Melrose Abbey

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It was around midday when we dropped D and J off at Morebattle to pick up their car.We said our goodbyes and then we set off to drive over to Melrose. It was a pleasant day so rather than head off straight home, and get caught up in rush hour traffic on the Motorway, we’d decided to go and have a look at the Abbey that’s the start of the St Cuthbert’s trail and which we’d missed by starting at Morebattle.  Although it would have taken a couple of days to walk between the two Scottish Border towns it was less than an hour’s drive.

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Just like Lindisfarne Priory, the ruined Abbey wasn’t the one where St Cuthbert lived. It’s a later Cistercian building founded in 1136. In fact, the original Celtic Christian monastery was located about two miles east of the town.

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The Abbey is allegedly the resting place of the heart of Robert the Bruce and it’s resting place is marked by this memorial

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Of course, there’s no real evidence that his heart is actually buried here.

The original building would have been Romanesque in style (like Lindisfarne Priory) but being close to the border with England the area was regularly a war zone and, inevitably, the Abbey was seriously damaged. There are some traces of the original building, such as this doorway

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but it is a Gothic structure, built after1385, with characteristic high pointed arches, large windows with ornate tracery and flying buttresses.

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The remains of the ornate stone vaulting over the presbytery

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Elaborate capitals

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A good view of the nearby Eildon hills from the roof

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There isn’t much left of the cloisters and the monks’ living accommodation.

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However, there’s a good little museum in the restored Commendator’s House, built in the late 1500s – much of it’s stone being robbed from the Abbey buildings. (Commendators were lay administrators who, were placed in charge of abbeys in Scotland)

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A Long Walk–Part 2

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The second day of our walk would take us from Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders back into England, over the Cheviot Hills across to Wooler in Northumbria.

We woke up to a bright, if windy, morning. Some rain was promised for later in the day but we had our waterproofs in our packs for when we needed them.

The Border Inn is the end (or start depending which way you’re going!) of the Pennine Way and for the first stretch St Cuthbert’s Way coincided with this rather longer route. I can now say I’ve been to both ends of the Pennine Way – only trouble is I haven’t done the bit in-between!

We set off across the Village Green

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passing the “Gypsey Palace”

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which at one time was occupied by the “Gypsy Monarch”, the head of the local Gypsy clans. Today, it’s a self catering holiday cottage.

We carried on along the quiet road up the hill. Looking down we had good views over the Bowmore valley across to England

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and towards the Cheviot hills ahead of us

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We were soon off the tarmac and heading up the path up the hills. We were still on the Pennine Way at this point but would soon be branching off.

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Good views all around

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Climbing steadily

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we reached the border

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After crossing moorland and traversing some boggy patches (the first of the walk as it had been very dry underfoot)

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we entered a forest

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Fortunately the path was well signposted. Otherwise it would have been easy to get lost.

After the forest we crossed a field down to a farm track which we followed for a mile or so until we reached the small hamlet at Hethpool. There’s been a settlement there since medieval times, but the current buildings were constructed in the early 20th century in the Arts and Crafts style for the Tyneside businessman Sir Arthur Munro Sutherland who bought the Hethpool estate with its 1294 acres as a sporting and farming country retreat.

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We strayed off the official path slightly at this point to visit Hethpool Linn

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The route now took us along the valley at the foot of the Cheviot hills

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After about a mile and a half, just past Torleehouse farm, we turned right and began our ascent on to the moors climbing the pass between Yeavering Bell and Easter Tor.

Up until now we’d avoided the rain. We could see dark clouds and rain falling in adjacent valleys but our route had kept us away from us. But about half way up our climb it hit us. Time to put on the waterproofs. It rained intermittently as we crossed the grouse moors. But for most of the time it wasn’t too heavy and mainly hit us from behind rather than head on. So it didn’t really cause us a problem other than reducing visibility. Just as well as we had about a 4 mile traverse over exposed terrain before we would come down off the moors.

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The Cheviot was shrouded in cloud.

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The landscape here rather reminded me of the West Lancashire moors and the Forest of Bowland

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Eventually we started to descend down towards Wooler. The rain had moved on and we were treated to some blue skies and sunshine

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The route now did a ‘dogleg’ taking us through a forest

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and then crossing fields

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before we finally reached the small Northumbrian town

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Yetholm

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The first overnight stay of our ‘long walk’ was spent in Kirk Yetholm, a small, pleasant village just a mile from the border with England. The days are long in late May and early June and after we’d eaten we decided to take a stroll around the village.

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The village is actually one of a pair of settlements divided by the  River Bowmont, with Town Yetholm on the other side of the river

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In the 7th century the area was part of the Kingdom of Northumbria, but became firmly anchored in Scotland in the 11th century. There are various theories about the origin of the name Yetholm but the most common explanation is that it’s derivedfrom the  Old English language and probably means ‘Gatehouse Village’ due to it’s proximity to the border. Originally the centre of an agricultural community with some small scale textile production, according to the owner of the Border Inn, with whom we enjoyed a pleasant chat later in the evening while sitting outside with a drink, today the twin villages are dominated by retired people and holiday homes.

Kirk Yetholm is known as a ’gypsy village’ as it had a sizable community of gypsies who probably arrived in the area in the late seventeenth century. The local legend is that

during war with the French, at the siege of Namur, in 1695, a gypsy of the name of Young, saved the life of a British Officer, Captain David Bennet, who owned property in the Yetholm area. Accordingly, in gratitude for this deed, the Captain built cottages at Yetholm and leased them to the gypsies. (Scottish Gypsies website)

There’s a monument to the Gypsy community on the village green

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During our chat with the owner of the Border Inn, he told us that the Gypsies weren’t allowed to enter the inn but had to purchase their beer through a window while standing outside. Prejudice against immigrants has deep roots, sadly. Today there isn’t a distinct Gypsy community as they have intermarried.

There were some very attractive houses in the village

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Thatched cottages are unusual in Scotland, but there were a few in the twin villages. I think this one is a holiday cottage.

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Walking down towards the river we reached the Kirk. The current building was constructed in 1836 in blue whinstone in a Scottish Baronial Gothic style. The site has probably been occupied by a parish Church for over 800 years.

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Being the evening we couldn’t look inside, but had a quick wander around the churchyard

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Carrying on down the hill we passed the War Memorial – a Northumbrian Cross. We stopped to look and as is always the case there were a large number of local people from such a small community slaughtered during the First World War.

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By the monument there was a good view towards the hills we’d crossed that afternoon

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We crossed the bridge and walked up towards Town Yetholm. Another pleasant village centred on a village green with a very wide main street and well kept houses.

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Another thatched cottage

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and a pub

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We strolled back down the hill, cutting across the meadow past the little pack horse bridge

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returning to the Border inn to enjoy a last drink sitting outside on a pleasant evening, before turning in for a restful night’s sleep to prepare for the next leg of our walk.

A Long Walk–Part 1

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On Bank Holiday Monday we set out on a long walk. We’d been planning it for a while ever since one of our relatives in the North East mentioned that he fancied tackling St Cuthbert’s Way – a long distance trail starting at Melrose in the Scottish Borders and finishing with a walk along the causeway to Holy Island (Lindisfarne) off the coast of Northumberland. The talk soon turned into a firm intention for me and my wife to join D and his wife J to tackle the trail. Unfortunately it was difficult to find a time slot that would suit all of us so in the end we weren’t able to walk the full distance, instead, starting about a third of the way along at Morebattle. The trip was organised by D who did a good job of sorting out accommodation along the route.

The 60 mile route links several sites associated with St Cuthbert who was a 7th Century monk, bishop and hermit, in the kingdom of Northumbria which at that time covered a large part of the Scottish Borders as well most of Northern England (including modern day Northumbria, Cumbria, Yorkshire and Lancashire). He began his monastic career at Melrose Abbey 650AD, and later became the Abbot at Lindisfarne Priory. After his death he became one of the most important medieval saints of Northern England, with a cult centred on his tomb at Durham Cathedral.

The route is well waymarked throughout. We hardly needed to refer to a map to find our way (although it would not be advisable to tackle any route like this without one).

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The walking itself was very varied.  We started in the Cheviot hills and during our two half days and two full days of walking, walked over rounded hills, along riversides, through forests, over bleak moorland, through pastoral scenery and over a causeway across the sea.

We took the soft option of getting a company to transport our bags, only needing to carry a day sack with coat, fleece, food and drink (plus maps, guidebook, compass etc.) The main problem was sorting out how to get to the start and then back home at the end. It is possible to use public transport but that wasn’t that easy for us. However, D managed to make arrangements for us to leave a car at either end. So on a grey Bank Holdiay morning we drove from Sunderland (where our relatives live) up to Lindisfarne, stopping for a brew at the Beal Barn, just before the causeway,and then over to the island where I left my car at the hotel where we’d be staying at the end of our walk. We then loaded ourselves and our gear into D’s car and set out to Morebattle, an hour’s drive away. On the way, we dropped our bags at the Border Inn in Kirk Yeltholm where we would be spending our first night.

Morebattle is a small village in the Scottish Borders, seven miles south of Kelso. We set off shortly after midday. The weather was better than at the coast, but there was a threat of rain.

We passed the old church which is being renovated by a dedicated couple. They have a café where walkers (and motorists) can stop for refreshments.

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Initially following the quiet road out of the village heading towards the Cheviot hills

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we soon had to start climbing up towards Wideopen Hill, the highest point on the route.P5291503

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It was a bit of a grey day, and we had a couple of showers, (although they didn’t last long) but there were great views of nearby hills

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After a short, steep stretch, we reached the summit of Wideopen Hill

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We stopped for a short while for refreshments and to take some photographs and then set off again – it was mainly downhill from now on towards Kirk Yeltholm.

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Eventually we reached the bottom of the hill and after a short stretch on a quiet road we headed down a track

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that took us to the path along the river heading for our first destination.

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After crossing the bridge that separates Town Yeltholm from Kirk Yeltholm

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Not far now, through some pleasant riverside meadows

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Past the old narrow packhorse bridge. There used to be a mill race running under it at one time, but now it looks a little odd stranded above dry land!

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Past the old schoolhouse which is now a hostel for walkers

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across the village green was our destination, the Border Hotel, where we had rooms booked for the night.

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As well as being on the St Cuthbert’s Way, the hotel and pub is the official end of the Pennine Way.

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A relatively short stretch of walking, but challenging in it’s own way as we had to climb up to the highest point of the route. So time for a bath for some of us and a shower for me to get ready for a tasty evening meal in the restaurant.