Saturday, August 13, 2016

finding flowers

I did not come to Scotland in search of flowers. I could have: there are fine gardens sprinkled throughout the south. I saw some of them last year. But for the most part, visiting gardens means renting a car and I got very stubborn on not doing this on my three days in the Borders.

So what to see on this day of unstable weather? I opt for visiting "the sights" -- places of historical and architectural significance. Ones you'd find in guide books. I don't usually follow such imperatives, but there are several tempting factors: one rather quick bus ride puts me at the gate of one such sight and I can hike to the next one, then back again, forming a rather nice loop that again puts me by the River Tweed, but at a different part of it. And I would be taking on a segment of the Southern Upland Way. Finally, I would be near towns (rather than in the desolate and intimidating hills) in case the weather turned really awful.

I linger just a little after breakfast. The English guests I met yesterday are getting ready to return home (and university for the son) and we fall right back into the easy camaraderie that somehow this unlikely group of the three of us took on last night.

But I dare not linger too long. Insofar as there's decent hiking weather today, it's skewed toward the earlier hours.

I catch the 10:17 to Melrose.

Now, there is Melrose the town and then there is Melrose the Abbey, founded in the 12th century by the Cistercian monks. I wont give you a lesson on the Cisterian order -- about their lives of austerity, field labor, self sufficiency, about their enormous influence on the marketing of woolens from this area -- there's plenty there for an interested person, but I try not to get too text-bookish here, on Ocean.

But let's get back to Melrose the town, because that's where the bus dropped me off. Of all the Border towns, I found this one to be one of the prettiest.


It's small (pop.1600), but vibrant, obviously aided tremendously by the presence of the Abbey. It doesn't exactly draw crowds (maybe a dozen visitors were milling about the Abbey when I was there), but enough people do come here and Melrose responds with a smile.


Now the Abbey. Again, there are the random bits of information that I think you might find interesting: lots of kings are buried here, including Alexander II and Robert the Bruce. (Well, let's be accurate -- just the heart of Robert the Bruce.)  The building itself is in ruins, but it's imposing nonetheless. Take a look:


(People especially are smitten with the gargoyles, and especially with the bagpipe playing pig.)


I walk around the grounds for a bit, but not for too long. I have other fish to fry today.

In walking toward the River Tweed to pick up my trail, I come across a walled garden. I had no idea it was here and it seems neither does anyone else, as I am the sole visitor.




They're lovely! You know of course that I am just coming off of my own growing season at the farmette and I admit to a pang of jealousy because here, the weather is wet and cool and so plants that have already retreated back home are still going strong here. From a gardener's perspective, it's beastly unfair that this far northern country should have a shorter winter, a cooler summer, with lots of sprinkles thrown into it. On the other hand, from the perspective of the visitor, a steady diet of rain can be a challenge. But, this morning there's no rain and I am in the midst of a beautiful garden so I am feeling plenty satisfied!


And now I really do want to find the trail. I refuse to get distracted (well, I do pass a shop with a great Christmas gift idea, but that's a shhhh! for now).

Here we go: the River Tweed.


The river path is just gorgeous! You'll understand why momentarily. First, I want to record the siting of the suspension bridge.


And now the river banks:


However did Scotland get such lovely wild flowers along the river's edge?


Stunningly lovely!


(A heron again...)


(And always the rosebay willow herb...)


Walk along with me for a bit more -- I can't let go of them!


But eventually (perhaps five miles down the river) I reach my second destination for the day -- Abbottsford House -- the home of the writer and poet Sir Walter Scott.

Over a handful of years, Scott built this baronial mansion and added collections of armor, a library, art work -- the usual accoutrements of fine living of the time. (His prosperity was an on again off again thing, but the house surely is one of the finest in southern Scotland.)


As I enter the grounds, I'm aware of the fact that there are gardens, but the grounds in general are so well tended that it's not clear if this, perhaps is what they mean by gardens.

But I search for more.

And I find them -- the walled gardens to the side that are so easy to miss.


And they are just sublime!


I smile as I walk through them because in many ways they share some of the misery of abundance and growth and the passage of time. But again, while my fields are teetering toward a conclusion, these are still in many ways in their prime.


I spend a while here. It's beautiful and it's familiar turf and the colors are bewitching.  And the gardens frame the mansion in the most perfect way.


(With  a touch of whimsy...)


(And a note of seriousness...)


I do go inside the house and it is impressive, but I offer no photos of it. I put away my camera in favor of wandering from room to room and thinking about the lawyer turned writer who resided inside. I'm not especially drawn to historical fiction, but Scott's went far beyond the ordinary. Who else would have Scotland's premier railway station (Waverly in Edinburgh) named after his or her novel?

I'm outside again, completely satisfied with my visit here. And then I look back at the gentle hills that just a while ago were so plainly visible behind the mansion. Were did they go?

Ah, they are blanketed in rain bearing clouds.

The ladies at the gift shop more than once offer to call a cab for me, but I resist this easy way out. It's not the expense (6 pounds in the scheme of things isn't a huge sum to pay to get yourself out of a pickle), but the fact that it seems a poor way to end an adventure.

And so I walk back to Melrose -- not along the river bank, but cutting across farmlands to shorten the hike somewhat.

(Is this road big enough for the both of us?)


But it is a wet trek back. I have my rain jacket, I take out my little umbrella, but you know how rain is -- it creeps in sideways and sometimes in an upside down fashion and finds its way into most everything that touches your body. (The cows agree and therefore they dispense with such nonsense as umbrellas and rain jackets.)


(The horses share in my travails.)


In Melrose, I catch the warm bus back to the Inn, where a warm radiator sets things right again.

Dinner at the Inn is different tonight. Oh, it's the same good kitchen work -- with beets, a fish plate and well prepared venison -- but the crowd has changed. There is an Italian couple -- traveling for two weeks now in Scotland and having had only two days without rain. And there are two Scottish couples -- one visiting from Aberdeen and the other -- local people from Peebles who have come for dinner.

At first, it is a silent meal and I am reminded of the quiet restaurants of the UK that always seem a tad forbidding. But when I hear that the two diners are from Peebles, I have a question for them about their town and it very quickly leads to an admission on their part that they're grandparents (of many children), which opens up the Aberdeen table -- because lo, they're grandparents as well and from there, well you can imagine -- things turn lively.

Just one photo of the first dish (beets with whipped goat cheese), to give a sense of the dining environment:


And this morning, almost like a replay of yesterday, I wake up to a changing sky, only this time we start with the mist...


... and within the hour, proceed to a dazzling sky that I think only Scotland can deliver.


(Leaning out to look east...)


Will it be a fine day? Oh, most certainly. Let's start with a good breakfast...


After -- stuff the back pack with an umbrella and rain jacket and head out!


  1. Great to see flower photos... you have a wonderful eye for them!

  2. SOOO peaceful. and gardens appreciate a cloudy day. I think of them as resting. and they love having their picture taken :)


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