Bemersyde House is well worth visiting

After three glorious days last week, it was back to winter temperatures by the weekend.

Sunday, 1st May 2016, 2:23 pm
Historic Bemersyde House with the Covin Trysting Tree to the right.

At least it was dry and permitted several really enjoyable outings into the lovely Borders countryside.

On Saturday, I joined a group of about a dozen wildlife enthusiasts on a Scottish Wildlife Trust outing to Ettrick Marshes.

Despite being bitterly cold with occasional hail showers, it was good to have a wander with like-minded people to enjoy the “crack” and look at the flora and fauna of this lovely area.

It was a bit cold and early in the year to see much and we had to work hard to find what was there but we had great fun doing it. A single fresh otter footprint caused great excitement but red squirrel evidence was much easier to find with piles of stripped cones all along the footpath.

The afternoon was nicely finished off with a look round the James Hogg Exhibition in the school building next to the Boston Hall, which was specially opened for our party.

It was still a touch ‘Baltic’ on Sunday morning when I went my usual riverside walk near my home in Selkirk. It was however, quite productive with 24 species of bird noted plus a newly arrived migrant, namely common sandpiper.

When they first arrive they are usually quite hard to spot as they concentrate on feeding up after their long journey and are relatively quiet. However, within a couple of days their strident piping call will be heard the length and breadth of the river.

By the afternoon, it had warmed up sufficiently for a trip to Bemersyde House near St Boswells, where the gardens were open as part of Scotland’s Gardens Scheme.

The daffodils were at their golden best and the whole place looked spic and span, having obviously been the subject of a lot of hard work.

Bemersyde consists of a lofty rectangular tower, to which lower, modern extensions have been added at both sides. The original building, which has been a fairly typical Border peel-tower, rises to five storeys and dates from the early 16th century.

The upper storey is a 17th century reconstruction and the walls are very massive, reaching a thickness of 10 feet. There would be a house on this site from very early times, for the Haigs of Bemersyde are a very ancient family, having owned the lands reputedly as early as the 12th century, and the present building may well incorporate portions of an earlier house in its foundations.

In front of the house, as well as some really ancient yews, is the Covin Trysting Tree which is a sweet chestnut and around 800 years old. The tree has long been a feature of Bemersyde, appearing in many paintings of the house including a sketch by Turner, located in the British Museum, London. The tree is thought to have been planted in the 12th century by Petrus de Haga.

Although the original trunk has now died, layers were taken by Earl Haig in the 1950s resulting in several new healthy stems rising from the base.

A fascinating place and well worth a visit (especially on a day when home baking was being served in the tea tent afterwards!).