Monday, 5 October 2015

Scotland by Rail - Tweedbank. Abbotsford House, nuthatches, kingfisher

The Eildon Hills. Eildon Hill North on the left, Eildon Mid Hill on the right.

My first ever day on the **** newly opened**** Borders Railway! Very very exciting. Read about the journey here.


Tweedbank station

Tweedbank is the final station on the Borders line, just beyond Galashiels. I chose it for my first Scotland by Rail Borders blog post

Unfortunately arriving at Tweedbank station is a bit underwhelming. You're met by a lot of fresh concrete- platform and car park. The station is beside a small industrial estate, on the edge of Tweedbank, so you don't immediately feel sure of which way toshould go. But don't be put off, it's a great starting point for exploring in every direction, by foot or by bike.

Listen for nuthatches. I heard their chinking calls almost as soon as I got off the train and continued to hear them all day. (Though I never caught a glimpse.)

Tweedbank station

Tweedbank village

To walk into Tweedbank itself turn right to exit station, then right again at mini roundabout (straight on is into the industrial estate. Probably actually worth a visit for Bread Works bakery, associated with Breadshare, a social enterprise near West Linton.A sign says they sell 80p teas and coffees...)

exiting Tweedbank station (for Tweedbank village turn right then right again)

Anyway, turn right to exit station, right again at mini roundabout. Follow the road towards houses. Or better - take the unobtrusive footpath into woodland on the left of the road, turn right when the path does and navigate until you find yourself passing behind and then through the housing estates. It's a good overgrown area of scrubland. There isn't signage, but if your sense of direction is bad, and it's breaktime, you can follow the sounds of the primary school. I had loads of soft blackberries and heard more than one chiffchaff chiffchaffing - seems late in the year, nearly the start of October. Two bullfinches were enjoying a hawthorn.

pathway from Tweedbank station to village

Tweedbank isn't a place for beautiful architecture and interesting shops and museums. It's small and new, only begun as a settlement in the early 1970s. It does have Gun Knowe Loch where I saw a big group of house martins feeding over the water. Also 20+ swans, 30+ mallards, moorhens, tufted ducks, blackbird, song thrush, wren, robin, bullfinch.

There's a cafe restaurant with excellent views across the loch (man-made lake), or there's a local shop in which to stock up for a picnic or on snacks for your walk.

Gun Knowe Loch. house martins were drinking from the water & hawking for insects.


a circular walk

I walked a route totalling 6-7km, taking me south from Tweedbank, along river, through beautiful woodland, through field, up (small!) hill, along (small!) hill-top country road, down into (very small) Darnick village and finishing back at Tweedbank station.

It was a fairly vague walk with lots of possibilities for longer/shorter/different options so I won't give detailed directions. Take an O.S. and see what you feel like.

1 -
Leave Tweedbank in the direction of the River Tweed. Quickest way is to follow the road all the way from station. Nicest way is to follow the footpaths that run near to the road. Another nuthatch was calling from the wooded path between Gun Knowe Loch and the river.

2 -
Arriving at the river at the point where it's crossed by the nastily busy A6091, walk down steps to pass under the road bridge. You're in woodland, on a track heading downhill. There's the Abbot's Ford. Someone had used it very recently...

this is the Abbot's Ford
 3 - 
Into the Abbotsford Estate. I stayed near the river and saw a heron perched perfectly in a pine across the water. Mallards were there, and three goosander. I heard a kingfisher downstream but couldn't see it. I sat to sketch and to eat more of my lunch than I really needed at 11am.

arriving on the Abbotsford Estate

sketching spot, River Tweed

why I stopped to sketch

goosander in sketchbook. Three of them among a raft of mallards.

a kingfisher flew past. It had been 'cheep'ing for some time just downriver. pencil & watercolour in sketchbook

4 -
Continue to follow the river through mature parkland and Abbotsford House (North Elevation). A great wide expanse of thistle and flower, brilliant for wildlife.

'Hollo sycamore!'

Abbotsford's North Elevation.

Ah yes. spot the pussy cat

River Tweed. On that shingle bank up ahead a pied wagtail and a grey wagtail were foraging side by side.

5 - 
River path becomes woodland path, beautiful beech tunnel. Fungi growing.

6 -
Cross the minor road B6360 and into this steep and undulating field. A copse of trees hanging above - Abbotslea Plantation.

sketching below the 'Abbotslea Plantation'

sketching the 'Abbotslea Plantation'

great views, dottings of grand houses

the things you can see with binoculars

7 - 
 At the top-right corner of the field is a gate and stile and a little yellow arrow. Follow that arrow. You're on a woodland track that runs above Faldonside Loch. On the loch were two adult swans with six young, the young full grown but still wearing their brown feathering. And a moorhen.

the little yellow arrow. Little, but chunky

lovely woodland track. Follow it. Faldonside Loch is down on the right.
do yew know what it is?

ce ne sont pas un oeuf

 8 -

The woodland track emerges by a house that I'd love to live in onto a small country road. Follow this straight for a couple of kilometres until you come downhill and past the Borders General Hospital. It's a beautiful minor road. Views to the Eildon Hills most of the way. Good hedgerows to forage in. Just lovely.

kissing trees
the Eildon Hills

Eildon Hills & blackberry. pencil & pen in sketchbook

black (& red) berries

Robin's pincushions. These are seriously amazing things. Read about them here, (two thirds of the way down)

worth zooming in on

badger latrine pits

9 -
Pass the hospital on your right and come to the busy A6091. Take the underpass and you entering the old village of Darnick. Explore. Every building makes you want to stop and nosey. Darnick Tower dates back to the 1400's. Lots of historical info here, click 'Next Page' to cycle through.

entering Darnick

Darnick Tower (In the Middle Ages there were three)

10 -
There's a very special little Community Garden with good signage about how to help wildlife in your own space at home.

Darnick Community Garden. Showing how beautiful a wildlife-friendly garden is, and no big amount of space needed.

11 -
Walk north out of Darnick, cross the main road, head down a track on the left of the large Waverley Castle Hotel. You're now bacl on th river Tweed, this time downstream of Tweedbank.

Turn left to walk upstream. Soon you pass the battleground of Skirmish Hill and immediately after that you reach another busy road. Cross it and come away from the river. Tweedbank station is a couple of minutes ahead of you.

NB - 
As I said at the start, there are many variations and extensions to this route. Have fun!


All birds seen/heard:

Black-headed Gull, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Bullfinch, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Coal Tit, Dunnock, Feral Pigeon, Goldcrest, Goosander, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Tit, Grey Heron, Grey Wagtail, House Martin, Jackdaw, Kingfisher, Magpie, Mallard, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Pied Wagtail, Nuthatch, Song Thrush, Robin, Tufted Duck, Woodpigeon, Wren.

30 species.


How to get there:

There are two trains an hour from Edinburgh Waverley to Tweedbank.
Find the ScotRail timetable here.

Many thanks as always to ScotRail for their invaluable support of my work to explore Scotland by Rail.


Sunday, 27 September 2015

Scotland by Rail. The *NEW* Borders Railway!

On September 6th 2015, the longest railway to be built in Scotland for more than 100 years was officially opened. The Borders Railway is 30 miles long, stretching from Edinburgh Waverley to Tweedbank. Journey time is 55 minutes.

Last week I made my first trip along the line, my first time ever on a brand new railway.


Read all about the route from people who know:

- the Waverley Route Heritage Association.

- the Campaign for Borders Rail.

- (documenting the building of the railway. Maps, station info, opening celebration, building timeline, general area info, etc etc etc.)


My own trip on the *NEW* Borders Railway:

9.22am, departed Edinburgh Waverley.

First station, Brunstane. Decided to take a photo of every station sign.


Though not a good one.



Eskbank - 'Alight here for bus to Dalkeith park'

Newtongrange - 'Alight here for the National Mining Museum Scotland'

A few minutes of views to the Pentlands. The other side of panorama from our home in Fife.

Borthwick Castle on the right, sitting so proud in its own little valley.

10am, halfway between Gorebridge and Stow - a kestrel perching hunch-backed on a wire.

10.03am, closer to Stow - bat boxes on lineside trees.

10.07am, arriving at Stow - a buzzard on a wire, as they so often are. A field of sheep below, one dark, all others white.

spot the kingfisher? No, me neither.


Stow church, tall spire spike.

Gala Water, snaking beside us.

More bat boxes.

On the left a cairn on a hill. A silhouette walker ascending.

church at Stow

just nice


Then passing a sewage treatment centre, great places for birds! (attracted to the flies).

Over a wide wide meander - the River Tweed

10.26am, arrived at Tweedbank.


To start with it's urban, through Brunstane, Newcraighall, Shawfair. As so often with urban railways you're passing through the unseen backlands. There are brambles, gorse, wildflowers, young birch thickets. You might see deer, or a fox.

I didn't.

Shawfair and onwards are all new stations and around each is rather a 'building site' look. Because that's what they've been until only weeks ago. Flowers and grasses are already sprouting and spreading and reaching skywards. It won't take long.

There's also initially disappointment at the stumps of a number recently felled large trees. That very quickly fades as you pass hundreds after hundreds that have been newly planted.

Tree guards. Moving train + dull day (so slower shutter speed) = lightsaber effect

a bank of lighsabers

Once the countryside gets started this becomes a very beautiful line. Gently hilly farmland, streams and rivers alongside. Dry stone walls dividing fields. Sheep and cows. Lots of birdlife. Little cottages to feel cosy about and country houses to ogle.

I spend the day walking from Tweedbank (another blog post to follow). On the way back I made some sketches and followed our journey on the map.


How to get there:

There are two trains an hour from Edinburgh Waverley to Tweedbank.
Find the ScotRail timetable here.

Many thanks as always to ScotRail for their invaluable support of my Scotland by Rail work.