THOMAS the Rhymer was an interesting man. Entranced by the Queen of the Fairies beneath the Eildon tree, he was taken away to fairyland in the 13th century.
On his return, several years later – though he thought he had been gone just a few days – he had apparently acquired the ability to forsee the future. It makes a good tale to add to the rich fabric of history, both factual and mythical, that surrounds Melrose.
It all started way before the fairies were even heard of. Iron Age man thought the Eildon Hills a good place for fort-building 3,000 years ago, then came the Romans.
Much is made of the Trimontium fort, and its location on farmland is a good place for a stroll, above the River Tweed. Interpretation panels help us understand the complex, built by Agricola’s forces – in truth, without them you would struggle to know the Romans had ever been near the place. But the history of the area, together with legends of fairies, make this an almost timeless place to visit.
DISTANCE 3 miles.
HEIGHT CLIMBED 300ft.
TIME 1½ to 2 hours.
MAP OS Landranger 73.
PARKING Drive into Newstead from the A6091, a mile east of Melrose. Take the first right, then go right again to park on a lane blocked to traffic after 100 yards, next to an NHS Borders building.
IN SUMMARY Head back down the lane, then down Newstead’s Main Street. At the bottom of the hill, go left, up Claymires Lane. At the top, go right to follow a path that turns left to pass below an old railway line and through an underpass. After emerging from this, go through the left gate of two and follow a track upwards. The track bears right to continue up in a fairly straight line to reach a road.
Go left to walk past a barrier that stops traffic and after about 100 yards go left, on to a muddy grass path between hedges. Just before the start of the path is a memorial to Thomas the Rhymer and a stone marking where the Eildon Tree is said to have stood. At the end of the hedges, go straight on at a junction of tracks, past a couple of pines to drop down.
At the bottom of the hill, carefully cross the A6091 and follow a track on the other side. Go through a farmyard, then up a slope to the right before turning left, on to a former railway line. At an information panel telling you about the Roman fort, cross a stile to the left, then go right, along the edge of a field. On reaching a road, take a detour to the right for a view of the bridges over the Tweed. To return to the start, go left, up the road, past more panels and a large memorial stone marking the fort.
REFRESHMENTS There is nowhere to eat at the start of the walk, so had to Melrose, where there is a great choice – including Marmions Brasserie (www.marmionsbrasserie.co.uk).
WHILE YOU ARE IN THE AREA Melrose Abbey (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk) is the place where the heart of Robert the Bruce is thought to be buried. The Three Hills Roman Heritage Centre (www.trimontium.org.uk), which stands on the Square in Melrose, is full of interesting history and reopens for the season in April. The new visitor centre at Abbotsford House (www.scottsabbotsford.co.uk), home of Sir Walter Scott, is now open, with the house due to re-open this summer.