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Quiet days in the Scottish Borders

Home -> Europe -> Scotland -> Travelogue Scotland -> 18 to 21 September 2019

Wednesday 18 September, quiet days in the Scottish Borders

Elisabeth her foot has become considerably thicker and walking is not really an option in the coming days. So we are going to drive around a bit, but that too is difficult after a while because she has to keep her leg as high as possible. That is why we are making only short journeys and I have to take the pictures, but because we stop less, we also take fewer pictures.
Gateway to a farm, BowhillToday we are driving south via a winding route to mark as many new roads as possible on my map. First a bit to the west and then through the Ettrick valley through which the Ettrick river flows and which is surrounded by low hills. The valley was once densely wooded, but because of logging and sheep grazing, not much is left of it. By the way, where are they, the sheep on the road? We usually come across a lot of animals on the road but hardly this year. While we also regularly come across game grids in this valley, but most sheep are kept behind fences.
Dolls in Ettrickbridge Access to EttrickbridgeEttrickbridge used to be called Kirkhope after Kirkhope Tower, a residential tower that we unfortunately overlook. After the construction of a bridge over the river in the 18th century, the name was changed. In the town in the center of the Ettrick valley we see more examples of knitting clubs that have hung their creations on traffic signs or telephone booths. We do not know where this tradition comes from, but we do know that it is a typical practice for this region. For a friend of Elisabeth, who is also a fanatic knitter, we take some extra photos.
In other areas we have seen examples of all kinds of dolls standing outside. And nowadays wood carvings of animals and figures are also popular, but we have not seen them in the Scottish Borders.
Cairn for Steve Hislop at TeviotheadToday we drive many dead-end roads through inhospitable areas with lots of sheep and an occasional house. And we do all that to mark more roads on my card. But occasionally we come across something special. In a valley near Teviothead we see a cairn, a pile of stones within a fence. However, this is not a megalithic monument but a modern memorial in memory of the famous motorcycle racer Steve (Hizzy) Hislop who crashed nearby with his helicopter, made by friends of his.
We make a stop in Langholm and eat some soup, just when the sun starts to shine. Until now it was a fairly gray day but again dry and slightly warmer than the last few days. After our break we explore a few small border crossings with England that we do not know yet, such as at Kershopefoot. We have driven most of them now. There are two more to the east and four to the west that we haven't seen yet. We do not come across any unusual houses or landscapes and we do not take any pictures at all, we already have thousands of Scotland, so at some point we take the beauty of the landscape for granted which, of course, we shouldn't.
The Hermitage, Scottish BordersComing from the A7 we take a road to the east of which I am not entirely sure whether we have driven it or not. According to the map, we have done at least a bit from the other side. Then we come across a castle called Hermitage. In the 13th century a wooden castle was built that was replaced 130 years later by a stone version. It was strategically very important in the battle between Scotland and England and there was a lot of fighting for it. When I start taking photos, the castle seems very familiar to me. Sure, that's why we once (2011) drove down this road from the other side, to look at this castle!
The castle was built with the purpose of defending itself with a rectangular floor plan. At the end of the 15th century, towers were built on the corners. Two large gates suggest that the entrance is there, but in reality a small door on the south side is the only access to the castle. It is an imposing castle but when the the weather is gray and bad it also looks quite ominous. It was conquered at least once but often passed into the hands of others because the lords of the castle were sometimes suspected of contact with the English and were then forced to give up this strategic location to the next owner.
Elisabeth is getting more and more bothered by her thickening foot and ankle because she can't hold it high enough in the car and we decide to drive home. It is only 44 kilometers but it takes us almost an hour.
It is sunny and I can sit outside for a while while Elisabeth tries to relax on the couch with cold wet cloths and her foot on a chair. There are nicer things to do in a holiday.

Thursday 19 September 2019, looking for unknown roads

Because Elisabeth's ankle still hurts a lot, I set off on my own this morning. On the map I choose a somewhat boring area with various roads that I still want to drive. This way I can mark them and Elisabeth does not miss any nice things. The area is between Selkirk and Kelso, but there are more roads in reality than on my map, especially in the area of Makerstoun, which makes me a little confused. Some roads I drive 3x and run into the postman, a lady, also at least 3 times. Every time we wave at each other as usual on these narrow roads in Scotland. The weather is great and at 11 o'clock already 18 degrees. The farmers are working on their lands and regularly I have to manoever the car to the roadside for an oncoming tractor. When I stop somewhere to check on the map whether I have really driven all roads in this region, a car stops next to me and the woman asks: "Are you lost, love?". I explain to her what I am doing and she nods understandingly, "ah, you want to see all of Scotland" and she drives on with a smile.
After a 4-hour drive I go back to Selkirk so that we can go take a car ride together in the afternoon.
Malcolm Memorial near LangholmEven now there are still plenty of unknown roads through the vast hilly areas east of Langholm. The landscape is covered with grass and heathland that is expertly kept short by sheep. Half of the 3 million sheep in Scotland live in the south of the country and most are kept for wool. When we approach Langholm we see an obelisk on a hill, the Malcom Memorial. It is a memorial to Sir John Malcolm, a soldier and diplomat who died in 1833. At the age of 13 he went to the Far East as a junior officer where he spent a large part of his life. In 1811 he was knighted for his merits for the British Empire.
Gilnockie Tower, center of the Armstrong clanFurther to the south we see Gilnockie Tower, almost 5 centuries old and a good example of a Scottish tower house with 5 floors. It was completely renovated in the 70s and is now a visitor center of the Armstrong clan. Johnnie Armstrong, a notorious 'border reiver', once lived here. Border reivers were looters along the Scottish-English border who made the border area unsafe in the 13th to 17th centuries. They could be both Scots and Englishmen who also robbed their own people. Johnnie was eventually hanged by the Scottish king. But the most famous member of the Armstrong clan is of course Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.
Selkirk seen from the southIt will not be such a very long drive and we drive back via Jedburgh. The thermometer shows it is 20 degrees and we sit on a terrace in the sun for a while, lovely. And then we return to our house in Selkirk. On the photo you can clearly see how the town of Selkirk was built against a hill with the old center on top. Almost all towns in the Scottish Borders lie along a river that was used for the transport of commercial products. Selkirk lies along the Ettrick Water, a tributary of the Tweed.

Friday 20 September 2019, archeological dig at Ancrum

Bewlie Mill at Lilliesleaf To the excavation at AncrumEven though Elisabeth cannot do much with her sore ankle, we are on our way to Ancrum on our last day to see how far they have come with the excavation of the medieval building that is thought to be the summer residence of a 13th century bishop from Glasgow. Just like last time, we are enthusiastically welcomed by members of the local historical association that also supplies many volunteers for the excavation. However, I must first sign a statement to safeguard the organization against all liability should anything happen (for example, fall into the excavation). Elisabeth tries to walk a bit around the terrain but she gives up after a few meters, it doesn't work, and she stays in the car.
The summer residence of the bishop of Glasgow? Archeological dig at AncrumA number of walls have already been uncovered and they hope to get a better view of the floor plan of the building. Certain details indicate a staircase, a door or a window. But what people prefer to find are artefacts through which the age can be determined. But the group has a permit for only 2 weeks and digging deeper than 2 meters is prohibited. In addition to the excavation, there are also workshops and tours and the site is well visited. On facebook you can see what was found in these 2 weeks. But there is no definitive confirmation that it is the summer residence of the bishop. You can also find more information at this website.
It is warm today and the volunteers are happy with the chilled water that is being brought to them, but they are also quite fanatical, so that after a sip they continue working, eager to find something. Four archaeologists from the AOC are in charge and try to interpret what they have already found. I find it incredibly interesting (I once wanted to become an Egyptologist to do excavations in Egypt) and I can hardly get away from the excavation even though there are only 3 small rectangles where they can dig.
Phoenix on the gate in front of the Chirnside parish church The Chirnside parish churchAfter 45 minutes we drive further towards the coast and I still find plenty of new roads to fill my map. At Chirnside we see a beautiful parish church with a phoenix rising from the water on the gatedoor. The shelter on the right side of the church (right photo) dates from the 12th century. There is a nice story connected to the church: in 1674 the village sexton dug up a grave because he knew that the woman was buried that day with some precious jewels. As the sexton attempted to cut off the woman's finger in order to obtain one of her rings, she suddenly revived. Ms. Erskine was able to return home, and she lived a full life, giving birth to and raising two sons. What happened to the sexton the story does not tell. The graves are mainly from the 19th century but there is also buried a Formula 1 driver, Jim Clark.
The port of Eyemouth We have a coffe in the sun in EyemouthWith some detours we finally arrive at Eyemouth, a place at the mouth of the Eye Water river. Because Elisabeth cannot walk far, we do not see much of the steep cliffs at the coast and the center of the traditional fishing village where there was also much smuggling. We are warmly welcomed in the pub but in 1862 the following text appeared in a magazine: The population of Eyemouth is in keeping with the outward appearance of the place. As a whole, they are rough, uncultivated, and more drunken in their habits than the fishermen of the neighbouring villages. Coldingham Shore, for instance, is only three miles distant, and has a population of about one hundred fishermen, of a very respectable class, sober and well dressed, and "well to do.".
Castle gate in Ayton, Scottish BordersA few miles from Eyemouth we see the entrance to Ayton Castle with a beautiful gate lodge built around the gate. We have been here a few times before but can't resist taking some pictures again. The castle itself is only open to the public very occasionally, coincidentally exactly next week but by then we are long gone. You can walk through the gardens, but that is not possible right now for Elisabeth. On the website we find the curious statement that it is not permitted to scatter or bury ashes on the estate. Probably somebody tried that, otherwise why mention it?
Sign at Wedderburn Castle, Scottish BordersNear Duns we see roadsigns that point to another castle, Wedderburn. But when we are in front of the gate, a sign clearly indicates that we can only enter with an invitation or by appointment and we have neither. You can rent the castle and the cheapest package (in the low season) costs 6,150 pounds, about euro; 6,800. But then you can have a party with 80 guests and let 26 of them sleep overnight. The most expensive package with a little more luxury for 1 night is pound; 10,050, so euro; 11,000. On our list of Scottish castles you will find websites with photos and more information about the castle.
Country house near LeitholmAnd then Elisabeth is done with all this driving around unexplored roads and we go back to Selkirk, her foot and ankle still bothers her a lot. Along the way we see a nice country house in the distance near Leitholm, but if we have to stop in Scotland for every house that we like, then we would be getting nowhere. The country is filled with them.
I have been able to explore at least 600 kilometers of new roads in the past week and could mark them on my map. A good loot, but the map still shows enough white spots for later visits.
The rest of the afternoon and evening the weather stays nice and tomorrow, when we leave, it will be even better, according to the weather forecast. We have had that before, that we had beautiful weather on the last day. All in all we only had real rain for a few hours, on the day we were driving from Beauly to Selkirk and in the first week we had only a little drizzling. Great holiday weather, we have had it quite different in Scotland in some other years!

Friday 20 September 2019, the long drive home

It is going to be a long day today and the sun is just rising when we leave at half past seven. We have booked the 4 o'clock ferry in Dover and are curious how fast we will get there. It is 675 kilometers of which the first 135 two-lane and at the end we still have to take a part of the London ringroad where hopefully there are no traffic jams.
We drive straight against the sun for most of the day and especially the first hour it hinders me a bit but as we approach the Scottish-English border, clouds appear and we end up in a thick fog. We did not expect that. But just before Newcastle-upon-Tyne the sun reappears and also the first 4-lane roads. And then we have to make miles on the sometimes busy, sometimes quiet roads.
Saint George tower, CanterburyBut we are making good progress because we are one hour ahead of scedule and decide to make a stop in Canterbury. In the center we drive into the first parking garage that has a minimum rate on Saturdays of pound; 3.90. But from there we enter the middle of the center and an empty table on a terrace is already waiting for us. A walk to the famous cathedral is not possible, after 7.5 hours in the car, Elisabeth's ankle has become swollen again, but we can still enjoy the wonderful weather at our last stop.
On the North Sea, on our way to Calais On the North Sea, on our way to CalaisAlthough the boat trip itself is of course also a resting period, first we have to wait an hour in the harbor and then another 1.5 hours on the boat but I rather prefer to drive. When we arrive in Calais, the sun almost sets and the last part of the journey, about 525 kilometers, awaits us. It usually takes us about 4.5 hours, but this time one hour longer due to some traffic jams. Thanks to an alternative route given by our navigation, that is not too bad because around Antwerp everything is completely fixed by an accident. We can take the northern ring just in time and after that there is no more delay.
In total we have driven 1200 kilometers and have been on the road for almost 17 hours when we get home a little after 1 in the morning. We have recorded the whole trip with our dashcam and shortened it to 12 minutes. You can watch it on our YouTube channel or here below:

Do you want to see a somewhat longer video of just the port area at Dover, than look at this YouTube video.
It was not such a long holiday especially since we did not do much the first week and the second week we were somewhat limited by Elisabeth's ankle, but it was definitely worth it. Scotland never bores us, the country continues to exert an undeniable attraction with all its history, the monuments, the spirits of the past, the nature that varies from lovely to savage and, last but not least: the inhabitants who shape the country and are shaped by it. We will be back.


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