30th July 2023: Innerleithen to Galashiels – 15.0 miles
I needed to use my ear plugs again last night. Not church bells this time, but random and very noisy pipes, which would click loudly for a couple of minutes every now and again. I knew for a fact that they’d either wake me, or keep me awake in the night, so although they aren’t very comfortable, I opted for the ear plugs. They seemed to work well enough and slept through until about 5am and then dozed for a bit. I could hear the rain on my bedroom window and the cars driving through puddles on the road – I wasn’t going to be as lucky today I didn’t think.
The best thing I can say about Caddon View is that Steve is a great host, and the breakfast is excellent, albeit a little on the small side. I had the dining room to myself when I arrived just before 8am and Steve took my order – cooked breakfast, hold the veg. The ingredients were good quality, but I only got a single sausage and one rasher of bacon, two fried eggs and a slice of black pudding rounded out the meal. All lovely, but more bacon would have been good, and an extra sausage! I filled up on toast and drained the tea pot, before heading back to my tiny room.
I’d done most of my packing already and finished what was left fairly quickly and efficiently. My socks had dried out and Steve returned my boots from the boiler cupboard and they were dry too, although I doubted they’d stay that way for very long. It is nice to start out in dry socks and boots though. As I put my boots on I noticed a distinct pain on the outside of my right foot, where the top of my boot meets the knobbly bit of my ankle. I’d had a twinge there at the end of the walk yesterday, but not thought anything of it, but it now feels like I’ve done something to it. I took my usual walking painkiller cocktail of ParaProfen and left the right boot a little loose at the top, missing out the top lace eyelet.
I paid up and made my way out into the rain. I started out in baselayer and coat, with my fleece towards the top of the pack, as I fully expected to need its warmth later. The walk back through town and across the bridge over the Tweed served as a much better walk-in than yesterday, and warmed me up for the stiff climb to come. Back in 2021 when I’d walked the Cross Borders Drove Road, I’d picked an alternative start that avoided the road walking back to the official CBDR (and Southern Upland Way) route. I’d decided to use the same route again as it worked out just fine last time. It follows a series of push up routes that mountain bikers use to get to the top of their downhill routes. The Seven Stanes is a popular and famous series of MTB routes, one of which runs up behind Innerleithen.
I arrived at the car park at the bottom of the town and it was already packed with vehicles and bikers getting ready for the day. It was pissing down but it didn’t seem to dampening anyone’s spirits in the car park, there was plenty of banter going on. I walked through and onto the first push up, and much to my surprise, in complete solitude. In fact I didn’t see a single biker all day – I didn’t see a soul until about 4 miles outside Galashiels. I followed the bike trails for a couple of miles, firstly quite steeply but then the gradient eased as I joined one of the wide forest tracks. After a couple of miles I rejoined the official CBDR and SUW route. I spotted one of the elusive CBDR way markers, and felt a pang of nostalgia for that lovely walk.
Rejoining the Southern Upland Way also meant the path narrowed significantly and also became much steeper, climbing between low shrubs that lined the path on both sides and were often hanging across the track. It was still raining, more steadily than torrential, but a cold wind was accompanying it so I was hunched inside my jacket with my head down, just plodding out the miles. I’d put my headphones in as I Ieft the town, figuring that an audiobook would help take my mind off the miserable weather. I’ve started a series of Roman historical fiction novels by Ian Ross, and really enjoyed the one I listened to for nearly all of today’s walk.
I passed the Resolution Point, they still haven’t replaced the viewer, so I didn’t stop at the bench as I did when I walked the CBDR, just pressed on along the track. There’s a kist here and I’d collected the waymerk when I found it in 2021, so didn’t waste any time searching it out again today. The path along this section had become very squelchy, which was a nice change for a Scottish Great Trail and as my feet were already soaked from the low heather I’d brushed through on my way up the hill, I just ploughed through the mud and puddles. Today I would normally be walking with my granddaughter. When she comes round on a Sunday we go for a walk or she takes her balance bike and I try and keep up with her. She’s a bugger for a muddy puddle though and she’ll cycle through them, drop her bike, come back and splash her feet in it, then go back and get on her bike and seek out the next one. I had a moment of homesickness, a little melancholia at missing seeing her today and then I was back in my stride and looking for the next puddle.
There’s plenty of heather out on Minch Moor, but the colours were muted and I actually got more enjoyment from watching the mist swirling out of the pines and cutting back and forth across the path ahead of me. The long views were somewhat restricted by the mist, but closer up it seemed to enhance the bleakness and desolation of the path across the moor. Ever since leaving the car park at Innerleithen I’d been seeing plastic tape streamers attached to the branches of trees and for a while I’d been counting numbered, yellow marker posts which seemed to be marking each kilometre along the trail. It looks like they relate to a UCI event next week (2023 UCI Cycling World Championships). I was damned glad it wasn’t going on today, it followed the Southern Upland Way all the way from Resolution Point to the Three Brethren and I’d have been dodging bikes all day. The paths are so thin in places that I’d have had to be walking in the heather beside the path to avoid being run over. Seems a strange choice of trail to use for such a high profile event, one that will inevitably be shared by walkers, getting in their way. Having said that I’ve not seen a single Southern Upland Way walker so far, or any other walker for that matter, so maybe there won’t be any conflict at all.
I passed the point where the CBDR heads south, and just as in 2021, I continued along the Southern Upland Way. Just beyond, the path drops down from Brown Knowe, into a green dell, marked as Four Lords Land on the OS map. I’d stopped here in 2021, but today I was cold and found no shelter from the wind at the stile where I’d sat 2 years ago. The path now rounds the lower slopes of Broomy Law, a lovely stretch of walking, but despite the views and pleasant path, I was still cold and the balls of my feet were beginning to feel quite sore.
I pressed on, beginning to feel tired and knew I had to stop soon, even if I was cold. As the path leaves Broomy Law, it soon rejoins the edge of the forest and I remembered seeing a bench here, in fact I’d probably stopped at it – the weather on the CBDR, in 2021, had been much more conducive to frequent stops. I reckoned it was worth using the bench while I had one, rather than trying to find a sheltered spot and sit on the ground later. Sure enough, just beyond the next gate I found the bench and stopped. I had a couple of Tunnocks Caramel Wafers, washed down with some juice and as much as I wanted to take my boots off and massage my feet I figured it was probably better to just press on and try and finish the day.
I only stopped briefly at the Three Brethren, just long enough to take a couple of photos of the trig point and the cairns, and then it was down the hill to the junction of paths beside Little Crib. So far today if been retracing my steps from 2021, now I was going to be covering new ground.
I followed a cracking path between the trees along Red Score Nick, crossing a forest road and then continuing downhill, steeply in places, along a needle-strewn path. I startled a lone female dog walker who was walking up the path towards me, head down (like me) trying to avoid the rain. I apologised and joined much thinner path, muddy and very slippery path, encroached by bracken on both sides. My trousers were now soaked through completely, as were my socks, but I didn’t care any more. It was sheltered along these paths and the surrounding trees were cutting out the wind and I was feeling much warmer.
I followed a short stretch of tarmac over an impressive old bridge, hung with some sort of hessian sacking, and then past the buildings at Fairnilee and on to the final climb of the day. It was here, as I was puffing up a steep farm track that I met a couple of walkers. I nodded and said ‘hello’ and the guy stopped and said something, so I removed my headphones and we chatted for a minute. They were backpacking the Southern Upland Way and hoping (but not expecting) to reach Innerleithen today. It was probably 10 miles for them and it was already almost 1pm – I told them I’d not seen many good camping places but they were happy enough and the lady said she was sure they find something when the time came. They were obviously quite experienced and we said our farewells and I pushed on up the hill.
The next couple of miles is through fields, and I had to shoo a huge herd of cows and calves from a gate. They didn’t want to move, and I wondered if they’d followed the couple I’d just passed, as far as the gate and then laid their ambush for the next unwary passer-by. With a fair bit of shouting and waving of arms I moved them – in fact they responded better than the bloody flies I’d been trying to shoo away yesterday. A mile or so later on and I had a bit of a titter as I was walking towards a field gate and watched several blokes in four wheel drive vehicles trying to open the obviously very stuck gate. They had guns slung over their shoulders, so they were off to shoot something or other I guess. I used the stile beside the gate to cross over, and said my hellos as they struggled with the gate release. One of the guys got a hammer from the back of his pickup and started whacking the thing, which seemed to work as they were all through when I looked back a couple of minutes later.
I dropped down through one final short stretch of woodland before reaching the outskirts of Galashiels. I will admit to taking a shortcut here. Rather than following the Southern Upland Way around the back of the Academy (on the map) I followed the road beside Gala Hill and cut out a small loop of the route. I was knackered, I was cold, my feet were sore and I knew if I moved quickly enough, I could catch the bus into Melrose!
On a Sunday, there’s a bus every hour at 10 past the hour, from a bus stop outside the fire station, about 100 yards from the SUW path. It’s about 3.5 miles from this point, to my hotel for the night, in Melrose. When I set out this morning, I’d decided that if it was still raining (and it was) and I needed to wait less than 15 minutes (which I did… well, almost) then I would catch the bus. It was 13:53 when I arrived at the bus stop and the bus was due at 14:09 (I wasn’t going to quibble with myself over 1 minute!). It stopped raining while I was huddling under the pitiful shelter and when it arrived, the bus was packed. I got almost the last seat and flopped gracelessly into it. The bus arrived in Melrose 20 minutes later.
I got off at a stop right outside the Spar and went in to collect some supplies, before heading for my hotel. I was greeted with a warm welcome and shown to a tidy room with a double bed (no footboard). I’ve since had a brilliantly hot shower, been down for a couple of pints of Old Speckled Hen, a pint of Diet Coke and an excellent gammon steak and chips.
Every piece of clothing I was wearing today is soaked! The room has a Corby trouser press in it, so my socks are currently drying out (I hope) in there. In fact I’ve just checked on them and although they’re piping hot, they don’t seem to be any drier than they were an hour ago when they went in. Oh well, at least my trousers are dry!
I’ve not yet decided what to do in the morning. I should get the bus back to Galashiels and continue from there, but if it’s pissing down (as the forecast suggests it probably will be) then I may be tempted to skip the urban section and just head for Lauder. It will save me 3.5 miles (probably an hour and 20 minutes), but will leave a big gap in my tracklog, so I’ll have that debate with myself in the cold, wet light of tomorrow morning!
My room stinks of hot, wet socks ????