Friday, July 04, 2014

the Borders

I'm sure I saw it. I didn't imagine it. Suddenly it crossed my meadow path and then disappeared. The Northern Brown Argus butterfly. Here for only for a few weeks in its great migratory journey. Feeding off of the leaves of the rambler roses (such a sweet fragrance they give!)...

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...drawing nectar from the flowers of the wild thyme.

As I write this, I am eating an excellent little cheese scone, accompanied by great tea at the Old School House cafe in St Abbs, Scotland. I suspected the scone would be good because when I asked after a cafe in this lovely seaside village, an earnest mom and daughter told me to come here and to stop, too, in the room next door to the cafe, as they are holding the weekly market there today and the cheese scones are outstanding.

In Scotland you get this prideful detail when you ask a simple question.

But wait, Scotland? Yes. This day trip is entirely due to the recommendation of my Granary Guest House hosts who put St Abbs on my short list of places to visit when in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Am I ever grateful for that recommendation!

So after breakfast - I asked for porridge this time, which is served here with caramelized bananas...

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...oh, wait one sec -- do you see Penelope there, in the background? She is a mannequin, appropriated from the antiques shop across the street; she is dressed for an English win in the World Cup; now Pam is considering donning her in Scottish garb to cheer the Scots on in their September referendum for independence.

In any case, after a fitting breakfast, I catch my bus to St Abbs in Scotland. A long journey indeed: only a half hour, to cover 13 meandering coastal miles.

As we get deeper into Scotland, the weather changes. I'm not kidding. The rain clouds have been hanging back in Berwick-upon-Tweed, but here, the windshield wipers are working briskly. Well now, I'm having sympathy rains, even as Americans are bracing for East Coast storms this Fourth of July.

It's always a tad strange to be in a country that doesn't react to this date. Dear ones, over in America -- have a happy holiday today!

So here I am in Scotland (they call this region the Borders); now, am I to slog through rain? I'm equipped for it: I have my camping rain jacket (I did not think that in my three weeks in the UK I would escape rain). But before I set out to follow the trail sketched out for me by Dave, my B&B host, I explore the village.

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Starting with a look at the wee market.

Oh what loveliness! The smoked fish...

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And this vendor who insisted I try her charcuterie mutton (from here) even though I explained I am not allowed to carry any back home.

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It was excellent!

And a vendor who sells stuffed things -- pillows and bears and such -- made with Harris tweed.

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And this sweet woman with pink curls who did have a plateful of cheese scones. I asked if she'd sell out if I returned later - she didn't hesitate: Aye, I'll put one away for you, dear, she tells me. Everyone here says "aye" a lot.

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That little scone. That extra mile. Scottish people go there for you.

Alright. The time of decision: do I stay around the village or do I hike?

Oh, I hike, of course. So my pants will get wet. So what. I'm in Scotland! It should be thus! Forge ahead!

St. Abbs is at the edge of Scotland's St Abb's Head Nature Reserve. This is where my hike takes me.

The grasses that edge the path are knee high and it doesn't take long for my pants to become completely soaked. My camera darts for cover constantly and still I cannot keep the drops of rain from the lens. The look back toward the fishing village looks drab indeed.

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But not for long! There seems to be a lessening of drops as I plow my way along the coastal path. And it isn't cold, so that the wetness never really bothers me. And the sights! My kind of walk! Sea to the right...

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...a pastoral landscape to the left.

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And as the path twists into the hills, I see that they are covered with meadow flowers. And too, I see the distinct clumps of Scottish heather. (Needless to say, I'd already passed numerous samples of Scottish thistle: it's as if the land itself is speaking a different dialect here!)

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The sheep are well sheered. Does that make them wool bearers? Or are they tomorrow's charcouterie mutton?

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As I get closer to the light house and the cliffs...

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...I hear that distinct call. It's the shags and the guillemots!

This rocky coast, too, attracts the nesters. Not puffins, but the others are well represented.

I will never get as close to the birds as I did on the island, but as I climb down closer to the shoreline I have a full panoply of black and white birds.

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I come across, too, a small group of Edinburgh artists. Students maybe. They're busy painting or photographing the bird habitat.

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I can't resist asking one to take this photo:

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Perhaps you cant tell, but they used their light reflector to achieve a good light balance. Here they are -- the three art geeks.

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From this point, I follow the path recommended by Dave. Splendid, all of it! Just a few photos for you as I twist around a lake, back through the hills and dales, to alight at the village church again. (Total walk: 3 hours, with only the first part under rainy skies.)

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to the north

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surprisingly, a lake

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verdant meadows

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sheep against a threatening sky

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in a resting position, they're well braced against the strong gusts of wind

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oats and the village church

In the village, I am loyal to my scone baker. And I settle in for my tea and it is lovely, but you already know that.

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After, I have just a few minutes before my return bus. I spend them in the harbor...

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...watching the fishermen bring in the mackerel.

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And in the late afternoon I am back in Berwick-upon-Tweed. I walk at a slow pace now. The street of the Guest House is lined with curious shops carrying antiques, vintage this and thats, teas and chocolates, even a grocer who sells jars and boxes of foods from Poland.

I stop in a shop (Jones and Jones) that has a pretty window display, even as I'm not quite sure if they're an "all things tea" place, or more of an "England of yore"  or perhaps a "country England" venue. I'm not buying much of anything these days, but I still enjoy poking around little shops in a distant land, and so I poke.

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At first I think -- it's lovely here, but I really do not want to spend money so let me just purchase a sweet (because they sell these too) and go.

In the process of paying for the candy, I get to know the owner, Gavin. (Or one half of the ownership, as the second Jones in the partnership is his wife.)

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His is the story that I so often forget exists everywhere, not only in the States. The work that takes you from your homeland (from New Zealand in his case) to a new place (to London then Edinburgh) and eventually, for whatever reason, you make plans to stay. And slowly you move away from your principal professional life to immerse yourself in whatever passion is driving you (for Gavin -- away from IT and into selling interesting English things -- see their website here) and now here you are -- in Berwick-upon-Tweed. It's not terribly different from my story, or that of endless others who have traveled far and then for some undefinable reason, decide never to return home again.

I can't resist asking him if it's easy to adjust to life here. Are the people welcoming?
And here I should tell you that in all that back and forth, when Berwick was tossed from one nation to the other, the people developed (and Gavin speaks of this) a real Berwickian identity. You're not  English, nor Scottish, you're from Berwick-upon-Tweed! There are Berwick families that date back to here a long long time. I suppose moving away is like emigrating from your homeland.

We chat for a long time. (I purchase another item, too. It's a gift from Scotland, even as I am not yet really in Scotland, though if I absolutely cannot stop loving it as much as I do now, I may keep it.) And because Gavin is an ever earnest and helpful person, he writes down the names of two gardens in Scotland that he thinks I may enjoy visiting. I cannot do it this time -- they are rather remote, but you can be sure that my next UK trip will include them.

For dinner, I return to Audela's. They have a Berwick crab salad as a starter that sounds perfect and I add to it a small cheese and leek souffle with an apple salad at the side. Mostly, they have the comfort of familiarity and lots of space, so that I can eat, yes, of course, but too, work on my post a little, because last night's past midnight finish just wont do for two nights in a row.

And so you wont be surprised that when I look outside afterwards and see a tempting sunset sky, I resist the impulse to chase it with my camera. I'm home for the night. In my Berwick-upon-Tweed room. In England, after a short time in Scotland. In a place that is neither, though a little bit of both.

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