Fascination of the River Tweed

Niel Manning, farmer at the source of the River Tweed, with his sheep dogs Jess and Lyn
Niel Manning, farmer at the source of the River Tweed, with his sheep dogs Jess and Lyn

It’s about now people think of New Year resolutions. Not me. There are only so many times I can renounce chocolate, then steal selection-box dregs on January 2.

Whatever, it reminds me I finished walking, running and biking down the Tweed on Hogmanay last year and hadn’t quite written about it.

Plenty others have, though, this year: new parents Sophia Collins and Ross Winter, and baby Taliesin walked it, and held open evenings with storytellers and scientists along the way; East Lothian storyteller Daniel Allison hiked it too, and entertained in schools; there’s the ongoing artists and environmentalists’ Working the Tweed project, with the last free traditional music session at The Gordon Arms, Yarrow, on January 12.

I’m told Kelso farmer Rory Bell’s brother Steven canoed down the Tweed.

And Borders Festival of the Horse organiser Ann Fraser’s grandson definitely did paddle down it. What’s the fascination?

A man whose work is the river, Tweed Forum director Luke Commins, said: “I think running water holds a certain magnetism for everyone – whether you’re fishing, walking, swimming, paddling in or by it.

“For me, the Tweed is the defining feature, and lifeblood, of the region.

“It provides the focal point of the landscape and so much of the region’s rich social and cultural history.

“It takes in a huge variety of habitats, from high, heather moorland to the lush, fertile floodplains of the lower reaches, and provides the link between highland and lowland.

“It is extremely rich in wildlife and provides homes for some our most iconic species such as otters and salmon.

“It has inspired a plethora of writers such as Scott, Hogg and Wordsworth.

“So much of the built heritage – abbeys, castles, towers, historic houses – is found beside its banks. It is this richness and diversity that makes it so special.

“No one put it better than John Buchan – ‘if Paradise be a renewal of what was happy and innocent in our earthly days, mine will be some such golden afternoon within sight and sound of Tweed’.

“And essentially this is why I’m doing my job. Tweed Forum’s remit is to protect and enhance the natural, built and cultural heritage of the Tweed and tributaries – and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”

I started on a June afternoon. My grandfathers were from the hills, so it’s likely in the genes: upland air and space in the hills is like the direct hit of a sherbert fountain – intoxicating – depending on how you feel about sugar.

It’s strange to step across the skinny wee burn beginnings of what I know as a big, punch-packing river in Kelso.

Source-to-mouth is a lesson in geography, too, of course, from heather, tussocky grass and Blackface sheep to fat Suffolks and fishing huts, and the mills and crops of the Merse downriver.

Just in case I was ever to underestimate the power of the Tweed, standing below Coldstream, looking at the cauld there, would wise anyone up.

Running the last day along to Berwick’s lifeboat station on that crisp Hogmanay was a treat. Actually, the whole thing was joy.

Good luck with the New Year resolutions. Hope you do something fabulous in 2014.