Day 2 Longformacus to Lauder – about 15 miles

I’m no enthusiast for quoting precise distances. By the time I’ve strolled off the path to look at a view, nipped behind a hedge for a pee or found a nice grassy bank for a rest, I’ve made nonsense of exact numbers and timings derived from a map. If my estimates are wrong by a mile a day, it amounts to 20 or 25 minutes. If the day is warm and sunny, I’ll sit longer than that to look at a view, whereas if it’s cold and wet I’ll stop less often and walk faster.

On Day 2, however, I made an early start because I wanted to visit Thirlestane Castle at Lauder.

Longformacus village

Before 8am I was out of frosty Longformacus, marching purposefully up the valley towards Watch Water Reservoir. On the gently sloping heathery domes of the Lammermuir Hills the two distant cairns of Twin Law marked the highest point of the day’s walk.

The SUW passes the white buildings of the farm in the right background.

Anglers were preparing for action at Watch Water Reservoir. The grouse moors beyond reminded me of hard treks across heather above mid-Wharfedale, but here the expanse is much greater. Later that day an environmental scientist bemoaned the sterile monoculture of grouse on the hills, though she acknowledged the challenge of making a financial return any other way.

The newest landscape feature along the SUW is the wind turbine. Beyond the reservoir lay a road construction site which will lead to another wind farm. Here’s a question for you: if you could choose between (a) nuclear power, or (b) wind power, or (c) feeling cold, which would it be? Oh, by the way, options (a) and (b) will be in your back yard.

Looking back to Watch Water Reservoir from the track to Twin Law

The SUW rises steadily to Twin Law. Two massive cairns and a trig point stand on the summit. The cairns were rebuilt after the Second World War, having been demolished during training of a Polish tank regiment. The cairns commemorate twin boys who mortally wounded each other fighting for opposing armies in the mythical Battle of Twin Law. Scots seem to love making hilltop structures.

Addendum: I’m indebted to Bob Jaffray for the following correction and additional information.

I lived at Rawburn, between Longformacus and Watch Water. The farm was upwards of 3000 acres, being mixed sheep, cattle and arable.

There were many more than the Polish troops involved in training in that area. Both artillery and tanks were involved, mostly approaching from Cralaw, on Wedderlie farm, near Westruther, the tanks cruising the low ground to practice mobile shooting. Some of the tanks came through Rawburn ground, especially the South Side hirsel. A few were Polish, but mostly they were from the south. Interestingly enough, although they might have found the lowland Scots accent something of a problem, we sometimes had great difficulty in following their accents!

There was a lot of military activity with thirty-ton tanks - early Valentines - and I always remember just how pathetically slow they were; lumbering Churchills, Covenanters and Crusaders, and then the Cromwell began to appear. The crews had great difficulty in discerning the difference between firm ground and bottomless bog, and once stuck down to the belly it sometimes took several days to marshal help enough to haul them out - which churned up the ground roundabout no end. The crews would sometimes come over to our house where Mother would supply them with oddments from the food cupboard to keep them going until help arrived; on one occasion we must have recently killed a pig as they were astounded to see so much food hanging from the ceiling. A Sherman stuck so deeply that the hole had to be fenced to keep sheep and lambs from falling in and drowning - and the fence remained there all the time I was herding, right up to 1965.

Needless to say they were very destructive and caused a lot of damage, not only on the hill where they simply charged through dykes and fences, but once onto country roads they left a trail of mayhem.

The Cairns were an obvious target for all forces up on Twinlaw Hill and took quite a bit of battering - mind you not many shells actually hit - many went far afield - very far afield! After the war repair work was carried out with great attention to detail by John Leitch and his team of dry-stane dykers from Longformacus.

At Twin Law

From Twin Law the Eildon Hills of Melrose were clearly identifiable, and I scampered towards them along a broad route that gently leads from the hills, taking a lunch break at Braidshawrigg, the first farm on my descent. Having flirted only briefly with the Lammermuir Hills, I felt the SUW should have begun at Dunbar and followed the former Herring Road, once a major trade route. My direction was onward to Lauder, however, my mind fixed on further refreshments at Thirlestane. Waymarking through the fields was pretty good, but I’d have needed the compass in poor visibility.

Braidshawrigg – a farm in the Lammermuir Hills

Thirlestane Castle – how the other half lives

I enjoyed everything about Thirlestane Castle – excellent tearoom with friendly staff, followed by an uncrowded tour of the house which ended with fascinating sections on “life below stairs” and local historical context. It’s a short day between Longformacus and Lauder, and indeed between Lauder and Melrose/Galashiels, but if you intend to visit Thirlestane be aware that it’s not open every day.

Lauder is on the A68, a main road between Edinburgh and Newcastle. All facilities a walker might need are here. My accommodation was excellent, though the house dog seemed over-keen to mark my room as his territory. On a positive note, I was served a cooked breakfast at the commendably early hour of 7am.

Both pictures: Descending from the Lammermuir Hills

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