Walking the marches

I spent a few days with Mum in Selkirk last week and on the Sunday we set off to walk up towards the Three Brethren. Last time we went that way Mum was still pretty hard up and we didn’t get much past the top pond, so we thought we would put her to the test following a summer of therapeutic weeding and forced wine and crisp consumption on the Ruthven Homestead. The results of this healthy regime speak for themselves. We were almost at the cairns when we decided we really ought to turn back (on the mixed health and safety grounds of forgotten asthma puffer (mum) and negligible phone battery and (me)).

All along the walk up from the Corbie Lynn the verge was full of harebells, which I think might be my all time favourite wild flower. They thrive in rough grass on poor soil. I remember them growing in profusion in the grassier stretches of the waterside by the Ettrick when I was little, but in recent years this has become much more overgrown and shady and they have largely disappeared there. Keith has successfully grown some in his highland garden and I plan to see if they can be naturalised in the sunnier stretch of the copse as you come up the drive. A little further up the hill, the willow herb was in full flower and forming a vivid purple screen. This I am not planning to introduce into the garden. Whilst beautiful and striking, it’s just a bit too successful as a self seeder. Mum has spotted a carefully curated patch in the garden of Dad’s care home which she thinks may actually be deliberate and is racked with doubt over whether she should alert them to its official status as “bloody weed”.

We strolled on through the woods enjoying a little shade after the first climb. There was a constant rustling in the undergrowth beneath the pines. The whole stretch was like playing a game of grandmothers footsteps with me spinning round periodically trying to catch out the rustler. The one blackbird we saw could surely not have accounted for the cacophony. Perhaps it was the summer breeding, left running haggis. Anyhow this slightly unnerving sense of being followed must have put us off our stride as (and how I know not as we have been this way a gazillion times) Mum and I came to the fork in the road and confidently picked the wrong one and after a goodish way during which each of us was thinking this was all wrong but neither liked to raise it we finally fessed up and turned around. Back on track we admired some new calves and their proud mamas on the way to the top pond but as the scent of the meadowsweet proved not quite strong enough to mask the distinctly bovine aroma we did rather speed past this stretch.

There followed a brief altercation when I had to channel my inner Patricia Routledge and bellow at a bloke on the opposite hill to come and get his dog as it had a young sheep pinned down behind some scrub and was barking its head off. Thankfully the sheep was all right and, after the dog was carted off, it extracted itself from the scrub it was hiding in and needed very little encouragement to rejoin its mother (who had scarpered when the dog appeared leaving junior to fend for itself).

Past the top pond the terrain changes abruptly from rolling pasture and a little woodland to heather heathland bringing quite different flora and fauna to the lanes around Ruthven. The heather was full of ground nesting birds of some sort. As we walked on the peep peeping of the nestlings was tantalisingly near and little brown parent birds were darting in and out to keep an eye on us. I’m afraid I have no idea what they were as they managed to keep just out of range, but they sang splendidly. We spotted a pearl bordered fritillary (I think – but open to correction as there seem to be an awful lot of flavours of fritillary) and a common blue (which seems a thorough misnomer as I hardly see these and was most chuffed to find one). There were delicate whorls of ragwort dancing through the rushes punctuated by dots of achillea, creeping mountain time and small spears of something creamy which I have not confidently identified. I am thinking perhaps yellow germander but really not sure so if anyone knows (pic below) do say.

In a spectacular effort, we made the same wrong turning on the way home so by our reckoning, taking all such rerouting into account, we earned our Sunday dinner.

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