With fishing, walking and fabulous food, Fiona Laing makes a break for the Borders
Flick! The fly alights on the water and the line tightens as it bobs downstream.
Flex the arm and the rhythm continues. It is pure anti-city therapy.
The Teviot is rushing along, the recent storm’s sediment making it brown, reducing the chance of catching salmon – even with this neon-bright fly, created especially for this mile-long stretch of the river.
Today’s emphasis on plough-to-fork or hook-to-plate and the provenance of our food has made us think about where our meals originate, so the chance to go fishing in the Borders seemed a good way to focus my mind on what I might eat later.
I was at Born in the Borders, the riverside visitor centre between Jedburgh and Denholm where local produce – and products – take pride of place.
It is the brainchild of John Henderson, who came home from London to the family farm and in looking for ways to generate additional income first set up a microbrewery.
Using the farm’s barley and an artesian well for water, it is a classic example of taking local produce to create an attractive product.
The flair of the ex-advertising man added memorable names to the craft ales produced – who can forget Foxy Blonde or Game Bird?
The Born in the Borders visitor centre combines the brewery, café and shop where the region’s food and drink sit beside its best products. There’s also camping… and the fishing.
In the dim and distant past I had cast a fly at a game fair but never on a salmon river. The reel whirring and the line arcing out over the brown water, under instruction of the ghillie Gary, was calming.
Across the river the bank has oaks, willows and a carpet of snowdrops; behind me are ploughed fields. Ospreys nest nearby – probably attracted by the rich salmon pools.
It’s easy to forget that just over an hour’s drive north up the A68 is the city of Edinburgh. Hearing the tales of the estate – the river, the fish, the storm – it doesn’t matter that it’s dreich and I’ll never really get the hang of casting and certainly never catch any of the salmon that Gary assures me love this beat.
After an hour beside the river, it’s time to put the Born in the Borders kitchen to the test. A big bowl of soup was definitely in order and this mushroom and chestnut combination was both creamy and packed full of flavour, chasing the cold from my bones. Paired with elderflower ale from the brewery across the courtyard, my taste buds were in heaven.
Having set my heart on a cake from the seriously imaginative baking on display, the suggestions for hearty mains were regretfully ignored.
As a procession of those temptations – beer battered fish, spinach macaroni and local cheese, venison burger – passed, my judgment was called into question. However, the orange polenta cake won the day and was the ideal sweet treat after my exertions.
This part of the southern Borders is easy to overlook: the A68 effortlessly heads to England; Kelso or Melrose snares the interest and the Borders Railway stops short.
So it’s to be welcomed that Rabbie’s Trail Burners, the Edinburgh sightseeing tour operator, is launching trips into the countryside utilising the new railway. Two of the day tours call at Born – as well as Jedburgh, our own stop for the night.
Another place by-passed on the race for the south, Jedburgh combines history with a sense of modern purpose. The shops are independent and attractive enough to browse as you make your way from Mary, Queen of Scots’ House up the long hill to the faux-castle.
Mary visited the 16th century fortified house in 1566 and it now tells her life story. We had just enough daylight left to walk round the town and as luck would have it came to the abbey as the lights were coming on.
This imposing ruin is rather different from other abbeys. St Andrews or Melrose sit a respectful distance from their town, here the red sandstone building is hemmed in by houses on its perch above the river.
We were ready for another taste of the Born in the Borders empire after our walk so we headed a few miles north to Ancrum where we had a table booked at the Cross Keys.
This is something of a pearl – the first impression is that this is a village pub; a traditional bar which will be familiar to generations of drinkers. Venture further inside and the modern interpretation is a bright, stylish restaurant.
The emphasis is on good old-fashioned pub grub. True to Henderson’s ethos at Born in the Borders these bar classics use the best local produce.
They don’t take themselves too seriously: scampi comes in a poke of Southern Reporter, while chips are delivered in a tankard.
The tender chicken burger oozes with pesto and mozzarella while the Borders game pie is packed with countryside meats in rich gravy, topped with a puff of pastry and garlanded with fine ribbons of parsnip crisps.
These being big portions, we have to call time on food, skipping the pudding line-up and bringing our cheerful evening to a close.