Category Archives: Travel

Danger Valley

The fact that grew up in “the most dangerous valley in Scotland” was brought to my attention this week!  Why was I not aware of this before now you may ask?  And how did I survive?

It seems that the key to my continued existence, and my obliviousness to my home’s worrying reputation, is simply the century in which I was born.  Had I entered the world 450 years earlier things could have been very different, and the location where I was given life would most likely been responsible for my early demise!

Brutality, violence and conflict were the way of life in the Liddesdale valley throughout the middle ages, and it was this ferocious culture that earned the stretch of land its forbidding reputation.  The land through which the Liddel waters flow straddles the England-Scotland border, making it the front line for battles between the two opposing countries long before the concept of a ‘united kingdom’ was ever suggested.  However, it was not just warring between nations that bloodied the ground.  Neighbouring clans would raid each other’s land to steal livestock (and even women) from their fellow countrymen.

If you wander through this beautiful valley now it is so peaceful and unspoilt it can be difficult to believe that it has been witness to such treachery and betrayal, although there are a few ancient buildings and stone built memorials dotted around the landscape that remind you of times long past.  Hermitage Castle, which sits about 6 miles from the village of Newcastleton, is one such relic.

Sinister, stark, and somehow almost threatening, it stands ominously amongst the hills.  Unlike many historic attractions, it is a building that I think is best to visit on a day when the sky is dark and the air is cool, making sure you get a real appreciation of just how menacing and intimidating this castle can feel!  Complimenting the building’s haunting ambience is the tale of ‘Bad Lord Soulis’ who apparently lived in the castle and was eventually wrapped in lead and boiled to death by the Liddesdale clans – and if you believe the story it was one of the more justifiable murders they committed!

I have to admit that I am rather glad I was not quite so aware of the valley’s terrifying history when, in my youth, I had a very overactive imagination.  But I’m glad that I watched the first programme in the BBC series ‘Scotland Clans’ (which was shown on BBC Scotland this Wednesday) from which I gained this increased knowledge about the significant blood-shed which once took place so close to my childhood home.

Those who missed it (or are out with the catchment area for BBC Scotland) can catch it on BBC iplayer until Wednesday 16th February.   If it inspires you to explore the area for yourself and indulge in the rich history and traditions of the Border country, my personal recommendation for a place to stay is Braehead Cottage, just 11 miles from Hermitage Castle itself.

Get here in style with the ScotRail sleeper service

Let’s be honest – Scotland is far away. Further than Birmingham and Northampton put together. And lets face it, if you have ever driven, you’ll know that it takes until Blackpool before motorways actually come into their own.

So save yourself the hassle of Little Chefs and volcanic ash by taking the train here instead. Go that step further and get the sleeper train. It leaves Euston at 10.30pm and you arrive refreshed and ready for a day of sight-seeing at 7.30am with breakfast and a newspaper thrown in. You might have to share but it will be with someone of the same sex. Bunks are specified on the ticket so there won’t be any midnight arguments about who goes on top.

The Sleeper Service operates between London Euston and Glasgow Central. Check the Bargain Berth prices to grab a bunk for as little as £19 one way. That’ll leave you with enough for a glass of wine from the on board bar before you head off to bed. Just don’t let your imagination make you get so carried away as to dress up like you’re from an Agatha Christie novel.

Passing place etiquette

Driving on rural roads in parts of Scotland can throw up new challenges for the suburban driver. There are sheep and cattle to watch out for and tractors and cyclists to navigate around. But the main problem you’ll have to face is single track roads. Don’t get us wrong, after moving here from a city we found it hard to get used to. So here are the rules and some unwritten ones to help you help us.

Passing places work more than one way. Firstly they are for when two cars meet going in opposite directions which in this situation, the car closest to the passing place must either wait in it or wait next to it for the other car to use. DO NOT change sides of the road! Secondly, they can be used to let the faster driver behind you pass. These are usually irritable courier drivers who really shouldn’t flash or beep their horns but ignore the ones who do and let them pass without giving them the finger.

Now for some etiquette. Try to avoid any situation where you have to reverse or make the car coming towards you reverse. Just go cautiously around bends to eliminate any need for reversing into passing places. Not all of us are so confident in reverse especially if we’re new to the roads and panic easily. If you are in a checkmate situation where you’re both at an equidistant from two passing places but there are two cars coming towards you rather than you just on your own, then you should really do the reversing, simply because it is easier for one car than it is for two. Lastly, it is generally easier to wait at the passing place going down hill then to let the car going uphill wait and then make a hill-start. In general, it just takes a bit of common sense and to ask yourself in each situation what would be the best thing to do for both cars concerned.

When it comes to cattle on roads, I would suggest not beeping at them – my neighbour did this once only to have her bumper kicked off by a disgruntled cow.