Kaims, saw and conquered in Borders country

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AND now for something completely different, a brisk January Borders walk from Greenlaw to view the Bedshiel Kaims that lie south-east of the Lammermuir Hills and the Southern Upland Way.


Map Ordnance Survey map 74, Kelso & Coldstream

Distance 7 miles

Height 100m

Terrain Road, track and path

Start point Greenlaw

Time 3 to 4 hours

Nearest village Greenlaw

Nearest refreshmentsBlackadder Hotel, GreenlawJames Hutton, considered the father of modern geology, wrote that the present is the key to the past and the past is the key to the future. The most obvious example I have come across recently, of the present being the key to the past, are the Bedshiel Kaims. I read an article about the Kaims in the Scottish Geographical Journal, March 2006, by David Evans, Stuart Wilson and Duncan McGregor, and it made me curious enough to want to pay them a visit.

Originally used to define a crooked and winding or steep-sided mound, "kame" or "kaim" is of Scottish origin and a lay term for an esker, an elongated sinuous ridge marking the former position of glacial streams. At the end of the last ice age, some 12,000 years ago, melt-water rivers cut large valleys and layers of sand and gravel were dumped, some in the form of these gravel ridges. An excellent example is the two-and-a-half-mile long ridge that stretches from Dogden Moss to Polwarth Moss and is known locally as "The Kaims". Bedshiel is the name of the nearby farm. The Kaims have been clearly identified on the OS map, probably due to their striking appearance. This single ridge feature rises from the moorland to a height of 15m in places, with wide very steep slopes.

The esker has been breached at a few places, the largest breach being at the mid-point, cut through by the Millknowe Burn, which then becomes the Fangrist Burn. The latter has gouged out quite a channel through Dogden Moss and Greenlaw Moor - all words that graphically describe the terrain. The Fangrist Burn joins the Blackadder Water which flows round the village of Greenlaw.

The Kaims lie north of Greenlaw at map ref 700500 in a triangle of land enclosed by the A697, the A6105 and the B6456, a boomerang-shaped feature that fully deserves its prominence on the map.

When the Mountain Lamb and I went there at the end of November, we did a north/south traverse of the moor from the B6456, passing Bedshiel. We were lucky that it was a lovely day, albeit initially very wet underfoot (it is moorland after all), and the easiest way to the Kaims was following a vehicle track east to map ref 703507, the obvious eastern breach in the esker. This northern side would not be easy to traverse in foul weather, so the following walk goes north from Greenlaw, then back again.

You will need Ordnance Survey map 74, Kelso and Coldstream. Park in Greenlaw and walk north on the A6105 for a half mile to a minor road on the left, signposted Greenlawdean.

Follow this road to where it turns left. Leave the road for a somewhat muddy but pretty track that goes NNW to the right of a wooded strip and left of grazing fields. Pass a gate at map ref 707475 and turn right to leave the track, going by a not very obvious-at-first path to reach the open moorland.

Continue NNW by the edge of the trees, climbing slightly and following an excellent track. By now the line of the esker can be clearly seen and beyond that the white roof of a large shed beside Bedshiel Farm. Beyond the farm are the twin hills, Dirrington Little and Great Law.

The last section of trees on the left is an open plantation and at its end, at map ref 703488, continue with the track as it turns west, then north, on approaching the small valley of the Fangrist Burn. A vague track continues in a straight line from the corner of the wood, presumably the line of the path shown on the map, but on a misty day it would be safer to stay with the earlier track and its line of fence posts.

The track stays on the high ground above the burn. Continue to map ref 699495 and either cross the bridge or stay on the east side of the burn and meander round to the gap in the esker.

The esker looks like a man-made flood protection bank or a defensive rampart from some ancient fortress. The pebbly under-soil of the esker is all too obvious and quite different from the surrounding terrain. Topped with sparse vegetation, it is a delight to walk on and makes a commanding viewpoint over the bleak surroundings. Take a pleasant stroll to the eastern breach and return the same way.

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