The Eildon Hills and the Tweed

They stand stark in the view from many miles around: three mountains alone. In the lands of the Tweed the three peaks of the Eildon Hills command the attention.

The hills rise up to the south of Melrose in Roxburghshire, and there is a good path leading up from the wee town to the top, which is part of the St Cuthbert’s Way (running from Melrose to Lindisfarne). Melrose itself is a fine town to visit: its main attractions are Melrose Abbey (which was closed for the COVID-19 thing) and the River Tweed (which isn’t).

We started in the town; a mediaeval town graced by the shattered ruin of Melrose Abbey. Climbing from the market square past the ring-road viaduct (a road the town tries to ignore, the feeling being mutual), there is an almost hidden path on the left between houses which plunges into woodland, to emerge onto the straight haul up the slopes.

The day was sunny and the hills were quite popular, by local standards, as we got higher: there was even a cyclist coming down at one point – he must have had very good brakes, as the path is unrelenting.

The first haul up comes to the saddle between the two highest hills – Mid Hill and East Hill. To continue round would be to head for the East Hill, but we turned right to climb the steep path up to Mid Hill – the highest of the Eildon Hills. It was worth it as the view from here extends far out over the Tweed valley to the north, to the Southern Uplands, reaching far to the horizon, and over Teviotdale to the south and the Cheviot beyond. South Hill looks up from just t the south: we did not descend to climb it, but there is a longer route which does take it in.

Then we clomped back down to the saddle and climbed East Hill. East Hill is lower than Mid Hill but is a greater bulk of mountain with a broad top. This was the site of a Roman signal station in that era, signalling down to the Roman fort, Trimontium, which was laid out in the fields below, where Lauderdale comes down to the Tweed.

Down runs the winding path off the hill, between heather, gorse and bilberry (it’s paved after a few hundred yards as the hill above that is a scheduled ancient monument). It is a delightful wander down towards the valley, eventually to a path that forms part of the Border Abbeys Way (that’s another season’s challenge). Then the latter path strolls down to the old road, close to the Rhymer’s Stone.

There are variations on the tale of Thomas the Rhymer and his meeting with the Queen of the Faeries here, and which you tell depends on how innocent or lascivious you like your tales….

Here within sight of the River Tweed we followed down and under the bypass to Newstead, the village next to Melrose, and through it to the deep, head-high reeds that fringe the river.

It is a beautiful river – broad, peaceful, shallow enough for fishermen to stand it its midst up to their waists. A path led upstream. At one point it encounters a wall, the Battery Dyke, the top of which was once the public footpath along the riverside, and which is still perfectly walkable, though a less perilous path is provided now behind it. It leads eventually to the back of Melrose and the Abbey and the market square again.

Had we carried on a couple of hundred yards we might have tried the Chain Bridge or Gattonside Bridge; a footbridge over the Tweed – but that may wait for another day out.

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The Border Abbeys Way

The Border Abbeys Way is a secret delight. I have been enchanted by the parts I have walked, and one day intend to walk it all. It winds through the Middle Shires, visiting three counties in a circular walk of 65 miles, between the abbeys which give it a name.

The Border Abbeys Way is a secret delight I have long been enchanted by the sections I have visited, and one day intend to walk the whole way in one.  It is  lovely way to explore the prettiest aspects of some of the prettiest shires in the land. It winds through the Middle Shires, primarily in Roxburghshire, but visiting three counties in a circular walk of 65 miles.

The theme of the way is in its name: in the Twelfth Century, King David I built a series of monasteries, in his southern borderlands – they were unlike anything Scotland had seen before: they were modern, of the European pattern that was now established across England, and the great estates the King gave them made the abbeys wealthy. In later ages they became the soaring, Gothic wonders whose denuded bones now stand in the towns to which they gave birth.

Through three shires, Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire and Berwickshire, by the Teviot and the Tweed and the lands between, this is a ring of delights.

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