Wednesday, 1 October 2008 The first day is always a little rough. I nearly leave my folder, with all of my documents in it, in the lounge at
Schiphol, and nearly leave my camera under the seat of the plane to Edinburgh. At Edinburgh Airport, I visit the tourist information
booth, and actually do leave my carry-on, with my laptop in it, there. Don't miss it until I'm loading up the rental car. Have to
catch the bus back to the terminal...fortunately, it's right where I left it. Honestly, where's security?
Out on the road, I spend a good part of the time being lost, enduring two major detours, and driving many miles behind umpty slow-moving farm vehicles. On the plus side, I manage a whirlwind tour of the four Borders abbeys, and before that, lunch with Audrey.
Audrey is a friend of Emily's. Emily is a French teacher in southwestern Connecticut. I met her a year and a half ago, when her class took a trip to Quebec City. She lived in Edinburgh for a while, which is where she met Audrey. During the Quebec trip, we talked a lot about Scotland, and we've been penpals since.
Recently Emily asked me if I would deliver something to Audrey--a disassembled chair. (Don't ask, it's a long story.) She brought it to my house last week. Unfortunately, the major parts of it were too big to fit in my Giant Rolling Duffel. So I find myself delivering the three cross slats to Audrey. That might seem a little strange; I think it does to Audrey. No matter. Emily was ready to drop the whole idea, but I talked her into letting me bring the slats--for me it's an opportunity to meet someone interesting. I find Audrey's home in West Linton, in the shadow of the Pentland Hills, and she is kind enough to buy me lunch at a little cafe nearby. And I learn more about Emily in an hour than I have in the last year and a half.
I drop my camera while taking Audrey's picture, spilling batteries on the ground--apart from a small dent, it seems to be all right. Funny, the last time I dropped a camera was in the cursed airport in Paris; I was on my way to Hexham.
I feel very American as I dash around looking at the abbeys. I manage to see three before closing-- Melrose, Dryburgh, and Kelso--knowing I can get a good shot or two of Jedburgh from outside. [Links to Undiscovered Scotland feature pages.] Melrose was founded by Cistercian monks from Rievaulx, in Yorkshire, in 1136. Largely destroyed by the English in 1322 (not for the last time), it was rebuilt with help from Robert the Bruce, whose heart was later buried in the chapterhouse. The spot is marked by a modern stone.
Premonstratensian Dryburgh Abbey, which I haven't seen before, is particularly beautiful, situated as it is on lovely grounds laid out by the Earl of Buchan, who acquired the property in 1786. Sir Walter Scott's tomb is here. I have to tear myself away from this lovely spot in order to get to Kelso Abbey before 4:00. I needn't have worried; this Tironensian abbey is the most reduced site of the four, and there is little that can't be seen from the sidewalk. I'm happy to see it, not having visited before, but it's off my route by some ways, and doesn't seem worth the detour, much less missing closing at Jedburgh. This last, founded by Augustinians, is the most imposing of the Borders abbeys, sitting very nearly complete at the height of the town that surrounds it. Like all the others, it suffered multiple invasions in the border wars with England.
I'd forgotten how pretty the Borders is--I must plan a longer visit sometime. As I make this cursory tour of the abbeys, I realize that I know almost nothing about their reason for being, the orders of monks that founded them, the details of their daily lives, and the circumstances of their dissolution. These are things I will have to consider as I visit other abbeys in the weeks ahead.
The A68 crosses the border at the top of a rise. If you were dropped here without orientation and told that you were at the frontier, you might well think the wild moorland to one side was Scotland, and the rolling pastoral land to the other was England. You'd have it backwards. The Northumbrian countryside can seem pretty bleak in the off-season, but there is an austere beauty to the golden autumn landscape. The road from here leads directly to Corbridge, very near Hexham, but there is a horrendous long detour along the A696, much of which is apparently being patrolled by farmers in tractors. Approaching Hexham at last, tired and frustrated, I'm startled by a flash of light as I enter the village of Acomb. I've been photo-radared, doing about 40mph in a 30mph zone. Bloody hell. Ten years of visiting the UK, and my only previous brush with the law was when an officer in Kilmarnock pulled me over for using a mobile phone while driving. I'd actually just been scratching my ear--I've never carried a mobile here. Now I, the tenth-slowest driver in the entire UK, have been nabbed for speeding. I guess I'll have a ticket waiting for me when I get home.
I find my way into Hexham and settle in at the B&B. My landlady tells me in conversation, to my dismay, that the Tap & Spile has closed, just this past week. Find dinner at the Forum, a Wetherspoon's conversion of an art-deco cinema, and have a couple of pints at the Heart of All England, which seems a decent local. I watch the ladies play darts for a while before calling it a night.