New Borders guidebook out

Robert and Joy Leach with their visitors guide to thew scottish borders.
Robert and Joy Leach with their visitors guide to thew scottish borders.
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A Selkirk writer and artist have penned a Borders tourist guide which was launched earlier this month.

Poet Robert Leach and his artist wife Joy Parker were asked by publishers Foxglove to put together the guide to the region.

Robert said: “It seems there just isn’t a guide book for the Scottish Borders, though there are lots of local leaflets about walks, biking, golf, etc. We spent time putting all that together, but the book is actually much more than that – it includes lots of history, legends, ballads and, of course, lots and lots of photographs.”

It starts with the authors’ choice of their top 12 places or attractions to visit, which includes the Southern Upland Way, Abbotsford House, mountain biking at Glentress, St Mary’s Loch and Harestanes Countryside Centre near Jedburgh.

The pair cover the Borders’ history, wildlife, activities, its people, attractions – and eateries.

Robert said: “We are aiming this book primarily at the visitor from outside the Borders, but we hope some locals will enjoy it too.

“We spent the best part of a year researching all this. We used to drive to a particular area, and sample the coffee and cakes, and/or the local pub, visit the local church and the bookshops or woollen mills or whatever. And then we’d probably go for a walk, trying to find a specific monument or standing stone or place where the Scots had battled the English, We’d try and find what would interest a visitor, and then photograph and write about it. Was it fun? Yes – brilliant!”

The guide also has sections on walking, biking, golf, fishing, horse riding and on things to do with children.

The retired theatre practitioner and academic already has one epic, three collections and five pamphlets of poetry published. He has written several books on the theatre, one of which was shortlisted for Theatre Book of the Year in 2006. Robert directed the first production in Moscow of the play previously banned by Stalin, I Want a Baby by Sergei Tretyakov. In 1994 he adapted 26 medieval mystery plays and set up a community project establishing The Lichfield Mysteries, performed every three years in what has become one of Europe’s largest community arts events. He is also proud of his epic poetic travelogue, The Journey to Mount Kailash, based on his six months of travel in India with Joy in 2008-9.

“I’m pleased with the guidebook. It’s very nicely produced and in the making of it I discovered a huge amount (more) about the Borders. I loved it as an area – we moved here in 1997 because we love it: it’s a really fascinating area.”

Born in India, Joy works part time in Heriot-Watt University library in Galashiels and was the first artist to take up a WASPS studio in Selkirk 10 years ago.

She is now at work on an exhibition and film about her grandmother Gertrude Parker who spent 45 years in a mental asylum in Bristol.

During last year’s research she said: “It rained, we were constantly going ‘there’s a bit of blue sky, let’s go there’ and when we got there it would be raining!” She says: “The Borders is a treasure chest waiting to be opened.”