open country

I had a sense that I did not feel as inspired on the Melrose walks as I did on other walks near the Border towns. Then one day in a brisk breeze under huge blue skies I followed a route that I had no memory of being on before. My eyes and mind were freshly opened, delighting in nature’s store of sensory wonder.

From where my colleague dropped me off, I started along a red dirt track. The flatness of the ground and the dryness of the earth made me think I was in a scene in a western.

I had hopped off the coach at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere; a dust cloud whirled in front of me as the wheels crunched on, leaving me alone in a huge open space exposed to a gigantic sky.

Were tribes watching me from a hilltop? Would I die of thirst before reaching the nearest town? Would I meet bandits en route? I laughed at the crazy imaginings that I allowed to flow. Then I wondered if someone heard my giggle.

There were small stepped piles of logs on the grass at the side of the track and I wondered if the farmer was going to come back and take them for firewood. Or would they be left for insect larvae and fungi to inhabit and break down.

Lady Moss was molten in the sharp wind and sunlight, making the heaving water look metallic. I went uphill along the earthwork to the west and entered an area where I could not decide whether it was a field or a woodland.

The area almost looked like a crop of hawthorn – an unusual sight because this small tree is opportunistic, like the rowan, and is not given to forming woodlands.

From the summit of Cauldshiels Hill there is a steep descent to the loch with a view that you can dive into – like falling on to a feather duvet. However, the bright open spaces and the keen sense of the sky are lost in the enclosed Rhymer’s Glen.

I walked into the shade and shelter and the trees closed behind me. In the pines, in those pines where the sun never shines, the sun made mosaic on jagged conifers. Coal tits belted calls across the track. The trees rattled and cracked in the wind that rushed through the spindly canopies – wind made moan.

Getting closer to the other end, I met a family coming up hill towards me – shiny white sports shoes and bright pink and purples coats. There is so much mud. However, I was glad to see them and I showed the girls some cones that had been nibbled by squirrels. Would they hear what I heard in the wood and would they keep coming back to the woods throughout their lives?

The booklet Paths Around Melrose booklet is one of the most popular of its series, the route I describe here is part of route nine.

The Melrose Paths Group has worked unflaggingly since 2004.They convened originally to manage the annual walking festival and develop the routes for this book. The characters involved in the group jelled and have stayed intact to create one of the strongest paths groups in the Borders.

David Langworth, chairman of the Melrose Paths Group said: “As a group, we decided to have an event to promote our Walkers’ Welcome branding.

“Many of the accommodation providers are very enthusiastic about the event and the award. The award is designed to demonstrate that a town has something special to offer walkers.

“Applicants have to meet certain criteria – for example, have well maintained pathways, demonstrate local support and have a group to sustain the welcome for walkers quality and branding.”

The Melrose Walking Festival weekend is on Saturday and Sunday. There are different lengths of walks to choose from. For more information visit