8th January 2017
I’m not sure this was the best walk so early in the #walk 1000 mile year – especially uphill, especially 300 metres (that’s 984 feet in case you were wondering) uphill and most definitely not 984 muddy, claggy, slippy sloppy feet back down again – some of it in a very undignified position. My knees are sore, my hips are sore, my feet are sore (we won’t talk about other sore parts of me!). It’s ok though….I’ve had a hot bath……and wine! I can smile about it now…..
Try not to laugh won’t you?
But enjoy anyway!
The Eildon Hills – circular from Melrose (6 miles)
Our guide book today (Southern Uplands by Nick Williams) calls this walk ‘Roaming the Eildon Hills’ which might evoke images of a pleasant days rambling amidst the heather admiring the splendour of the three peaks that are the Eildons (pronounced ‘Eeldons’). The reality today is not quite so romantic.
We start in Melrose town centre and make our way past the Rugby Club where dozens of very small children are having rugby lessons (and do seem to be enjoying it?!). Soon we pass the gateway of the High Cross Church and step in for a closer look at its striking wooden cross.
The church is named for the area where, until 1743 a High Cross stood – it is thought that near this spot pilgrims arriving from the west could catch their first glimpse of Melrose Abbey.
We move on, turning the corner to walk beneath the dual carriageway and enter the grounds of the Borders General Hospital.
It’s just about now that Mr RR realises he’s got the wrong walk book and meant to bring the one with the 2 hour walk in – we’ve got the one with the 3 hour walk in it! Never mind. We head into the hospital foyer and pick up a packet of crisps each to add to the kitkat and satsuma we already have! That’ll do us.
Across the grounds and out onto a minor road, we head up the first hill towards Rhymer’s Cottage at a brisk pace. Turning left we head downhill along a very muddy track. It’s as we get to the bottom and prepare to turn right as per instructions that things start to go a bit awry. The track we need is closed for forestry work and a diversion is posted. Mr RR takes a photo of the instructions on his phone – which he then drops in the mud – for later reference and we plow on through deep slippier mud and then start up hill….and up…and up. At one point I pause for breath and take a look behind us. The views are stunning:
The diversion continues up and up some more:
Eventually we reach the top and try to work out where we are in relation to our guide books’ instructions. We think we might have just cut out a chunk of moorland and decide to continue through farm gates and along tracks squelchy with mud in the hope that we find our way to Bowdenmoor Farm -our next landmark. Luckily I have an OS map and am convinced that if we follow the line of electricity pylons we’ll be ok. And we are! Soon we’re heading downhill with the farm and the road ahead – just like it says in the book. Ahead of us are the triple peaks of the Eildon Hills:
These hills are volcanic in origin and can be seen from all over the Borders.
At the bottom of our hill, and past the farm we cross the road to find ourselves beside Bowden Loch. Luckily, some well placed benches give us a spot for a breather and a snack.
On the water a large flock of merganser are diving for food and further away Mr RR can see some Goldeneye – another diving duck with distinctive greenish-black heads and a white patch in front of their yellow eye – sadly too far away for pictures.
Also too far away in the trees, a flock of greenfinches flitting about. A trembling of finches – according to my book on collective nouns for birds. Suddenly they all take off at once flying above our heads.
It’s cold sat still and the bench is damp so we move on , around the loch and onto the hills. Our directions tell us to reach a path that twists through the heather to reach St Cuthberts Way. Unfortunately there are several paths and, despite asking other walkers, we’re confused about which one we should be on. We head upwards and then I decide we’re going wrong and lead us along the side of the hill instead. This was certainly a mistake! The path is narrow, lined with heathers and I’m not keen on walking in high places with nothing on one side of me. Nevertheless we decide to keep going as we can see Melrose in the far distance below us and it’s too far to turn around and go back to the first path. In front of us another peak and before that, a crossroad of paths.
It’s getting cloudy now and we’re keen to get back to Melrose before the light fades (and home before the rugby starts!) so we keep going, turning left at the crossed tracks and heading downhill steeply towards Melrose.
This is where it gets even more difficult, the red sandstone track is steep and slimy and slippery, the mud is deep and thick and so hard to walk on. Every time we think we’re nearly at the bottom – there’s more mud and more mud!
Mr RR does his best to keep me upright but inevitably down I go! Not once, or twice…. the third time I go down my knees won’t straighten to get me up again and I’m not sure whether I’m laughing or crying as Mr RR tries in vain to get me to my feet. Eventually, spurred on by the thought that someone else might come along and see me sprawled in the mud I manage to struggle upwards, clambering up Mr RR’s coat and clinging on for dear life as he drags me to the bottom of the hill! Never again I think, #1000 miles or not!
We make our way back through Melrose wondering how we managed to go so wrong and how on earth St Cuthbert kept going after the trials of the Eildons! Although maybe he found the easy path down…..
I feel better now though……28 miles of walking this week – that’s not bad for a Ricketyrambler I think!