open country

The apricot clouds that had sat above the Eildons as I drove to Melrose were soon eclipsed by grey.

The group of walkers were doused by some nasty sleet as I gave them a synopsis of our day’s route with a half grimace. With varying layers of clothing, hats and boots we set off through the town.

The town was quiet, as it was smeared with grey, and ice paths and steps paved our way up to the former railway station. While the old station building has been conserved, some little touches have recently been added to the old platform.

Looking quite sad and lonely in winter’s monochrome, on a quiet Sunday morning, there stands a bright blue-and-white sign for Melrose and a well-appointed seat below it. Probably because of the perfectly-formed ice on it, nobody choose to sit down that day.

We followed the dismantled railway through the black-and-white barks of birches. The route looks longer than it is because of the straightness of this section. It was a relief to reach the subway and shout to hear an echo in the grey tunnel.

The road past the hospital leads to Rhymer’s Glen. As we reached the foot of this romantically-named path, the look of the day changed from a grey settlement to a mystical woodland. We left the noise of traffic behind to step up through the dark pines on the snow-strewn track.

This route predominantly follows lands that fell within Sir Walter Scott’s estate. The name Rhymer’s Glen certainly evoked the idea of romance and mystery and the place is beautifully recorded by Turner.

Nowadays, the burn and the aesthetics of natural topography are shadowed by the tall thin spruces that have been shedding branches under the weight of the snow.

At the other end, we stepped out on to deeper dry snow, startlingly white under the midday sun which had wrenched open the clouds as we were in cover of the woodland. The white swell of Bowden Moor and Cauldshiels Hill puckered up to the white puff clouds.

Cauldshiels Loch blended in with the fields. Occasionally there was a small melt hole. It is possible, as one of the group suggested, that the air that pushes up from the loch bottom could be methane from plants which is warmer than the water and, therefore, able to defrost parts of the ice surface.

After this hidden water body, the route heads west where we look down on to Faldonside Loch from Mossbrae Plantation. This strip of woodland has some old yew trees but now includes conifers such as western hemlocks.

The woodlands would have looked dramatically different in this area after Scott’s planting regimes which would have concentrated on hardwoods, especially native species. Although larch and Scots pine were used, he despised clumps or lines of firs.

Energised after a spot of lunch which left us with cold fingers, we went quickly down the snowy slope, through Abbotsford’s woodlands, to meet the Tweed. Abbotsford House looked haughtily on us. Horses, grazing on the haugh, tried to get food from our rucksacks.

We left them to the field as we returned to Melrose through Tweedbank, by Gunknowe Loch, Solway’s Trail and latterly back along a section of the Southern Upland Way by the Tweed; where my colleague photographed a cormorant drying open wings in the sun.

Sitting at home, warm and fed, I started watching the news. Christine, a nine-year-old girl, had been killed during the Arizona shooting.

They interviewed her father who said she was born during a tragedy, the 9/11 terrorist attack, and she left the world during another tragedy.

I looked at her beautiful young face. In that moment I lost sight of my day through the snow and trees.

While I am watching it I cannot get these song lyrics out of my head: “All my life, there’s panic in America”. Everything there is on a bigger scale, even the troubles.