Saturday, 10 May 2014

Biggar, Scotland

Not such a bad drive up here from London – about 6 hours and that was in hurtling-down rain. The countryside in Border Country is big hills, lots of green – mostly grass, but also trees, moss, rhododendrons not yet in bloom and low-growing foliage – and small-flowering plants, like red campion, dog violets, bluebells and wood anemone.

The towns are generally pretty stone-built houses; with one main street and not much off of them. We spent our first night in Biggar, at The Elphinstone Hotel (; which is also a pub and a restaurant). It has that slightly saggy look of a very old building, which is rather charming, but also as if it could do with a bit of a refresh on its exterior. Not to get rid of the period bits, but a coat of paint and such like would go a long way toward making it look a bit more loved. That said, the staff couldn't be friendlier or have given us a warmer welcome; the pub was cosy and comfortable; and our room – right at the back – was big and light, with a brand-new bathroom. So, overall, a slightly dated, tired look to the decor, but the low-key, homey vibe made up for it. Best bits? The tatty scones (potato pancakes) for breakfast and the Cullen skink (smoked haddock chowder) at dinner.

We spent our first full day in Border Country at New Lanark, a one-time mill town and site of the world's first workplace nursery. Oh yes. Robert Owen, who ran the place back in the 1700s, believed children should be educated, folks shouldn't be punished and in general he propounded a 'utopian socialism', which meant his workforce was happier, healthier and enjoyed a better lifestyle than their peers.

Today, New Lanark is a World Heritage Site and makes for an amazing visit, not least because of the River Clyde and the absolutely awesome waterfalls above the mill town, of which there are three. We spent a good few hours walking upsteam, stopping along the way at the Peregrine falcon 'watch', where there is effectively a 24-hour surveillance of a nesting pair in a rock face. It seems there are two main threats: those who want to destroy the eggs to prevent more of the falcons being born and those who want to steal either the parents or the eggs to sell to folks who want live birds for falconry exhibitions. Volunteers at this particular 'watch' have webcam and also telescopes set up for walkers to peek at the birds, who are beautiful. We spent some time talking to these folks, who are happy to answer any questions. I actually started to worry they might think I was planning something untoward ("So, how do folks actually reach the nest?" "What are the eggs worth?" etc) – hopefully not!

Spotted on our walk: a ruined castle, three sets of waterfalls, a pair of nesting Peregrine falcons, many sheep, a field of heifers, about half-a-dozen smiling walkers, one pair of shifty-looking folk who didn't say hello back.

Heard along the way: the constant roar of water, wind in the trees and the words: "Birds can't count".

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