It’s been a while since my last trip up there but last weekend saw me back in the Scottish Borders and sampling more of its attractive countryside. 2006 was when I last frequented these parts and so decided that it was high time for a return. Then, it was the turn of St. Mary’s Loch and Ettrick Head while on a trot west along the Southern Upland Way. That followed a reconnaissance visit based in Lockerbie that involved a poke around Moffat on a largely cloudy weekend. That’s not to say that the sun hasn’t been out either with previous hikes around Peebles, Traquair and Innerleithen being blessed by blue skies.
Last August’s visit to Edinburgh had the unfulfilled ulterior motive of an outing to Melrose to savour the delights of the Eildon Hills. However, a forecast of rain raised the prospect of not seeing them at their best and that was one reason why they have lain on the ideas shelf since. It was that and thoughts of seeing Melrose Abbey that drew my mind to the area again.
Everything may have looked sunny in Carlisle but Selkirk was cloudy when I got there. It stayed like that as I left the town to cross over Ettrick Water as I headed for the Philiphaugh Estate. The possibility of using the Borders Abbeys Way to get to Melrose was set to one side in favour of using the old right of way between Selkirk and Three Brethren before following the Southern Upland Way first to Galashiels and then to Melrose.
To my surprise, the Philiphaugh Estate has set up trails for visitors to follow and a leaflet to go with them. While it may not have been my intention, I ended up sampling a track through forestry that gave me a sneak preview of my surroundings from an elevated vantage point. After retracing my steps, I followed the vehicle track named the Corbielinn (or Corbylinn as the OS has it) Road until it left woodland near a reservoir.
Beyond that, it was onto the slopes leading away from Long Philip Burn with a spot of track hopping until I found myself on one leading me straight towards the Three Brethren. The sun was making a better fist of peering out through the cloud cover and caused me to stop a lot on gradients that otherwise weren’t the unkindest. The views were changing all the while too as I gained height, keeping my mind occupied and warding off any sense of impatience. This observation leaves me wondering if it as unchanging surroundings that were the cause any rising impatience during my long walk on the Isle of Man but there may have other factors at play too.
The three cairns that are the Three Brethren came into sight soon enough and grew steadily larger as the approach to them grew ever shorter. They caught the sun too as it ducked out from behind the broken cloud from time to time and I started to think it a pity that someone placed a fence though them. Once beside the cairns, the line of the old drovers road that now carries the Southern Upland Way stretched out to the east and to the west. A useful signpost confirmed that Galashiels was nearer than Traquair, verifying the sense of my route.
With the highest point of the day behind me, I began to lose height as the day grew ever better; it had all the hallmarks of being one of those delightful late spring and early summer evenings of the kind that I met once around Peebles and never have forgotten. There was no doubt about the way to be followed though I found yet another signpost and it included the option to return to Selkirk if I so desired, via a track that I left further down as it happened, but I was bound for passage through Yair Hill Forest.
Mercifully, some forest clearing allowed greater views of what lay ahead of me. Yes, there was the sight of wind turbines that no doubt would annoy some but they weren’t all over the place either and enough was left in a unblemished state for unperturbed enjoyment. Woodland wandering demanded good attention to a map but any waymarkers that I met were a useful backup too, not that they made good map reading unnecessary. Without going around in any circles, veering off track or any other difficulties, I found myself at Yair Bridge for a crossing over the Tweed as planned.
From Fairnilee Farm, it was all pastoral wandering in pleasing sunshine. There was height gain but it was fairly gradual and views back towards Selkirk open up behind me; it looked as if it was stuck in constant shadow. Sheep and lambs abounded as did stone wall field enclosures. You’d be forgiven for thinking that you were further south in Britain than Scotland as I crossed from field to field.
In time, the views over Galashiels came too, first from a large neatly constructed cairn much like one of the Three Brethren. From there, it was downhill again as waymarkers draw the wanderer closer and closer to Gala Hill. The Southern Upland Way chooses to go around it and skirt Galashiels in doing so. Saying that, there are plenty of paths on Gala Hill shown in Explorer 338 and Galashiels has its share of waymarked paths too, some of which use part of the Southern Upland Way. Though it would mean gaining some height again, I can see the point of including the woods around Gala Hill and the trail gains height after Galashiels anyway. The Galashiels variant can be left for anyone who wanted it but I think that having the SUW going over Gala Hill would bring its own rewards too and cut down on any urban walking.
Having to face more ascent was not welcome to tired limbs but it did offer recompense in the form of more views of Eildon Hills, this time with the added interest of Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott’s former home. After the last loss of height for the day, I was to find myself on the opposite side of the Tweed from Abbotsford and among trees for a last fling before urban walking was to take hold. More river crossings followed with one of Gala Water coming before another of the Tweed.
The latter brought me along a former railway cutting and the tarmac underfoot was taking its toll on the soles of my feet; is it time to get better insoles for my Meindl Burmas? This part of the SUW is shared with part of the National Cycle Network and the distances on their signs did everything that they could to dispel and impression that Melrose and Galashiels are right beside each other. With sore feet, not seeing much in the way of progress can be dispiriting and it was with relief that I gained one final stretch by the Tweed with hard dry grassland underfoot. When that was behind me, there was the matter of pavement pounding until I found my lodgings for the night but that didn’t seem to take so long.
The next morning began with blue skies before a rain shower came the way and there were a few more before the day set to improving steadily. After the one before, it was to be one for gentler pursuits such as relaxed inspection of Melrose Abbey. Other than that, there was a taste of St. Cuthbert’s Way before I stopped to soak the views that any gain in height revealed. Not having the time to use that trail to continue in among the Eildon Hills, I left the idea of exploring them for another time and subsequent map inspection revealed a possible alternative itinerary that would achieve that end. Following St. Cuthbert’s Way from St. Boswell’s to Melrose not only would take me through the aforementioned hills but also near Dryburgh Abbey too. It only needs one excuse to return to any place and I have found it for the Scottish Borders. Let’s hope that it doesn’t as long to get back as it did before.
Return train trip from Macclesfield to Carlisle. Outward bus journey onward to Selkirk and more buses to bring me back from Melrose by way of Galashiels.