I was listening to a promotion for 'The Gathering' on Radio Borders early in the morning on my way to the Border Union Show. I noted that it was being promoted as 'the' event of Homecoming Scotland. As I would not be attending I could not account for how spectacular it would be.
However, I did find myself, unexpectedly, involved in a small part of a clan’s gathering.
A call was put through to me from Richard Watt of Learmont McKenzie Travel. They were looking for someone to take up the place of a walk leader.
How many times had I looked over at Rubers Law from another point in the Borders, yet I had never taken myself up onto that knobbly ridge?
Now I was making my way there. Starting from Bedrule’s churchyard, we went through the gate and out the opposite corner, down worn stone steps.
We followed the Borders Abbeys Way through Dykesglen Wood, but turned off before Spital Tower in order to pick a path up the hill just to the east of Black Dod.
We had set off on that Thursday morning with 20 Elliots from around the globe. There were thick grey clouds angrily birlin’ above the hill, creating a shadow over her hummocky skyline.
We moved along tarmac, before turning off onto a track, then a soft earth path through the woodland, emerging at the other side to look at a thistle and talk about the legends that describe how it became the national emblem of Scotland.
Just like the inhospitable spikes of our thistles, so the terrain that we followed lost any comfort that it once bore.
After crossing two large fields of grazing sheep we moved onto the lower slopes of Rubers Law, walking onto rougher ground. On the other side of the gorse I could hear exclamations of delight as the three young boys found a small frog in the hard rushes – at last. Shortly afterwards we found an elusive slug.
Gordon Juno of Selkirk had threaded Scottish history through the walk, centering on how different parts of the Elliot family had settled around Bedrule. The first mention of an Elliot in the Rule Valley was not until the 1600s when Gilbert Elliot of Stobs, aka Gibbie wi’ the Gowden Garters, obtained a charter of Town o’ Rule.
Other lands gained following this are shrouded in illegitimacy – in fact, William Elliot hung himself over the acquisition of Hallrule after a lengthy litigation in the early 1900s.
I bent down to the flowers to talk about the origin of their names – tormentil, eyebright, harebell (bluebell), thistles, blaeberries, heather. We discussed the anti-bacterial and absorbent qualities of sphagnum moss as our feet softly tread upon this spongy mass. Our youngest walker – pictured top of page – had dark purple lips from eating the blaeberries, I noted, as we dissipated over the craggy summit.
Elliots from around the globe from eight years up to a more mature number surveyed the lands that unfurled into the faded distance. Here we had gathered from Washington State, California, Florida, Canada (North Alberta and Toronto), New Zealand and Ireland, to meet together that morning with the same wind in our hair and the same earth under our feet.
I know some left that day with the sense of that place – the springy heather, the wild thyme and the rocky crags – and following in their ancestors’ footsteps. For them this was ‘the’ event, on that small hill where the rushes grow and the dry stane dyke sweeps along the ridge in a lithified wave.