Scotland (finally) welcomes me… LEJoG Day 62

Day 62 pre-amble

Nothing too complicated here. A “bonnie dander” is Scottish slang for a lovely walk. On my fifth day here, that’s exactly what Scotland gave me. I thought about writing “aboot time an ‘ aw!” in the brackets. However this is the second consecutive day of using Scottish terms in the post title, and it would be best to deploy them more sparingly over the remaining 25 days or so. But yes, it was about time.

LEJoG Day 62 (Thursday 6 August 2020)

Peebles to Carlops (15½ miles)

Cumulative: 884 miles

Facts: Time on walk: 5 hours 15 minutes. Average speed: 2.95 mph (uncannily, for the third time in five days). Weather: Warm and placid all day; cloudier in afternoon.

Practicalities: Earliest breakfast of the week, giving me time for drinks shopping and a major re-packing in the morning. Had to make backpack heavier and bag lighter, so the latter would stay clipped to the chest straps of the former. The new arrangement actually worked well all day. The Adidas bag would collide with my knees when climbing hills, but it was no trouble to hold it up slightly when necessary.

The walk

Start: Peebles Parish Church, 10:30am. End: Allan Ramsay Hotel, Carlops, 4:40pm.

Today’s walk uses OS Explorer map 337 (Peebles and Innerleithen, linked on Day 60) for the third and final time. It then moves on to OS Explorer 344 (Pentland Hills). There is an unmapped section between the quarry near Courhope (NT200463) and the turning in the Drove Road just before Romanno House Farm (NT174480). I presume this section is covered by OS Explorer map 336 (Biggar and Broughton), but I didn’t think it was worth buying the extra map for those few miles. The waymarking on the Cross Borders Drove Road is so good that a map should not be needed to bridge the two grid references.

621 Peebles Parish Church

Peebles Parish Church, by the A72 on the north bank of the Tweed

(the starting point for today’s walk)

Heading north from the centre of Peebles, there’s a mile or so of road walking before you embark on the first hill climb of the day. This takes you along the right flank of Hamilton Hill (371m). It should leave you pleasantly exerted rather than breathless. The views north and west open up before your eyes, and you should already be able to make out the forests of Cloich Hills. This is where you’re heading and where you’ll spend the heart of the day.

Apart from the almost ideal weather, the main factor in today’s enjoyment was the Cross Borders Drove Road. It’s what I expected St. Cuthbert’s Way and the Southern Upland Way to be. Road walking is kept to a minimum. Signage is excellent. It’s much more direct (especially in comparison to the barmy diversions of St. Cuthbert). Most importantly of all, it’s a wide track almost throughout. No stumbling through long grass, no stopping to check the map. Within a couple of miles, you realise what you’ve been missing for the last few days. You can just relax and enjoy the ride. I’m not saying my experience is universal – for example Dave discovered the joys of walking in Scotland en route from Melrose to Innerleithen, whereas I wasn’t so lucky. But, given decent weather, it is difficult to imagine anyone complaining about this particular stage.

It’s not even particularly spectacular. I think Hamilton Hill might even be the highest peak you come across, and you don’t spend much time walking at 300m above sea level. Sometimes though, the simple pleasures of well-marked paths through fields and bridleways can be underrated. This isn’t frustrating and stop-start like much of Staffordshire or Somerset: it’s a route which flows as serenely as the Tweed itself.

You enter the forest near Upper Stewarton, about 5 miles after leaving Peebles, or about 3½ miles after seeing it from Hamilton Hill. There’s an immediate climb from 300m to almost 400m – the midday heat and the surroundings made this quite arduous, and I stopped for lunch after gaining the height (12:30 – 1:00). A fit teenage girl passed by with what I assumed to be her mother. They were ahead of me and just in sight for most of the afternoon, until I passed them during their break at the start of the road into West Linton. I mention this as it is very rare for anyone else to have been on the same route this week. There were plenty on the South West Coast Path and a few on the Pennine Way, but up here similarly committed distance walkers have been almost non-existent. I suspect that will change when I reach the West Highland Way.

After a surprisingly sharp descent, the forest track gives way to a quarry road and the unmapped section mentioned earlier. A mile or so further on, there’s a signpost pointing right to a rare narrow path through hedges and alongside a stream. Once you’ve crossed a footbridge though, this opens out into probably the most exhilarating walking of the day. The route to Romannobridge blesses you with a clear footpath, open fields, a distant horizon no longer obscured by forest, modest peaks and tempting crags to left and right. My only mistake was not photographing it. There was a testing little ford halfway along, but otherwise this was probably second only to Edinburgh as the highlight of my first week in Scotland.

The path re-enters forest briefly before negotiating Romanno House Farm and then hitting the road for the first time since Peebles. This is the A701, an arterial road into Edinburgh. Officially, the Cross Borders Drove Road takes an unusually convoluted route into West Linton from here. It seems that most people, including LEJoG bloggers and the teenage girl/mother I saw earlier, choose to follow the B7059 road instead. Now, as I’ve said, road walking isn’t ideal and there had been too much of it during the last few days. But this was a wide road with little traffic and only a couple of bends in the 2½ miles between the A701 and the village of West Linton. I think if you look at the map and compare it to the Drove Road markings, you’ll also decide it’s the better option.

West Linton is where a number of LEJoG bloggers end the stage, but I wanted to push on for a couple of reasons. First, as Dave confirms, there’s not an awful lot to do or see there. Second, I didn’t want my triumphant march into Edinburgh to be so long that I was thinking about thirst, hunger and a shower instead of enjoying it. Fortunately there was a perfectly-situated hotel on the main road through the village of Carlops, another three miles closer to the capital. The route would take me a mile further along the Drove Road, before joining a Roman road leading directly to Carlops.

I did want to sit on bench and rest on reaching West Linton, but no such luck. There is one about ½ mile before the main road, opposite the church and war memorial. However I was imposing the usual discipline on myself and saying I needed to reach the centre and main road first. Once I’d found the footpath that leads to the Roman road, I told myself I’d find a convenient spot at the brow of the next hill, or after passing the last house, or after the next hedge. But in the end I didn’t stop until the junction where you say goodbye to the trusty Cross Borders Drove Road and head NE along the Roman road. Spent 25 minutes there: it was very warm, even though the header image (taken at this point) shows a lot of cloud.

The last two miles were as easy as it gets. Straight along a wide track, through a farm gate, say hello to a chap with a dog, join the main A702, walk for 5-10 minutes until reaching the Allan Ramsay Hotel.

Only half a mile and 10 minutes shorter than Days 58 and 59, but time and miles seemed to pass much more quickly. Highly recommended.

After the bonnie dander

The Allan Ramsay was probably the strictest accommodation of the week when it came to coronavirus prevention. Hand sanitiser before signing in and when leaving the main pub/reception. Masks in all public spaces. The restaurant was open, but cordoned off because they had bookings for the following day and didn’t even want residents to eat there this evening. I ate in the pub lounge – soup and Highlander burger (topped with haggis), and two pints of the gorgeous Stewart’s IPA, which was certainly the best Scottish ale I tried this week. It’s quite possible that any light IPA would have tasted delicious after an energetic 15½ mile walk in the summer sun, but I’d like to give Stewart’s the benefit of the doubt.

Most of the rest of the evening was spent watching cricket or snooker on the telly. It’s particularly eerie to see the World Championship Snooker in August, knowing that it would have been on the TV in April if I’d been able to stick to my original plan. There have been several times in 2020 when I’ve momentarily forgotten what time of year it is. Not helped by some of the weather: May broke historical records for sunshine and dryness, while June was one of the wettest I can remember since the infamous Glastonburys of the late 90s. The day after this, Britain saw its hottest August day for 17 years (I remember training for a half marathon on the hottest ever). This was followed by an unprecedented six consecutive days of 34C temperatures, and then, what else? A week of heavy rain. What I’m trying to say here is that, Day 60 notwithstanding, I chose my week wisely. Well, ok then, I was just lucky.

Postscript – My Listening Pleasure

Ah yes. There was another very good reason why today’s walk was so enjoyable. The delightful bonus, during my evening in Peebles, of a new Chart Music podcast (Chart Music #52). Listened to the whole thing on today’s walk, and I reckon it was the best episode of 2020 so far. In truth I think the podcast, while still brilliant and unmissable, peaked with the run of episodes in the 30s (c. August 2018 to April 2019). They’re always very long now, whereas I think 3½ – 4 hours is just as good as 4½ – 5.

Picture (6 August 2020) shows the view from the junction of the Cross Borders Drove Road and the Roman Road to Carlops, looking towards the Pentland Hills, about 2 miles from the end of today’s walk. I think it’s Mount Maw (535m) in the background.

Next: Day 63 (7 August 2020)… in which Ben gets a long-awaited, nostalgic sniff of ‘Auld Reekie’.

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