Allison had a few days to use up before the end of her leave year, so we arranged to spend the week in Selkirk and visit as many of the neighbouring Marilyns as we felt like. It is an area I don't know very well at all - with the exception of the Donalds hereabout it is possibly the least explored part of Scotland for me. The forecast for the first few days at any rate was good and we set off at 9 on Friday into blazing sunshine and frosty verges. Covid 19 has reduced the traffic on the roads considerably and we ambled along past the outskirts of Edinburgh and down the A7, having planned to do three hills en route to Selkirk.
The first of these, Sell Moor Hill, sits just east of Stow and involves just 80 metres of ascent from the layby beside the Tanwell. Follow the field edge to a junction of walls, cross carefully into the sheep field and there's an ATV track to the trig column. The Moorfoot hills to the NW still had some snow on them, otherwise it was a lovely spring day. Back to the car the same way.
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From here we continued down the A7 until a sign for Clovenfords, which was where we set out to do The Meigle from. Apologies for the lack of pictures - I left my camera in the car. Anyway we parked beside some houses and walked through the farm buildings, taking a cinder track up the hillside. A sign appeared saying "Meigle Circluar" and we took the left hand, the sinister path. Quite where this was going I don't know, but it seemed to be getting ever further away from the hilltop and was indeed starting to lose height. We cut over the fields, making for the transmitter masts at the summit. Warm work in the sunshine - larks and lapwing bursting with song. Got to the trig column, a visit to the very sizeable cairn nearby then some lunch. We took the more predictable route back down.
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A short drive from here to Melrose, the starting point for the Eildon Hills, which we could see clearly as we drove through Galashiels. The roads and streets were busier here, Melrose itself looks a nice town worth stopping by. We parked in the car park beside the Abbey - a measly pound for four hours parking was alright. The route goes past an antiquarian bookshop then passed between some houses onto the St Cuthbert's Way. There is a long flight of wooden stairs going up the start of the hill, then it's onto cinder track. Other people were out walking dogs and the like - we took pains to keep a suitable "social distance". I was looking out for Dingleton Hospital - an asylum that was still in use when I was doing my training, but which I never visited. It has now been converted into fancy apartments and houses built in the grounds. The only thing visible from the hill was the unusual concrete boiler house/chimney.
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Very civilised down here!
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We pressed on up the steep hillside, reaching the summit, with its viewpoint and memorial to Sir Walter Scott. Maybe I should give his books another try, although my recollections of trying to read them in the past don't bring back fond memories. The plate on the viewpoint identified many of the hills we'd be doing over the coming days. We descended, only to climb up the adjacent Eildon Hill North. From here we followed the route-marked path to Newstead - apparently the oldest still occupied village in Scotland. A trail brings you back out at the Abbey. I picked some wild garlic as we walked along through the woods, which we enjoyed that evening chopped and served on our pasta with a glug of olive oil and pepper.
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Day Two - an enjoyable circuit of the Moss Paul Hills
Saturday was a bit overcast and chilly as we set off driving south along the A7 to Moss Paul. There are three decent hills here - Wisp Hill, Pikethaw Hill and Ellson Fell and I decided to make them into a circuit, as we were both a little scunnered with the "drive here, climb a small hill, drive to the next one" method for Subs. On the way from Selkirk to Hawick I noticed 4 dead badgers beside the road in less than 9 miles - a blackspot for Brocs here, it seems. We parked in the layby across from the Moss Paul Inn - closed at the moment (and for months to come it would seem). I gather it's a party place at present, where groups hire it out and behave like degenerates...there's a notice posted up on the path into the campsite situated just behind it saying that the Inn refuses to respond to any complaints of noise from campers. Sounds lovely - I'm not sure if the campsite is still open anyhow.
We walked along the road a short way, passing from the Borders into Dumfries and Galloway as we did so. Through some gates and up the shoulder of Wisp Hill. The ground is alright - mostly short firm grass, but it's one of these hills that you just have to keep on climbing up withiut ever seeming to get any nearer to a summit you can't see. At 595m it's the highest Sub we've climbed for a while. Eventually reaching the trig column we paused for a look at the surrounding mountains - over to the west were the long line of hills including White Coomb.
Moss Paul Inn with Wisp Hill rising behind
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We continued on our way, making for Pikethaw Hill and losing a lot of height in the process. It's a case of following the fence line, ground was reasonably firm. Birdsong and a striking absence of noise from aeroplanes - normally walking in the Borders is disrupted by numerous flights in and out of Edinburgh Airport but today we heard only 3. It is a bit of a slog up the steep flank of Pikethaw, but there's a good cairn and views to reward persistence. we sat by the cairn, out of the wind, to eat our lunch. From here we stayed high, walking over Frodaw Height and eventually down to meet the wee road that goes along to Hermitage Castle. From here we would start up Ellson Fell.
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View back to Wisp Hill
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Ellson Fell, surrounded by forest
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We walked along the road, passing a beech hedge occupied by a rambunctious brood of hedge sparrows, chattering and cheeping so sweetly. There's an ATV track that goes up the steepish flank of Ellson Fell, the gradient consistent until you begin to level out at 460m. Then there's a bit of undulation, a deviation to the summit of Ellson Fell (unmarked) where I placed a skull to serve as a marker. We wandered over to Carlin's Tooth - Although I knew that a few places in the Borders/D&G referenced "Carlin" as a witch, I hadn't realised that "Carlin" derived from the Gaelic "Cailleach". From here we dropped down into the valley and followed the MossPaul burn back to the car. An enjoyable day - nice circuit, felt quite remote from the traffic, a good day out in the hills.
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Summit Ellson Fell
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Return path along the burn
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Day 3 - Heading East
Gorgeous weather today - blue, blue skies and sunshine to the point where I had to rake out my sunglasses. I'd decided we'd head east and try to do four Subs - Dirrington Great Law, Meikle Says Law, Sparkleton and Lamberton Hill - a fair bit of driving along roads new to me. We went through Kelso and past Castle Hume, which looked strange - I see it was rebuilt as a folly in the late eighteenth century. First on our list was Dirrington Great Law - which is of volcanic origin apparently. I had in mind that this would be an easy walk up a track, but it wasn't. We parked beside a stone bridge and wandered along to the farmhouse, which has a notice saying "no public right of way" - something maybe more often seen south of the Border?. Anyhow, we continued on to a farm gate and headed across the fields.
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The landowners here have been cutting the heather rather than burning it, which I suppose is more environmentally friendly. We kept changing lane, as it were, until we came to a better track taking us to the summit - this is home to three cairns of some antiquity and a very sad and sorry trig column which has been uprooted. My 900th Marilyn We took a more direct line back to the car, sometimes wading through heather, mostly on cut areas. I almost stepped on a young adder, sunning itself on a tussock.
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A drive further along the road, through the village of Longformacus til we reached a popular parking spot at Redstone Rig. The road is not in great condition, with quite a few deep potholes to be avoided. There were about half a dozen other cars parked. We set off down the track, dropping a good 50m from the parking place before we started off on our walk. We took the WH route, so I'll not describe it in any detail. One thing to mention is that although the map shows a twin-dotted-line track all the way to the summit, this actually peters out into heathery nonsense about 1.5km from the trig.
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We sat at the top having lunch, looking out towards the Bass Rock, only 15 miles away. The air was a hazy blue with smoke from muirburn. we set off down the return leg, which is all on good track, although it does cross a meandering Faseny Water no less than four times, which involves a bit of a wade. Passing a worker out setting the heather on fire, we returned to our outward route, beside Faseny Cottage and grudgingly climbed the 50m back up to the car.
Dirrington Great Law
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Environmental vandalism in the name of an obscene industry
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Some of these fords were quite deep
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From here it was a short drive to Spartleton, across from the Whiteadder reservoir. This too was busy, with about a dozen cars parked along the roadside. We saw our first Covid 19 notice here. It asked if your presence was essential and responsible. That opens up a whole existential can of worms - how much of what any of us does is truly "essential". Indeed, how many of us are "essential". Would the world stop turning if I spontaneously combusted? No... Have to say I feel conflicted about this situation - from a rational point of view it is difficult to act as a vector for the disease if you are only walking in an area and not coming into contact with anyone else. I take the point about touching gates being a potential transmission point - we have been climbing over gates without touching them today and there are few other possibilities for transmission as far as I can see. However, the situation is clearly rapidly changing and we will need to take a lot into account when we get back home regarding what we are going to do in the coming weekends.
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Anyhow, Spartleton is an easy hill - track all the way and the slightly more than 5k was done in an hour. Lots of gross butts along the route. We came out at Millknowes farm and walked back along to the car.
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The final hill on our agenda today was Lamberton Hill, just up from Berwick on Tweed. This is one of the smaller Marilyns, needing less than 30m of ascent to be undertaken. Driving there was a much longer process than actually climbing the hill. Another non-essential activity, for sure. Anyway, the trig column isn't the summit - there's a spot height of 217m (compared to the Trig's 215m) about 500m to the north, near the site of the rather well preserved Habchester Fort. We did both although the trig column had an eviscerated sheep lying by the gate. Not a pleasant sight.
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Day 4 - Around Jedburgh
We left today with more uneasiness re Covid 19. In the space of a couple of days, hillwalking has gone from being a virtuous activity (good for physical and mental health, good to see Nature - with the admitted exception of the carbon footprint of getting there) to a transgressive activity. That's a paradigm shift that I'm struggling to come to terms with. It no longer feels comfortable to park up and set off up a hill, especially if there are houses or people nearby. The time of the Great Lockdown is coming. We have been vigilant in minimizing risk to ourselves and others by not touching things (particularly gates) and not going near anyone else - mind you the roads were all pretty quiet today.
We set off for Linton Hill, but somehow ended up at Hownam Law instead - it had been second on the list to be visited today. It is an impressive sight, a steep grassy peak rising above rolling hills. We parked just north of the bridge, where there's room for one car and set off along the track, through the farm and into the fields, following farm track initially. All the fields seem to have electric fences down in this part of the world - an added challenge when not trying to touch things. We walked through the sheep and up to the final steep section of hillside rising to the summit. I enjoyed this outing. We returned by the same route.
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Next was a tracking back to Linton Hill. The route I had in the GPS involved parking by the houses, which we avoided today and instead, verge parked a little further up the road. The summit has a transmitter mast atop it. We marched through the fields, causing the sheep to become interested in case we were bringing food, then walked through a small wooded section which was very boggy - avoid this by keeping to the north side of the wall. There's a trig column just behind the transmitter mast, and the map shows the remains of yet another fort on the top - I think all the hills round here have been enforted at one time. Is "enforted" a word?
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We returned to the car and drove through various villages, all closed down, the pubs with their big doors shut, streets virtually deserted. On through Jedburgh, which had a bit more signs of life, back onto small roads to get to the start of Belling Hill. We parked on a verge near a gate and walked back down the road a short way before following the fence line up. This doesn't look like a hill at all - a wooded summit with no shape or sense of elevation. Across short-cut heather up to a wall, which we eventually crossed and hunted about for the highest point. really exciting back much the same way.
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We could see our final hill, Rubers Law, just over to the NW. A short drive took us there - we found a space to park near a field entrance. Looks like lots of new high fencing has been put up around here - there's a deer field adjacent to where we went up. Track for about half the way then steep grassy hillside to reach the summit. We were accompanied up by a young Labrador bitch who had been beside some workmen in the field and clearly decided it would be more fun to climb the hill.
On the top there's a trig column with a couple of plaques on it about the Borders Exploration Group. Just down from the summit is another plaque rejoicing the Lord. The fugitive minister Alexander Peden may have preached to a conventicle of Covenanters here before he was banished to the Bass Rock for 4 years. There was not only an Iron Age fort here, but also a Roman Signalling Station. And the hill appears in the poetry of Dr John Leyden...
Dark Ruberslaw, that lifts his head sublime,
Rugged and hoary with the wrecks of time!
On his broad misty front the giant wears
The horrid furrows of ten thousand years;
His aged brows are crowned with curling fern,
Where perches, grave and lone, the hooded Erne,
Majestic bird! by ancient shepherds stiled
The lonely hermit of the russet wild,
That loves amid the stormy blast to soar,
When through disjointed cliffs the tempests roar,
Climbs on strong wing the storm, and, screaming high,
Rides the dim rack, that sweeps the darkened sky.
(from Infancy 1803)
We headed back down, taking the dog with us and returned to the car for a half hour drive home. I had thought about going up Black Hill today, but decided enough was enough. We might get out tomorrow, somewhere uninhabited - we'll have to read the news and make up our minds.
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Allison with a large hamster wheel
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Day 5 - The Lockdown
Everything has changed - our minds are made up for us. Which in some ways is a relief - we could see the lockdown coming, but I didn't expect it to be just quite as soon as it did occur. I had thought maybe the coming weekend would see further restrictions come in, but I guess a lot of that was denial on my part. When so much of my life revolves around the hills - be it planning where to go, walking the countryside and all the other aspects of that like camping etc, I don't want to think that it can all just stop. Over the years I've been fortunate enough to avoid any serious injury that has made me unable to get out and about, something that many walkers (including Allison...) have had to deal with as a temporary block to their hill pursuits. But this is on a whole different level. Maybe it will just be for a few weeks - although that's said with more optimism than I feel - but maybe it's a change that could take a number of months to reverse. And once the death toll starts to climb it will be into uncharted waters. Hill routes and numbers of summits bagged are no longer feeling as important as they were, even just yesterday.
Today we did go for a "Boris walk" around the local park-like area here in Selkirk, the Hainings. Lot of other people had the same idea, but social distance being kept. Was nice to get out for some fresh air, even if just for a short while. Noticed there's a 247m TuMP by the name of Howden Hill just a little bit further than we walked today - well within the prescribed Boris limits, maybe one for tomorrow
In contemplative mode
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