Blogging is a natural loch for me to jump in as it’s a place I can share and explore my love of photography and storytelling. However, I’m acutely aware that my passion project has needed a bit more focus, a bit more of a challenge – an opportunity to take my readers on a more of a journey perhaps. My Damascene moment came one day last year whilst out walking the 12 miles of the Water of Leith Path here in Edinburgh. As I wound my way through leafy dells, alongside horse-filled, country fields and under old railway tunnels, I realised that I felt happier than I had done in a long while. Carefree freedom of movement propelled me on and I started to hit on an idea. Why don’t I take my readers on a long-distance walking adventure across Scotland, from end to end? I was aware that such a trail existed: The Scottish National Trail. Designed by the Dalai outdoor adventurer and broadcaster himself, Cameron McNeish, this walk traverses 537 miles through the varied geology and dramatic scenery of Scotland. To immerse myself in my country in its entirety and in all of its seasonal glories seemed like the ultimate challenge to set myself and on a more personal note, I decided that it would be a memory walk, in honour of my mum, Isobel who passed away two years ago.
And so, my challenge started back in October on what would have been mum’s birthday (2nd October). So, fellow adventurers, I invite you to join me as I undertake The Scottish National Trail and hope that you enjoy discovering Scotland with me.
Section 1 – Kirk Yetholm to Harestanes (2nd October 2021)
The definition of happiness for me is a long walk somewhere breathtaking. Whether it’s up highland mountains, wandering by soothing lochsides or isolated shorelines, being in the middle of somewhere – with no one else for miles – is guaranteed to make me feel glad to be alive. My addiction to mind-clearing stomps has brought me here, to Kirk Yetholm, a small village less than one mile from the Scotland-England Border. My cheerleaders, Andy and Nonny, our Golden Retriever are with me for the first leg of what will be an 18.5 mile trek. We set off from The Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm at 8:50am, strutting out of town across sunlit fields filled with Cheviot sheep, skirting the Bowmont Water and following the B road until we turn off through a glorious, autumnal glen leading up to the foothills of my highest point of the day, Wideopen Hill.
As we begin our ascent up a grassy track, I am filled with an ever-increasing sense of excitement about this, the start of what will be a 21 month adventure. A chance to explore Scotland from its south-east to very north-west extremes and in doing so, raise funds for Coeliac UK, my mum’s charity. Today would have been mum’s 76th birthday but she is no longer here in the world. The previous two years around this time have been hard with all of the raw feelings that I thought I’d left behind, coming to the fore once again. Losing a parent is everything people say it is and then some. It is irrevocably life changing. The strange waves of sorrow don’t reveal their hurt, murky depths until just before they crash onto your shore once more, enveloping you and dragging you back out with them. Fresh air, being in nature, taking in stunning views and the gentle motion of walking is balm for the soul at these times. I thank my lucky stars that this first section is filled with all of the above as well as some stunning autumnal sunshine … well, for the first part at least!
By the time we arrive atop Crookedshaws Hill, the first of the three summits, I am puffing and red-faced like a fully lit steam locomotive. But the endorphin hit that follows paints an immediate smile on my face as I gaze around at the stunning views of the Cheviots to the south and the patchwork of rolling Borders fields surrounding. I’m sweating furiously but the cold wind brings my body temperature back to a place of balance in no time. Onwards we head across the undulating traverse until we reach the summit of Wideopen Hill (368m). The panoramic view back up the glen with chocolate box pretty, Kirk Yetholm nowt but a distant echo, is truly breathtaking.
Our final summit is the rounded nubbin of Grubbit Law, which today appears to be hosting the very definition of blawin’ a hooley! The wind up here is furious and doesn’t relent until we’ve started our descent back down through a path between deer fences. Eventually, we reach the bottom and after crossing the Kale Water, we follow the road all the way into the pretty village of Morebattle where we rest on a bench outside the Community General Store to eat our rolls. I’m definitely needing a caffeine hit at this point and my new thermos flask saves the day. Legal speed, here I come!
Presently, a bus pulls up outside the store and Andy and a one very tuckered out Golden Retriever, make their journey back to our starting point and the warmth of the hotel. I traipse on along the B road through the rain and then hang a left up another minor road which eventually leads me to Cessford Castle. This 15th century fortification was built by a fella called Andrew Ker, and ancestor of the Dukes of Roxburghe and played host to many a battle at the hands of the English. The village of Cessford itself is a few more minutes of trudging on from here and it’s red telephone box becomes the scene of my first time-waste faux pas. Preoccupied by the need to document my journey via my mobile phone video function, I leave my walking poles propped up against it and wander onwards up a track out of the village … before realising my error and having to trudge back for them! It could have only taken 5 minutes, but it’s already past 2pm and I have a taxi booked for 4pm …
By the time I reach the hilt of Cessford Moor, I am one part emotional tranquillity to two parts delicious, self-indulgence. I am free: an idyllic state to be savoured. From this point onwards, I really took delight in the scenery which took me through fields, woods, upwards and downwards then upwards again by farms and near settlements. I am the only person on the trail and it is bliss!
Eventually, I reach a long, wooded section atop a hill and head onwards firstly through woodland and the through verdant greenery until I reach the signpost for Dere Street, the old Roman Road. This ran from York all the way north across the English-Scottish border before joining the eastern end of the Antonine Wall and was a major supply route for forts along part of Hadrian’s Wall. At this point I have to reschedule my taxi as the trail doesn’t appear to be showing signs of relenting just yet and the time is a-ticking towards 3.30pm.
What follows next is as mad a dash as I can physically muster after the previous 15-16 miles or so! I follow Dere Street downhill, over the A698 and down again until I reach the banks of the River Teviot. (I also managed to get lost at this point, accidentally following part of the Borders Abbey route!) At this point, a gorgeous rainbow appeared like some dreamy talisman guiding me over a suspension bridge, through a field and a final woodland section. I dig my phone out and ask – the extremely patient – taxi driver to meet me at the gates of Monteviot House.
The moment I see my taxi pull up to spirit my belongings and my knackered form off to my cosy hotel, I am beside myself with relief and achievement. Time for a shower though – I am manky!
Robin-red cheeks glow by the open fireplace back at the Border Hotel and smiles radiate joy and contentment. The hearty curry I order for dinner hits the spot and the chatty, convivial atmosphere is the perfect post-walk habitat. Section 1 is complete and now, I must retire to my comfy bed upstairs. The list of my blessings is endless.