Bonnie Scotland gleams along the road less traveled. Being Americans – we love a good road trip. Compound that with the fact that we are living a car-free life here in Copenhagen, Denmark and it can make us a little giddy when we get into a car on vacation. And no. We have not driven on that side of the road. EVER. But, don’t worry – we took the full insurance* for our first car hire in the U.K. Signal before the roundy round. That’s my only advice. Just do it. We did. Most of the time. So, off we went. From Middlesbrough, England to Edinburgh, Scotland and back.
Our few days’ road trip took us up the Northumberland coast to idyllic sea villages like Seahouses, Bamburgh and the Farne Islands on our way to the Scottish capital. And once full of pocketed memories from Edinburgh’s charms, it was soon time for us head back south towards our English hosts in Middlesbrough. For our return, with so much new territory to see and no need to backtrack, we choose the middle path back over the moors. Come with us. It was beautiful. Just ignore laments from the backseat of whose music choice holds priority; issues regarding overcrowding or seat boundary infractions; and my favorite – the never ending complaints of hunger pain, despite recent rations procurement. I do. So much to see. Too much to absorb. This was my take away. I hope the not-so-littles gleaned a bit too. I think they did. This is the A68 south from Edinburgh, Scotland over the border to Corbridge, England.
The calendar shows May, newly minted this 2016. It is spring. In southern Scotland. Verdant hills littered with fluffy white sheep roll down over little farms. Homes made of stone, cut from nearby quarries, overlook creeks that wend along the curve of the hill above. Low-lying drystone walls demarcate this farm from that, these sheep from those. How long have these lines been laid? They lend a timelessness to the landscape – conjuring feudal eras with their lords, vassals and serfs. My teenage son pictures Winterfell.
In early May, gorse bushes bloom yellow upon thorny and dark evergreen shrubbery. A distant cousin of the invasive Scotch broom that wreaks havoc on allergies in the Pacific Northwest (my “from“), the gorse here – coarse and hardy – shines golden across the misty moors. We cross the River Tweed on our way towards Jedburgh. New leaves are emerging on the deciduous canopy lining the single lane road, tinting the landscape a light yellowy green. Evergreens punctuate with darker green scruffy branches.
Spring brings daffodils and bluebells and cherry blossoms to contrast all the green. Spring brings baby lambs white and fuzzy; incorrigibly curious and kicky. Wee babies scamper after their mum or romp in pairs and threes. Others take a break with little faces turned up toward the sun, feet folded carefully beneath them, proper and restful. As we drive past, we can’t help but be charmed by their antics whether in repose or in play.
Abbeys and castles and inns and pubs intersperse the farmland. The Black Bull. The Red Lion. The Auld Cross Keys Inn or the Buccleuch Arms. No time for a pint or to sample the haggis. We roll on. Whole fields of shocking yellow rapeseed sway past more lemony and soft in the breeze – so different than the course gorse of the higher moor. Sheep after sheep after sheep after sheep – plump and puffy – near their time for shearing, some more dreadlocked than others; paint on their backs like some code to be unraveled.
Twists and turns and roundabouts and dips reveal signs that point to little towns en route. Towns with names like Galashiels, Longnewton, Roxbrough, Nisbet, Ancrum, Lilliesleaf, and Oxnam. We pass crossroads for Mossburnford, Hundalee, Glendouglas and Chesters. No time to visit Mervinslaw, Falside, Edgerston Tops, Lethem or Byrness. We save Hexham, Darlington, Highgreen and Comb for other days. Other drives.
Horrible Histories echo and call from eras gone by. See Mary Queen of Scots home here in Jedburgh. Or the majestic Jedburgh Abbey in ruin now, roof open to the sky. Moss covered tombstones wobble and sway in organized disarray. In the the town, red telephone boxes call for attention – iconic and quaint in their modern arbitrariness. What has been shared over those lines in those boxes? And what imaginations coddled beneath those huge old oaks whose limbs balance precariously on braces? Like grumpy old patriarchs, just patient enough, holding court over the manor lawn.
Through the hedges, pheasants resplendent peek. Faithful Labradors obediently out on their walk, may still send feathers aflight. A baby lamb with feet dipped in black marches his tune atop his mother’s resting back. On lookout across the field.
Clouds crop the top of the next hill’s crest and suddenly the road empties of the vintage cars and new caravans cruising between castles. Castles like Ferniehirst or Thirlestane. We hairpin back and forth towards the English border. Trees disappear and winter’s latent brown heather quilts over the hills. “Caution lorries turning.” We take the layby (rest stop) to stand on the border. Mist rolls over the Scottish side and we bid goodbye. Back to Northumberland and Yorkshire and the North Sea. Back to England, we’ll be.
Down we head to logging and lumber and long vistas of hills. Oreo cookie colored cows – black, white, black – casually edge the Kielder Forest. Belted Galloway’s – I learn – are adapted to life on the moors. But here the trees are thicker and we follow logging trucks. I can’t help but make comparisons to my own private Oregon. “King of the road,” here, there, everywhere.
The landscape opens up to hay-colored hillocks, studded with natural stone outcrops and cordoned by fences and gates. Take note, “Weak bridge at Wark.” We miss Monksridge, Knowesgate, Kirkwhelpington, Throckrington and Barrasford Park. Like a roller coaster the road surges and dives, up and down. Up and down. Over blind summits and hidden dips. Dipping down again, we lose our stomachs, but we love the view. And while our path may not have been efficient, we enjoyed the journey and highly recommend the long way round, no matter how many roundy rounds.
*As it turns out we didn’t need the full insurance as we were perfect in our other side of the road travel. But we do recommend it for peace of mind. 😉