In the footsteps of Peter Rabbit go I


On a gloriously sunny weekend, I chose Sunday to have a wander in the Ancrum area and visit one of my favourite corners of the Borders.

Nestling down by the Ale Water is the old cemetery which is teeming with history, not to mention wildlife. The trees were alive with birds, and many, such as chaffinches, robins and great tits, were in full song.

The surrounding woodlands were criss-crossed by well-used badger paths and the cemetery itself is much visited by other animals, judging by the many tracks still visible in the lying snow patches. I always smile when I come across a plaque in some far-flung place, announcing that either Mary, Queen of Scots or Robert Burns had been there, and I marvel at the amount of country they covered using only horse power.

Another in the same well-travelled category is Beatrix Potter and sure enough Ancrum was on her itinerary, according to a plaque on the cemetery fence. She came to stay with her brother, Walter, who lived in the village.

To her astonishment she found that, unbeknown to their parents, Walter had married a Hawick mill girl called Mary, seven years previously.

Both Walter and Mary are buried in the churchyard. It was while she was in Ancrum that Beatrix wrote about Peter Rabbit and no doubt many of his descendents’ tracks were in the snow on Sunday.

At the edge of the graveyard are the remains of the Old Parish Church, which is basically a roofless shell, filled with the graves of the great and good of the area, such as the Ogilvies and Scotts.

Virtually no trace remains of the original church, recorded in 1116 AD. The present building, which was built in the 18th century, was repaired in 1832, but abandoned in about 1890, when the new church, within the village, was built.

I noticed on one gable wall, a stone showing the date 1762 and a hole just above it containing an old jackdaw’s nest.

Just over the cemetery wall is the ancient 12th century pack-horse Lintmill Bridge, which was later widened to take carts.

It was such a lovely day that I ventured over the icy structure and walked a bit along the track along the foot of the Castle Hill.

Here I was struck by the amount of robin’s pincushion there was on the wayside dog roses. Nearly every bush had these strange fibrous looking growths, about a couple of inches in diameter.

They are galls caused by a tiny wasp which is seldom seen in the adult stage. The gall is not the product of a single larva but a group of larvae, each residing in their own chamber inside.

The wasps – Diplolepis rosae – overwinter in the gall, emerging as adults in spring.

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