Saint Cuthbert's Way, Part Three, St Boswells to Harestanes, Scotland
On the Banks of the River Tweed
On the Banks of the River Tweed

We don't find much to occupy us in St Boswells. Named after Saint Boisil, Cuthbert's abbot at Melrose, the town seems to have little interest in its namesake. There are no statues dedicated to the saint, no icons for sale in gift shops, no Saint Boisil bobbleheads. All rather disappointing.

Boisil played a minor role in Bede's Life of St Cuthbert, John the Baptist to Cuthbert's Christ. After his vision of St Aidan's ascension into Heaven, Cuthbert elected to join the monastery at Melrose. Boisil's good reputation was an important factor in his choice. When the young man presented himself before the monastery gate, petitioning to be enrolled among the monks, Boisil foresaw Cuthbert's future and shouted, "Behold, a servant of the Lord."

Like Cuthbert, Boisil spent a great deal of time preaching in the villages of southern Scotland. He cemented his reputation as a prophet when he predicted the plague that struck the Scottish Borders in 664. Cuthbert contracted this illness, but recovered. Boisil also became ill, but foresaw that his end was to be different: he told young Cuthbert that he had only seven days to live. Cuthbert was devastated and asked for direction. Boisil replied that the two men should not waste their remaining time. Master and disciple spent the last week of Boisil's life poring over the Gospel of John.

The sun breaks out of its cloud cloak as we leave St Boswells and work our way down a hill to rejoin the River Tweed. Our path now hugs the edge of a golf course; we walk the back nine. Between St Boswells and Maxton the trail follows an oxbow of the River Tweed that gaily leads us away from the direct route between Melrose and Lindisfarne. Again we have fallen victim to the sick humor of the trail planners: a direct line between St Boswell's and Maxton would have shaved at least a mile off the day's hike. But these are the same folks who thought a slog over the Eilden Hills would be such a treat. I suppose I shouldn't have been so surprised and outraged when I studied the map later. Tired and footsore, we unpack our feet from our boots and place our toes in the water for a few minute's rest near the Mertoun Bridge.

By this time, I am gripped with an unreasonable sense of optimism: we have walked many miles; how many more could there be? Surely the remaining distance couldn't be much. It feels like we have been walking for most of the day, although we made a late start from Melrose. A hopeful, repeatedly crushed, expectation that the end must be near makes the final stretch — from Maxton to Harestanes — the hardest.

The trail, after a few circuitous maneuvers, links into Dere Street, an ancient Roman road that once ran from York to the Antonine wall. If there was one thing the Romans did well (and in fact they did many things well) it was planning straight roads. The planners of St Cuthbert's Way could learn something from studying the work of Roman road engineers. Dere St runs straight and true, although it is a bit overgrown and not as well maintained as it would have been 1,500 years ago.

Our track leads through the site of the Battle of Ancrum Moor, where Scotland won a great victory over the English army. The late medieval period saw England frequently at war with Scotland. In 1543, the English King, Henry VIII, had declared war on Scotland. He was outraged because the Scottish Parliament had refused to allow a marriage (and political alliance) between his son, Edward, and the young Mary Queen of Scots. The ensuing campaign, known as "The War of the Rough Wooing," saw English forces cross into the Scottish Borders and make a nuisance of themselves. Looting, pillaging, destroying Scottish farms and villages, the British attempted to force an unwelcome alliance on the Scots through force of arms.

Lilliard's Stone
Lilliard's Stone

The Battle of Ancrum Moor was a turning point in the war. In 1545, a feint by a small detachment of Scots lured the English army and their mercenaries into a trap in this desolate ground. Fighting into the glare of a setting sun, the English were massacred by Scottish pikemen, and their forces were dispersed. It was a great moment for the Scots, and a small monument, Lilliard's Stone, was erected on the field of victory. Alleged to be the gravesite of a young woman (Lilliard) who fought the English after they had killed her lover, the monument is inscribed with the following dedication:

Fair maiden Lilliard

lies under this stane

little was her stature

but muckle was her fame

upon the English loons

she laid monie thumps

and when her legs were cuttit off

she fought upon her stumps

I feel like I am walking on my stumps as we limp into Harestanes. We have been walking for six hours, and have covered 15.5 miles. Enough. We end the day in a Bed and Breakfast in Harestanes. It has been a long first day's introduction to pilgrimage.

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Copyright, 2016 Richard J. Goodrich