I didn’t know how I would spend Saturday, not even as I got ready. Ultimately I decided to head east. Edinburgh is well-connected from Glasgow and from the capital you can get to quite a lot of nice places. On the train from Queen Street, I decided on the Borders. I made a social media post to that effect and very soon after I got a suggestion of where to go. Abbotsford, Walter Scott’s house, was not far from Tweedbank station and ticked a lot of my boxes, history, architecture and books. My original plan was Melrose Abbey but that could wait for a bit. To my eternal discredit I had only been on the Borders Railway once since it had opened. I got on the train in Edinburgh and soon the train passed through gorgeous rolling countryside. One of my favourite bits of Berwickshire is the stretch of the A1 from Cockburnspath to Ayton with lots of trees, prim villages and rolling fields. The Borders Railway from Gorebridge south is much the same and I spent much of the journey just looking and relishing being in such a fine part of the world.
Tweedbank soon came and I found myself in a housing estate. The walking route to Abbotsford led along suburban pavements and by a nice pond with ducks, swans and an Innisfree-esque tree island in the middle. I ended up at a roundabout and naturally I walked the wrong way around it, though soon I came onto the right path towards the visitor centre. The Abbotsford Visitor Centre is a recent creation and I was soon relieved of a tenner for the house tour before being let loose on the exhibition. I half-expected to be irritated but I actually liked it greatly. It didn’t shy away from the rougher bits of Scott’s history, such as his nearly going bankrupt or indeed how he was to some extent a collector of stories and poems much like Burns, and it covered his life in a neat balance of text, images, interactive gadgets and actual, genuine objects and manuscripts.
The foyer at Abbotsford was stuffed full of gear, suits of armour, curiosities and coats of arms. I was handed an audio tour and within seconds realised that some of the wood around the walls came from Dunfermline Abbey, making this a definite link for my Loose Ends series, in which Abbotsford will feature some time in July. I spent the most time in the library, which was beautiful, nicely decorated but not overdone, with views to the Tweed if one was bored with the books. I did think of building a fort and staying just a while but I think they might have noticed at some point. I’m not much fussed with audio tours so I abandoned it after a while, just looking and reading. There was a good exhibition about Scott and JMW Turner, including how Scott didnae trust Turner. They made up in the end. There was also an interesting board talking about when Scott was a sheriff in Selkirk and how he administered the law, contrasting that with his literary interest in outlaws.
A quick turn around the Chapel, which had links to Cardinal Newman (heavily involved in the resurgence of Catholicism in England in the 19th century), and I was back on the road, this time bound for Melrose. Being heavily laden with hay fever, the beautiful sunshine walking by the Tweed was seen through a cloud of snot and tired eyes. It was still lovely, though, even if I cursed the guy going along on his little tractor cutting the grass. I reached Melrose via Darnick and its pretty church. Over the way, by the rugby ground, was the shows and they were busy with folk enjoying the sunshine. It’s a bit weird looking at a grand church with a pop song about not being your homey nor your ho going on the background. Being a sports ground aficionado, I took a polite interest in the rugby ground, what I am advised is called the Greenyards, before walking on to the Abbey.
I’ve been to Melrose Abbey a few times. Dryburgh Abbey edges it for me but Melrose really got me this time. Every little detail as I looked up and round was drunk in, the beautiful day just perfect to take photos, stand and stare. I went up to the tower and looked out over miles, to the fields, hills and the Tweed stretching out both ways, though I couldn’t quite see all of it all the way to Berwick. As I stood there, I thought about where next. I thought about Kelso Abbey but time was against me. The train back to Edinburgh beckoned.
Closer to the capital I thought about where I wanted to eat. I wanted a chippy but wasn’t keen on being back in the city just yet. I ended up on the train to North Berwick and sat down the harbour with a chippy. NB will never be my favourite place in East Lothian – I’m still too much of a Dunbar boy for that – but sitting at the harbour looking over the calm Forth to those islands and the Bass, as I consumed my sausage supper liberally slathered in salt and sauce, I can concede there were many worse places to be. I walked a little way along the beach past the statue of the man with the binoculars. The Bass Rock was white with seabirds and even as the time neared 8pm, the beach still had a few folk on it. I had to think of heading home, a couple of hours still between me and my bed yet.
The trains were quiet thankfully, the perfect antidote to Saturday Night Glasgow, never the most appealing prospect at the best of times. My brain turned from freeform, working on the fly to timetables and concentric city streets, though not for long as I just got myself home, happy for where I had been and the ideas of just where to go next.
Thanks for reading. Walking Talking returns on Wednesday with a post about visiting Glasgow.