Welcome to LEJoG Day 58… We made it!
Day 58 pre-amble
Almost a year after crossing the border, we return to Scotland to continue the trek from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. The reason for such a long delay is obviously the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, as discussed here. My original plans to walk the Borders and Central Belt in April and May were cancelled. Scotland re-opened its accommodation on 15 July and I tentatively re-booked this leg for early August, aiming to catch up in time to fulfil my West Highland Way bookings in mid-September.
A recent outbreak in Aberdeen notwithstanding, Scotland had been more successful in controlling the virus than England. I dare say that if I had been scheduled to restart anywhere in England, I would have forsaken the trip until 2021. But as you will note throughout this six-day Scottish leg, visible precuations were being taken everywhere I went, and I adhered to all restrictions without complaint. Edinburgh was a partial exception, but we’ll come to that on Day 63.
The world has of course changed since I last blogged about the walk. You may observe a marked difference in tone. I’m not intending to be any more serious, but I sense that we’ve all been affected at a fundamental level and this will almost inevitably be reflected in the writing.
That said, my plan for this post title and featured image has remained in place since at least last August. And, in glorious defiance of the surrounding horror, I won’t be changing a thing about either. The first walk wholly in Scotland takes me from Kirk Yetholm, at the end of the Pennine Way, to the town of Jedburgh. I’ve never visited Jedburgh before. Which means that, for me, the name brings to mind only the man you see in the headline photograph.
He is Darius Jedburgh (played by Joe Don Baker), the Texan CIA agent from the 1985 BBC TV series Edge of Darkness. Now, I could digress like mad here, but I’ll keep it brief. Edge of Darkness is a TV series I’ve been borderline obsessed with since first seeing a repeat in 1992. I’ve watched it eight times (most recently in 2014) and regard it as the greatest thing ever produced for British television. In particular, the performance of Bob Peck as the bereaved father and main character, Ronald Craven, is so mesmerising and unforgettable I don’t expect to see better acting on TV in my lifetime. EOD and The West Wing are far and away my all-time favourite television series.
And what do you know, but Jedburgh is a fan of Scotland. Well, its golf courses mainly. When (spoiler alert) he parts from Craven at the Northmoor nuclear facility towards the end of episode 5, he says:
“Craven. If we make it, I’ll see you in Scotland.”
That line has been at the back of my mind throughout lockdown. And hey, turns out I made it.
LEJoG Day 58 (Sunday 2 August 2020)
Kirk Yetholm to Jedburgh (16 miles)
Cumulative: 825 miles
Facts: Time on walk: 5 hours 25 minutes. Average speed: 2.95 mph. Weather: Pleasant, warm, cloudy, light breeze. Very warm from mid-afternoon.
Practicalities: My aunt and uncle drove us to Berwick-on-Tweed on the Saturday morning. They stayed one night in Berwick and visited Bamburgh. We had a walk round Berwick and a drink in the afternoon, after which they drove me to Kirk Yetholm for 5pm. This was my first night spent away from my home city or parents’ since Amsterdam in August 2019. Something I’d taken for granted for so long with the walking trips and Inter-Railing holidays. Had a good evening meal and an 8:30am breakfast. Checkout was 10am. Carrying my 30-litre rucksack, packed full and tight, plus my gym bag for shoes, food and maps.
Start: Border Hotel, Kirk Yetholm (End of the Pennine Way sign), 10:30am. End: Junction of the Ulston Road and the Borders Abbey Way, just north of Jedburgh, 4:50pm.
I would be following St. Cuthbert’s Way for most of the day, clearly marked on OS Explorer map OL16 (The Cheviot Hills). It’s not an exciting start, though that’s probably just as well given my long absence from distance walking. Footpaths through low-lying fields and some road walking enabled me to recover my “sea legs”. The only walking I’d done during lockdown was local, and never more than 2 hours. In July I’d walked for 4 hours on the Fairbrook Naze route from Kinder Scout. But other than that, I’d done virtually nothing serious since completing the Pennine Way.
Took my first photo of the week from the approach road to Crookedshaws Hill. It was, I’m afraid, a Scottish Borders cliche: braying sheep amidst vast swathes of crofting land, with tantalising foothills overlooking the bucolic idyll.
Those braying sheep on my iPhone screen (under Wood Hill)
Now then. There’s a steady little incline to Crookedshaws Hill, and then the first proper climb of the day. And, to be frank, more or less the last. It’s steep. I don’t know whether it was lack of practice, or over-familiarity with my local hills, but today this little sub-1000-footer felt like Knock Fell in miniature. Stopped for 15 minutes near the top.
From Crookedshaws Hill, looking back to Yetholm (just above centre)
On continuation, I found myself the wrong side of a wire fence and had to backtrack to a safe crossing point (i.e. avoiding the barbed wire). From there, another incline takes you to Wideopen Hill, the highest point on St. Cuthbert’s Way.
Wideopen Hill and signpost
Shortly after this, through a gate, there’s a notice saying that you should proceed 350m downhill if you want to use the bridleway. For goodness sake ignore it. Because there was no St. Cuthbert’s Way sign, I followed this instruction and wandered 10 minutes off route to no useful effect. Obviously, returning to the Way itself required retracing my steps uphill. Really not the sort of distraction you need. Somewhere between here and joining the road to Morebattle I also lost one of my bottles of water.
Stopped for a half-hour lunch in Morebattle, restarting at 1:50pm. The next section, via Cessford to Brownrigg, was probably the fastest of the day. However, it does involve quite a few 90-degree changes in direction, particularly around the plantations before and after Cessford Moor. This can exasperate if you’re really keen to reach the section of the map with Jedburgh on it. The day’s walk actually finishes south of Kirk Yetholm, heading broadly WSW before angling SW to Jedburgh itself. So, if you have the big picture in mind, that’s not great for morale.
It’s a pleasant enough stroll though, and you should make good progress as the paths are clear and the ground level almost throughout. Sadly the visual highlights are few, with Cessford Castle perhaps being the standout.
On emerging from Blindwells Plantation, I stopped for water and the first of several minor irritations. Since 2019, I had replaced my Fitbit with an Apple Watch. It’s superior in almost every respect, but its one great failing happens to be my hobby. The Apple Watch is poor at recording walks. Fitbit does, or did, the business every time. Apple Watch keeps stopping inexplicably, then makes a noise and asks if you want to record an outdoor walk you already thought you were recording. So the stats for this walk, for example, were cobbled together from about five separate ‘walks’ (one of which it mistook for an indoor cycle…). This happened every day and I’ll try not to mention it again. Suffice to say it niggled me enough to think about buying another Fitbit in time for the West Highland Way.
Had a decision to make here. Thinking in purely linear, LEJOG terms, the ideal end point for today was Jedfoot Bridge. But it was an extra mile or so north west and would require me to walk that mile again when finding my accommodation. Unless I caught the bus, but I didn’t expect that to be reliable on a Sunday. Whereas if I made Jedburgh part of the route, I’d have a bit of a V-shape on my overall map, but would have to walk less overall. I opted for the latter, and it was emphatically the right decision.
Followed a road into Jedburgh via Easter Ulston. It was crashingly dull, and the weather was becoming oppressively warm for someone wearing his all-weather Berghaus coat. But the walk was finished before 5pm, and I could look forward to being rested and showered within half an hour.
After the walk
Hmmm… First there was a 15-minute walk from my end point at the junction of the Ulston Road and tomorrow morning’s Borders Abbey Way path, to the centre of Jedburgh. Then I realised my B&B wasn’t en route, and my mobile phone battery was dead. Donning a mask and buying some Irn Bru (when in Rome…), I asked people in the local McColl’s shop whether they knew where Airenlea was. Fortunately they were able to provide me with a route between them, although it was another ¾ mile further. And then, in a genuine first for me after hundreds of hotel stays around Britain and Europe… I discovered I still had the key to my room at the Border Hotel in my backpack.
Airenlea was excellent – very friendly, though strict on masks and hand sanitiser. No evening meal: went for fish and chips from a takeaway near Jedburgh Abbey. Took some photos afterwards.
Jedburgh Abbey, front and side views, Sunday evening
The Border Hotel said I could post the room key after returning from my walk the following week. Therefore no need for night-time assignations and covert operations.
Postscript: My Listening Pleasure
Even more important after lockdown, it’s those musical memories of LEJoG. The Leadmill has been closed since March, and I have really missed being able to dance at the Beat Club on Saturday nights. After fighting my way back to full fitness in 2018, dancing again (and being admired again) was a huge symbol of rejuvenation and rekindled joy. And that’s been taken away. It is of course a trifling matter next to the real consequences of the pandemic, and believe me I never forget that. But I needed a reminder, and compiled a playlist of around 60-70 songs they play, or should play, on those Saturday nights. Listened to some of that in the early part of the walk.
And in the faster middle section, one of the three Girls Aloud compilations I made in June of this year, after expanding my collection to 48 songs. They’re compiled purely on the basis of personal preference and called ‘Gold’ (14 tracks), ‘Silver’ (14 tracks) and ‘Bronze’ (20 tracks). Today I chose ‘Silver’, the full track listing of which is: Sound Of The Underground; Love Machine; Watch Me Go; Girl Overboard; The Loving Kind; Control Of The Knife; Hoxton Heroes; Something New; On The Metro; Every Now And Then; Love Is Pain; Black Jacks; Wake Me Up; No Good Advice (Explicit). Bet you can’t wait to see what’s on ‘Gold’ now, can you?
Picture (taken 12 August 2020) is one of my DVD laptop specials (as per the True Story and H4). This is the very moment where Darius Jedburgh (Joe Don Baker, pictured), says to Ronald Craven: “If we make it, I’ll see you in Scotland.”
Next: Day 59 (3 August 2020)… in which the Borders, dare I say it, bore us.