In mid May the wooded banks of the River Tweed above Peebles are perfect for a gentle wildlife walk.
I used as my guide the excellent ‘Paths around Peebles’ booklet published by Scottish Borders Council which shows a circular walk following both banks of the river.
Under the Tweed Bridge in Peebles a Dipper was bobbing on a rock, oblivious to the traffic above and the many people and dogs out enjoying the sunshine.
From the swimming pool the path took me through Hay Lodge Park where a pair of Goosanders and several mallard ducks splashed in the river, also ignoring passers-by, and Sand Martins and Swallows were feeding on the insect life above the water. On the bank, a pair of tinkling Goldfinches flitted around looking for old seed heads of thistles.
The path then approached the wooded and rocky slopes below the dramatic Neidpath Castle, with views across to South Park Wood on the opposite bank.
Several warblers were in full song - Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, Blackcaps and a single Garden Warbler, and a Greater Spotted Woodpecker was busily drumming on a dead branch somewhere deep in the woods - its way of marking its territory to warn rivals off.
The Sand Martins seen earlier have a small breeding colony here, their nests hidden deep in tunnels excavated in a vertical bank by the water’s edge.
Several Orange Tip butterflies were in evidence, as was their favoured food plant, Lady’s Smock or Cuckooflower, in the damp grassland. The female Orange Tips lay their eggs on the maturing flowers of this plant, perfectly timed for the hatching caterpillars to feed on the young seed pods.
Following the north bank upstream the Neidpath Viaduct came into view. This carried a branch of the Caledonian railway first opened in 1864, connecting Peebles with Biggar and Symington to the west. Now it carries a footpath across the Tweed so was a convenient crossing point to return to Peebles along the south bank.
Birds were less visible and vocal than on the north side but both Pied and Grey Wagtails flitted on the mossy rocks exposed in the river due to the recent dry weather, and a single Nuthatch called repeatedly in the trees.
The old railway disappeared into a blocked-off tunnel but the path followed the riverside giving great views across to Neidpath Castle.
The woodland contains many handsome trees, particularly Beech, Oak and Douglas Fir, with smaller Ash, Willow and Alder along the river on the way back to Peebles.
This is a highly recommended walk, less than three hours at the gentle pace ideal for watching wildlife.