Saint Cuthbert's Way, Part Four, Harestanes to Cessford Castle, Scotland
Saint Cuthbert's Way
Saint Cuthbert's Way

Out the door at 8:45, a bright but cold morning. The TV weatherman reports that it has frozen in some parts of Scotland overnight, but I don't think we will find ice on St Cuthbert's Way. We leave our comfortable lodging to resume our hike along Dere Street.

Our path takes us on a slow ascent through more fields, past the base of Down Law. This small hill is topped by an octagonal stone tower known as the Baron's Folly. According to the Scottish Register of Historical Buildings, the Folly was originally a small summer house built by Baron Robert Rutherford in 1777. It seems rather small to have served as a house ― summer or otherwise ― which makes the local legend seem more plausible: that the building was constructed to serve as a romantic getaway for the baron's trysts. It's not difficult to imagine the Baron sneaking out late at night, crossing the dark moors, to meet a fair-haired lover in his lonely tower.

The Borders is a land of monuments. No sooner have we put the Baron's Folly on our stern quarter then we are greeted by the stone needle of the Waterloo Monument. Built to honor the Duke of Wellington, Napoleon's nemesis, this 162 foot tower can be seen for miles.

Dere Street leads us down to the banks of the Teviot River. We cross the stream on the very bouncy Monteviot Suspension Bridge, which was built in 1999, pass through more fields, and then the old Roman road turns uphill. From the top of the hill we get a good (hopefully last) look at the Waterloo Monument. The structure has been in our line of sight for hours and I would like to sink it below the horizon.

The Waterloo Monument
The Waterloo Monument

One of the disconcerting things about St Cuthbert's Way is the lack of mile markers. I like to track progress in all of my endeavors ― whether I am counting the words in a book manuscript, or the number of miles I have walked in a day. We have maps of our route, and we are just nearing the edge of the first page. I would have an easier time of it if I could click off the miles as we hiked. But St Cuthbert's does not support that particular indulgence. You walk. Then you walk some more. Sooner or later you arrive. This imprecise measure of progress bothers me, although I am certain it is a personality flaw. I just like knowing where I am and how far I have to go. St Cuthbert tells me to relax. I find it hard to listen.

Clouds are thickening. I have a sense that rain is imminent, and sure enough, moments after recording that thought, a September rain begins to fall.

We catch a break, as the trail now winds through a grove of Beech trees. The thick, wide leaves, which have yet to depart their branches to blanket the earth, bear the brunt of the drizzle. We don't get too wet. The highlight of the morning was seeing a small mouse creeping through the leaves. Once it perceives our presence, the mouse panics and scurries for a hole. Guess we won't have any incredible St Cuthbert wildlife moments.

Rain spatters down intermittently through the morning as we hike. The clouds threaten, but never actually muster the energy to deliver a full, soaking, Scottish deluge. By noon, the clouds are beginning to fray and blue sky reasserts itself around the edges of the grey.

A Crofter's Barn
A Crofter's Barn

Since we are taking our breakfasts and dinners at our overnight accommodations, we do not need to carry much in the way of food. We both have packed our lunches, and David is carrying a portable camp stove. Periodically, for he is an Englishman, he balks like a stubborn mule and refuses to take another step until he has had his spot of tea. Since I am not an Englishman, I do not know why one rest stop requires tea while another does not. I am unable to work out the mysteries of the schedule that governs his tea consumption. Nevertheless, lunch is always a suitable time for a cuppa. As we settle in for our meal, he unfolds his little camp stove, lights the wick, and places a tin of water to boil.

I humor his tea obsession. I don't have to carry his stove, and he has been fantastically accommodating of my need to stop and pull out my camera at odd intervals to capture our journey. I suppose we all have our quirks.

Lunch reminds me of one of Bede's stories about Cuthbert: once, Cuthbert and a young monk were out walking in the wilderness, but unlike us, they had not packed their lunches. The young monk became worried about the lack of food, but Cuthbert encouraged his youthful companion to have faith in God's ability to meet their needs. At that moment, an eagle flew past overhead. "God," said Cuthbert, "could use that eagle to feed us."

The two men walked on, and when they reached the river, they again encountered the eagle. "Go see how God is using the eagle," urged Cuthbert. When his companion approached the bird, he saw that it had just captured a great fish. He took the fish away and brought it back to Cuthbert.

"What have you done?" asked Cuthbert. "Give the eagle its share of the fish." Mortified, the young disciple divided the fish into two parts, and returned one portion to the noble bird. The two monks then continued on to the next village, where they found someone to cook their half of the fish. Both men, and the villagers ate well.

The water boils. Tea time.

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Copyright, 2016 Richard J. Goodrich