To Cumbrae and back through the Scottish borderlands

Last Monday we left our home near Berwick and drove over the country to the Scottish west coast, roughly on exactly the same longitude as our home in England. It has always fascinated me that we are so close, have so much in common … and yet are so different.To our delight, whilst English Berwick on the east coast was bitterly cold, Cumbrae, in Scotland on the west of the UK, was sky-blue – shorts and sandals weather! We waited for the ferry to take us from Largs to the Isle of Cumbrae.Our visit to the Isle of Cumbrae was prompted by my wish to visit West Kilbride and some very talented Scottish craftswomen there.  Stephen was tasked with finding us somewhere to stay in the locality … and he came up with the College of the Holy Spirit, which adjoins the Cathedral of the Isles on Cumbrae.These establishments were designed by William Butterfield in 1851, at the request of the 6th Earl of Glasgow, George Frederick Boyle. Boyle was an enthusiast of the Oxford Movement, believing in the reinstatement of older Christian traditions.  He wanted the College to train priests for the Episcopal Church – perhaps like the men enjoying the College grounds in this old print below.Alas, Boyle, an enormously generous and devout man (he was also pouring money into the building of Perth Cathedral at this time) depended too much perhaps on divine providence – Dominus Providebit (God will provide) is the Boyle family motto – and went bankrupt in 1885.Luckily the College Chapel had been consecrated as Cathedral for the Scottish Episcopal Church United Diocese of Argyll & The Isles in 1876, so the Diocese was already responsible for these buildings.

The Cathedral Spire towers over the island, even when glimpsed from the hills above.We first glimpsed it through the trees. You get an idea of Butterfield’s original concept from this drawing that appeared on the front of “Butterfield Revisited”, edited by Peter Howell and Andrew Saint, and published by the Victorian Society. The Cathedral stands proud, surrounded by manicured lawns, with a young avenue of lime trees.That’s not how it is now!  The Diocese may have funded the Cathedral buildings, but there was no money to pay for garden upkeep.

By a magical transformation, those uncared gardens have become wild and more beautiful than one could imagine. Trees have grown up everywhere – the lime avenue is enormous. Underneath the trees, are masses and masses of flowering ramsons (wild garlic).The fine lawn banks host bluebells as well as the ramsons.I do so hope George Boyle is not turning in his grave as he contemplates the changed garden!  He is indeed buried here – in the large flat tomb in the foreground of this picture. He must have loved this place very much. It is extraordinary to find such buildings on such a tiny island. Butterfield’s vision of this small group of buildings is harmonious and elegant.  Here you have the windows of the Lady Chapel, the Cathedral and the Refectory – all varied in pattern and size, but united in stone and form. And look how very deftly Butterfield has highlighted the Cathedral window with the descending dove of the Holy Spirit above it.We stayed in the North College which had once housed the choristers. Our room was the upper left hand window, set amidst the tiles.  We had the place to ourselves for the first couple of nights, and after that only another couple came and stayed at the other end of the building. It was extraordinary!The rooms are called after Christian virtues.  Ours was Fortitude ……hmmm.Inside was all dark wood and heavy carving. The corridor …The fireplace in our bedroom ….. huge and cumbersome!The common room …What I didn’t like was the inside of the Cathedral.  It looks OK from here …But once you go up into the Chancel, you get tile madness!  I don’t care for the Victorian tones of green and brown anyhow, but, that to the side, it looks to me as though some student was told to see what variety of patterns they could come up to fill the space available. It’s truly tile pattern madness!Sometimes we joined Warden Amanda and Lay Chaplain Alastair for morning and evening prayers – quiet and peaceful, though the Scottish rite (just slightly different from the Anglican one we know) caught us out a bit …Outside the calm inner sanctuary lurked danger … In the evenings we explored Millport.  I don’t think the authorities meant us to take this image away with us ….And we chuckled at this …..There are lots of boarded up properties round Millport, looking just a little bit sad and unloved … Masses of rabbits everywhere … (not an easy place to be a gardener, I guess) …Including several black ones (or was it the same one and it just got round a lot?)  …After our evening walks, we went back to the College and lowered the ecclesiastical tone, sitting in the warm, evening sunshine with a bottle of wine …The road round Cumbrae is perfect for cyclists of all ages.  This looks like a 1960s group setting out to enjoy a bicycle ride en famille.You can hire all sorts of cycles …We hired two quite ordinary bikes to get round the island.  This was extremely brave of me since I haven’t been on a bike for well over 15 years.  It was a glorious ride, and despite much moaning on my part (the seat was horribly uncomfortable), it was a wonderful experience.Picnic lunch and an opportunity to enjoy the view of the islands of Bute and Arran (grey and lowering in the far distance).I don’t think I have ever seen a war memorial as powerful as this. It is dedicated to the men and women of the British and Allied forces who have no known grave.After our bicycle tour of the island, we spent a couple of days on the mainland about West Kilbride. I got to do the workshop that I have longed to do for so long with lovely Lorna of Chookiebirdie.  We spent an entire day sewing together …. Oh, just look at this sewing heaven!Lorna was teaching me to make paisley botehs like these ones of hers.And I was so thrilled with what I made that I have only just stopped carrying it round with me!Another day I finally got to visit Old Maiden Aunt’s yarn shop in West Kilbride – somewhere else I’ve longed to go to for ages! So many gorgeous colours.  And we got to peak into her dye studio too. As an amateur dyer, it’s fascinating for me to see her professional systems – though perhaps the multi-coloured spatters behind the pots is the give away that Lilith herself might not call it that …I have to confess that I find yarn buying overwhelming.  I may have decided that I am going to make a green scarf, and need green wool, but when I see the yarns available, all my carefully thought out plans go awry.  This is what we came away with – all lovely stuff, but not a lot of green, and certainly not the grassy-greens I had in mind …At the Barony in West Kilbride we found an amazing exhibition of Radical Craft. Doesn’t this Landfill Tantrum by Pinkie MacLure just say all you really long to say about waste and rubbish and pollution?!!Who could not love Rosemary McLeish’s What I Do When I Don’t Do The Ironing ?! Dedicated I think to all those who hate this chore …But the pièces de résistance for me were these two works paying homage (as it were) to Angus McPhee.  They were both made by Joanne B Kaar – the boots are copies of Angus McPhee’s orginal boots (those too fragile to be exhibited now) and she made the hats in the spirit of his work. I came upon the story of Angus McPhee from Donnie Monro’s song, Weaver of Grass.  As far as I can see the pop song world is dominated by mostly saccharine love songs, so  it amazes and delights me to hear such a glorious song about a mentally ill man. Perhaps it is really a love song in another guise …..

Time then to say goodbye to the little Isle of Cumbrae. The weather was changing as we headed back to Largs …On to sunny Sanquhar – another place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time because of their famous knitting designs.  The little Tolbooth Museum there is a gem …Holding information about and examples of lots of historic Sanquhar knitting patterns …..We were also interested in the displays there about the local brickworks.As it happens, we have a small collection of lettered bricks.  This started with us finding them on our local beach at Spittal.  There is an entire history of northern English and Scottish collieries and brickworks to be revealed from those names.  Luckily the lovely museum attendant at the Tolbooth Musuem knew just where to send us!And so we found ourselves quite unexpectedly rooting around the old Sanquhar brickworks.There were the sad remnants of the buildings ….And we found a brick or two …..Most poignantly, Clarks Little Ark, an animal rescue shelter at this site, have constructed a memorial wall of the old bricks for those dear ones they have lost.Finally our last stop in Sanquhar, the Euchanfoot B & B – and, yes – would you believe it! – more bricks!  (along with a very comfortable room and delicious breakfast).Norma, our lovely hostess, explained that the collapsed old mill buildings which stood at the end of her garden were now just a pile of local bricks.  So there we were, brick-foraging again ….Time to go home – perhaps crawl would be a better description for our heavily-brick-laden car. The weather got nastier and nastier as we travelled up through the Lowther hills …Still extraordinarily beautiful ….We had decided to travel back via the source of the River Tweed, high up in the Lowther Hills. There, masked in the mist and murk, we found this sign. From this point, a tiny stream and all the little tributaries that run into it flow eastwards to where it meets the sea on Spittal beach.This is an iconic spot to many (including us) because it is a great river. Appropriately there is a finely ornamented stone, incorporating words that speak off the Tweed: “it is one of Britain’s cleanest rivers …”Sadly, it was not a clean site.  The rubbish was disgusting and a terrible reflection on lazy, casual visitors. I have an uncomfortable idea that people feel they have license to behave so because Dumfries and Galloway council have not provided a litter bin ….Oh dear, what a negative way to end a great holiday!  So I won’t.  As we travelled through the Borders, the sun shone through the damp leaves, and we slowed down to enjoy the wonderful countryside …. and an antique Rolls Royce … Festina Lente!

In defence of the humble seagull

The local press is full of shock horror stories about the modern devils of the high street: the seagull.Apparently some one in Berwick has taken to shooting them, and our local MP is warning against such vigilante action.  I have to agree with those who write about the disgusting mess the seagulls leave in our towns and cities. A brief walk around sunny Berwick a week or so ago, left that in no doubt. Would you want to sit here?Other councils are talking of handing out hefty fines (£80!!) for those who feed these high street pests.  There is no doubt that the seagull does have a sharp eye for rubbish!A recent walk around Berwick revealed another world high up above all the human busyness … a world of watchers and waiters … waiting to swoop presumably for that tasty morsel …However, we are lucky because we see another side of the gull story. And just at the moment I’m missing them.

One of the pleasures of the slower wintry days has been field-watching. These fields, looking south towards Scremerston and over the coast towards Holy Island, are very familiar to us now. Here, after heavy rain last November, you can see the old parish boundary marking the borders of the Municipal Borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed. It reappears in the form of the curved waterway running over the field between the two larger ponds.The ponds lingered – and came and went.  As did the gulls. Sometimes there’s just a solitary gull …More often there’s a host of gulls arriving …and working the field …There are visitors too on the far pond …They come and go …Now the fields have dried up and the winter crops are growing so these visitors have gone …Not entirely. A solitary gull has been known to come and eat at our table …Leaving in haste, when sighted! They are funny birds to watch close up because their descent and take-off can be so very clumsy.We don’t have to go far to see the gulls on the beach. Just how glorious can they be when sighted in feeding frenzy as on this cold winter’s day several years ago.An everyday walk down to the Tweed shows them speckled over the river …Sometimes you see a little more besides …They have a talent for striking the stylish pose – always good at finding a fine vantage point.And they can be hilariously funny too.  One summer we watched this young greedy gull pester its parent for food …The parent gave way, fed the baby bird (aren’t they the ugliest babies you have ever seen?!!) …And then tried to leg it as the youngster begged for more …We’ve also seen harsh reminders on the beach that life for the gull can be all too nasty, brutish and short …Part of our beach treasure collection at home is this seagull “crown” …We think it belonged to a seagull chick or fledgling that was unfortunate enough to meet a raptor very early in its life. The underside is soft downy feathers and fragile bone.The cats love playing with it … just check out this natural born killer … those claws!Perhaps the best time to enjoy gulls is when they plough the fields – more often in the autumn round us than the spring.Aaaah – the light on those wings as they scramble to follow the plough!If you’re of a certain age (as I most definitely am), you’ll recall Richard Bach’s book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. In very very brief, it’s the story of one particular gull’s striving for perfection in flight.It’s about soaring, swooping gloriously above …Catching those perfect thermals …About exhilaration …About freedom …I love Jonathan Tulloch’s description of seagulls as “raggedy angels”. Writing of his stay in a Birmingham hotel in a recent edition of the Tablet, he says: “[…] all I could hear were seagulls. I opened the window and their kookaburra-like laughter filled the room. There they were, soaring over the skyline on slightly tattered wings like raggedy angels.” How very much more vivid is this evening view of Tweedmouth for the gull soaring in the sky above?  It hints at that raggedy angel’s view – worlds and aspirations and hopes of which we mere mortals can only dream. (Apologies both because I am being slapdash in using the common term Seagull for what I know are several different breeds of birds.  And secondly, because my iPhone5S is woefully inadequate to the challenge of photographing these fantastic birds.)

An absence of birds and rain

It has been a slow and boring March for us here, with painting, painting – and it seemed – yet more painting …We had a new porch built outside our front door last December.  It’s on the colder, north side of the building, so gives us extra protection with a double entrance as well as accommodating all our muddy, messy outdoor wear.All sorts of things had to be done to make it a useful part of the building …And it is finally just about there …But the painting – the oh, so very boring painting – dragged on and on.  Little bits all over the house and garden also appeared in need of a paint in the fresh clean light of spring days …We are now making up for lost time, and outside as much as possible, catching up on the garden.Stephen’s potting up of seeds and young plants includes making these nifty little newspaper pots – so ingenious!Sometimes he has a not-so-helpful helper with him …The salad greens in the greenhouse are feeding us comfortably …But it looks like we will have a while to wait for any crops from our raised beds.  The problem isn’t just the very cold nights we are still getting (although our days are blessed with sun a plenty).  No, it’s the absence of rain …Our water butts are empty.  We have light rain showers occasionally, but they are so very light as to make little or no difference.  I can’t remember when we last had a decent downpour.  The water butts remain almost empty. So most reluctantly, we have got out the hose …It’s easy for us – but not so easy for the local farmers.  At the beginning of April, there were still ponds on the local fields.  We watched these with great interest as they provide home and sustenance to the local gulls.This is what they look like now … parched …Walking around the local farms, there is evidence aplenty of parched fields.  This is an interesting spot because it is at the bottom of fields that run down to the sea on the right.  In other years – in wetter winters – there has not been the same marked run off as we are seeing this year. You can’t really tell from these pictures, but this winter wheat crop has barely grown at all.It’s easy for us to water our slow-growing raspberries plants, but quite a different matter for a farmer with huge grain fields …Elsewhere, the monopoly of bright yellow early spring flowers is over.  Those daffodil heads are in the compost heap, contributions to another year …There are flash-coloured tulips about now and lots of forget-me-nots … oh dear, I see something else that needs a fresh coat of paint! The forget-me-nots really come into their own on the other side of our garden fence … this year they are tiny plants … usually double the height …I always think the very best thing about gardening is the surprises, the things you have forgotten you planted.  These entirely white narcissi are exactly such a case in point.  I have absolutely no recollection of planting them, but I think they are just exquisite, fragile and elegant … Ghost flowers …Another delight this year is the japonica flowering for the first time.  Usually in the autumn I collect japonica fruit from my friend in Devon to make quince jelly.  Perhaps this year, I’ll have a couple of my own fruit to add to this year’s jelly …There are disappointments too.  The rosemary bush has died – and just look at the scorch marks from salty easterly blasts on the snapdragon plant in the foreground …The other big disappointment for us is the absence of birds. It’s true that there are pigeons … hours of entertainment for Eggy (hunched in the foreground) …But there have been no ordinary birds like sparrows and blackbirds for weeks. In February, Ilsa brought a song thrush in to Stephen.  He was able to rescue it, and as it seemed fine, we hoped it would survive. However, we later found it dead in the field.  RIP beautiful bird.So now the cats wear collars …They don’t seem to be very perturbed by the collars, and are out and about enjoying themselves as usual …But have they frightened the birds away for good? We take heart from a new young blackbird who has been seen around, and a sparrow was sighted on the bird feeders today.

There are still larks. On my knees, as I weeded the flowerbeds, with the sea on the horizon, the sun on my back, my head was full of the sound of the song of the larks – singing their hearts out in this glorious place. Rain and birds …. please come back!

A Paxton walk

The meteorologists warned us last week of horrible cold wet windy weather to come, so we seized the opportunity to get out on Friday. Thank goodness we did. We had a truly golden day.

It was cold – look how wrapped up I am! The first time this winter that I’ve had all my winter woollies out and on.We decided to park our car on the English side of the Union Chain Bridge, walk over the bridge to Scotland, up along the Tweed to Paxton House, through the grounds and onto Paxton village where we could get lunch at the newly-refurbished Cross Inn.  Then retrace our steps.  Not a big walk at all – more of an amble really.  mapThe Union Chain Bridge is one of our very favourite places in the locality – (you can read my paean to this fine bridge here.)beatiful-union-chain-bridge-bannerIt sits across the magnificent river Tweed, and for much of its way separates the countries of England and Scotland.walking-over-union-chain-bridge-to-scotlandSomebody had put/left/forgotten a little clown vase near the centre of the bridge.  An appeasement to the gods of the river?small-clown-vase-on-bridgeAt the far side, we followed a path to the river bank just below these enormous suspension cables.suspension-cables-of-union-chain-bridgeLooking back up from the path at the enormous stone pillars supporting the suspension cables, you can’t help but be impressed.looking-up-at-the-union-chain-bridgeThe walk along the river embankment was very muddy – it’s obviously a heavily-walked route. But no matter – so much to see, so much to enjoy.  How clear the water is!  Autumn leaves being carried along with the water.  Perhaps we will meet these same leaves again when walking on our local beach at Spittal where the Tweed meets the sea?water-so-clear-leaves-drifitng-down-streamThere were birds getting on with their own lives. We glimpsed a heron fishing through the trees.glimpse-of-a-heron-through-the-treesOur walk took us past small private and secretive doors …past-little-private-doorsThen, in the distance,  we caught our first glimpse of the rosy stone wall surrounding the Paxton estate …glimpse-of-paxtons-wall-up-the-riverNot far to go now …approaching-paxtons-groundsCloser, the door was a magical invitation to a private world …through-a-hole-in-the-wall-into-paxtons-groundsInside the estate, the walk was as golden as ever …a-golden-walkThere were fine trees – and a little teddy bear trail ….childrens-find-the-teddy-bear-game-in-evidenceLooking up we were able to catch a glimpse of Paxton House through the trees.  Paxton House was built in the 1760s to be a fine mansion looking out on the river Tweed – but alas, they have allowed the trees to grow so tall that there is almost no view of the Tweed from Paxton House any longer – such a pity.paxton-house-glimpsed-through-the-treesBefore long we reached Paxton’s fish and boat houses.paxtons-fish-house-and-boat-houseThey run boat trips from here – something we’ve never done, but definitely plan to do one day.boat-trips-run-from-paxtonNow it was time to climb up from the banks of the river Tweed and through the Paxton estate …walk-takes-us-up-hill-to-housePast the children’s play area – it looked a most imaginatively designed place for children to enjoy!wonderful-childrens-play-areaAnd a brief glimpse once more of Paxton House …finally-get-to-paxton-housePast their masonry treasures/leftovers/rejects sitting casually on the lawns …casual-masonry-piecesPast the apple trees so skilfully espaliered on the red brick wall of the walled garden …walled-garden-wallOver the Linn Burn … aaaah the tree colour!over-bridge-in-paxton-groundsAnd on to the main Paxton entrance gates, guarded by some fine stone lions (and a modern touch: matching grey wheelie bins).entrance-guarded-by-lions-wheelie-binsOur walk to Paxton village only took twenty minutes or so further, but still more of interest to see.  A stylish teal bench – in the middle of nowhere, should you need a rest.  No, I don’t think it’s a bus stop.teal-bench-in-the-middle-of-nowhereWe met an engineer working outside the old telephone exchange to connect somebody up to broadband and had an engrossing conversation, though I must confess much of the technicalities of multi-coloured cables passed me by.arriving-at-paxton-villageThen we turned down a long slicket at the backs of peoples’ houses …walk-down-slicket-to-paxton-villageMuch more fun when you can see the fronts!   These folk have got a rather nice mini- Paxton lion …mini-paxton-lion-outside-this-houseAnd look at these fuchsia cushions outside on the teal bench! – but, oh dear, it’s going to rain!!fetching-fuchsia-pink-cushionsAll right for us luckily – we got to the pub, the Cross Inn, before any showers started.paxtons-cross-innIt’s been pleasantly refurbished and looked welcoming – and indeed was so, with tasty food, and perhaps more importantly for Stephen, tasty beer.newly-refurbished-pub-is-welcoming-insideThen we retraced out steps. I much prefer circular walks, but our return walk was so different that it didn’t matter that we were going over the same ground. The light was completely different – and spectacular – on return.  No longer so gold and so friendly – more stark and much more exciting.

We approached Paxton House the proper way (as it were) on return. paxton-house-bannerBack along the fine avenue of trees …wlaking-back-through-paxton-groundsDown the leafy banks to the river Tweed …walking-through-fallen-leaves-down-to-the-tweedAt first, the Tweed glimpsed through the trees appeared with the gentleness of a John Nash painting upturned-boats-by-the-tweedBut then we veered downstream into the light …river-tweed-glimpsed-through-the-treesMirrored perfection …fantastic-light-walking-back-along-river-tweedDark clouds overhead, rain threatening … but a reassuringly golden sign that we were on the way home …reassuring-way-markerAnd some dappled green ambling …dappled-green-return-walkBefore we had the Union Chain Bridge once more in our sights …first-sight-of-the-bridge-on-our-return-walkDistinctly dark clouds hovering over the bridge now …dark-clouds-over-bridgeThe mighty stone supports of the suspension bridge …stephen-walking-over-the-bridgeBack over the bridge to England …walking-back-over-the-union-chain-bridge-to-englandWhere the bridge supports are cut into the soft local red rock. Back in England just before the rain!back-in-england

Norham Tweed walk

A beautiful sunny spring day last week – and we were off for a walk.  One of our favourite walks, this one is bookended by Norham’s fine church and it’s equally magnificent castle.  Sometimes we start with the castle, sometimes with the church. You can see in the map below how the route runs in a circle – first along a loop in the Tweed and then inland to complete the circle.map of walkThis day, we decided to start with the church.Norham St Cuthbert's churchThe Church of St Cuthbert at Norham is one of the churches we like best in the locality, and on this day it was looking particularly fine, garlanded with early spring blossom.gravestones amid ramsonsJust inside the churchyard, in the damp and dark gloom of the churchyard wall, there are ramsons – wild garlic.  They were everywhere on this day’s walk  – a pungent smell when crushed underfoot. Norham ChurchThis church is a distinguished building historically and architecturally.  It dates from 1165 (the same age as the nearby castle). Kings have met here (Edward I and John Bailliol of Scotland in 1292).  1320 saw it fortified by Robert the Bruce as he attacked Norham Castle.  You can read more of its fascinating history on the church’s own website.Norman arches on Norham churchJust look at those Norman arches – what patterns!Ancient faces on Norham churchThis small face on the east end looks down on us from the past.  I think that’s a grimace: Enjoy yourself – or else!Grave of Grace Friar NicholsonThe graves stand as solemn markers to those who went before.  Was Grace Friar Nicholson a book-lover, I wonder, with those two open volumes above her tombstone?Doggy flowers on graveNo doubt that this person loved dogs – what a fine way to be remembered!Path leads down to the TweedTime to leave the churchyard with its moving mementos, and set out on the walk proper. A narrow path leads down, through the fields, to the Tweed.swans on the TweedOh – the magnificent Tweed! Such a glorious river, flowing down from the Scottish Borders, and marking on its eastern course the border between Scotland and England.  That’s Scotland on the far bank where the swans are sailing by.

What really strikes me as I look on this view is how deceptive were the green and blossom we had been enjoying in Norham church graveyard.  It is still early in the year – the trees on the far bank are dun-coloured without their new leaves out.

Our path continues along the Tweed, well-managed by the good folk of Norham. It is a truly inviting walk.Walk along the TweedBefore long we approach Ladykirk and Norham bridge, and this gentle path ends.Approaching Ladykirk bridgeLadykirk and Norham bridge – as the name says – runs between the Scottish village of Ladykirk and the English parish of Norham.  A fine late nineteenth century bridge.  Just look at the detritus on the other side! Detritus under bridgeOver the winter the country experienced heavy heavy rainfall, particularly in the west of the UK, where the River Tweed rises. As we walked along the Tweed, we were increasingly reminded of the floods, and damage, and basic mess this land had experienced thanks to the heavy rain.Rubbish under bridgeHere, at the foot of the steps leading up to the bridge crossing, you can see more rubbish – including plastics, bottles and other man-made undesirables. All swept down by the torrent of the Tweed.Ramsons and celandines under Ladykirk bridgeNature is fighting back – with hosts of wild garlic and celandine flowers.fishers' paradiseThis is fishing country – paradise, I would guess, if you have a deep pocket. small boat and fishing sheilAn old fishing shiel, a little boat, grazing sheep … Time for coffeeWhat better place to stop for a bun and a flask of coffee? But also note the detritus, caught in the branches of the tree. We reckoned this to be some 15 feet above the current height of the Tweed  – there’s been serious flooding here.small boat on TweedIt is such a beautiful river.  The stories of ancient bitter Scots and English fighting are all around, and particularly marked in the histories of Norham Castle, Ladykirk church (built at James IVth of Scotland’s command entirely of stone so that it could survive being put to the torch) and nearby Flodden field.  As for the Tweed, well “Men may come, and men may go, but I go on forever.”  Thank you, Tennyson. It’s deeply reassuring.swirls and eddies in the TweedJust before we turn up from the Tweed, we find these scummy eddies. One’s instinct is to assume this is man-made pollution, but Stephen (most conveniently) is reading Tristran Gooley’s How to Read Water and he informs me that it may be warm temperatures acting on natural ingredients that produce this effect. It might, of course, be the result of chemicals running of the fields. Best not to speculate.

At this point, the path moves away from the Tweed, and we enter wooded country.  Part of the pleasure of this walk to me is, indeed, the variety of landscapes we pass through. There are primroses ..primrose pathand celandines …celandines amid the stepsand ramsons again! Just look at those banks of wild garlic on both sides of the path!woody path with ramsonsIt’s not long before we see our next “marker”.  There, glimpsed through the trees, is one of the viaducts of the old Kelso to Tweedmouth railway line.first glimpse of railway bridgeIt’s quite a job to scramble up to the top …struggling up to top of bridgeand you have to go carefully …trees growing in stoneworkbecause trees are growing into the masonry …metal rails on bridge collapsingand the old iron railings are falling to pieces.glimpse of the Tweed from the topBut it is wonderful to be at the top – you can see the Tweed snaking away where we left it.Old Kelso lineThere are few things to my mind as poignant as a dismantled railway line.  All that effort put into the building, all the excitement of travel, all those ordinary everyday journeys!  This line took holiday makers from the mills in the Border towns to our home village of Spittal on the north sea coast.  You can just imagine the trains chugging along this track.studying the stoneworkSuch a fine piece of engineering.

The next piece of the walk took us along the road.walk hits the roadRoads are not favourite walking, but it’s sunny, there’s almost no traffic so we have the world to ourselves – and look at that burgeoning rape crop about to break into heady yellow flower on the field on the right!rape coming into bloomThere’s another “marker” along this part of the journey and it’s this that makes the road walk worthwhile.  This is Norham railway station.  And it’s for sale – it went up for sale in 2013 for a cool £420,000.Norham railway station - for saleIt was a railway museum for many years, but was closed, alas, by the time we discovered it.  More of its history here.Norham railway stationAnd – yes – that is a letter box in the wall, a Victoria Regina too! How amazing must it be to have your own private letter box!!Victorian post boxBefore long we leave the road and the route took us into a watery world again – over a bridge …walk over small bridgeand alongside a stream.walk along little streamIt’s cool and dappled after the hot road walk.  Once more we’re walking through banks of wild garlic.walk through woods and ransomsNow time for our final “marker” – our pièce de résistance, you might say.  Here we turn in to Norham castle.arrive at Norham castleIt’s such a fine castle, with all the attributes that one associates with castles – moat, drawbridge, slit windows for arrows to pass through.  And it has a fine history to boot.  It was built in the 12th century by the Bishops of Durham as a defence against the Scots. Again and again it was besieged by the Scots – nine times in all – and captured four of those times. One of those times of Scottish ownership was just before the battle of Flodden.  James IVth besieged the castle for several days, battering the walls with his powerful artillery.Norham castleIt sits in a magnificently commanding position right up on high above the River Tweed, looking straight over to Scotland.Norham castle high above TweedFrom the castle you look down on those small folk in the village.Norham castle above villageAnd that’s where we’re heading now for the very final leg of our journey back to Norham church. Norham village is a pleasure to walk through, looking sunny and simple in the 21st century compared to those bitter fighting times of earlier centuries. Daffodils, village green, war memorial. Village perfection (but who knows what lies below this well-behaved surface …)sunny Norham village greenBack to the church …Walk back to Norham church– and that heavenly blossom where we started.Blossom at Norham church

Winter guests

Over the winter we take as much care as we can of the local wildlife.  We have discovered that that we can feed most birds that come to our table by scattering birdfood (grain and grated-up fatballs) along the path to our house, so we dispense with the bird feeders for this time of year as they aren’t really used, and the food there just goes mouldy.Birdfood on path in cold snowy conditionsThis brings a number of birds to our table.  Crows, pigeons, sparrows, blackbirds, robins and wrens all feed there – we do not discriminate.  All birds need food on cold hard days, and all birds are part of our local community.birds eating on pathWe even have a friendly – and very timid – seagull, and I am happy to feed this seagull (a young bird, I think) so long as he doesn’t bring all his friends along too.  Indeed, I rather admire his ingenuity in finding us, and keeping us to himself!Seagull on pathWhen we first arrived here, Poe was good enough to extend our winter hospitality to other small folk.  She would be out in all weather, looking for little lost souls.Poe venturing out in snowShe was sure they would prefer the nice warm inside to the snowy cold outside. Poe returning with mouseTrouble was, she would then expect them to play for a little while …Poe has a mouse… before she lost them, and they ran off to make new homes inside.  A year later, we discovered the small carcase of just such a forgotten mouse, trapped behind the grandfather clock.  Such a considerate mouse – never smelt in its decay.  Now it has a place of honour on our nature window display.desiccated mouse and other treasuresLuckily, Poe is now too old to go out a-mousing, but we have discovered with our shed spring cleaning that we are still caring for the local wild mouse population.  I keep my spinning fleece in the garden shed, as well as our supplies of bird feed.  The fleece is high up on shelves.fleece on high in shedOne year, I brought a particularly special bag of Crookabeck alpaca out of the shed into the kitchen for dyeing, and I discovered that somebody had not only been making a home in my beautiful fleece, but they’d been helping themselves to the food supplies available in the shed.  A cosy way to spend the winter, don’t you think, with food and comfy bedding both on hand?!Evidence of mice making themselves at homeWe always know what the mice are up to in the shed, because they leave little guilty teethmarks all over the bird food.mice eating bird fat ballsAnother year, I caught the little blighters in action.  Mice in grainTime for some shed spring cleaning soon – I wonder what we will find in there this year?

Compost

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;  A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up …”

The writer of Ecclesiastes put it so well.  (Though you may have Pete Seeger’s version, memorably sung by the Byrds in your ears)  For us, in the dark northern hemisphere, it is the breaking down time of the year.  The time of decay, death, mouldering and rotting   – and so we come to compost.

On of our first chores when we came to Seaview was to build a compost heap.  Stephen had dismantled the ridiculously high fencing so that we could finally see the sea from our house, and we had plenty of spare treated planks of wood.So he built two compost heaps – one beside the other.  A work of genius!  As we fill one heap up with fresh victuals, the other heap gently matures.  Two states of compostOver the year, all sorts of goodies go into our compost heap.  It could in many ways be said to be a labour of love.

The core goodness is, of course, the green waste from the kitchen.  We eat a great deal of fruit and vegetables, and all their parings go in.  Eggs and anything meaty don’t – that would encourage rats.

All our garden waste goes into the compost heap – bar the very woody material, which wouldn’t disintegrate quickly enough.  Grass cuttings are an important element.

To this we add treasures lovingly collected on our walks in the neighbourhood.  Cowpats from the friendly local cows.Horse manure – when we can get it!  This was nicely bagged up by some wonderful folk on Holy Island – free for the taking!  How very generous.Horse shit from Holy IslandSeaweed from the beach.  We never pick or cut seaweed – but then we don’t have to.  If you wait for the right time, there will always be storms to sweep it up onto the beach.Seaweed for collection at the beachSeaweed is a really important addition to the compost heap because of the minerals and sea goodness it adds to the pile.Seaweed on the compost heapSometimes the sea gives other treasures for our compost heap.  One winter, after terrible storms, huge piles of beech leaves came down the Tweed.  So large were these piles on the beach that they dwarfed Stephen.Huge piles of beech leaves washed down the TweedWe weren’t alone to appreciate these beech gifts – lots of little bugs and insects to feed hungry birds too.Beech leaves washed down the TweedAs we add all these good things to the “operational” compost heap, the other compost heap – the maturing one – is just so good that plants (like these poppies) start to grow.  This is an indication of the biggest failing with our compost heap: it never gets warm enough to kill the seeds and weedlings.Poppies growing in the compost heapCome winter, come this time of year, we are at the turning point with our compost heaps.  One is very full indeed – Stephen has to jump on it at times to compress all the garden waste that has been piled up after the autumn clearances.This year's compost piled highAnd the other pile is rich, matured – and compressed.Lovely crumbly composted materialIt’s time to spread the goodness round and about.Loading up the wheelbarrow with compostAll sorts of treasures come to light … that’s the blade of the paring knife that went missing last year!  And there are worms – a sign of a healthy heap because, of course, it is they who have been eating our composting greenery and vegetables and excreting them as loam.worm and potato peeler in compostTime to spread goodness around.  Great mulchy piles around shrubs …Compost nestling round the roots of shrubsAnd I do so love my little borders tidily put to bed like this!Compost spread on flower bedsAs we compost and reuse the goodness from garden, house and locality, we are part of a cycle that others follow too.  Last winter the farmer put great piles of cow dung (cleared out from the cattle’s indoor habitation) in the field up the hill from us.  By the end of the year there was a sizeable heap.Pile of manure beside fieldAfter harvest, it was loaded up onto tractors …Tractors collecting manureand spread on the fields …Spreading manure all ove fieldSpreading manure over the fieldCompost heaps have been part of my life for as long as I can remember.  I can still vividly remember the grass-cutting smell of my grandmother’s heap in her Oxfordshire garden – probably because the heap sat under a large tree which we children liked to climb and hide in.

And my five-year old son – on his first school trip to the beach at Exmouth – coming back with a puzzled teacher and a determined expression on his face as he lugged home some grubby, sandy carrier bags full of seaweed for my compost heap!

We are not the only ones to love the compost heap here at Seaview – our neighbour’s cat is particularly fond of this spot too.Our neighbour's cat likes the compost heap too

No-one sums it all up better for me than the poet, Edna Eglinton:

“What I am now is made from this rich compost, deep-stirred with fellowship and love, sunshine on green pastures, may-trees in blossom, and the heart singing.”