Bird Therapy

Skylark on Gorse

“Even when the world around us is a dark place, the birds still sing, they still migrate – they’re just being there, being, in a way that perhaps we all aspire to be ourselves”

Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness

This week is a strange one. It’s annual leave for me, that means I get to take time off from my paid jobs – which I love – to stay home and do my unpaid ones – about which I’m slightly on the negative side of ambivalent. Luckily, the young Ms RR remains in residence and came up with the idea that I should go out! Another strange thing – going out….. We are of course, in Scotland, in Phase 1 of ‘returning to normal’ which means that unless you’re shielding, you can go out within about 5 miles (or not so far that you need to use a toilet in another persons house). Of course going out, when you’re a carer usually involves a lot more than just…..well, going. However, I currently have live-in help in the form of Ms RR, so after considering all of the reasons why I shouldn’t go and failing to come up with a logical one, I went. Alone. On my own. Yet another strange thing.

So, there I was, out, alone. With my walking boots, my book, a flask of tea, a chicken sandwich and a vague sort of plan to walk along the River Tweed from Dryburgh. At the weekend we had a picnic lunch on the banks of the Tweed and then walked a little way along through the meadow grasses – they were stunning, those pink tinted grasses interspersed with white umbellifers and surrounded by beautiful clumps of Russian Comfrey. I decided then that I wanted to come back and here was the perfect opportunity.

Russian Comfrey

I stopped on the way at Scott’s View, just because it is such an amazing view.

The view from Scott’s View

And that’s when it happened! The first thought – that this was silly, that this was a bad idea, that I couldn’t walk along the river bank alone, sit and have lunch alone. Now, for those that know me, this isn’t such a surprising thing – there are lots of reasons why I shouldn’t do this thing on my own, not least of which is that I have a well known propensity for falling down! I’m always falling over, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve arrived home bruised and scratched from taking a tumble into thorny bushes, or down a flight of muddy steps. What if I fell into the river! Or, heavens above landed in a bush and couldn’t get up! Even worse – what if someone saw me!! As well as this possible calamity, there was the ongoing problem of the foot pain, some days a mile is all I can manage without the burning incapacitation of pain in my feet. What if I got to the river and then couldn’t walk back! Also, though I used to walk a lot on my own, when we lived in Cornwall…..things have changed since we moved North and I seem to have had my ability to venture out on foot alone eroded. All this thinking flew through my brain in nanoseconds as I contemplated the view and listened to Alexander Armstrong on Classic FM. What could I do?

In the end, what I did was, start the engine and drive a little further on. I thought that if I got to Dryburgh and strolled just a few yards to the river, that would be enough. I could eat lunch in the company of the ducks and then stroll back again. So it was with some surprise that I found myself pulling into the car park for the viewpoint from the Wallace Statue – a fair walk from Dryburgh – and steeply downhill at that. But here I was. No-one else in the car park, so safe to leave unnoticed, if I changed my mind.

And so it was with some trepidation and a few palpitations that I stepped out of the car, changed into my walking boots and hoisted my backpack onto my shoulders – you’re not a real walker unless you’re carrying a backpack! Off I set, into the woods…..all the while I was telling myself that I only needed to get to the first bench, sit with my cup of tea and then drive on to the next viewpoint. And then…..not 100 steps into the wood, I spied a bird with a long pointed bill working its way in a hopping action up and down a tree trunk! I stood and watched, and I saw another….Tree creepers I thought. Oh how jealous Mr RR was going to be!! I watched them flitting about, every now and then flying off to a further tree and then back again. It occurred to me that they were feeding young, although I could see no nest in the further tree. I stood and watched and tried to catch a photo for many minutes until a sound somewhere nearby sent them skitting away.

Spot the bird!

It wasn’t until today, that I checked the little bit of bird that I’d managed to capture on camera that I realised – not tree creepers at all, the tail is all wrong and these birds were going up and down the tree – tree creepers only go up! The only British birds that go down the tree headfirst are Nuthatches – elusive, and according to the RSPB website, only rarely seen in southern Scotland, they are found in deciduous woodland and nest in natural holes in trees.

Whatever they were, the standing and the watching and the silence had calmed me and I set off determinedly for the river.

“Jon Kabat-Zinn, whose work most modern, mindful stress-reduction therapies are based around, defines mindfulness as ‘paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally’. When applied to birdwatching practice there are evident correlations. You pay attention in a particular and focused manner, not just on birds, but also on the wider environment. It’s very much a purposeful pastime, as it can be accessed almost everywhere. It grounds us in the present moment – here and now……”

Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness

The path from here down to the pretty village of Dryburgh used to be bordered with dense woodland, but much of this has been thinned now letting in light and air.

Much of the woodland used to screen the William Wallace statue from view before you actually came upon him, but now I can see this massive memorial ahead staring out over the valley towards the Eildon Hills.

Sadly for him, his huge eyes are empty and he stares unseeing at the countryside laid out before him….

From here its downhill along a steep path softly carpeted with beech nut shells, more wood clearing has gone on and the sun is shining through the remaining branches. Through the village and past the currently closed Abbey, and then along the path towards the river. It’s going well!

There’s ploughing just started in a nearby field and in the air, the smell of the newly furrowed earth. As I pass this field, ahead of me I spot a deer, just its head visible above the crops, I stand and watch as it saunters towards a line of trees.

And then I’m on that path alongside the river, walking between the wild flowers and grasses.

I decide that I’m going along as far as the Mertoun Bridge which is about a mile or so and then, if I feel like it, I’ll cross over the bridge and continue to walk along in the same direction looking for somewhere to stop for lunch.

After the meadow, there is a hill up through more woods and then I’m high above the river looking down through the trees on the sand martins and oyster catchers far below. In the field, right next to me as I stand and stare, a dunnock is having a bath in an old water-filled trough. I stay still until he’s finished but then he hops onto a nearby rock and starts drying and preening himself. Joe Harkness talks about dunnocks in his book, he says they are:

“the archetypal ‘little brown job’ which is a term that birdwatchers tend to assign to any small, nondescript and (obviously) brown bird. If you take your time and study one properly, you’ll actually see a deep palette of colours and markings taking shape. Delve further into their detail and you’ll begin to realise just how intricately marked they are.”

Personally, I feel I’ve noticed enough details for now, I’m getting hungry, so selfishly, before he’s halfway dry I decide to move on, finally startling him out of his own meditation and sending him fluttering to the nearest tree.

To get to the Mertoun Bridge I need to descend some roughly cut steep steps and as I approach them I know instinctively that this is danger time! If I’m going to fall….it’s going to be here. The top two steps are completely worn away meaning there’s a huge crumbly leap down to the first safe-looking standing place. Here’s where I turn back…..except without even a hesitation I hang on to a wooden post and lunge down, inelegant but achieved! I manage to come to a stop on the third step with only grumbling knees to show. Ha! Today is not a falling day! Down I go, one slippy slidey step after another until I’m on the road, a big silly smile on my face. Luckily there’s no-one to see and no traffic to bother me as I walk on across the bridge to the footpath on the other side.

The view from Mertoun Bridge…I’m heading for the path in the right hand corner.

More steps down on this side, but safer ones, built out of wood. And then I’m in the woods again walking along beside the river keeping an eye open for a good lunch spot. The path diverts away from the water for a while as the river bank is eroding but its soon back alongside and in the distance I can see a pebbly shore just right for a sit down.

I stay and eat. Across the water a pair of swans and oyster catchers, mallards and gulls. And in the air hundreds and hundreds of sand martins in their continual insect catching flight. I stay for an hour or so just watching.

This swan floated along meditatively for the whole time I was there, oblivious to its surroundings, to the frantic flights of the sand martins (that’s the blur in the foreground) and the high pitched call of the oyster catchers….just all in its own world.

Decision time now….go back the way I’ve come or walk on the other bank of the river through the golf course and into St Boswell’s and back via the chain bridge. The golf course is busy and I’m reluctant to be ducking out of the way of golf balls and not feeling like nodding hello to golfers, so I go back the way I’ve come.

Mertoun Bridge on the way back.

Back up the wooden steps, knees creaking, across the bridge and make for the crumbly steps. I’ve deliberately not thought about getting back up till now, I have to do it so I just keep going. My feet slide under me a couple of times and then its a clamber up to the top over the missing step on hands and knees – even more inelegant! But I make it and set off across the field and back down through the woods, spotting a woodpecker on the way.

It’s a lovely afternoon so instead of heading back through the village, I find a place on the river bank and take out my book. It’s quiet, just the sound of the golfers shouting whatever it is they shout every now and then, and the oyster catchers calling their calls. And then about 20 minutes in…….a huge flock of gulls descend. Time to go!

The timing is right, I’m in need of a cup of tea and because the sun is shining families are coming to the river to paddle and play. I wander back slowly up the hill, past William Wallace and through the woods to the car, feeling quite pleased with myself…..I may do it again one day!


Bird Therapy is a lovely book by a guy who writes about his struggle with his own mental health and how connecting with nature and in particular with birds has helped him in his journey to wellbeing.

In the book Joe talks about a morning when he was ‘awoken at seven by a witch-like din of screeching and cackling from the back garden’. What he finds are ‘eleven shimmering starlings writhing across my feeders, jostling and snapping at each other….’ Well I know just what he means. We have our own ‘murmuration of starlings’ in our back and front gardens. Even as I write this, there must be 50 or so adult and juvenile starlings all trying to crowd onto the single bird feeder in the back garden and a similar cacophony happening in the front! All of the babies are fledged, and all of them are shrieking and screaming and demanding to be fed! Even the cat has retreated indoors and is sulking on the sofa!

St Abb’s to Pettico Wick

St Abb’s to Pettico Wick and return via Mire Loch (3.5 miles)

The Berwickshire Coastline with Bass Rock in the far distance


(3.5 miles)

It’s me! Some recent lovely comments on my site made me decide to have another go.  Walking is slow and distances are short for me at the moment which is frustrating – but when the weather is being kind, as it was on the coast today, I suppose it doesn’t matter so much if you can’t walk fast or too far!


We usually walk around St Abb’s Head from the village and return via Mire Loch, missing out Pettico Wick.  Today we decided to go and have a look at this little cove starting from the National Trust Car Park just before you get to St Abb’s village and walking through the farm and out along the ‘Discovery Trail’ before diverting along the ‘Lighthouse Loop’ to the sea at Pettico Wick.  It’s all really well marked, the views are lovely – ahead and looking back towards St Abb’s and Coldingham Bay.

Pettico Wick

Pettico Wick – no idea why this pretty bay is called this, apart from that an alternative name is listed by Canmore (Historic Environment Scotland) – Pettycarwick Bay – so it’s probably just got shortened over time and is now known as Pettico Wick. It’s a tiny harbour with a pier which was built so that supplies for the St Abb’s lighthouse could be landed. We didn’t venture down as there were lots of divers milling about preparing to set off on an exploration of the waters.

The coastal habitat here is a Voluntary Marine Reserve and is protected and part of a European Marine Site.  Apparently there are offshore forests of dense seaweed and the area is full of a mix of Atlantic and Arctic plant and animal species.  You can sometimes see dolphin here and we’ve seen a porpoise previously.

We reach the coast and walk a little way along the coast path northwards to see the thousands of guillemots nesting on the cliffs – they’re tightly packed together on the ledges. Puffins, kittiwakes and razorbills are also known to nest here but it’s hard to make them out amongst the hoard of guillemots – collective noun: A Bazaar of Guillemots –   that’s just what it sounds like too!  It’s unwise to get too close to the cliff edge for obvious reasons (!) but also because we know that breeding success in guillemots and kittiwakes is reduced by the presence of people, who cause the nesting birds stress (shown by raised heart rate) and a related energy loss which may lead them to desert their nests.  I don’t have my real camera today so can’t get good pictures of them but here’s one I took another day!

Why do they all face the cliff instead of the sea?

We head back inland along the shore of Mire Loch passing by the reed beds (those black clouds just drifted away!)IMG_1520.JPG

and spotting what we thought might be a reed warbler chattering away.  Looking it up in my book later though, it seems that reed warblers are rare this far north so I think it was probably a sedge warbler – it had that distinctive white stripe above his eye.  They like reed beds and marshes with some trees and bushes, so its perfect for him here.  This is a first for me – never seen one before! No camera!!


It’s getting warm as we head on through the wooded path and I’m beginning to wish I’d left the extra layers at home!  There are plenty of insects enjoying the sunshine including this moth – known as Mother Shipton because it’s wing pattern is said to look like an old witch, you have to look at it for a long time and turn it about a bit but could be I suppose:


There are also lots of wild flowers and I’ve just got my phone which doesn’t do flowers and insects very well.

I did manage a good picture of the brightly coloured Northern Marsh-orchid which seems to be doing well here:


And have a look at the lovely Scots Pine cones and flowers:



We saw the swans nesting last time we were here – and this time they were guarding 5 cygnets from the hovering gulls.  Swimming not far away was a little troop of golden-eye duck – so pretty! So needed my camera!!


There’s a steep uphill climb on the way back and I’m slowing down even more. The best way to deal with being slow I’ve found is to pretend you just wanted to take another picture:

Mr M pretending he’s looking for something on the path and not at all wondering how far behind I am!

The hills around here are full of sheep and they roam freely – or laze about – whichever takes their fancy:

He’s lovely and knows it!


At last I can drag my sore feet through the car park and down to the Old Smiddy Coffee Shop where we stop for a cup of tea and admire the nasturtiums outside of the lovely Number Four Gallery where Mr M dropped of some more arty stuff earlier today….


So there we are, I hope you enjoyed reading about this walk.  I just wanted to give a trio of mentions:

to the St Abb’s Ranger who writes a blog, A Day in the (Wild) Life, which is full of lovely photos and interesting info! I notice s/he’s not posted since November last year but hopefully s/he’s just been super busy and will be back soon!

to the National Trust for Scotland for the amazing information/visitor centre at St Abb’s which is full of interesting and very useful (for me) information boards, ‘what you might see’ books and leaflets:



And to Mr M for this beautiful painting of Mire Loch – which of course we don’t get to keep – it’ll be part of his exhibition in The Robson Gallery, Halliwell House, Selkirk from 16th July and you can see it – and more – there:

Mire Loch by Andrew Major


Abbotsford circular via Cauldshiels Loch


A nearly 5 mile circular from Sir Walter Scotts House visiting Cauldshiels Loch on the way.  You can read about the walk which we’ve done before, here: Two Lochs and some views .  It was May last time we walked here and there were lots of wild flowers about.  It was too early for those this time, we saw some hawthorn just coming into flower and the wild garlic is budding up now but that was about it. Continue reading

Coldingham and St Abbs

Coldingham Sands from the Coast Path

26th March 2017

Well, it’s been a while but yesterday we ventured out in the beautiful spring sunshine and did a 7 mile circular walk from Coldingham via St Abbs Head.  You can read more about walks we did in the area here: Coldingham Walk ; and more about St Abbs Head and Mire Loch here: St Abbs Head.

So today we did the whole circuit combining the Coldingham and St Abbs Head walks, in the glorious sunshine and accompanied most of the way by the incessant guttural cacophony from thousands and thousands of Guillemot which were perched precariously all along the rocky coast. Continue reading

January – Walk of the Month!

Otter on the River Tweed!

29th January 2017


I’ve decided this one is ‘walk of the month’ for January.  We walked it yesterday, having been confined to the house by the truly miserable January weather for a few days.  We convinced ourselves that once we were out and about, all would be well – and it was.  The sun came out followed by all manner of birds and beasts!  I think there was more variety of wildlife on this walk than we’ve ever seen before in one walk!

Continue reading

Blackadder Water, Blackcastle Rings and the Mountain Sheep of Deil’s Neuk

Blackadder Water

22nd January 2017

Here we are again!

A shortish riverside walk from Greenlaw through a beautiful glacial valley, a climb up to an iron age fort and a cup of tea at the Deil’s Neuk. There was mist and drizzle, sleet and snow.  We saw deer and dippers and lots and lots of sheep. Continue reading

The River Tweed and Tweedbank


15th January 2017

Hello again!

Just returned from a ramble from Abbotsford House – home of Sir Walter Scott you’ll remember – along the River Tweed which was grey and murky today.  It was a grey and murky day……no sunshine, and the tracks were back to mostly mud rather than mostly  snow and ice – shame really – mud’s not so pretty! Continue reading

Duns Law and The Colonel’s Walk

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.

Continue reading

I’m not doing that again!


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….. Continue reading

Happy New Year!


1st January 2017

Happy New Year Everyone!

It’s the first walk of the year and the first walk of the 2017 #walk1000miles challenge organised by Country Walking magazine.  It’s all gone a bit mad this year with badges and Facebook groups (there’s even a special one for us ramblers living in Scotland) and progress spreadsheets to download and questions about the right trackers and boots and all sorts of other kit. Personally, I shall be aiming to walk 1000 miles over the year, using my trusty pedometer to measure the miles and wearing my usual walking gear plus waterproofs when I remember to bring them! Oh….and I’ll be writing about some of the walks on here.  So……lets get on with it! Continue reading