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.
The Spittal of Glenshee, sitting at the head of Glen Shee (and endlessly prettier than a vulgar and unorthographic interpretation of it name may suggest) – it is a tiny place in the midst of the ancient route north and south through the glen, at the meeting of the streams which create the Shee Water. Many have driven through on the road up Glen Shee, between the majestic hills, and I will confess that most of the time I have been hurrying through. This is a place to stop though and appreciate the enfolding mountains, the lonely isolation and wonder about the silent slopes wetted by solitary burns. Then again, you can climb and see.
This is Perthshire, a huge county of accessible spectacle that has to be explored, and is best on foot.
There is a lovely walking route that has been devised to take you off the road, up three of the glens in the north-east of Perthshire and into neighbouring Angus and over the mountains between, from Blairgowrie to the Spittal of Glenshee: the Cateran Trail.
The trail is a circular route 64 miles long with challenging climbs: it is far from a day-walk: it is recommended to do it in five days, and overnight stops are available. (The ‘Spittal’ in Spittal of Glenshee mean a place of hospitality in former days.)
The route is well established and waymarked throughout. It follows old drove roads and ancient tracks across a varied terrain of farmland, forests and moors.
The name of the trail is rougher: it is named after the Caterans: the bands of marauding cattle thieves who raided Strathardle, Glenshee and Glen Isla from the Middle Ages until they were pacified in the 17th century.
The Icknield Way Path carried one of my favourite sections of the Hertfordshire Border Walk, as I could hardly avoid expressing on the first ‘Herts Embraced’ walk (on Day 3). The path carries a heritage with it that connects you to the walkers of ancient ages, for it follows a road that was ancient even before the Romans came, and which in Anglo-Saxon days was noted as one of the Great Roads of Britain.
Much of the ancient Icknield Way is now tarmacked road, but other parts are remarkably left as footpath and bridleway, as they would have been in ancient days. It runs roughly along the chalk ridge of the Chilterns, above the scarp, and the Icknield Way Path follows the ancient road, or close by it, from Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, and thence in an east-north-easterly direction across into Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, for much of its length forming the borders of counties. (It was in the latter capacity of course that it recommended itself to the Hertfordshire Border Walk.)
That is not quite the end either – Ivinghoe Beacon is the beginning of the Ridgeway long-distance route, and the north-easternmost end at Knettleshall Heath is the start of the Peddar’s Way.
To describe the walk is beyond a single, brief post. I have walk long, lovely stretches, but not the whole thing. The rest of it is bookmarked for later explorations. I’ll take a picnic: those chalk grasslands looking out far over the lower land below the escarpment are as if created for picnics.
The Timeball and Telegraph Trail is a remarkably bold route across the whole of Kent, from Greenwich in Kent’s north-westernmost corner to the sea at Deal.
The Timeball and Telegraph Trail is a remarkably bold route across the whole of Kent, from historic Greenwich in Kent’s north-westernmost corner, to the easternmost sea at Deal. When hastily plotting a route across Kent for last weekend’s post I used a couple of known long-distance routes and tied them together with a long, straight walk along a main road, the old Roman road from Durovernum Cantiacorum (Canterbury) to Londinium. That is not ideal though. Then I came across the Timeball and Telegraph Trail, which does the job with a pretty route (mainly). I will replot the London to Brussels route with it in due course.
The slightly eccentric name actually describes the origin of the route elegantly. There stands on Deal seafront a tower with a timeball – a ball which was dropped at the moment of 1 pm each day, Greenwich Time, visible from the ships anchored offshore, to synchronise their timekeeping. It is an exact counterpart of the timeball on the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, and in the days before radio or the electric telegraph the moment of 1 o’clock was transmitted from Greenwich to Deal by a series of semaphore telegraph stations, signalling from hill to hill with remarkable rapidity. In those heady days, Deal was a busy port and many ships anchored the Downs, the sheltered water off the little town. (A map does this roadstead an injustice showing it as open sea – ships may moor in deep water sheltered between the Kent coast to the west and the north, and the Goodwin Sands to the east.) Deal is a quieter place now, relying on its old charm.
The route then runs the same route from Greenwich to Deal, not straight like the telegraph signals but looping over those hills. It is 97 miles long. On the way, the trail takes in some lovely parts of Kent – a county known for loveliness at least once you have cleared the suburbs and can avoid the motorways crashing through it, and this trail seeks to find that right route. In doing so, it begins close to the north-westernmost point of Kent, in Greenwich: from here it is a challenge not to end up waking along roads as the county is crossed by major routes linking the main nodes of the journey, but the Timeball and Telegraph Trail skilfully picks its way though, in parks and intrusions of green space into the metropolis, through to Dartford, then on farm ways to Kent’s second city, Rochester, where it crosses the Medway, then main, sparsely bridged river cleaving the county in twain.
From Rochester the obvious route 9as I found) would be straight along the Roman road it, but the trail instead shadows it along the low-lying littoral of the Thames Estuary, to Faversham, before heading south-east. Here I follows downland paths, looping east, crossing straight beneath the main roads and railway coming from Europe to Womenswold and then east to the sea at Deal.
I cannot hail the Timeball and Telegraph Trail as a true ‘county way’ for Kent as it is all in the northern half of the county and thus omits some of the best bits of the Garden of England, but is the closest I have come to so far.