From Abbey to Abbey: St. Boswells to MelroseDecember 12th, 2011
Even without having walked from Wooler to Kirk Yetholm the day before, there would have been other reasons why following St. Cuthbert’s Way on foot all of the way to Melrose wasn’t an option that I was considering when arising next morning. Having only a day meant that covering the 36 miles was out of the question but my state of mind after the previous day’s walking meant I even questioned the sense even of covering just the last 7.5 miles of the trail north from St. Boswells. Fortunately, doing just that turned out to be the best decision for the glorious day that lay ahead of me.
Buses (there was a change in Kelso) got me from Kirk Yetholm to St. Boswells. One thing that was remiss of me was not to have a road map with me to show where I had got off the bus for the start of my walk. That bit of forethought would have saved me some bumbling before I got my bearings. Getting off a bus at a point other than where I expected has been known to throw me and this was one of those occasions.
With the bumbling behind me, I was following the bank of the River Tweed after following a pleasant path from Lessudden House that really should be part of the trail instead of its taking you down a street instead. With navigational difficulties sorted, it was time to enjoy a morning stroll by a wide meandering river. With the distance that lay ahead of me and the time that I had to cover it, there was no need to rush things and I was lured across a long footbridge to glimpse Dryburgh Abbey. In fact, this diversion was to cause me to pay to wander around the impressive ruins in the sunlight myself. Preparations for a wedding were ongoing but that did nothing to spoil things and I was away before the first attendees were going in anyway.
Another crossing of the Tweed returned me to my intended course as I pass through shading vegetation on the way to Newtown St. Boswells. Other than topping up on supplies, I wouldn’t have dallied there, especially in the gathering heat of the day. Road walking from there conveyed me to a much more forgiving track that fortunately was sheltered from heat of the sun. There was more tarmac bashing before I reached Bowden but cloud was gathering in the skies to cool the day for a little while.
That development turned out to be opportune because the next stage of my journey was going to take me up into the Eildon Hills. Before that, I found a useful seat by the side of the trail that allowed for a resting and refuelling stop. Civic-mindedness was apparent with a play area set up nearby though it wasn’t in use and a pathway had been made through the long grass too so there could be no question about where to thread.
After passing a few fields and crossing Glenburnie Burn, it was into the tree cover of Greenside Plantation to the accompaniment of the sound of a forage harvester working in a nearby field. Rounding the lower slopes of Eildon Wester Hill took me into Broad Wood where the gradient really steepened. Nevertheless, it was nothing compared to those that I had scaled the day before and I left the trees after me to complete the ascent to Siller Stane and the saddle between Eildon Mid Hill and Eidon Hill North.
After another short stopover, I was lured up the steeper slopes of the Mid Hill to its top. The contours of the Wester Hill looked a lot flatter from up there and views of Melrose and its abbey were on offer too. As it happened, I didn’t linger long up there and was drawn to the Mid Hill after coming down again. Naturally, there was an ascent to reach the flat top of that too and I loitered there for a while to allow the cloud cover to break for some photos of a landscape that was reminiscent of Rothiemurchus in its own way if you cropped out the green agrarian lowlands that surrounded it.
On retracing my steps from the Wester Hill, I decided to go up Eildon Hill North to finish off the job. There were far less folk about by this time and more dawdling followed. That seemed to be an ever present theme of this encounter with the Eildon Hills. In contrast to this stage of the evening before, being much nearer to my destination meant that there was no need to worry about the time of day at all. The fact that cloud still got in the way of the sun didn’t matter either as I started my descent to Melrose to claim my bed for the night.
The descent from the North Hill to reach St. Cuthbert’s Way was a carefree one and that theme continued even if it did come as a surprise to me how far around the North Hill the trail took me before dropping down through fields again. In May of last year, my designs on spending time among the Eildon Hills had to be set aside but not before popping up part of the way towards then. That point was reached again this time, having made much use of the postponed plans from that earlier time.
The official guide to St. Cuthbert’s Way states that Melrose is place worthy of a little of your time. Having spent Saturday evening and much of the day after around there, I can vouch for that. In fact, Sunday came very warm so it was no day for walking despite all of the long distance trails that converge around Melrose. Apart from the Southern Upland Way, there also is the Borders Abbeys Way. In fact, it was too warm for walking even as far as the site of the old Roman fort of Trimontium near Newsteads and that of Old Melrose, where St. Cuthbert spent much of his life, is a little further again. That last though has me wondering if an extension of St. Cuthbert’s Way out to there wouldn’t be a bad idea though it would have to be an out and back trot.
As it happened, I decided to explore the ruins of the Melrose Abbey that is best know and they are magnificent too. After seeing Dryburgh Abbey the day before, this was a variation on a theme and was equally unhurried. The coolness of the museum in the former Commendator’s House was a welcome respite from a day that became a scorcher. There were plenty of artefacts in there to keep me busy too and the way the door sounded when you opened and closed it was another reminder that it dated from another time. After all, it was older than the ideas that drew me to Northumberland and the Scottish Borders for a weekend of walking. Even then, the yearning for stillness and quiet could have been similar to those of the monks who found a monastery in the area all those centuries ago. Maybe some things just don’t change and returning to the hurly burly of modern life to get home again was another of those.
Bus service from 81 from Kirk Yetholm to Kelso and then bus service 67 from there to St. Boswell’s. Bus service 67 from Melrose to Berwick-upon-Tweed and train from there to Macclesfield with changes at York and Manchester.