Drive, Interrupted

January 11, 2019

As part of my bid to get more walking done without doing too much in the way of additional driving, a visit to Duns presented an opportunity to try a walk we’ve long talked about doing, but never left enough time to actually do: the walk up past the Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall to Loch Skeen.

Grey Mare's Tail

Today, we finally got ourselves organised and packed some sandwiches and left a couple of hours early to give ourselves time to explore. It’s a steep climb at the start but with a well-made path; I’ve done enough conservation volunteering in the past to appreciate the effort that goes into these trails. It was especially appreciated when there are precipitous drops – this isn’t maybe a walk for those prone to vertigo.

view from the climb

For everyone else, although it’s pretty strenuous to start with, the views are worth it.

tail burn

It levels off once past the main waterfall and soon we were walking along a pretty burn that tumbles down cascades and into rocky pools. We spotted some of the wild goats that roam the area, and the sheep that were busy keeping everything close cropped. After our visit to Carrifran, I couldn’t help wondering what the valley might be like if the sheep and goats were vanished and the trees and scrub allowed to return. It might help a bit with the erosion, too (that said, our sandwiches had lamb in them, so I confess we’re part of the problem).

landslip at the Grey Mare's Tail

On the whole, it’s better not to think about this giant landslip until you’re back at the car park… (the path is the line above it)

All good walks need a great endpoint (apart from the part where you finally get to sit down and take off your boots). It was only recently that I realised this walk took you up to a loch hidden up in the hills – and even though I knew it was there, it was still very striking to turn a corner and find Loch Skeen filling the whole bowl of the valley.

loch skeen

It was also rather nippy, so we didn’t linger over our sandwiches.

Loch skeen

And then it was just a matter of walking down again…

walk back down

Much as I love the whole active travel thing, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t grateful for our car’s comfy seats and internal combustion engine, wafting our tired legs onwards to Duns in time for tea. But all in all, it was a good way to break up the drive, get in some hill walking and explore another corner of our world that we’ve been passing by for so long.

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Right to Roam

January 5, 2019

After last weekend’s adventure, I’ve been wondering about finding some hill-climbing walks closer to home. Then the other day we were chatting with our octogenarian neighbour and she told us that they used to climb up to the nearby trig point on New Year’s Day. Today, with sunshine forecast, seemed the perfect opportunity to give that a go.

b-road

A less than appealing road for walking on (cycling on it is bad enough)

According to the neighbour there is a track part of the way up from the road, but the problem was getting to the start of the track, as the road is fast and narrow and we didn’t really fancy walking along it on what was a fairly winding stretch. The alternative was across the fields from our house which we have, as a commenter on last weekend’s blog pointed out, a perfect right to do:

You do realise you’re free to walk across *any* fields in Scotland, including those with animals or crops in them, and even ones that have barbed wire fences enclosing them? No permission necessary!

This is, undeniably, true but in practice – just as cyclists have the right to ride on (almost) any road – there’s a difference between being free to do something and it actually being a practical and enjoyable proposition, especially if you’re not a badger and can go under barbed wire fences instead of over them. So there were a few ‘interesting’ bits as we squeezed through gaps and over walls and sent flocks of sheep scattering over the horizon.

badger run

Once we’d found the track it was easier going, apart from the whole slogging uphill part – you can cycle up as many hills as you like on a bike and it doesn’t seem to make walking up them any easier. On the other hand, you can spot more interesting wildlife when you’re on foot

Tremella mesenteric (yellow brain or witches’ butter) (You realise, I don’t know any of this stuff, I just ask people on social media)

The highlight was an interesting shaped pond in front of an old ruined cottage – I couldn’t decide whether it was art or accident.

spiral pond

In fact, the only real fly in the ointment was the lack of the promised sunshine – the views from the top were less than spectacular on a murky sort of a day.

murky views

All in all, a less photogenic walk than last weekend’s, but at least it was on our doorstep and a bit of an adventure. Time to get the Ordnance Survey out and see if we can scope out a few more …


Booting Up

December 30, 2018

A week in proximity to the Mournes (and also in a house that was walking distance to a town centre) has reminded me how little real walking I do generally, whether of the yomping up hills variety, or the popping out to the shops kind. It’s also reminded me that I used to quite like yomping up hills (and, indeed, popping out to the shops), but being fit on the bike doesn’t necessarily translate into easy hillwalking, especially on uneven surfaces.

So now that we’re home, and with a nice mild December day in prospect, we decided to go for a walk.

Two walks, actually – we cut our first coastal one short because lunch was calling. Having found ourselves a cafe of the ‘all day breakfast’ variety (often the best kind) we tried an inland one as well.

All in all, a very pleasant outing and a nice change. I’m a bit ambivalent about the whole idea of going for a drive in order to go for a walk, but we’re rather short of options around here otherwise. There are a few short walks we can do out of our front door, but anything longer would require walking along the B road, an even less appetising prospect than cycling along it. Clearly further investigation is needed to find some local accessible hills and get more walking in in 2019.


A Short Walk in a Small Wood

October 10, 2018

Sod’s law dictates that today’s uncannily fine and warm weather would come when I was labouring under both a work deadline AND a stinking cold, so I was largely confined to sitting in the sunniest part of the house, labouring over the laptop. But days like this are rare enough – and even rarer in October – so after lunch, when I can never really get anything sensible done anyway, I ventured out for a walk in the woods.

half obscured path in woods

Ordinarily, if I need a walk in the company of trees, I head up to where our road ends in a forestry track, but I have been reading the Hidden Life of Trees and I felt the need for something a little less regimented than a forestry plantation.

The other wood is not really a forest, just a scrap of wooded valley too steep and marshy to be of any real use which has been allowed to just get on with it.

steep valley sides

There’s only one path through it, and that’s one that increasingly only makes sense to badgers, so it’s only an out-and-back walk and a bit of a scramble in places. But I like how the fallen trees are just left to fend for themselves.

tilted birch tree

Or become homes for other things.

birch stump with hole

And the only real sign of man’s hand is this mysterious shed with its lucky horseshoe.

mystery shed

It’s not a long walk, and you never quite escape the sound of the road, but having read the book and realised just how much is going on in the apparently placid world of trees (you will never look at a beech tree in quite the same way again) it’s refreshing to be in a place, however small, which feels as if it’s there for itself, not for us. beech in the wood

Given what we’re doing to our poor planet, we need more places like this in the world.


Going Nuts

October 9, 2018

I’ve been a bit rubbish at foraging this year – not only did I completely miss the moment for gathering gooseberries from the travelling gooseberry bush, but I’ve barely had any wild raspberries – or even any blackberries. The neighbour has given us permission to pick the plums in the field below our house by ruined cottage, but after going down too early and finding only unripe ones, that too had slipped my mind, despite grand plans for jam and all sorts.

But a chance encounter with a friend on the cycle path this morning tipped me off about a slightly more exotic foraging option. Her neighbour’s walnut tree is not only generous with its bounty in all the surrounding gardens, including hers, it’s also spreading the love onto the road as well. A sneaky detour was in order.

The tree was easily spotted by the mess of walnut hulls on the pavement, and the sound of walnuts bouncing into the road. I’m not 100% sure of the legality of picking walnuts off the pavement by someone’s house, but as they were mostly just getting run over, I decided I wasn’t robbing anyone but perhaps the jackdaws, so a pocketful was gathered and taken home.

fallen walnuts

Of course, like most things you get for free, it’s not quite as simple as picking them up and enjoying a delicious walnut treat. For a start, I may have been too late – you’re supposed to pick them when they’re still in their green hulls, rather than when the nuts are raining off the tree so they might be a bit tainted. And then they need to be dried, which either means putting them in an oven for an unspecified amount of time (‘until they’re dry’ – thanks, RHS website) or hanging them up somewhere fairly warm, squirrel-free and with good air circulation to dry naturally. This would have been a marvellous job for the Rayburn* but in its absence, the woodburner and an old clementine bag have been pressed into use, giving our hearth an unseasonably festive air.

drying walnuts

Hopefully that will work because we may end up with plenty more (in the fullness of time). because, as an added bonus, the jackdaws inadvertently plant walnut trees all round my friend’s garden in their attempts to open the nuts by bouncing them off her patio. Did we want a tree? Yes indeed we did. As soon as it has dropped its leaves and we have worked out how to get a young but tallish tree into a smallish hatchback it will be ours, as long as we promise to look after it better than the olive tree

Oh, and flushed with success from my walnut scrumping, I nipped down to the old ruin to see if any plums might still be waiting for me…

plum harvest

That plum harvest in full

I think I won’t be making jam this year.

* The other night I met the most recent inhabitant of our old house who – shockingly – never bothered to get the Rayburn lit. Admittedly, it does use so much fuel I did think we had a leak in our oil tank at first, but this seems to be missing the point entirely of living in that house.


Dirty Plot Letter

October 5, 2018

A knock on the front door this morning alerted me to a visit from the garden inspector – actually my pal from Old Nearest Village who likes to drop by when he’s passing to see how the garden is getting on. I knew it was him because when I went to the door, there was nobody there – he was already in the back garden checking on the raised beds.

Fortunately, Wednesday’s work had not gone to waste and I think I passed, just, with the help of the other half’s professional greenhouse set up. Points were deducted for my leeks being planted too close together again (given they’re already enormous, we agreed that was just a style point, and I escaped serious censure), and the undue fanciness of my veg selection (cavolo nero and rainbow chard are very much not categories in the village show) but were gained by the colour of my purple sprouting broccoli, and the well-rotted horse manure on the old pea bed. Phew. We both agreed that fretting about cabbage white caterpillars was a waste of time and that it had been a good year for potatoes and then, having exchanged a bit of village gossip, he went on his way. No doubt he’ll be popping in again when I least expect it, just to keep me on my toes …

I joke (well, sort of) but there’s actually nothing like having fellow gardeners come around to have a nosey and exchange ideas, and the opportunity have a nosey back. I didn’t get to any proper open gardens this summer (and besides, they’re always a bit too primped and unobtainable to be really informative), but I feel some sort of peer-to-peer garden noseying exchange system should be worked out for those of us unlucky enough not to have an allotment. Or a regular irregular inspection regime…


Tea for … Well, a Small Army, Frankly

September 15, 2018

teas sign

Normally, when a group ride goes silent, it’s because the ride leader has set too fast a pace and the participants are saving their breath for the climb in hand. But this afternoon the silence had a different source: this was no normal ride, but a ‘cake raid‘ and we had reached the legendary church tea of what I must now dub Church Tea Village and there were more important things to concentrate on than chat.

Now, I don’t know what you might have in mind when you picture something advertised as a ‘light lunch and church tea’ but – although I had been warned that the catering was substantial – I wasn’t quite prepared for what followed. After starting with some delicious home made bread, slices of melon and salad, we moved on to savoury pancakes with a choice of fillings. As these were being demolished, a plate of dutch pancakes (poffertjes) scattered with sugar and raisins arrived, which proved to be dangerously moreish.

scones and pancakes

To be honest, this would have qualified for a decent meal right there, but proved to be merely the warm up. As some were tempted by a second round of pancakes, this time loaded with nutella and marshmallows, the rest of us were piling into the scones and more pancakes (scotch ones, this time). Just as we were starting to slow down and contemplate the 20 mile ride home that lay ahead, thankfully mainly downhill, one of the group nodded to the windowsill ‘I’m just looking at what’s coming next’. For the church ladies weren’t finished with us yet.

We still had the cake trolley to deal with.

cake trolley

Top tip for church teas – when an innocent looking white haired women in a church hall offers you ‘just a normal sized slice’ of cake, get that quantified before you rashly agree to anything. Oh, and don’t sit directly opposite the scones if you find it hard to see any form of starch going to waste …

So yeah. Cycling. A great way to keep a healthy weight. Just make sure you heed the warning signs and keep away from the church teas.