15 miles 5h 45m 682m ascent; max elevation 305m on Woodheads Hill
What more could we ask for? The Southern Upland Way in sunshine, with riverside and farmland walks, plenty of wild flowers, hawthorn and gorse in bloom, lambs and calves in the fields and a place to sit for lunch. We set off from the car park of Gala swimming pool, walked past the pencil bollards and rejoined the SUW where we had left it last time by Gala woods.
The route to the Tweed took us across the lawn like grass of Scott Park, past a residential home and the entrance to Galashiels Academy. Then the SUW signs guided us along Elm Row and Barr Road, and past houses of gradually increasing size until we left the roads and walked along the slopes of Gala Hill, watched by lambs in the fields.
At a gate where the track meets the fields there is a memorial with the inscription: “Here, Roger Quin, Author of Borderland, Gazed on Scotland’s Eden, from the spur of Gala Hill. This poet playwright and lover of the Borders was born on the 25th June 1850 and died in Dumfries on the 31st July”. We too paused to gaze upon the Scotland’s Eden.
Coming off Gala Hill, past even larger houses we passed a strange contraption built into a wall.
I was expecting to follow the SUW down to the banks of the Tweed but at the A7 we found signs telling us the SUW had been diverted along the A7 and A609. It then dropped down to the Tweed and followed the riverbank along the waymarked Borders Abbey Way until rejoining the original SUW near Skirmish Hill. The original SUW route had been along a tarmac track along the route of an old railway but I think the riverside walk is an improvement. It was particularly pleasant since the sun was shining strongly as we walked in the shade of trees with wildflowers by the path. There was even a double-barrelled kissing gate.
There is an SUW information board a little way before the Chain Bridge at Melrose which has a seat and a grand view of the river tumbling white over rocks. We met a couple of walkers here who like us were walking the SUW a day at a time, but going in the opposite direction.
The Chain Bridge has signs with its year of construction (1826) and warnings that only eight people at a time should be on it. The penalty for contravening various byelaws relating to the bridge is apparently a fine of £2 or imprisonment.
We crossed the bridge taking care not to loiter, climb, intentionally swing, or ride a bicycle, so that we were not imprisoned or fined. Had we thought to bring a light carriage (not exceeding 3cwt) we could have taken it across, by hand, since it was between sunrise and sunset. There was then a further kilometre of riverside walking with ducks and ducklings paddling along beside us. I made the schoolboy error of bending down to let a wee (wet) dog sniff my hand, and had a sample of the River Tweed shaken onto me.
The easy riverside walking soon came to an end and the path took us up to the B6360 and from there up a farm track. We could see a group of walkers ahead of us, the first large group we have seen on the SUW, I think. They were dawdling though, or at least stopping to look at birds, so we overtook them quite soon. There were good views of the Eildons from here but the light was wrong for photos.
The next few miles were across farmland with cattle or sheep. At times we were on hawthorn lined grassy tracks but most of the time was walking through fields. Lunch-time crept up on us and we began looking for a place to stop, ideally in the shade. We eventually came across a couple of stout gate posts, but with no sign of the fence that they must once have been the way through. What there was however was an old stile that we could sit on. The sun eased off for us so we didn’t need any shade.
Our view during lunch was of a small unnamed lochan at NX541381. As I looked at it I realised it was much larger than it seemed with probably only a third of it being open water. I looked on older maps to see if it had a name but it was only marked as a marshy area on them.
After lunch we joined what on the OS map looked like a very straight road. This climbed slowly giving us another view back to the Eildons. I had thought this might be an old Roman Road since it was so straight but walking along it didn’t seem quite as straight. From what I can gather there is some uncertainty about the route the Roman road took between Melrose and Lauder, but the route we took is one of the possibilities.
This section seemed to drag a little and was mostly uphill. A couple of lambs met us on the track near Jeaniefield and behaved much as would expect pups to. Audrey thought they might have been hand-reared but assured me they would still go to market. She’s got farming blood in her that woman.
Eventually we reached Fordswell and left the road to return to walking across farmland. We found an Ultreia marker post but didn’t find the kist. By this time neither of us had the inclination to retrace our steps to search for it.
Somewhat saddened by our kist failure we plodded on through the meadows to Herriotside where after an unwelcome dip, and further climb we turned NW above the Lauder Burn and made our way down to the car park.
I had thought this section would be 13.5 miles, it felt like 16+, but was actually just under 15 miles. The walk along the River Tweed was pleasant but the farmland between Gattonside and Lauder was a bit of a drag. Still, the weather was good to us, the flowers were out, we are 15 miles further along the SUW and have begun the trek fro the Tweed to the North Sea.