Some of you will know, from odd comments I’ve made here and there, that I’m working on a new ghost story set in the Scottish borders. A little bit of fun with a set of randomly generated map coordinates landed me dead on the border at the bottom of Liddesdale, which turned out to be a place with more history and legends than any one book can do justice to. I’ve been writing from the comfort of my study in the home counties, but I was beginning to hit the limits of what I could do without setting my feet on the ground and breathing in the actual place, so last week I headed north for three days to see it for real.
One of the first things I picked up when I got to my guesthouse was a guide to local walking routes. I was delighted to see that the longest one in there was very close to a hike I’d had my protagonist do early in the book (he’s younger and fitter than me, so does a longer loop, but this was as close as I was willing to try). The loop took me from the village of Newcastleton, where I was staying, up into Kershope forest, and then down to the border, along it for a few miles, and then back up an abandoned railway line to the village).
You’ll have to excuse the occasional giddy tone to this write-up, because the whole trip was one of those magical holidays you just fall into sometimes, to the extent that I’m feeling bad about inflicting such a nasty ghost on such a wonderful place. The first day began with surprise Bucks Fizz over breakfast, courtesy of the other couple staying at the guest house, who were celebrating their silver wedding and insisting on splitting the bottle around the table.
Heading out with a spring in my step, I began the climb out of the village. Newcastleton is a relatively young village, built in the 1790s by a local landowner as a model village for weavers. His grand plan was a financial failure, but by then the original settlement further up the valley had been flattened. It’s a pretty little place these days, and the only settlement of any size for miles and miles.
Here it is in its entirety, sitting along the bank of the Liddel Water.
Climbing up the lane, views of the hills to the north open up. This all looks serene now, but go back five hundred years and this was one of the bloodiest and most war torn places in Europe. The border clans of Liddesdale and the surrounding valleys were reivers of the worst kind (more on this in my next post, because I spent the second day of my holiday visiting some of their sites).
Up and up, towards the edge of the forest. The trees are relatively new–the first trees were planted in the 1920s when the land was given over to the Forestry Commission. These days, timber is still the main product of the area, but the forest is also a centre for mountain biking, with trails leading off towards Kielder Water, ten miles to the east.
Into the woods…
Despite the cloak of trees, this is still moorland, and everything is damp. Streams trickle out of cracks, moss covers every exposed surface, and every path oozes thick mud.
I think this is the Clintheugh Linn (I’d lost track of myself on the instructions by this point, but since there was only one path, wasn’t too worried).
And then there was a landmark! Here, where three paths met, I found a carving. There’s nothing there to give any context or explanation. It’s just a lump of rock, with a hole in the middle and the words to Jerusalem carved on one side and those to Auld Lang Syne on the other (honestly, I giggled for the next mile–so bizarre!).
Confident of my location again, I set a good pace south towards England.
That next ridge is on the far side of the border.
This is the fabulously named Muckle Thwater Gill, running down towards Kershope Burn.
And this is the border itself. The line between England and Scotland runs along the Kershope Burn here. I’d used this river as the model for a fictional one in my WIP, so my excitement levels were rising. Just look at those brooding hills!
Standing on the border (okay, on the bridge over the border)!
The path turns downstream on the English side until it comes out on this road. In my WIP, this leads up to a scatter of houses, included a very haunted old fortified manor. In reality, there is nothing here but forest.
Several minor characters meet an untimely end on this road which runs north from the same point. I probably shouldn’t have been grinning so happily as I took this picture.
Further along the river, and here’s another little feeder stream tumbling down into it.
Looking north from the English side–pretty much the view my protagonist has from the window of the haunted house.
The path then met the road again at the tiny hamlet of Kershopefoot, from where an old railway line turned footpath runs back up to the village. I was footsore and weary by the time I stumbled along it, but this was one of the best walks I’ve done for a long time.
And the best was yet to come…