The Philosopher, the Witches and Hen Poo Lake


Let’s not mention the weather today…..

This morning we made our way to the town of Duns (pronounced Dunce) to follow a walk from a new book of mine called ‘Walks for All Ages – 20 Circular Walks in the Scottish Borders’.  As you can imagine, nothing too strenuous – which is okay at the moment!  This was meant to be a 3.75 mile easy walk through the grounds of Duns Castle to be accomplished in 2 hours.  I’m not convinced it was that long, unless it was just that it was all on the level and we were walking fairly quickly due to the unmentionable conditions.  Never mind, it was nonetheless, a lovely walk around a beautiful estate managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and lacked only a tea room at the end! – one to go back to in the spring I think.

All photos today taken by Mr RR.

Enjoy reading

Ricketyrambler x

Sunday 7th February

Duns and Hen Poo Lake (about 2.5 – 3 miles maybe?)

We begin in the Market Square in Duns glancing back at the Mercat Cross as we head up Castle Street.  A Mercat Cross is a traditional Scottish cross (although its not always in the form of a cross) marking the place where monarchs, bishops or barons had granted the right to villages and towns to hold markets or fairs.

The Mercat Cross in Duns

As we walk towards the castle we pause to ponder some delightful names – Polly Wolly Doodle Childcare Centre (love it!) and a street named simply:

Where the rain comes from (oops!)

We enter the estate grounds and walk towards Pavillion Lodge, which is as near to this castle as you’re allowed to get, unless you’ve booked your wedding here or are taking part in a clay pigeon shoot – this is a private estate.

Pavillion Lodge and the road to the Castle

Just before the lodge we stop to look at a cairn – an inscribed stone, commemorating the life of the medieval philosopher John Duns Scotus after whom the town is named.


John of Duns, the Scot, was, according to Mr RRs’ book ‘The Borders – A History of the Borders from the Earliest Times’ born near Pavillion Lodge around 1266. He studied at a Franciscan Friary and Oxford University before travelling to Paris where he used his ‘brilliant semantic and metaphysical skills’ to take issue with the views of Thomas Aquinas which were influencing intellectuals in Europe at the time.  After Duns’ death in 1308 his detractors dismissed his arguments and called his followers ‘dunces’.

We turn to the right and make our way towards the enigmatically named Hen Poo Lake, one of two man made ponds in the castle grounds.  There seems to be no explanation for the interesting name of this loch, the other is called Mill Dam which seems sensible enough!

Hen Poo

Apparently in Summer this lake is covered in water lilies – today the swans, ducks and moorhens are making the most of the reed beds and we walk quickly by after a glance back at the view of the castle:

Duns Castle rising above Hen Poo Lake

We’re interested and delighted to note that many of the trees have little metal name tags on them – Field Maple, Alder, Horse Chestnut etc – makes life so much easier when you’re trying to learn the names of them all.  As we peer at each one in turn, Mr RR spots movement…..and there, creeping upwards is a Tree Creeper.  This tiny, intriguing bird, is never still and uses it’s tail for support as it climbs up the trunk of the tree looking for insects. It’s habitat has expanded northwards in the 19th and 20th centuries as forestry plantations are developed and it thrives in deciduous or coniferous woodland.

On we go, around the lake and along the wooded pathways.  There are snowdrops in little clumps everywhere here – but one cluster is especially beautiful:

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)

Snowdrops, with their white nodding flowers and grey-green leaves are apparently native to parts of West England and Wales but are thriving here in Scotland (we have some in our garden as well) and are very beautiful. They love damp woods and the banks of streams, flowering from January to March.

We pass the bird hide without detouring to go in, there’s not much of interest on the lake at this time. As we move on towards the end of the woodland I take a look at the map and notice that on our right is Witches Hill.  We have a Witches Hill, here in Hume as well, so….back to the history of the borders for some information.  The history of the persecution of witches in the Scottish Borders is not pretty but makes interesting reading.

In brief, in 1563 the Protestant parliament in Edinburgh passed a law outlawing witchcraft on pain of death. This was in line with many other protestant communities throughout Europe who began to fear the Satanic enemy as they saw those who used folk medicine and healing, which were seen as pagan practices.  Witch burning broke out in many places and often followed days of torture.  Legally, witches could not be burned without confession and in the Borders witches were often tried by water torture – stripped naked and bent double the suspect (nearly always a woman) would be tied in the shape of a St Andrew’s Cross with her right thumb attached to her left big toe and vice-versa. She was then thrown into a deep pool with drowning a proof of innocence.  Burning however, was seen as a complete destruction of the witches existence and occurred in many towns and villages.

We emerge from the woodland and exit the castle estate onto the main road back into Duns, passing the new high school and making our way back to the Market Square where, sadly there are no open tea rooms and we have to make our way back to Kelso for hot chocolate and cookies.


By the way – this week I saw my first live hare, right here in Hume!

Golden Hare – mixed media on canvas

Artwork for Ricketyrambler by Andrew Major



4 thoughts on “The Philosopher, the Witches and Hen Poo Lake

  1. Suzy B February 7, 2016 / 10:45 pm

    You saw a hare!! It is a sign. I will not mention the weather either, except to say that local rivers and roads are looking very similar. Xxxxx


  2. ricketyrambler February 8, 2016 / 9:02 am

    It is a sign……what of though? I think you have Imogen heading your way……batten down the hatches Suzy B! xx


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