You know you are in a part of Scotland where the English have never been popular when there is a stone celebrating one maid’s efforts in battle with the English which bears the following inscription:
“Fair Maid Lilliard
Lies under this stane
Little was her stature
But muckle was her fame
She laid monie thumps
And when her legs were cuttit off
She fought upon her stumps.”
But more on that later. The official start of St Cuthbert’s Way is across the road from Melrose Abbey and, for those who believe that every good walk starts with a cake, right near the Abbey Tea Rooms. Melrose Abbey founded in 1136 is reputed to be the burial place of Robert the Bruce’s heart, but is not in fact the site of the monastery where St Cuthbert spent his time. That monastery no longer exists but was located about 2 and half miles east of the Melrose Abbey ruins.
We followed the Way out of town (and away from the cafes and tea rooms) and started the climb up into the Eildon Hills, famous for being where King Arthur is said to be buried (albeit that there is no evidence whatsoever to support the proposition) and where Thomas the Rhymer met the Queen of the Faeries (strangely enough there is also no evidence for that proposition). We saw no faeries unless you count a border collie which continually raced between his elderly owner and her grandson and us as we climbed the hills. The Way passes over the saddle of the two main Eildon hills, with trails branching off to the summits of each hill. As I have never met a hill I needed to climb, I declined Rob’s invitation to divert to one of the summits and we instead headed over the saddle through the forest below until we came out at the small village of Bowden.
From there it was a short bit of road walking and a bit more forest to reach Newton St Boswells which we passed through on our way to the river Tweed, famous for its fly fishing for salmon and trout. We watched some of the fly fisherman for a while, but none were having any success. A pedestrian bridge crosses the river and provides access to Dryburgh Abbey, the resting place of Sir Walter Scott. We however continued on the Way as it wound its way along the river, before it headed off the river to St Boswells and our accommodation for the evening at the Buccleuch Arms Hotel.
The next day and we were back on the path around the river before the Way headed up the hill to Maxton Kirk, a church dedicated to St Cuthbert and first recorded in the reign of William the Lion (1165 to 1213).
From there, St Cuthbert’s Way follows the old roman road Dere St, which once ran from York to the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh. On this section it runs parallel to the A68, at the start fairly closely but eventually we moved away from the road so that it virtually became unnoticeable in the distance.
About one-third of the way along Dere Street and we arrived at Lilliard’s Edge, the site of the Battle of St Ancrum Moor won by the Scots in 1545. Lilliard is said to have been a beautiful young woman who followed her lover from Maxton to the battle. Seeing him fall mortally wounded she picked up his weapon and took her vengeance upon the Englishman around her. Which brings us back to the stone commemorating her achievements. Unfortunately there is no truth in the story, other than that there was a battle, which the Scots won. It seems Reverend Milne of Melrose in 1745 mixed up several legends to arrive at the story. A stone, however, had first been erected on the site 800 years ago by monks and had by 1372 become known as Lillyiot Cross (that is about 180 years before the battle the subject of the legend). At that time it was used as a meeting point to attempt to resolve disputes between the Scots and English without recourse to violence – obviously unsuccessfully given the site becomes more famous for the battle and mythical war maiden.
We continued further along Dere Street until we eventually came to Harestanes, an area set up with a visitor centre so that people can experience and enjoy the woodlands. We stopped for tea and cake and whilst we were eating cake witnessed a sparrowhawk swoop down on a sparrow – in this case it was a near miss and the sparrow lived to chase the cake crumbs of café goers on another day.
From Harestanes it was a trip across fields to the River Teviot, which we crossed by a suspension bridge. The Way followed the river for a while before it moved away and reached the A698 and a bridge. We were later to find out from our accommodation provider that most people walking to Jedburgh arrange for a taxi to pick them up from this point. Not knowing this we crossed the A698 and headed up hill to the junction with the Borders Abbeys Way. We left St Cuthbert’s Way and followed the Borders Abbeys Way for about 4km to Jedburgh (which was mostly on tarmac along narrow farm lanes – not good for the feet). We stopped in Jedburgh because it has the only accommodation near St Cuthbert’s Way at a reasonable distance from St Boswells, but it is worth a visit in its own right with both the Jedburgh Abbey (founded 1138) and the fortified house in which Mary Queen of Scots resided in 1566.
Accommodation: In Melrose we stayed at the George and Abbotsford (a bit Spartan when we stayed); at St Boswells it was the Buccleuch Arms (excellent food); and at Jedburgh the Glenbank House Hotel (friendly helpful hosts). Buccleuch (pronounced buck-clue) is a name that appears again and again in these parts. According to the officer in the Melrose visitor centre the Duke of Buccleuch when appointed to his dukedom took his name from the fact that he had shot a deer (buck) in a ravine (the Scots for which is cleuch).
For more information: see St Cuthbert’s Way – An Overview.