Not so much a new year resolution but a gradual climb back to form for Kim post the ankle injuries sustained last year. We’re also conscious of not exploring our immediate neighbourhood as thoroughly as we could do. Hence an afternoon combining new ground and old in a rewarding circular. Peeled off from the long distance path, heading for North farm. Here huge step slabs of carboniferous rock , laid down 300 million years ago, are exposed in the bed of the burn, making for small waterfalls along its course. To a not unfriendly chorus of barking dogs we brave the yard and pick up signs for the byway heading cross fields to the forest’s edge. Much has been cleared here in recent years and replanted. Part with conifer, part with deciduous. Ground plants, new exposed to light, along with bird and butterfly habitation that follow, have a window of a few years before the conifers grow and close serried ranks once again. Love the views from here. The sky so vast and clear offering totally new views of otherwise familiar buildings and features. Eventually we come to a large stell (sheep enclosure) made of timber and rusted corrugated sheets. Lots of red plastic tubs, magnesium licks for the flocks. A good wooden footbridge carries us over the higher reaches of our northside burn; the chocolate brown swill snaking swiftly into its widening vale, banked with alder and willow. From here we rejoin the road on the watershed of our sill ridge.
It’s but a short stroll downhill to a signpost leading us over rough grazing to reveal the core of a 16th century bastle (fortified house) converted by the 18th century into a regular holding. Alas, today trees grow out of its roofless outbuildings and great cracks run through the dilapidated tin roofed farmhouse. Originally such a site, high above a steep ravine and stream, would have provided good natural defence in lawless times but eventually that precipitous siting proved its undoing and the complex seems to have been abandoned as a place of continuous occupation by the 1830’s. However, we’re told that barn dances were held here in living memory. The unique feature though – for which it is famous – is set neatly in the boundary wall a few yards from the ruins. Restored and gated by the national park in 1994 ‘The Long Drop’ is a netty (toilet) that projects some 40′ feet above the wooded gorge below. After a good look around we take the down path to cross the vigorous Southridge burn, rising to reach a ruined cottage with a massive holly tree in the garden. Behind the river broadens into a deep pool, reputed to be ‘a bottomless linn’, its still surface and peated colouration giving the romantic belief credibility. It’s on Southridge farm land and the younger members of the family paddle and swim here in the heat of Summer. On the last leg of our perambulation, having pushed labouriously through rushy bog, we discover a section of cliffs & near vertical slopes fecund with trees & bushes, ferns and bluebells etc. Only here are they safe from the remorseless grazing of sheep and cattle. Fine clump of old oaks too in one sheltered corner and a well constructed double sectioned stone stell add distinction to the scene. Across the narrow valley another neighbour’s densely replanted and well fenced boundary hedge attracts our praise. Picking up the long distance path again we’re back on familiar territory, dropping to recross the Southridge burn footbridge before a winding climb up the other side. A good viewpoint to marvel at the river’s action over millennia working through the sandstone to form deep water catchments overhung with trees clothed in lichen and moss. We remember our old friend at Bastle farm telling us she regularly sees mature homecoming salmon resting up here on their epic migration each autumn.