It's been a long while since our hillwalking trio, myself, Pauline and Andrew, had a wander in the landscape of Scotland. In fact, it's well over a year, so, last weekend we hopped on the three-carriage train to Tweedbank in the Borders.
A Short 20 minute walk brought us into the famous rugby village of Melrose, the starting point for our walk. The town's humble beginnings were as a monastery way back, and in the middle ages it was re-built in its current site, the now famous Melrose Abbey. Originally it had gone by the name of Mailros, meaning The Bare Peninisula, and is referred to in Anglo Saxon writings as Magilros. When the monastery was rebuilt they symbolically represented the old name with a masons hammer, a Mel, and the Cistercian abbey symbol of the Virgin Mary, a Rose, hence, Melrose.
The monastic ruin of the Abbey is the location of the burial, in a sealed lead casket, of the heart of Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland.
Our walk today started with a short, but very muddy, ramble up the adjacent Eildon Hills, a close collection of three distinct points.
It was two steps forward and one back, although more of a slide back than a step, as we tried to keep upright through the sticky red clay underfoot. It wasn't until we reached the saddle between two of the peaks that we left behind the squelchy quagmire. The annual hill run across the Eildons had just passed through, and the pounding feet of a hundred runners hadn't helped conditions. How they had managed to run on that surface though beat me.
We decided to walk only two of the three tops, and as the sun broke through, we headed east for top number two. Coming down from here was an adventure. I found my skiing balance skills were more useful than any hillwalking fitness, as the clay path became smooth and polished with all those before that had negotiated this way down. Still sticky underfoot, it clogged up the soles of our boots and left us with no grip. It sounds rubbish, but actually it was an hilarious hour, as Andrew and I gingerly picked our way down, mostly through jaggy gorse. Pauline on the other hand, had used her Ninja skills and had seemingly floated down unscathed. We met up again at the base for a rest and lunch, and shared our stories of treacherous paths and the close decision of calling mountain rescue.
Folklore tells of fairies below the Eildon Hills, and famously of one 13th Century Scottish Laird, Thomas Rhymer, written about, as well as by others, by Sir Walter Scott. A little further on from our lunch stop, at the point where we popped out onto tarmac road, is a stone tablet, erected in 1929, inscribed with the tale of Rhymer. He had a reputation for prophesy and supernatural powers, and famously prophesied the death of Alexander III. It is said that it was at the site of the stone that he met the Fairy Queen of the Eildons on a "milky white horse". Sir Walter Scott writes that the Queen dared Thomas to kiss her and go away with her for seven years.
Happy with underfoot now firm, and free of sticky clay, we set off in search of the main historical landmark of the day, named after the Three Hills of the Eildons, Trimontium, the largest northern fort of the Roman army.
Built around AD80, at its height it held 1500 soldiers, and became the main stepping off point for Rome's push into the north. Information boards circle this vast area, and one shows an aerial photograph, taken in the time of a drought in the 1980s, where you can clearly see the outline of the fort. 2000 years later!
Buckets of imagination are needed to picture the scene as it must have been, as now it is all agricultural plowed fields.The information boards help, and we all left with a strong feeling that this significantly important place should be properly excavated and opened to the public. It would become a World renowned archaeological site. Amazing treasures have been unearthed, as recently as 1905, 1947 and the early 1980s, from small digs carried out. Imagine what we might find with a full excavation.
At the far end of the Roman site is the modern day viaduct that once carried the railway line. It runs parallel to the old Roman road called Dere Street, that leads away from Trimontium north.
From here we turned south to continue our circuit of the fort, wandering along the disused railway line leading from the viaduct, through a tunnel of trees.
One fascinating item for me was a stone pillar milestone. Replaced by a modern marble replica, an original sits in the Museum of Scotland now. Sited on the corner of the fringes of the fort, all distances north, measured in 1000 Roman soldier steps, began from the one milestone pillar. It inspired me to visit the museum to see the original, found near modern day Aberdeen and mentions the distance from Trimontium.
Our day ended with a wander past the ruins of Melrose Abbey, followed by a trio of lattes in a newly revamped coffee shop called the Greenhouse cafe in the centre of Melrose, with views to the abbey.