St. Cuthbert's Way

14th December 2003 to 15th December 2003 (Days 12-13)

 

St. Cuthbert's Way leads from Melrose to Lindisfarne (Holy Island) on the Northumberland coast. St. Cuthbert began his work in the seventh century at Melrose Abbey, became a Bishop, and was buried on Lindifarne. The E2 follows his "way" between Melrose and Kirk Yetholm, where it branches south along the Pennine Way.

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Day 12: 14th December 2003

 Melrose to Ancrum (16 miles)

Map Next Top

After the aforementioned good breakfast, which was taken late and in good company with a couple from Seahouses, we spent some time chatting with our hosts Chris and Julie. This was useful, not least because I was reminded that St. Cuthbert's Way has recently been amended on the Harestanes to Cessford section, and Julie gave me a leaflet describing the changed route. I started walking at 10.20: I dispensed with the St. Cuthbert's official starting point of Melrose Abbey, preferring to leave an excuse to return to this pleasant town, and followed the signs between some cottages and down steps to a footbridge over a burn. The notice here illustrates how genteel this area is - it warns the walker to clean their boots before using the steps...

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Melrose

The climb up the Eildon Hills begins steeply but soon eases off, and on a clear, cloudless and still winter morning like this one it was entirely a pleasure. Even the fact that the Melrose side of the climb was in shade was good as it kept me cool as I climbed. The view north into the Southern Uplands was superb, and on topping the hill at the saddle between the two higher Eildons (there are three in total) there was suddenly an amazing view south across the plain towards England.

Panoramic view over Galashiels towards the Southern Uplands

 

Looking south from the Eildon Hills

Descending the hill facing the morning sunshine, I was glad to have a warm hat with a peak to allow me to see the path which was still slippery after rain in the night. The track curved through mixed woodland until turning decisively right then left and over a small hill to the village of Bowden.

 

Bowden

The path from Bowden to Newtown St. Boswell's follows the Bowden Burn until the stream drops into a narrow gorge, then some road walking leads into the centre of the village and down a wooded glen to the Tweed.

The Eildon Hills from Bowden Burn

Since first meeting the Tweed at Innerleithen (slightly off the path), the size of the river has increased enormously, and the water slides past at St. Boswell's with an impression of latent power. From Newtown St. Boswell's, the E2 follows the southern bank of the river, wandering up and down banks and terraces with steps and walkways in abundance. These ensure that even the less surefooted can enjoy the fascinating views of the mighty Tweed without unexpectedly meeting a salmon in its own environment.

The footbridge over the Tweed between Newtown St. Boswells and Dryburgh

 

Dryburgh Abbey, seen across the Tweed

After the first mile, the path suddenly ascends to the edge of St. Boswell's village: a charming set of brick cottages on a quiet road. A newspaper pinned to the Post Office window advertises the village's recent claim to fame - on August 9th this was the site of Scotland's record temperature of 31.9 C. The village actually moved a mile or so west in the eighteenth century, as the original site flooded.

St. Boswell's

From St. Boswell's, the path takes a line along a high bank with views back towards Melrose, then drops down by the club house to skirt the golf course for nearly a mile.

The Eildon Hills from St. Boswell's

In the bright sunshine, the Tweed lining the fairway on one side and rolling hills on the other, it was hard to imagine anywhere better and I kept to a leisurely pace.

St. Boswell's golf course by the river

 

After crossing Mertoun Bridge the E2 continues to follow riverside pastures of fine grass. I checked the map and realised that I'd been strolling casually along for too long - on these short winter days it's essential to keep the remaining mileage in mind and I didn't want to get to Ancrum later than half past three. As it was after one o'clock now I had less than two and a half hours to cover the remaining 8-9 miles. I increased my pace, determined to do three miles in the next three quarters of an hour and take the pressure back off. I set off, head down, across the pastures and straight away saw a large salmon which leapt from the river as if astonished by my sudden acceleration.

Before Maxton, the path entered woodland just away from the river and here I met Chris and Julie again. They were on their dog's favourite walk but were there, sadly, to scatter his ashes on the path. We chatted briefly, and being British, remarked on the excellent weather. This was a prelude to the sunshine disappearing just after I reached Maxton Church: and indeed, a few spots of very unexpected rain.

Maxton Church

The next section is a dull trudge along a quiet lane, until the roar of passing tyres announces the proximity of the A68. Luckily, the path turns south east just before reaching the main road, into a muddy thicket under which is the remains of the Roman Road, Dere Street.
Just as I entered the thicket, the rain started in earnest and I was glad for the cover. A few minutes later the path left the cover, but the shower had passed although ominous clouds roamed the sky. The way follows Dere Street for another four miles, heading south east very directly (as you'd expect) but undulating constantly.

Looking south-east along Dere Street

I noticed Christmas Trees being grown along the way, geese, and later on a pen containing turkeys...

Geese at Baron's Folly loch

 

Dere Street way markers

Just after crossing a minor road, Dere Street enters woodland. It became very dark as it was now just after three, but soon I was at the B6400 alongside Harestanes. Another mile and a half and I was over the Ale River and in Ancrum.

The Waterloo Monument on Peniel Heugh

The temperature had plummeted as the light failed, and I was glad to get indoors at the next port of call - Cheviot View. Although I wasn't really tired, unlike the previous day, a hot bath was very welcome. The Cross Keys on the other side of the village green was also a welcome facility: on a bitterly cold evening their open fire was ideal. With roast pheasant on the menu and good beer, another addition to the growing list of decent pubs visited. The standard seems to have gradually risen since the early miles in Dumfries and Galloway.

In Ancrum

 

192.5 miles completed

Day 13: 15th December 2003

 Ancrum to Kirk Yetholm (17.5 miles)

Map Next Top

After an early breakfast, Chrissy drove me back to the road near Harestanes so I didn't have to walk back to rejoin the path. Today was going to be a little harder than Sunday as I wanted to leave plenty of time to get from Kirk Yetholm to Edinburgh. We planned to meet at the Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm at 2.30 p.m., so I needed to be walking quite early. Chrissy would have time to visit Kelso, which looks an interesting town.
I was under way by 8.40 - aware that a few hours at a good pace would pay dividends later I strode out, determined to avoid stopping for more than the occasional photo and swig of water. The route would be fairly hilly, but with a big hill about four miles from the end - just when you don't want it, so I wanted to get to this hill (Grubbit Law) with time in hand in case it slowed me down badly.

The entrance to Harestanes at dawn

Harestanes has a visitor centre and craft shops but I walked past quickly.

Monteviot House

The ground was frozen and the still air was very cold - I had to stop very soon to don gloves, though with no wind the hat was unnecessary. The path took a long detour to avoid the private grounds of Monteviot House, then returned along the Teviot river to a grand footbridge.

Footbridge across the Teviot

Good walking along the river bank soon warmed me up, and there was another adjustment to the clothing layers as the inner fleece was removed. Crossing the main Jedburgh road, I strode up a steepening track (Dere Street again) until it narrowed and a finger post marked the start of the new route. This led along a vague path through Beech and then Oak woods.

The distant Eildon Hills, and Waterloo Monument from the woods above the Teviot river

After a descent to the Oxnam Water, a very steep section led up to Littledeanlees where I was "welcomed" by a large noisy dog.

New footbridge over the Oxnam Water

At first this brute was on the other side of a stout fence, but then a gate led through to a driveway and a bodger's workshop - home of the hound. I showed him my stick (in an un-aggressive manner) and he backed off quickly, so I gained confidence and stepped through the gateway. The dog fetched a large stick for me to throw for him and wagged his tail, just as the bodger appeared (to reassure me that the dog was harmless - I'd already realised that).
From the workshop, a steep grind up a tarmac lane took me to another pleasant wood.

St. Cuthbert's Way marker post

 

In the woods above Littledeanlees

Then, past Brownrigg and on to the ploughed fields of Cessford Moor with stunning views to Cessford Castle and the Cheviot Hills.

First view of the Cheviot Hills, looking over Cessford

Cessford is little more than a single terrace of cottages, and as unattractive as the name. Its one distinction is the 14th Century castle, home of the Kers - a clan of Border Reivers.

Cessford and castle

The castle can be viewed from the road, but closer look is discouraged as parts of the masonry are dangerous.

Cessford Castle

The road from Cessford to Morebattle gave me the opportunity to increase the pace to 4 mph, and by midday I was entering Morebattle. I saw my first squirrel of the trip on the road near Otterburn - obviously the bright sunshine was encouraging activity.

In Morebattle

I walked past the school, with a nostalgic whiff of school dinner in the air, past Teapot Street and quickly out the other side of the town. Incidentally, the name comes from "Mere" (as in lake) and "bodl" (house or dwelling) although the present version seems appropriate for an area with a violent history.
The landscape was changing rapidly, with severe hillsides suddenly looming and open grazing land replacing the orderly lowland fields.
The side of Grubbit Law was soon in front.

Grubbit Law

On the map, an uncompromising ascent lay ahead. In the event, the path wound up the side of the hill with a couple of tough sections but taking a more indirect line than the OS would suggest. After climbing 870 feet to the summit, the way lay over a switchback ridge with plenty of steep banks to climb or descend.

Looking back to the Eildons from halfway up Grubbit Law

In the middle of the ridge is Wideopen Hill, the highest point of St. Cuthbert's Way and also its mid point.

The summit of Wideopen Hill, facing north-east

On a superb day like this it was well worth stopping to photograph the great views all around. It seems an unnecessary effort to have to include this ridge in St. Cuthbert's Way, as there is an easy and shorter way from Morebattle to Yetholm, but today there was no question that this was the best route. It may be less clear-cut on a wet and windy winter day, however.

The Cheviot Hills from Wideopen Hill

A mile of ridge walking and a steep descent - hard on the knees - led to the road to Yetholm.

The Romany Marsh and Town Yetholm

 

Bowmont Water and Kirk Yetholm

Chrissy was waiting in the car by the green at Kirk Yetholm, and I arrived a minute early at 2.29.

Support car and Border Hotel, northern end of the Pennine Way.

This meant that we had plenty of time to enjoy a drink and sandwich in the Border Hotel - a very friendly place with a relaxed atmosphere and another welcoming open fire. The photo of Wainwright beside the bar reminded me that plenty of other walkers have been welcomed here before, though normally arriving from the south and with much more tired legs than mine.
The temperature was well below freezing by the time we ready to leave for Edinburgh, and we didn't feel like shivering our way round the village - we'll have a better look next time!

The next stage is the toughest day of the Pennine Way - 25 miles across the high hills of the Cheviots with no road or village to provide shelter. I'll be returning in April to attempt the Pennine Way as far as Horton-in-Ribblesdale, beginning with this daunting stretch.

210 miles completed

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