The proper drinking of Scotch whisky is more than indulgence: it is a toast to civilization, a tribute to the continuity of culture, a manifesto of man’s determination to use the resources of nature to refresh mind and body and enjoy to the full the senses with which he has been endowed.”
– David Daiches, Scotch Whisky 1969
We could tell we were near Scotland as we took the tent down this morning: we got midged for the first time this year. A colossal amount of rain has fallen in the night, and much of it still seemed pearled on the sides of the flysheet, along with assorted slugs, who had left their random trails on the fabric.
The rain had also turned the infamous pull-up onto Byrness Hill into a broad mudslide, but our poles helped us avoid slipping as we picked our way upwards.
We met Kevin and Les for the last time half way up the hill, and said our farewells under the overcast sky, wishing them well for the successful completion of their journey tomorrow. As Stephen commented later, they are the fellow walkers we have spent the most time with on the journey, and we both felt it was sad that our paths were now diverging.
The path climbed higher and higher, narrowing at times and picking its way through bracken, bilberry and boulders so that we had to abandon our poles for pulling ourselves up with our hands in places.
The views from the top were glorious, back the way we had come over vast Kielder, and encouragingly forward to the Cheviot foothills. Breaks in the cloudcover created little gleams of sunshine, promising the chance of a clearer day ahead.
The sandstone tops of Ravens Knowe and Ogre Hill gave 360-degree panoramic views, all the more exhilarating for the wind whipping around us.
It was on and off with the waterproofs as scudding cloudbanks passed overhead and threatened to break; but it was only ever spitting rain and never amounted to much. The tops were boggy and wet but we chose the rushy cotton grass tussocks for our footing and avoided wet feet completely.
In other places duckboard walkways had been constructed, taking us across the wettest areas of permanent bog.
And the typical Pennine Way slabs, which we had encountered as we joined the long distance path four hundred kilometres away south, had also been laid across black peat bogs.
Our route followed the Pennine Way for a couple of hours out across the long undulating hogsback of Brownhart Law, the sedimentary wacke and mudstone of which had weathered to a flatter top which the Romans had thought suitable for creating a sizeable camp. It was now almost invisible under a lumpy blanket of bog-moss and cottongrass, although we could make out some of the rectilinear ditches from above as we followed the hilltop fence-line which marked the border between England and Scotland.
The views over into Scotland were tantalising: a volcanic rocky ridge created a natural border, down the Scottish side of which the land fell away into the distance. Somewhere out there lay the border town of Jedburgh where we were to finish for the day.
Finally, we reached the gate at Black Halls, with a notice marked with the Scottish Borders Council logo to the effect that Dere Street, the ancient Roman road which we would now follow almost to Jedburgh, was a scheduled monument. Here was our border crossing.
However unassuming it looked, it felt momentous. We had walked 1106km over six weeks from the southern tip of England to get to this point. The sun came out for a fortunate fraction of time as we took some photographs to mark the event.
Once on Dere Street following the contour line of the hill we made like Roman legionaries: there is nothing like a Roman road for travelling fast in a straight line, and we started to make up ground to compensate for the relatively slow going over boggy hill thus far.
To the right of us lay the unmistakeable andesitic lumpy Cheviot hills, so different to anything else we had yet seen.
There were absolutely no bogs on Dere Street. The classic double-cambered construction of the Roman road, still discernible even after two thousand years, took care of that.
The andesitic cobbles which lay under the turf were visible in places and markedly worked and smooth on one side, in contrast to the blocky angular rocks in the dry-stone walls. It felt comfortable stepping on them: our feet rolled over them naturally, and we could imagine how at the margin they would help on a long march. Asphalt is smoother but each cobble provides a slight forward roll.
Dere Street took us in a series of dead straight lines, some metalled roads and some tracks, for a couple of quick hours.
Finally, after an overcast, blustery and showery day the sun came properly out. It seems a long time since we had seen proper sun and we rather felt the need for it. It is a shame it is not forecast to last!
The sun brought out the red of the Scots pines, emphasising that we had crossed the border. We didn’t see any red squirrels but perhaps that is because they would be perfectly camouflaged against the bark.
Also particularly Scottish was the domestic architecture: the castellated gable end which suggests we are not far from Edinburgh.
As well as the need for some sun, we also felt the need for a rest. Our energy levels are good and we are getting even fitter, if a reduced need for breaks, and shorter breaks, and much more resilient feet are any guide, but we have been going for eleven days straight now and feel that we could do with a day to recoup. As we walked back to the B&B from a restorative and celebratory supper in town, our gullets warmed by a whisky toast, we felt that Jedburgh was another good place to rest.
Today’s mystery egg