Ashkirk to (west of) Hawick | 6.9 miles
The snow was falling outside as we woke snuggled up in our warm bed. Eve and I felt privileged to be ending the Cross Borders Drove Road on such a beautiful winter's day!
Today was the last day on the Cross Borders Drove Road.
Waking in our B&B we could feel the cold penetrating the walls and ceilings. The log burner had burned out hours ago and was now still and cold. The heating we didn't put on, it wouldn’t be long until we were leaving and walking through the snow.
I felt a strange sense of unease this morning. The reason illuded me and I still can't put my finger on why I felt uneasy. I still feel uneasy now. I guess that I didn't sleep as well as I had thought. Eve slept throughout the night, tossing and turning as if she was dreaming. We had a wonderful, cosy night.
Breakfast was good. We had a bowl of cereal, toast, fruit, fresh juice and tea. The B&B had supplied enough breakfast to feed a large family, and we were both extremely grateful. The B&B owners were lovely people. On arrival, they had greeted us with the log burner ablaze and cheerful smiles. I can’t thank them enough.
Eve and I snugged up in bed enjoying the last few moments of warmth before going through the morning routine of making flasks and putting on multiple layers ready to head out into the snow.
Every surface had been touched by snow and frost. It glistened and reflected the light back at us like a million tiny mirrors. It was blinding. It wasn't long before I put my sunglasses on.
Eve struggles with her glasses in the cold of the winder. They mist up easily, restricting her vision dramatically. We have tried every technique that I can think of to try and counter this. Purchasing a vast array of wipes and coating promises to solve the problem. None of them work. The only solution we have found it to try and keep them warm. First thing in the morning, this can be exceptionally difficult to achieve.
The route started by taking us along the road passing a golf course. The road was a lot busier than it was the night before. We took great care this morning, stepping off the road every time a vehicle approached.The trail today wasn’t particularly hard, but the snow made it tough. Walking on snow, especially through long grass is challenging. It’s like walking along a deep sandy beach. Every footstep slips and sinks, with little or no friction to push off to propel us forward.
Eve seemed to have less of an issue than I did, as she went running and skipping in front of me. At one small point, I found myself attempting to jog to keep up with her. Eve’s energy was much greater than mine, as I soon stopped coughing and sputtering. Eve found it very amusing, encouraging me to run again. I declined the offer!
Walking through the woodland, over Ashkirk hill was a particular highlight of the day. The trail had not been walked by anybody since the snow first settled. The snow was thick and crisp.
The first wee section was uphill, which warmed us both up with the physical exertion. We had to weave under and around a few fallen trees that had blocked the main trail. This was exciting for Eve as it felt like we were going ‘off piste’ and seeing things other casual walkers dont get to witness.
The woodland was silent. Eve described it as “deathly silent”. There was barely a breeze and everything stood still and frozen. The only evidence of life we saw was the off-rabbit track that crisscrossed the trail like a child scribbled on a blank piece of paper.
Occasionally the silence would be interrupted with the sound of snow falling from branches above us. It would come crashing down through the branches sounding like somebody, or something was running towards us. Then it would go silent again… We felt alone and isolated in this white winter wonderland. I can’t think of any way to describe how privileged and lucky we felt.
We sipped from flasks, enjoying hot coffee and honey with lemon.
Eve’s Christmas advent activity today was to listen to festive songs. We listened to Christmas songs all day… I should tell you that I had downloaded these onto my iPhone the night before, but the truth is, I still had them from last year. We spent many long summer days hiking in shorts and t-shirts listening to and singing along to songs such as Wham’s Last Christmas. Today it felt different and was the perfect accompaniment to the pristine white that surrounded us.
Arriving at the edge of the woodland we crossed some open moorland. All the bogs and burns except one were frozen solid. We had a small issue trying to cross the one burn that was still running. Involved me teetering across before helping (and pulling) Eve across to avoid a slip into the cold water below.
We also walked through a cowfield. The cows paid us no attention, as they huddled around the straw bundle trying to keep warm. We both felt sorrow and pity for them, especially knowing what fate eventually awaited them!
Seeing the cows, or any farm animal out in these conditions unsettles me. I know they can manage the cold better than meer humans can, but on a cold day like this, it still unsettles me. Eve was pleased to exit the cow field!
Winding through gorse bushed bushes and around pheasant feeding areas we are on a very well-made track. We couldn’t see it as we approached as everything looked white, but once on it it would through the flat expanse of moorland like a giant serpent. It afforded us an easy path, albeit covered in untouched snow.
It then started to snow…!
The snow came down gently at first with small flakes that gradually got heavier and bigger, climbing into small fragile balls of snow. The falling snow made everything feel even more silent than it was before. The silence was deafening.
We popped on our waterproof layers and wrapped up, although we didn't feel that cold. I was slightly concerned with sweating, as I didn't want Eve to get wet with sweat which in such conditions can be dangerous.
We slowed our walking pace down, singing Christmas songs together such as “In the Bleak Mid-winter” which happens to be one of my favourite songs, albeit the religious elements.
I know some people find it odd, that being an atheist I enjoy listening to songs such as this. But it’s not the words, but how it makes you feel that I think is important. I dont think anybody could, for example, diminish the cultural beauty or historical significance of a church or cathedral, regardless of your personal religious beliefs.
The snow didn't last for that long, but would come and go all day gradually getting more persistent. The sky was changing to a blanket of grey like somebody had thrown a gray fleece blanket over the sky.
The track ended and found ourselves following a long trail flanked either side by snow-covered hedges that gave occasional glimpses to the stationary livestock behind. The path meandered gently up and down like a gentle fairground ride for children. Eve was still running, jumping and skipping in front of me as I struggled to keep up. I didn't try to stop her or slow her down. The pleasure of watching Eve run off with excitement and contentment in her environment was all mine.
Reaching the road, which was also the start of the end felt sad. Our mood went down a notch or two. The sheet splendour of what we had walked through before gave way to views over farmland and we could see a busy road in the distance.
We walked together, still singing songs and playing games wondering how Sarah was getting on as she drove to pick us up.
The road walking was easy to walk and quick. The road was clear of all but a few small mounds of snow and we met hardly any passing traffic. We passed several farms and houses ablaze with lights and chimney billowing smoke offering us the warm cosy smell of a wood fire.
Sooner than expected we reached the small path, between two drystone walls that would lead us to an even smaller and quieter country lane that was the rather unnoticeable end of the Cross Borders Drove Road.
Walking down the narrow path, we passed a lady dog walker with a very excitable dog that she struggled to keep hold of. We hastened our pace out of concern that the lady might end up being pulled down the path on her stomach clutching the dog's collar.
In this last section, we walked in relative silence, feeling a sense of sadness and excitement of the completion of another one of the Great Trails of Scotland. We would be seeing Sarah before long and feeling the warm embrace of a cuddle.
It felt like the perfect end to reach the final waymarker just as the snow came on again. It was a fitting end to a wintery trail, that had taken us through the Scottish Borders to complete trail 19 of 29. We sat on a small bench, ate some chocolate and waited for Sarah to arrive as the snow fell and settled around and on us.
It was cold, peaceful and tranquil as we sat and waited for Sarah, snuggled up together on the bench.
We were warm and happy and when Sarah arrived we hugged, kissed and bundled ourselves into the car.
We all feel ready and excited for our next winter trail, as we continue to work towards raising £10000 for Scottish Autism.
Sleep well and stay warm
Ian & Eve
Cross Borders Drove Road | Day 6