Join author and historian Alistair Moffat on a journey through the early history of the Scottish Borders. Beginning at the spectacular standing stones on Brotherstone Hill, near Smailholm, we will follow the ghost of St Cuthbert as he left his life in the hills to come to the monastery at Old Melrose. From the massive Brothers’ Stones, the gentle climb up the hill will be rewarded with stunning views over the Tweed Valley, which also begins the journey from the village, now long disappeared, where Cuthbert was raised by his foster-mother, Kenspid.
The walk follows the ancient road to Bemersyde and enters the sacred precinct of Dryburgh Abbey. Once it was a Celtic monastery founded by St Modan in the early 6th century, long before Columba sailed to Iona. The ruins of the medieval abbey house the tomb of Sir Walter Scott and we’ll pause at Dryburgh to acknowledge what he added to our history and how his imagination animated the landscape we walk through. From there we will cross an elegant footbridge over the Tweed and walk north on the bank of the river to Old Melrose.
Some time after 635, Aidan came from Iona at the invitation of the great Northumbrian king, Oswald, to found a community of monks on the river peninsula. Much later, the monastery moved west to its present site in the town, taking its name with it. When Cuthbert arrived at Old Melrose, probably in 651, he was greeted at the gate by Boisil, a saint who gave his name to St Boswells. Cuthbert was later consecrated as Bishop of Lindisfarne and became England’s greatest native saint. Majestic Durham Cathedral was raised on his bones and it is often forgotten that his exemplary life began in the Border hills and by the River Tweed.
Meet time: 8.50am / Start time: 9.00am
Distance: 6 miles / Approx time: 3.5 hours
Grading: MODERATE, with most of the walk on roads and tracks
Start of walk: Parking area at hard standing just off the road at Brotherstone Farm, near Smailholm, TD6 9DT. There may be cows grazing in the open pasture.
End of walk: Old Melrose (nearest point Old Melrose Tea Room, TD6 9DF). Arrangements will be made to return walkers to their cars from here.
Photo © Andrew Cawley