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Issue 55 - Border Breathing

Scotland Magazine Issue 55
February 2011

 

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Border Breathing

Roddy recalls finding peace and tranquility on the Borders while trying to write

Having been blessed with endless opportunities to explore Scotland from top to toe and from coast to coast, there remain certain pockets of countryside which shall always retain a special place in my heart. Not least among these is the Tweed Valley, that section of the Scottish Borders bisected by the River Tweed.

For a few years back in the 1980s I was fortunate enough to be given the tenancy of a small cottage nestling in the gentle slopes of the Tweedsmuir Hills, part of the Southern Uplands. Previously occupied by a shepherd and his family, there was no direct road to the front door. Instead, I was obliged to cross over seven fields. My nearest neighbour was three miles away and my constant companions were the sheep that gathered around the cottage walls at night for warmth.

I had gone there to find solitude and to write, but that simply did not happen. In the days before word processors, laptops and iPads, there was always something more demanding to distract me from my manual typewriter. When not preoccupied with roof repairs or white washing the exterior walls, which I did for three seasons, I invariably found myself sitting idly on a hill top and staring mindlessly at the sheer beauty of the surrounding landscape. The views were hypnotic.

From my cottage windows, I was able to watch the River Tweed as it meandered slowly past from its source in the adjoining Lowther Hills, and whenever I chose to physically follow its course through the undulating hills from Peebles to Galashiells, the accompanying scenery never ceased to amaze me.

Waking up in the summer to a dawn chorus of oyster catchers, kites, hawks, falcons and swifts has to be one of the most life-enhancing experiences of all time. It was a magical place. Sometimes I would walk over to the village of Drumelzier where, in Scottish Arthurian legend, Merlin the Magician met his end. On these trips, I came across colonies of butterflies, rabbits and hare, pine marten, goats and badgers.

The Scottish Highlands certainly has its grandeur, its red deer and its golden eagles, but when I was recently told of a plan to create a wildlife discovery project at Kailzie, an area of spacious parkland situated on the river between Peebles and Innerlethen, I knew that I had to find out more.

Kailzie is the home of Angela, Lady Buchan Hepburn, a well-known horticulturist who has created a series of stylish domestic and wild gardens, woodland and walled, which are open to the public seven days a week. Situated in the Old Stable Square is the Kailzie Gardens Restaurant, not under the inspired management of chef Stuart Clink. All I can say about Stuart is that his locally sourced Peelham Valley pork belly starter ranks among the great dishes of all time.

Alongside the banks of the Tweed, visitors can explore the rich herbaceous borders, a parade of rhododendrons and azaleas, a rose garden and extensive greenhouses. In their seasons, the meadowland hosts a riot of snowdrops and daffodils and bluebells. Entrenched within the wooded hinterland are ospreys which have returned to nest here follwing an absence of a hundred years. So as not to disturb them, cameras have been set up on, allowing bird enthusiasts to monitor their welfare.

To create further viewing opportunities for a number of other species, and to provide educational facilities for tourism, the Kailzie Local Area Wildlife Education and Discovery Project (www.kailziewildlife.org), a community organisation chaired by Edinburgh-based businessman Phil Cosgrove, is in the process of confirming funding from a variety of sources, charitable and otherwise.

Great things are therefore in prospect for 2011.

And while I would never seek in any way to discourage nature lovers from devouring the wonders of Scotland’s Highlands and Islands, I humbly suggest that you take time to explore the Scottish Borders, especially the Tweed Valley. You will not be disappointed.