Something we had been thinking about for a while was a slight diversion on our route to Edinburgh. This week we finally got around to it. After topping up the caffeine levels in Moffat we took the A708 towards Selkirk from the south end of the High Street. It is a quieter road than the A701 Edinburgh road but there are a lot of forests on the hillsides so large forestry trucks laden with wood are not uncommon. There are passing places where the road is narrow. The road follows the Moffat Water and then the Little Yarrow rivers through the valley. Our first stop was 10 miles up the road at The Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve. It is one of the highest waterfalls in the UK, dropping 60m from Loch Skeen which is the home of a rare fish, the vendace. It is apparently a relic from the ice age only found in a few freshwater lakes in southern Scotland and Cumbria. There is a 2.75 mile walk up to and around the loch but it began to rain heavily so we contented ourselves with looking at the waterfall (while I tried to remember when I had last been here), views of the valley and the heather which was flowering.
There are a number of ancient sites along the valley including, at Chapelhope, the site of Rodono Chapel. Further on the road reaches the Loch of the Lowes and following a short stretch of river under the bridge lies St Mary’s Loch. At one point there was only one loch but stones and gravel washing down from the hills separated them.
There is a café next to the Loch of the Lowes car park and a sailing club on St Mary’s Loch. Nearby is the Tibbie Shiels Inn which used to provide accommodation for walkers, including those on the nearby Southern Upland Way and was named after a widow who ran it between 1824 and 1878. Sir Walter Scott was a regular visitor. The inn closed in 2015. A statue on the hillside is of James Hogg born in 1770: the Ettrick Shepherd who became a writer. His work was admired by Thomas Carlyle and Walter Scott who introduced him to Edinburgh publishers but he never really left his work of sheep farming.
There is a circular walk round St Mary’s Loch which we might do at some point in the future.
A minor road to Tweedsmuir leaves the A708 at Cappercleuch.
It passes two reservoirs. The first, Megget Reservoir was finished in 1983 and supplies Edinburgh with water.
A mile from Tweedsmuir is Talla Reservoir which was opened in 1905. Construction began in 1899 and a railway was built to transport the materials. It is still possible to see some of the rail route and some of the bridges alongside the A701. The railway was dismantled in 1912.
Along the roadside were rowan trees laden with berries and many wildflowers including rosebay willow herb. Talla and Gameshope along with two other sites nearby are restoring the landscape to its previous wilderness state and providing a haven for wildlife. Where the forests are being regenerated, grazing sheep are excluded. The 4.500 acres includes blanket bog, moor, heath, rocky screes, lochs and burns.
At Tweedsmuir we re-joined the A701 and were soon in a very busy Edinburgh.
On our frequent journeys to and from Edinburgh, Moffat has become a regular place to pause. Not only is it on the scenic A701 but the town also has a lot to offer. It is, as far as I know, the only town in Scotland to have a statue of a sheep in the centre instead of some local worthy. I must confess that at university we used to tease a guy from Moffat about this. The ram is a reminder of how important the wool industry has been to the town. I understand it even holds sheep races every year in August and unsurprisingly, the local rugby team is called The Rams.
However, Moffat’s growth from a small village into a popular resort began in the 17th century when Rachel Whiteford discovered its sulphurous waters. They were believed to have healing properties. My 1894 copy of Forrest’s Illustrated Guide states ‘Moffat has now been for more than two centuries a place resorted to by strangers on account of its mineral waters’; citing chronic gout, rheumatism and ‘serious intestinal derangement’ as disorders which would benefit from them. The town has three wells in the surrounding hillsides but the Moffat Well brought it fame and prosperity. The current Town Hall was built in 1827 as a bath house where people could drink and bathe in the pungent sulphurous waters. Visitor numbers grew in the 18th and early 19th centuries, with people staying to ‘take the waters’. Victorian luxurious hotels were built to accommodate the increasing numbers of tourists and several are still hotels today. Another consequence of Moffat’s fame as a Spa Town is the existence of the oldest pharmacy in Scotland. It still has many of its original shop fittings preserved. Moffat Well is a short drive or walk 1½ mile walk out of the town into the hills. It is something we hoped to do on our journey south today after a balmy few days in Edinburgh where I wondered why I had brought my coat but the low cloud, rain and the need to get home before Storm Ophelia reached western England meant we satisfied ourselves with a quick coffee in the town centre. There are also riverside walks and walks up into the surrounding hills. It is close to the Southern Upland Way and the Annandale Way. The Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall is 10 miles away in a hanging valley with walking trails nearby.
Moffat also has a campsite and several other accommodation options. There are many cafes and it even has its own Moffat Toffee. Parking is free in the town centre and in the car park at the south end. There are many independent shops including a book shop which I usually pop into when I stop off. The town hosted the World Gold-Panning Championships in August 2017.
As you leave Moffat heading northeast towards Edinburgh, you pass over a small bridge at Gardensholm Linn that was part of a murder story which gripped the whole nation in the 1930s. Dr Buck Ruxton, a physician from Lancaster had murdered and dismembered his wife and their housemaid and travelled to Moffat to dispose of them in newspaper parcels in an area still known as Ruxton’s dump. His downfall was due to pioneering forensic science at Edinburgh University examining the evidence and the use of his local Lancastrian newspaper which identified the perpetrator as someone not local. He also put the parcels in a smaller stream that was in full spate at the time. Had he put them in the Annan River, they may have been washed out to sea without being discovered. Ruxton was convicted and later hung in HMP Manchester in 1936.
Despite all this history and Moffat’s situation as a staging post on the road from Dumfries to Edinburgh, it barely gets a mention in Alistair Moffat’s book The Borders. However, we are discussing walking the Annandale Way at some point which has a loop north of the town around the Devil’s Beef Tub and then heads south to Annan and the coast. Today we had to content ourselves with driving back down the motorway with a curiously red sun peeking out from the clouds.
The weather forecast suggested that Edinburgh might be one of the wettest places in the country this weekend. Fortunately, most of the rain held off until overnight on Saturday and early Sunday morning. We had our friends from Inverness down to stay. On Saturday morning,after a local wander, we had coffee at The Canny Man’s, a Morningside institution and free house run by the same family since 1871. The pub’s real name is The Volunteer Arms but no-one at all refers to it as that. When we first lived in Edinburgh 30 years ago, it was a serious drinking place. Now, it also serves good food but is still decorated with the same fantastic array of objects suspended from the ceiling.
In the afternoon the men went to a rugby match while my friend & I took the bus down to the Botanic Garden. It was an unusually still day and the sun continued so the autumn colours were glowing, mostly leaves but some flowers as well.
The garden is also set up for the Botanic Lights celebration which is held on evenings every autumn for a month. I have never been but it might be something for the future. We also managed to find some Christmas presents in the gift shop.
I had also been keen to see an exhibition of botanical paintings from Nepal. They dated from 1802 to 2016 and there were also exhibits of other ways plants were used either as dyes or to create fibre which was then made into lace. I particularly liked this painting of Ficus religiosa or Peepal. The tree is sacred to Buddhists and Hindus and is often planted around temples and at rest stops along trails. It was also used for various medical conditions. There were paintings of many plants and flowers including Rhododendron arboreum, the national flower of Nepal but which also grows in other Asian countries. I have never been there but have seen the tree in the Western Ghats in India and was amazed to see for the first time, a Rhododendron that was not a shrub.
In the evening we had dinner in a local restaurant and then adjourned to the Jazz Bar for their World Premiere Quintet. They arrange for five musicians who have never played together before or rehearsed to perform together. This was scheduled for 9pm after the acoustic tea-time session but by that time only a drummer, double bass player and pianist had arrived. We began to think it might only be a trio. However, the trumpeter and then the saxophonist, both from Glasgow, did appear and we were treated to a great set before heading back to the flat. Today, our friends headed back north on the A9 and we drove home through the Borders on the A701 and the motorways via a series of roadworks, arriving home just as the sun had set.
The weather improved as we headed north and the traffic usually diminishes after north Lancashire. That was not the case today. There were at least half a dozen very large loads heading up the M74 with escort vehicles. We could not identify what they might be components of but they slowed down even more the very heavy traffic. We left the motorway on the A701 and drove through Moffat without stopping. I had driven this road on a February afternoon and thought that I must return just before sunset as there are so many landscape views which would make good photographs in the right light. However today we were still too early for that and at the end of a long week, too tired to hang around waiting for it. Here is a shot from February.
We got stuck behind a campervan and several other cars but were still making a reasonable speed. A few brave souls overtook them without any accidents although it could have very easily been otherwise. There are a number of interesting places to explore, some of which I remember visiting in my first job in these parts. Romannobridge is named after the old bridge which stands in the middle of the hamlet.
A Dr Pennecuik’s history of Peeblesshire gives this account which I found on a website devoted to the history of gypsies in Scotland:
“Upon the 1st of October, 1677, there happened at Romanno, on the very spot where now the dove-cot is built, a remarkable polymachy betwixt two clans of Gipsies, the Pawes and the Shawes, who had come from Haddington fair, and were going to Harestanes, to meet two other clans of these rogues, the Baillies and Browns, with a resolution to fight them. They fell out, at Romanno, among themselves, about dividing the spoil they had got at Haddington, and fought it manfully. Of the Pawes, there were four brethren and a brother’s son; of the Shawes, the father with three sons; and several women on both sides. Old Sandie Fawe, a bold and proper fellow, [It is interesting to notice that the Doctor calls this Gipsy a “bold and proper fellow.” He was, in all probability, a fine specimen of physical manhood—Ed.] with his wife, then with child, were both killed dead upon the place; and his brother George very dangerously wounded. In February, 1678, old Robin Shawe, the Gipsy, and his three sons, were hanged at the Grass-market, for the above-mentioned murder, committed at Romanno; and John Fawe was hanged, the Wednesday following, for another murder. Sir Archibald Primrose was justice general at the time, and Sir George McKenzie king’s advocate.” Contrasting the obstinate ferocity of the Gipsy with the harmless and innocent nature of the dove, Dr. Pennecuik erected on the spot a dove-cot; and, to commemorate the battle, placed upon the lintel of the door the following inscription:
“A. D. 1683.
The field of Gipsie blood, which here you see,
A shelter for the harmless dove shall be.”
I think I might search out a copy of the History of Peeblesshire and find out a little more about the area before my next visit.
Sunday always brings out interesting vehicles and as today was sunny, all the convertibles. On the Edinburgh bypass we were overtaken by a Corvette, an Official Pace Car for the Indianapolis 500 in 1968. The countryside next to the bypass has enough pylons striding across it to satisfy a member of the Pylon Appreciation Society. Yes, it does exist; see http://www.pylons.org/. Our slow drive home started by heading to the Glenkinchie Distillery so that I could photograph it for the book I am slowly compiling for James, of all the distilleries in the British Isles. We clocked up quite a few last year in the Highlands, Orkney and Northern Ireland and need to continue filling the gaps.
Afterwards we drove down the A68 passing the wind farm just north of Lauder. Scotland is way ahead in renewable energy than other parts of the UK but we could still all do more. The only traffic jam of the trip was in Lauder, as there was a vintage and classic car event at Thirlestane Castle. Parked in the village was a pale green E-Type Jaguar, I liked the colour but James disagreed. Further on we crossed the Tweed we had walked along the day before and passed the Leaderfoot viaduct I had photographed last year.
On Carter Bar at the border, I got a discount on my coffee for bringing my own mug and admired the views in peace until a German tour bus arrived.
We carried on over the uplands and back down into fields yellow with oil seed rape flowers. In Stanhope we saw another classic car – a lovely red Lotus. There were also lots of bikers out on the B roads but these inhabitants should really have been in the Andes, not the Pennine Hills.
On the A66, signs warned us about horse-drawn vehicles as Appleby Horse Fair was held this weekend and is a big event for the travelling community. South of Brough and on the surrounding roads they were camping for the evening with tethered horses grazing on the grass verge. We drove alongside the Settle-Carlisle railway which I must incorporate into one of my train journeys to Edinburgh at some point. All the way from Cumbria into North Yorkshire the flax was blooming in the upland bogs and buttercups in the lowland meadows. I stopped for a photograph of the Ribblehead Viaduct before we got back onto bigger roads and found ourselves following a shed on a trailer.
The last leg of the journey was on dual carriageways and the motorways around Manchester. From the traffic reports we were hearing on the radio, avoiding the M6 seemed to have been a good decision. As ever, I made a mental note to revisit some of the places we passed in the evening with my camera.
There are still no trains north of Carlisle due to the Lamington Viaduct repairs and the replacement buses increase the journey times. I managed to slip away from work and catch an earlier train out of Lime Street Station than I had originally planned. At least part of the journey would be in daylight. By the time we got to Wigan North Western, enough sun had penetrated the glowering clouds to produce that wonderful golden hour of light before sunset beloved of photographers. It made even the station and the adjacent rather utilitarian car park glow.
At Preston we were kept waiting a driver whose arrival was delayed by floods. I finally finished reading Great Plains while on the train. I was pondering that I had already known something about the native Americans, the explorer and settler trails across the region, its geography, wildlife, the farmers trying to make a living there and the dustbowl. From the book I learnt more about the Mennonite settlers and something else that had not occurred to me: it is the location for several nuclear missile silos. In Carlisle, I was waiting for the bus to Edinburgh with a guy from London who had also been on my train. He said that he had just started work for Railtrack and that he had never been this far north before.
On Wednesday I had work to do, a day of coffee and statistics. In the evening, I attended a Burns Night celebration at the Scottish Arts Club. I met several new people (including some of the botanic artists) and enjoyed some great food. We were entertained by several members with the toasts, some of Burns songs and some by James Hogg. At the end of the evening I got back to the flat by taxi and was physically exhausted but my mind was racing with ideas and plans for more creative work of my own. The first few blossoms are appearing on the cherry tree outside the window but from Thursday evening through Friday and into Saturday we were treated to gales, snow, hail and sleet showers, the remains of storm Gertrude which battered the eastern USA a few days ago. The snow on Saturday morning lay long enough for all the local children to be out on the Meadows building snowmen but it melted soon after when the sun emerged. The blossoms have survived the onslaught.
One winter treat in Edinburgh is that the Scottish National Gallery puts on a display each January of Turner watercolours. Although he never ventured further than Europe, here is one entitled ‘Falls near the source of the Jumna in the Himalaya.
Saturday evening saw us having dinner in Katie’s Diner in Bruntsfield. There are only six tables and it is decorated with Americana including photographs of New York taken in the 1950s, musical instruments and also some more local colour from several Jack Vettriano prints. At night the castle is lit up and glows almost orange.
This morning it was time to head home so we wandered through the borders with flooded fields being enjoyed by swans and geese and some snow on the Lammermuir Hills but very little further south. Between Greenlaw (one of only two towns in Scotland to have a village green) and Kelso, we came across Hume Castle. It is closed in winter and all you can see from the road are the 18th century walls which hide a much older keep. I made a note to re-visit in the summer. Just before we got to Kelso on the B6461 I saw a sign that said ‘Bookshop’. We did not explore further as it was unlikely to be open on Sunday but something else for the return visit.
We were soon descending towards Carlisle, the border and lower altitudes. Snow-covered Cumbrian hills appeared above the cloud but fog and rain were with us for the rest of the journey.
Sunday always makes driving a little more interesting. There was a woman in African dress at the filling station and we passed a vintage car on the bypass. The sunny morning meant we had to head for the beach and Tyninghame is a favourite. Walking through the wood to Ravensheugh Sands, I always find something to photograph whether it be emerging bracken shoots or trees.
We walked and beachcombed and the dog greeted all the other dogs out for a walk.
All too soon we had to leave and drove back along part of the Hillfoots Trail through the communities lying at the foot of the Lammermuir Hills. Just after Humbie and before we joined the A68, eight or nine Mazda MX5s passed, on a day out or heading towards and event perhaps. During our lunch stop just off the A68, it started to snow. Further on, near the Kielder Forest and Newcastleton, it was hailing. The rest of the drive was uneventful as most of the roadworks that have afflicted the northern M6 had been suspended but there are still plenty of potholes.