14th January 2017
I’ve recovered from the the dastardly mud and the humiliating tumbles on the Eildon Hills and, having been confined to the house for a couple of days by gale force winds, was keen to get out today and make up some miles. We decided to make for Duns and have a ramble through the grounds of Duns Castle and a climb to the top of Duns Law. It was cold and, as you can see the snow is still lying on the ground, but thankfully the wind has dropped and the sun managed to put in an appearance.
We last visited Duns Castle a year ago (read about it here: The Philosopher, The Witches and Hen Poo Lake )and said we’d come back in the Spring – we never did!
Duns Law and the Colonel’s Walk (4.8 miles)
We start off in Duns town centre and walk through the the arched gateway into the castle grounds. Almost immediately we turn right and head uphill, along the side of woodland until we reach the summit of Duns Law.
Duns Law is an historical site of special interest being the location of the famous rising against Charles I in 1639. On the summit lies the Covenanters’ stone marking the spot where General Sir Alexander Leslie and his Covenanter army sited their camp and made their plans to protect the National Covenant.
The National Covenant was more than a declaration of rights, it was a signed agreement between Scotland and God. It meant what it said – at great and tedious length – that Scotland was a nation covenanted to God, a chosen people with a unique relationship with the Almighty. This was the absolute belief, the dangerous rapture which persuaded lawyers and university principals onto the battlefield, and which would spill much blood in the Borders in the decades after 1638. (Alistair Moffat: The Borders)
We tramp through the snow, across grassy hummocks, towards the orientation point to look at the views across to the Cheviots in the south and down over Duns below us.
There are footprints in the snow…….someone has been here before us today… and we think its a hare!
Sadly there’s no sign of him now.
Having read about the Covenanters on the information boards and managed to make out the outline of their hill fort we continue on our way over a stile and downwards over a steep and snowy hill, trying not to slip on the icy track. (Mr RR says I must be more assertive with my footsteps – and I’m trying, really I am – but I am afraid of falling…again!). On the way down we pass a huge uprooted tree – just fallen in the recent gales judging by the root ball, still covered in soil.
We step carefully around it and make our way on downhill towards Hen Poo – the castle loch, home to wild fowl of all varieties although today we can only see Teal gingerly stepping out across the ice. It is thought that the loch, which is artificial, has been in existence since 1744 and was extended in the 19th and 20th centuries.
From here we make our way along snowy tracks, over a wooden footbridge and through woodland, following the signs for Colonel’s Walk.
As we walk on the sun puts in an appearance, highlighting one of the hundreds of silver birches lining the way. On the other side of the track are conifer, probably planted between 1920 and 1950 and commercially managed.
Losing our way briefly we add 1/2 a mile to our walk, and discover another entrance from the road to the estate. Having studied the map, we turn back, towards the ice covered Mill Dam and find the turning we should have taken through more woodland and alongside a burn – Oxendean Burn – apparently a site of special scientific interest itself due to its geological and palaeontological importance. It’s a very pretty place in the snow, and must be even more beautiful once the Spring flowers start to come up – I imagine there must be a carpet of bluebells, daffodils and wild garlic. As we walk on through the woods, we see a deer across the burn. Sadly its disturbed as we get closer and bounds away over the hill.
Duns Wood is composed of several separate plantations. The earliest sections, which we’re now passing through, were established along Witches Hill during the 18th century. We follow the tracks for another mile or so. Before emerging from the estate onto the main road into Duns, we stop for a look at the castle.
Duns Castle is privately owned, remaining in the ownership of the Hay family who acquired it in 1696. It was Alexander Hay who was responsible for most of the landscaping and by the time he left it to his son Robert in around 1780, Duns Castle had an ornamental garden, sizeable plantations criss-crossed with rides and an artificial loch – Hen Poo.
Between 1816 and 1822, Robert Hay (Colonel Hay – maybe he of the Colonel’s Walk?) did his own bit in improving the castle, including the building of a semi-circular tower. The square tower which we can see from here features gargoyles on its facade – said to be based on previous inhabitants of Duns!
He also added a stable block and walled garden before running out of money. The poor financial situation of the family more or less continued until, during the 20th century the present generation of Hays sold off some of the land for commercial forestry and instigated a programme of events to ensure an income. Now it hosts weddings, clay pigeon shooting and falconry amongst other activities. The lochs – Hen Poo and Mill Dam now form part of a Scottish Wildlife Trust Reserve.
As we leave the estate and head back to the car, we’re thinking we really must come back in the Spring.
Total miles so far: 39 – 961 to go!