The great Rideout is a summer ritual for towns in the Scottish borders, and on my second day in Melrose, I was privileged to witness 198 horses leaving the town to perform this annual exercise. They were each given a ribbon to count them through the gate.
Riders young and old circled the hill overlooking the famous Melrose rugby field, to make claim to their boundaries. My mind meandered to the thought of creatures marking their territory against all comers…
With thousands of followers, we hastened through the tiny town to the banks of the River Tweed to grab good vantage spots, to wait, and wait…
The horses created waves as they crossed in droves between lines of Health & Safety marshalls, and we cheered them on.
By evening the horse boxes had dispersed, and a fancy dress competition absorbed the village families, re-visiting old rivalries in healthy fashion. A colourful parade through the town was led by kilted pipers and drummers, faces deadpan under an extraordinary variety of funny hats.
A rare treat filled another fine morning, as we enjoyed coffee in an old fashioned bookshop in St. Boswell’s, where you could browse at will in cosy cushioned nooks. But the sunshine beckoned us out to the gardens of Floor Castle where we lunched and walked through the woods, spotting a family of deer set in bronze. The balmy summer evening ended with a delightful meal in a family restaurant, where everybody knew everybody, and we walked the mile home in the late twilight.
I returned to Edinburgh via the quaint village of Peebles, stopping for lunch with Duncan, another old Kenya friend who, like me, had just about quadrupled in width since we’d last met forty years ago.
Next stop, the unpronounceable village of Torphichen, halfway between Edinburgh and Glasgow, to see university friend Carola and meet her husband. A delightful couple who shared the making of every meal, Carola producing delicious savoury dishes and Alastair cooking the vegetables to a T. After a pleasant survey of Linlithgow peel, I experienced the amazing engineering spectacle of the Falkirk Wheel, which dominates the landscape.
We watched a houseboat enter the lock and circulate through the wheel, powered by the equivalent of eight boiling kettles. Then we walked to the top level as another motored through the clouds to take the downward route. I could have stayed there for hours, soaking in the scene and catching the sun.
Before taking the train for the last leg of my journey, Carola led me on a brisk walk to delve into the vaults of ancient rituals under the extraordinarily symmetrical mound of Cairnpapple.
And finally I was treated to lunch at the Airport Hilton by a new fan of my book – a friend from teenage years I’d almost forgotten I’d known. It couldn’t get better than this.
I was in good time to catch the ‘plane, but they confiscated my overlarge bottle of skin care, then forced me to stuff my handbag into the badly-packed cabin case before they would let me through the shute onto the ‘plane. I nearly forgot to extract my passport and ticket before allowing a couple of fellow passengers to help me zip it up. Five minutes later I had no qualms at all blocking up the gangway while I extracted said handbag, before stuffing the rest into the overhead locker. No way was I going to be deprived of my kindle during the flight.
Gatwick was a nightmare. After locating a washroom, I stared, rabbit-in-headlights-like at the archway pointing to “trains” for a full five minutes. I’d just come from there – I didn’t want to go back to the North Terminal on the shuttle. Where was the wretched station? Eventually, I peered further into the flashing distance and spied a ticket office. Then I had to find the right platform…
I’d missed the train by three minutes. So I sat in misery on my up-ended case, partially shielded by a pillar from the freezing wind, trying to focus on my kindle for a full hour while four trains to Brighton whizzed through. As an Eastbourne train finally pulled in, a fellow traveller informed me that there was a waiting room further down the platform.
I slept like a log that night, but the wind hasn’t stopped howling since. Oh, how I miss warm and sunny Scotland.