Sunday, 6 February 2011

The John Buchan Way

In the old days, forty-plus years ago, there was the Pennine Way. This was Britain's first official long distance path (LDP), and was followed by the likes of the Cornwall Coastal Path and, in 1980, the West Highland Way. Further LDPs followed in England, with its tradition of restricted access to the countryside, but in Scotland there was not the same demand. The longer, harder, and less scenic Southern Upland Way followed the West Highland Way in 1984, and the gentler Speyside Way in 1981. For a long time this trio were the only official long distance footpaths in Scotland, and, like Beyoncé after the split of Destiny's Child, only the West Highland Way enjoyed any popularity. Scots, with their tradition and laws of being able to wander where they please, largely shunned LDPs in favour of the Munros or, for those more disposed to wanderlust, the grand stravaig.

On the John Buchan Way:

Thus the explosion of official and semi-official LDPs in Scotland is a recent phenomenon. Local tourist boards and councils, having seen the business the West Highland Way has brought places like Tyndrum, Kinlochleven and Fort William, are keen to offer something similar themselves. It is hard today to open a map and not see a path going somewhere: from better known routes like the Great Glen Way, Cateran Trail, or Fife Coastal Path; to the lesser known delights of the Cowal Way, West Island Way in Bute, the Rob Roy Trail or the St Cuthbert Way from Melrose to Lindisfarne.

Recently, on a drab weekend, for fresh air we visited Peebles and the John Buchan Way. This is a new one for me. It goes from Peebles to Broughton, and can be walked comfortably in a day. Peebles might not be the first place that comes to mind when considering John Buchan, author of The Thirty Nine Steps, Witchwood, and former Governer of Canada, but apparently an association there is.

The hills around Glensax from Cademuir Hill:

The Way is signposted after the bridge over the Tweed in Peebles, but our attention was immediately caught by activity in the river. Salmon were spawning, right underneath the bridge! These huge fish, up to two feet long, were mesmerising. I was surprised to see no anglers. After watching the salmon for a while, we wandered up through douce estates, the air sharp and fresh, collecting fallen twigs for kindling. Eventually the path leads onto open hillside on Cademuir Hill, home of a couple of hillforts. There is not much to see on the ground, but we detoured off the Way in order to have a look at the second and more impressive of the hillforts.

Prehistoric hillfort on Cademuir Hill:

This area is littered with hillforts and prehistoric mounds. Despite its hilliness, it must have been densely populated in the iron age and earlier. Was it as windy, icy and chilly up here then as it was on our walk today?

We decided that, rather than continue along the Way to Stobo, we would return to Peebles in a circular walk. This took us along the brawling Manor water, full of dippers, and back to the Tweed. The river here is clear, green, fast-flowing, and full of salmon. Some dead fish lay upturned in the shallows. The highlight was seeing an adult salmon first jump out the water for a look, then tailwalk for a good two seconds. We followed the Tweed under the walls of Neidpath Castle all the way back into the centre of Peebles.

Neidpath Castle and the Tweed:

The Tweedside Way would be another great idea for an LDP. I've walked part of the Tweed previously, and it is a handsome river. In fact, canoeing the river from Tweedsmuir to sea, so long as you didn't disturb the salmon, appeals strongly...


RamblingTart said...

Wow - what a wonderful, albeit frigid, walk. :-) John Buchan is one of my favorite authors of all time. :-)

russell said...

Looks a great walk, Robert. Hope I'm not being a smart Alec but John Buchan was Lord Tweedsmuir and spent a lot of his childhood with his grandparents in Broughton. - Thus the John Buchan connection with the area. Russell.

Robert Craig said...

Thanks Russell, that's just the kind of thing I was wondering. I should probably read a biography of Buchan - he led an interesting life it seems.

Robert Craig said...

Since writing this post I've learnt of several new Ways, in the Loch Lomond NP - they're a growth industry!