Welcome to LEJoG Day 59… the poor man’s abbey road

Day 59 pre-amble

I grew up in a place which is geographically part of Derbyshire, but has a Nottinghamshire postcode. The inhabitants of these ignored and unlamented borderlands around the Erewash Canal have a distinct accent not often heard on television and radio. Subtly different from both Nottingham and Derby, the closest approximation can be found in the works of DH Lawrence (born 2 miles from me). Even then the 1920s page differs starkly from the 2020s voice. It is notoriously difficult for a non-native to imitate a proper East Midlands accent. To be honest even I can’t manage it, and I’ve spent more than half my life there.

In SE Derbyshire and around the Erewash, we also have our own phraseology. While it overlaps considerably with Nottingham, Derby and the “great East Midlands“, we retain enough unique, er, charms for this accent test to nail my place of birth to within 5 miles. One of the phrases I wrongly thought to belong to us and no-one else is “to have a monk on”. Meaning to be sulking, or in a foul mood, often used when the reason is a complete mystery to those around you. I’ve been accused of it many a time, though less so since bad moods curdled into actual depression. Apparently the term is also common in Yorkshire and other parts of northern England. “Mardy”, as used in a track on the Arctic Monkeys’ first album, has a very similar meaning.

Today I was in one of those moods for most of the walk, and nothing could lift it. I don’t think it was entirely inexplicable, as I hope will be clear. And, as I passed Jedburgh Abbey shortly after leaving my B&B, used St. Cuthbert’s Way for most of the day, and concluded the stage at Melrose Abbey, the phrase “Monk On” seemed the perfect title.

LEJoG Day 59 (Monkday 3 August 2020)

Jedburgh to Melrose (16 miles)

Cumulative: 841 miles

Facts: Time on walk: 5 hours 25 minutes. Average speed: 2.95 mph. Weather: Bright and sunny with some cloud. Warmest in mid-afternoon, much cloudier by 4pm, raining shortly after finish.

Practicalities: Breakfast at 8am. Shared the table with a New Zealand woman on the way to Edinburgh to visit her daughter. Amanda (the proprietor) said that the weather forecast for today and most of the week was very good. The exception was Tuesday, when “some rain” was expected. We’ll see how that turned out on Day 60. Checked out just before 10, walked past the Abbey and along the Jed Water (a tributary of the River Teviot), back to yesterday’s linear finish point. Stopped at Boots to buy extra drinks and blister plasters.

The walk

591 Jedburgh Abbey from road

Jedburgh Abbey from the A68 through road, on the way to my start point

Start (LEJoG): Junction of Ulston Road and the Borders Abbey Way footpath, just north of Jedburgh, 10:40am. End: Melrose Abbey, Melrose, 5pm.

Today’s walk uses OL16 The Cheviot Hills (linked in yesterday’s post) and OS Explorer map 338 (Galashiels, Selkirk and Melrose). St. Cuthbert’s Way (as marked on both maps) is followed unless otherwise stated.

No complaints about the start of the walk: a very steady climb on the Borders Abbey Way and then a slightly steeper descent to Jedfoot Bridge, where Jed Water passes under the A698. Within minutes, St. Cuthbert’s Way forks left as Jed Water meets the River Teviot. After about ¾ mile walking  on the south side of the river, a suspension bridge takes you to the north side. This is the wobbliest river crossing I’ve yet undertaken, and really not something you want to attempt in high winds or with a group of more than about 4 people.

592 Wobbly bridge over Tweed The unpleasantly shaky crossing over the River Teviot, seen from the relief side

Now St. Cuthbert’s Way has to avoid the grounds of Monteviot House, and takes you round three sides of a rectangle in order to reach the wooded area of Teviotdale. It’s not difficult walking, but you can see from the map that there’s a dead straight section along a Roman road leading NW out of the woods. Thus any delay reaching this point feels doubly frustrating. Also, once you’re into Divet Ha Wood, there’s quite a bit of navigational jiggery pokery before you actually reach the Roman road.

My main concerns by now were the two obvious fs – fitness and feet. This was the first time in almost a year I’d attempted consecutive day walks over 12 miles, and I wasn’t feeling 100%. The full cooked breakfasts are also something which my system needs to get used to again, and I definitely felt “heavy” in the first 4-5 miles. Meanwhile the little toes on both feet were aching, and I thought I felt a blister pop already.

As a result, I stopped for lunch much earlier than I usually would (12:15) and took 35 minutes, including application of Compeed on little and big toes as well as the 4th toe on my right foot. Had just emerged from the wood and was looking forward to swift progress on the Roman road through fields towards a road junction on the A68.

Unfortunately St. Cuthbert’s Way had other ideas. After a promising start, this arrow-straight path degenerated into a barely-obvious meander through long grass. While the section from Lilliard’s Stone to the road was straighter and clearer, it seemed to take an age to reach the junction. Changed maps here, took on some Lucozade and turned it into an extra 10-minute stop.

I suppose it should be obvious by now that I enjoy certain types of walk much more than others. And when I’m on an inferior walk, I want to get to my destination as soon as possible. The idea of giving up is never entertained, but it becomes a mental test and I take very little pleasure in the scenery or satisfaction from the physical effort. I do take some comfort from learning that Dave likewise found this stage uninspiring.

I say this now, for it was at the road junction where today’s leg really started to bug me. First the Way takes a mile-long diversion NE – all of it on roads – to the village of Maxton, and then what looked like a very long loop by the River Tweed before reaching St. Boswells. Between St. Boswells and Newtown St. Boswells, there was another river loop. While much shorter, this would still add at least a mile to what was already a long day. Having reached Maxton, I decided that I could endure only the shorter river loop today.

This brief abandonment of St. Cuthbert’s Way requires a shortcut through a cemetery The cemetery is helpfully marked on the OS map, and also marked with a ‘footpath’ sign shortly after the Way starts to run parallel with the Tweed. From the cemetery, take the minor road which eventually joins the B6404, then turn left to rejoin our friendly 7th century monk back in St. Boswells.

Here I had one or two problems finding the sign for the route between high street and river. Note that it is a couple of hundred yards after the post office, whereas the OS map seems to suggest a path leaving the high street before the PO. Anyhow, the river loop is clearly preferable to walking on the main road between towns, and that extra mile is worth it on balance.

As you approach Newtown St Boswells though, there’s another decision to make. St. Cuthbert’s Way will take you over the majestic Eildon Hills, which have dominated the view for many miles already. Meanwhile the Borders Abbey Way offers a much more prosaic road route into Melrose. Under normal circumstances, I would be champing at the bit for some proper hill walking, and there’s no denying that the triple peak of Eildon Hill is a serious temptation. However, today I just wanted to get the walk over with. After my struggle with Crookedshaws Hill on Day 58, after only one and a half days back in the world of daily distance walking, and with the longest walk of this week scheduled for tomorrow, this was an easy decision. The Borders Abbey Way it was.

Day 60 will illustrate why I don’t regret it in my particular circumstances. But I don’t think I would preach what I practised. Maybe split this walk in St. Boswells and leave yourself fresh enough to tackle Eildon Hill. Perhaps even walk to St. Boswells from Kirk Yetholm and cut out Jedburgh. Writing a week or so later, it really does seem a shame to have missed it.

To be brutally frank, and frankly brutal, “prosaic” understates how unremarkable the Borders Abbey Way alternative is. The 2½ miles is spent almost entirely on roads. First you pass offices, houses and industry, then progress slightly uphill through the village of Eildon. Another ascent is followed by the mildly diverting Rhymer’s Stone, then finally you leave the road for a steepish descent to the subway under the A6091. From here it’s a combination of cycle paths, residential streets and a grassy footpath before you emerge next to Melrose Abbey.

593 Melrose Abbey

 Melrose Abbey, from the Borders Abbey Way footpath, a few metres from the end of today’s walk

After the walk

Turned left to the Market Square and checked into my accommodation at the Station Hotel. Again, almost everyone in town was wearing a mask, and there was hand sanitiser at the door to the hotel. I have only been wearing my mask in shops, B&Bs/hotels and enclosed spaces, but have carried and used hand sanitiser throughout the Scotland walks and continued to maintain social distancing. I really do hate the “new normal” for many reasons, not the least of which is that “social distancing” mocks my old shyness and anxiety and tortures me for unnecessary hesitation in the world as it used to be. Externally-imposed limitations are harder to accept when you imposed limitations on yourself without just cause. But you won’t catch me moaning about it because it’s now a collective social and humanitarian necessity.

Enjoyed a pint and a decent chicken/bacon/haggis with giant bubble and squeak cake for dinner. Started reading this book, which analyses every episode of a TV show I only watched for the first time in June but binged, spellbound, in just over 3 weeks.

My Listening Pleasure

Selections from the Leadmill playlist during the ‘Roman road’ section after lunch. No listening during the dismally high proportion of actual road walking. Started my second listen of Chart Music #50 during the river loop; finished it in my room.

Picture (taken 2 August 2020) shows the tourist entrance to Jedburgh Abbey, early Sunday evening.

Next: Day 60 (4 August 2020)… in which Ben experiences the single worst day of his entire distance walking life so far.

2 thoughts on “#59 MONK ON

  1. Hello Ben.
    I really enjoy reading about your walks and experiences. I clicked on the link for “this book” and it took me to Facebook.
    I am technically challenged and I’m interested to know the book you are reading. Am I being dumb?
    Best wishes, RC

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