John took me to see his accomplishment.

The Great Polish Map of Scotland took over 6 years to build.  The map was the brain child of Jan Tomasik from Krakow.

During WW2 he had been stationed in Scotland as part of the Polish 1st Armoured Division and one of their first tasks was guarding 200 kilometres of British coastline. Incredible planning went into structuring the map using all the skills of cartographers and craftsmen.

The map measures about 50 by 40 metres and is thought to be the largest three-dimensional relief map in the world.

 

 

 

 

Where is this amazing treasure to be found? It is located in the grounds of the beautiful Barony Castle Hotel.

 

Jan didn’t just spend his time dreaming about an inspirational map project.  He was obviously a man of entrepreneurial skills and set himself up as a successful hotelier in Edinburgh.

 

 

 

This provided an opportunity to purchase Black Barony in 1968 and thus provided the right location for his majestic Poland Map.

 

 

 

 

Our next stopover was at Lyne Kirk, an historic Peeblesshire church which was built in the 17th century, but medieval records tell of a chapel in existence during the 12th century.

One of the interesting monuments in the kirkyard is the intricately carved ‘Adam and Eve’ stone.

The temptation scene reminds all of original sin. ‘Memento mori’ (all must die) in the inverted hour glass are chill reminders of mortality.

These headstones were once common in the Borders but, unless preserved as this one is, have slowly deteriorated and disappeared.

 

In 1998 three cists or stone-lined graves were unearthed just west of the Kirk.

This was possibly part of an early Christian community cemetery between the 5th and 8th centuries and the size indicates that they must have been the graves of small children.

 

 

 

 

John carefully pointed out in the field below the remains of a Roman fort, which could have accommodated up to 1000 men, both infantry and cavalry.  It is amazing how this ancient site has survived through time.

I have to confess that I was much taken by an adjacent field where the fat, lazy sheep were idling in the sunshine.

Then, to my great surprise, I learned that John, before becoming a teacher, had once been a farm worker and was familiar with all the farming areas in the vicinity.

I plied him with questions and his knowledge of rural life was inspirational.  He told me of shepherding problems he had encountered and of his dependence on his sheep dog and that the Border Collie was indispensable to sheep farming.  Having watched a BBC programme which showed sheep dog skills along the cliffs of West Devon, I could fully appreciate his comment.

 

The Border Collies apparently are intelligent and obedient animals and are reared and trained specifically in herding  flocks of sheep.

I learned that the famous poet and novelist, James Hogg, (1725-1835) was also a shepherd, famously known as the Ettrick Shepherd.

He wrote of an incredible experience with his dog Sirrah who had been put in charge of 400 lambs that one midnight broke from their enclosure.  Hogg called to his dog but the night was so black that he couldn’t see where the strays were headed and even if Sirrah was able to follow.

At day break he and his companion had not sighted the lambs and were making their way back to their master to report the loss of the flock.  By way of their return they passed a ravine and found the lambs with Sirrah on guard.  On his own he had collected all of them in the dark and was waiting for instructions to bring them home.  He ends his story with the comment, ‘…. if all the shepherds in the Forest had been there to assist him, they could not have effected it with greater propriety’.

A monument has been erected to James Hogg.   The statue is positioned gazing out over a landscape that he loved.  The statue can be found near Tibbie Shiels’ Inn, a place he often frequented with his great friend Sir Walter Scott.  How familiar is this poem to most school children!  Can you visualise James nestled in a little shelter, surrounding by sheep and writing poetry? Although I know this poem well I am ashamed to say I had never attributed it to this great man. Do you think Billy was a human friend or a Border Collie friend?

A BOYS’ SONG

Where the pools are bright and deep

Where the grey trout lies asleep

Up the river and over the lea,

That’s the way for Billy and me.

Where the blackbird sings the latest

Where the hawthorn blooms the sweetest

Where the nestlings chirp and flee,

That’s the way for Billy and me.

 

Where the mowers mow the cleanest,

Where the hay lies thick and greenest,

There to track the homeward bee

That’s the way for Billy and me.

Where the hazel bank is steepest

Where the shadow falls the deepest,

Where the clustering nuts fall free

That’s the way for Billy and me.

Where the mowers mow the cleanest,
Where the hay lies thick and greenest,

There to track the homeward bee

That’s the way for Billy and me.

Why the boys should drive away

Little sweet maidens from the play

Or love to banter and fight so well

That’s the thing I never could tell.

But this I know, I love to play

Through the meadow among the hay;

Up the water and over the lea,

That’s the way for Billy and me.

James Hogg

I have to convey my sincere thanks to Dawn and John for their enormous help in showing me the Borders.  It is an experience I will remember for many years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jacky Parker

Jacky Parker

During my 18 years in the United Kingdom I have done extensive travel both as a school chaperone to Ypres, Calais, Naples, Paris, Moscow and Barcelona; on my own to Edinburgh, the Cotswolds, Canterbury, Belgium, Cologne, Amsterdam, New York
Jacky Parker

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Jacky Parker
Jacky Parker
During my 18 years in the United Kingdom I have done extensive travel both as a school chaperone to Ypres, Calais, Naples, Paris, Moscow and Barcelona; on my own to Edinburgh, the Cotswolds, Canterbury, Belgium, Cologne, Amsterdam, New York

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