Border Union Show

The Border Union Show is traditionally held on the last weekend of July, at Springwood park, just south of the river Tweed and the Scottish Border town of Kelso.  If you look carefully at the banner picture above this post, you will see Kelso’s historic Abbey looming dramatically over the glitzy showground site.

It’s primarily an agricultural show – a chance for the farmers of the locality to meet, greet and compare. But lots of other bodies join in the fun – and I was there as a member of the Tweed Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers to demonstrate with my little Innerleithen spinning wheel.

I’ve been going to the show as a demonstrator for several years.  We’ve had scorchingly hot years, and a thoroughly miserable wet year (last year – see my 2015 blog post for the Tweed Guild for how we survived the rain), but this year was proper traditional Scottish weather with sunshine and showers.  The plastic covers went on, and the plastic covers went off.  We ran inside with spinning wheels and our knitted displays – and then they all came out again!  It was hard work, and a long, tiring day, – but great fun too.  Not just for me – everybody everywhere seemed to be having a blast.Kelso Abbey watching over fieldThis year we found ourselves in the best of company.  We were sharing a tent with the Dunse flock of rare breed sheep!Rare Breed flockThey are lovely – but at close quarters, in a tent all day – yes, they do pong a bit (especially when their fruity fleeces come inside to avoid the rain).Rare Breed fleeces I did not envy those members of the guild who spent the day based inside the tent. But they put up magnificent displays of felting and basketry, and demonstrated their skills with energy and enthusiasm right through the day.demonstrators inside Tweed Guild tentThere was lots of interest.inside Tweed Guild tentThe Tweed Guild also had an interesting display of some of the different breeds of sheep and their fleeces.different fleece displaysAnd next to it, a beautiful display of natural-dyed materials.  (I’ve been really naughty here and snuck my acid-dyed royal blue Fika shawl into the display ūüė¶ )Tweed Guild displayOutside there was a group of spinners.  This worked very well, as we attracted a lot of interest from passers by.Tweed guild spinners outside tentAnd there were spinning lessons!  Lots of youngsters were fascinated by the spinning wheels. Such a great pleasure to show them exactly what spinning entailed.giving spinning lessonsBut we were only a teeny tiny part of an enormous enterprise occupying 46 acres of parkland. I cannot do justice to it all because I only took short walks around, but let’s make a start with the animals as they were after all the raison d’etre for the show.

As we walked around, an enormous bull lumbered out of the showground.  It looked docile enough, but we were stopped well away to allow it to pass a safe distance from the public.getting the bull over the public pathThe other bulls were waiting inside looking remarkably peaceful and calm.bull waiting area - CopyFurther on, we came to the sheep. I love to see farming folk studying the sheep, leaning into the caging – as they have done since time immemorial (check out this fine Ravilious picture in the Beaford archive).sheep in pensThere were even some Blue-face Leicester sheep – highly prized by spinners!blue-faced leicesterCanny sheep were taking advantage of all the food on offer.sheep feedingIn a nearby tent, there were goats – interesting to see what a lot of young people seemed to be involved with them.goatsNot all animals were flesh and blood.fanciful creaturesI was particularly intrigued by the egg judging in the poultry tent.  For some reason, I had not thought that eggs would be judged – only the birds. Clearly the quality of the yolk is an important part of the judging criteria.  Not Stephen’s favourite spot (he doesn’t like eggs).judging eggsI’ll finish the livestock pics with some of rabbits because Stephen took an enormously large amount of photos of them.  Aren’t these little cuties?!rabbitsIn the main ring, meanwhile, young motorcyclists were entertaining the crowds with terrifying daredevil feats.Daredevil motorcyclistsOh my goodness!oh my goodnessThere’s definitely a macho feel to this place. There are big boys’ toys (photograph kindly contributed by Stephen).boys' toysWe are never allowed to forget that there is serious money behind all of this.  There were more spanking new four-wheel drives on this showground than I have ever seen before in my life.  The big landowners are in evidence – not just in their tweeds and their cavalry twills, but at the stalls.

This is the Roxburghe Estates tent.  Roxburghe Estates are based at the magnificent nearby Floors Castle (home of the Duke of Roxburghe) and from there they run a large and diverse local business empire.Serious land ownersThere are plenty of expensive shops around.expensive shopsThank goodness for cheaper treats that we can all enjoy on a sunny day out.hot enough for ice creamsWhat fascinated me most was the Industrial Section.  Inside were competition entries for jam-making, flower-arranging, children’s pictures, knitted garments, cake baking etc etc.  I’ve never heard it referred to as Industrial before – it’s more what I would have expected to be the province of the local Women’s Institute.jams and jellies behind wireWhat really shocked me about the displays was the wire fence caging them in. To stop passers-by handling the goods, or worse, perhaps to prevent theft?!  Either way it looks dreadful.  Particularly in the case of the children’s competitions.children's art workI’ll be the first to admit that my taste is never the same as the judges.  Here’s a prize-winning floral arrangement.First prize flower arrangingAnd here’s the one I would have chosen – the honeysuckle arrangement on the left.My preferred flower arrangementPerhaps there is a bit of an old-fashioned look to some of the competitions?  Hard to say really because nothing is shown to best effect behind chicken wire…baby wear in the industrial sectionLastly, just time to show you one of my favourite parts of the showground.  Small demonstration beds where they were growing sample plants for fallow ground – linseed, red clover, marigolds and cornflowers etc.  How wonderful it would be to see more of these grown over our landscape!test plantsAll in all: a grand day out ūüôā

Edin’s Hall Broch

Last week Stephen took me to Edin’s Hall Broch.¬†¬† He had discovered it on one of his longer walks, but I had never been there before – indeed, had never even heard of it.

As it turns out, Edin’s Hall Broch is a very remarkable place, and I am surprised more people don’t know about it.¬† Or perhaps they do.¬† Perhaps¬†it’s just another closely guarded Borders/Northumbrian secret.

For those of you who (like me) don’t even know what a broch is, here is a brief summary of received internet wisdom.

There is much debate about their function and purpose.  What is agreed is that they are only found in Scotland, they are superb examples of drystone architecture, and they are round.  Nobody is sure whether they were built for defensive purposes or to be lived in as farmsteads.

But ooooh – I do love the word “Broch”!¬† I roll it round my lips and savour the sound – quite different from any other word I know.¬†Stephen in Edin's Hall Broch It wasn’t really that special a day to be out.¬† As you can tell from our photos, the day was dull, and it was quite sharply cold for May.¬† But it was still a comfortable – and very interesting – walk from the carpark, about a mile and half from the ruins.

After a short walk through a forested area, you cross the Whiteadder Water by the Elba Footbridge.¬† The¬†Whiteadder Water then runs parallel to the walk as you climb the hill up to the broch.Crossing Elba footbridgeThe Whiteadder Water is magnificent here, swirling¬†dramatically over craggy rocks.¬†¬†But, wait – is there a yellow conspiracy afoot?!¬† There’s masses of gorgeous clumps of golden scented gorse,¬†many of the trees are in that early flush of colour when the leaves are transparent yellowy-pale-green, – and to cap it all we saw a Yellow Wagtail¬†bobbing around on the rocks in the stream!¬†Looking down at the Whiteadder waterWhere the scenery wasn’t yellow and green, it was silvery-white.¬† The lichen is as much an ornament on these blackthorn trees as their own blossom.Lichen on treeOur route takes us on up and up.¬† The sheep gaze down anxiously at us from the ridge, not sure whether we are friend or foe.¬† Don’t worry, sheepy friends, we’re travelling up to the right of this pylon.

Ah yes, this pylon.¬† We were happily admiring the beauty and wildness of the place when we realised that there was a huge great plonking pylon – no, a chain of pylons striding across the valley.¬† How fascinating that we’d subconsciously “subtracted” it from our awareness.¬† How strange too that we object to wind farms but seem oblivious to these earlier man-made monstrosities.Pylons, sheep and gorseThe way¬†is well-signposted.¬† But look behind the sign, and there’s a telling indication of modern farming.¬† That’s the old drystone wall broken and crumbling, and it’s been superceded by an ugly barbed-wire fence (which you can just see in the foreground of the photo).¬† How very sad.Route sign to Edin's Hall BrochNature gives and it takes.¬† En route we found evidence of the harsh reality of nature red in tooth and claw.¬† Somebody’s dined here….perhaps the sparrowhawk we saw wheeling above?Nature red in tooth and clawHowever the kindly sheep have left me some lovely bits of fleece to collect – it’s the softest and cleanest fleece I have found out and about for a long time.¬† Wish I could catch a sheep to take some more fleece home with me!fleeceFinally, we get to the top of the hill, and there – amid a lot of other stone ruins (it’s a prehistoric hill fort)¬†– is Edin’s Hall Broch!¬† (You get a really good idea of the whole site with this aerial picture on the Welcome to Scotland website.)Approaching Edin's Hall BrochThe people who built this place knew about dry stone walls – they could teach modern farmers a thing or two.¬† Just look at the size of the stones at the base of this building!huge stones at base of wallsThe size of the walls too is enormous – at their maximum they are over 5 metres wide.thick wallsThere’s a proper entrance, and what must be¬†a front door slab lying on the ground beside.entrance to Edin's Hall BrochOn either side of the front entrance, there are guard rooms.entrance to guard roomsSet in these huge walls around are well-built steps and more rooms.¬†stone steps Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this place is that this is one of only a handful of¬†brochs in¬†the Lowlands.¬† They are mostly found in northern¬†western¬†Scotland.¬† ¬†And this broch is not like the northern brochs – it’s too large in diameter for starters, so there are doubts that it was ever roofed.¬† As you will see on the information board reproduced below,¬†Historic Scotland¬†have come up with the hypothesis that somebody in the 2nd century AD travelled south bringing broch-building skills with them and adapted them to this Border locality.Historic Scotland information boardWho knows?

What we do know, however, is that when this site was first excavated in the late 19th century, a number of artifacts were found (these were donated to the Museum of Scotland).¬† They include a stone spindle whorl, a piece of jet ring, an amber bead, an oyster shell, bones and a fragment of a glass bracelet.¬† Very much the normal sort of possessions of people’s lives – food, ornamentation, and the means to clothe oneself.

I’d read about spindle whorls recently in Rebecca’s¬†Needle and Spindle blog.¬† She describes so clearly what an vital part they had to play in basic survival tactics – and that would have been especially the case in these colder northern climes.

So – I’m once again stretching my imagination back to the people who lived here, and I’m finding that they (like me)¬†enjoyed a bit of bling.¬† Ancestors of the modern sheep grazing around would have been of value to them for clothing – just as they¬†are to me.

The modern world interrupts my old-times reverie. Well – a slightly more modern world.¬† Down through the trees, on the other side of the Whiteadder Water,¬†there’s a¬†glimpse of an intriguing house – actually another Round House.¬† Apparently it’s The Retreat, built in the late 18th century by the Earl of Wemyss as a shooting lodge.¬† You can’t help wondering if he was referencing the round broch on the opposite hill in his choice of architecture……¬† It looks very comfortable and well-appointed compared to the exposed stony broch of the ancients.looking down at The Retreat