Sunday, 23 June 2013

Kirk Yetholm to Harestanes

The nave of Jedburgh Abbey
I had spent most of the previous day in Jedburgh. Walter and Jean at my B&B, Kenmore House, couldn’t let me into a room until midday, so after a couple of coffees at the only shop in town, and a fruitless attempt to get my washing done at a local launderette, I spent most of the morning at Jedburgh Abbey. It’s a wonderful building, with a very well produced audio guide, and it was a real pleasure to be able to see it at leisure. It was also a beautiful spring day, which made it even more of a joy.

... and the Abbey from the South
The afternoon was spent in catching up with paperwork and doing some research on restaurants, before Irvine Laidlaw arrived from Edinburgh at a few minutes before 7:30. I had already cancelled our booking at the Dryburgh Abbey Hotel, seven or eight miles away and claiming to have a two-rosette restaurant, and was only able to leave a message when I tried to reinstate the booking. We took the chance we’d be OK.

The Hotel is an impressive red-brick Victorian building, with subsequent additions. It looks as if it was originally a country house rather than a hotel, and is what I would describe as Scottish Baronial. The first surprise was that they were hosting the after-wedding party for a group of wild locals, who were running around rather excitedly with crossbows, model guns, war paint, and fancy dress. The bride, still in her finery, looked rather confused, I thought. It was, we were told, a zombie party. They do things differently in the Borders, it would appear.

The wedding party disappeared into some function room in the bowels of the hotel, and Irvine and I took our drinks for a pre-dinner stroll down to the banks of the Tweed. The hotel is in a wonderful position, although Dryburgh Abbey itself is hidden by trees, and would be a great base for fishing the Tweed. There were indeed a couple of men fishing, though with the water as low as it was and it being only June I could not imagine there would have been any chance of a salmon.

The second surprise was the food. It was pub-level food in a palace. Very disappointing. So I did not feel that Irvine’s return to his homeland was off to an auspicious start.
The following morning we were picked up by John, our taxi driver for the next couple of days, for the journey to Kirk Yetholm, where he dropped us at the Border Hotel. The forecast was dire, and it started raining as we arrived, so the first few minutes were spent getting ourselves waterproofed.

A moment's respite from the rain. Looking back
towards Kirk and Town Yetholm
I had bought a guide to St Cuthbert’s Way the previous day, and it had a profile of the day’s walk: a stiffish uphill climb to start, and then relatively gentle gradients. So after a little level walking along the valley of the River Yet we began the climb. This is a rather deceptive climb: there are three or four false summits, where you might think you’ve reached the top before you actually have. As you reach each such false summit more uphill walking is revealed. With the altimeter on my watch I knew we hadn’t done enough climbing, but it was still something of a surprise each time. It wasn’t helped by squally showers, often with hail, as we made our way uphill.

This was the aptly-named Wideopen Hill, modest compared with 700m+ peaks earlier on the Pennine Way, but still a good climb. At least we had climbed it from the easier side. The descent was much steeper. The views to the West were extensive, with the three distinctive Eildon Hills some twenty miles away.

In the village of Morebattle there were several horse boxes and cars parked before we reached the pub. This was a very strange place; an untidy arrangement of dark, small rooms on one side, and a large function room on the other. There were only four other people there, 
apparently having a meal, and they actually had to open the street doors of the function room to let us in as there appeared to be no way to reach it from inside the pub. But it was a welcome relief from the rain and we certainly enjoyed our beers.

Cessford Castle - or what's left of it
When we left it became apparent that the village had filled up while we were having our drinks. It turned out that this was the first day of the Border rideouts, when horsemen travel from one town to another. Today 80 or more were due from each of Jedburgh and Kelso, and, according to by walking guide, the “Jethart Callant meets the Kelso Laddie in Morebattle”. There were plenty of spectators to watch them, and vans selling refreshments, but the pub didn’t seem to be making much of it. Though perhaps we were just too early, and beer would flow later. We certainly had to be on our way before the horses appeared.

Cars were still flooding in to Morebattle as we left. This was now fairly level going, initially along roads, and then on farm tracks. We passed the ruins of Cessford Castle, which had been the base of the notorious Kers, who as Border reivers raided both sides of the border in the period up to the Union of England and Scotland. They became ennobled as the Earls of Roxburgh, standard practice to bring recalcitrant warlords to heel after the Union, and later acquired part of Jedburgh Abbey as the family mausoleum.

The Roxburghes are still one of the three great landowners in the borders. The fields here are enormous, almost the size of those in East Anglia, and the farming is obviously good. The nineteenth century farm workers’ cottages immediately after the castle are testament to the wealth on the local estates. They’re built to a high standard, but as two terraces in the middle of nowhere look more like a town street than homes for agricultural workers. Not, I suspect, that there are many agricultural workers there now: the couple we met, who rented from the Roxburghes, did not strike one as toilers on the land.

Irvine on the suspension bridge across the Teviot
There was then a long, very wet cross-country session on minor tracks and field boundaries, through woodland, and across the Oxnam Water, where the stream has eroded the far bank into red cliffs. More modest climbing on the other side, a bit of road, and then a walk up through woodland to meet Roman Dere Street again for a final gentle descent to the bridge over Jed Water. The guide book gives this as the end of the 26km stage from Kirk Yetholm, but we walked a further 2km or so along and across the Teviot River, below Monteviot House, and on to the visitor centre at Harestanes.

Monteviot House is owned, we learned later, by Michael Ancram, who Irvine knows through the House of Lords. It looks an attractive building, and has lovely gardens leading down to the river. Names are confusing around here. Michael Ancram is The Earl of Ancram, son of the Marquess of Lothian, and related to the Kers, who sometimes are Kerrs; a local village is Ancrum, which presumably comes from the same root; Roxburghes also feature strongly and are related.

Monteviot House and Gardens
John was waiting for us at Harestanes, and it took only ten minutes to drive back to our B&B in Jedburgh. There it was a well-earned shower before setting off for dinner in a local pub.

Wet most of the day.  Mainly showers, some more continuous rain with occasional hail, dry only towards the end of the day. 10-15C. 28.1km, 500m ascent and 500m descent (estimated). Equal distances on roads, stony tracks, and grassland. Largely wet underfoot, and becoming muddy as the day advanced. 

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