Saturday, 20 February 2010

Old Melrose.

Day 16: Selkirk to St Boswell’s.

Distance: 17.8 miles (285.2 total).

Duration: 7 hrs 18 mins.

Lowest Temp: 1ºc.

Weather: Crystal white beneath our feet and clear blue above us.

Highest Alt: 957 ft.

Situated a couple of miles from Melrose, on a bend in the River Tweed, there is not a great deal to see now at Old Melrose. It’s a beautiful, tranquil corner, hidden away and at peace. If Iona is most decidedly ‘Columba’s Island’, and if most people think of St Cuthbert when they think of Lindisfarne, then perhaps Old Melrose is St Aidan’s place – an overlooked corner for an all too often overlooked Saint.

The story goes that on the night St Aidan died in Bamburgh, a young shepherd called Cuthbert saw in the sky the lights of angels taking Aidan’s soul to heaven, and went at once to begin a new life as a monk at the monastery at Old Melrose which Aidan had founded.

There are many places in the chronology of the Celtic Saints where events coincide. St Ninian is said to have founded his abbey at Whithorn in the same year that his great inspiration, St Martin of Tours, died. As St Columba died, so the missionary St Augustine of Canterbury, is supposed to have landed in Kent.

Perhaps these are just coincidences, or perhaps they reflect an understanding by the historians of many centuries ago, that each new beginning marks some kind of ending, and in all our endings there is the potential for something new to begin.

The days and hours and miles are all passing too quickly for me at the moment. Obviously part of me is looking forward so much to walking on to Lindisfarne, to completing my pilgrimage from Iona, but there is also a growing part of me that doesn’t want this journey to end. Whereas in the first days of this pilgrimage I spent my time looking ahead, now I tend to be looking backwards to all the wonderful experiences that are falling ever further into my past. I needed to visit Old Melrose today, to be reminded that whenever something passes from our lives there is often also something new which is beginning to stir, even if we might not be able to recognise it at the time for what it will be.

Lastly for today, thanks ever so much to my Dad and to Anji for their wonderful hospitality over the past three nights. The Archdeacon and I enjoyed a very pleasant visit to Selkirk Cricket Club last night, where Malcolm bought us a pint, Scone tried to persuade us of the delights of the Cape Wrath Way, and a gentleman by the name of Banksy enlivened the evening’s sport of ‘carpet bowls’ with a wide and varied range of what we assumed were Gaelic battle cries.


  1. Thourghly enjoyed the company of Yourself and the Archdeacon last night. Your behaviour was by far better as your Dad's.Now you are a paid up member you are welcome any time, You can sign Your Dad in, the Chairman of Vice.

  2. Does pilgrimage include abstaining from reading newspapers? You might have missed Peter Stanford's "Modern Pilgrims" (about a visit to Holywell) in yesterday's Telegraph. Someone by the name of Kenneth Williams has appropriately commented on-line about the value of a walking pilgrimage. I take it you're not Kenneth Williams....


  3. I have indeed been abstaining from newspapers.

  4. Glad you devoted a paragraph to St. Ninian, St. Columba and St. Augustine. Triggered my now aged memory cells into action: had two holidays in Northumbria and soaked up information on the history of the area, especially the fact that Northumbria was the cradle of christianity in England: not Kent as many people believe. Also a bloodthirsty place not helped by being on Scottish border. My late father, during his first holiday in Northumbria, quipped "There's literally a castle at every bend in the road!" From memory Northumbria's first christian king was Oswald. Unless somebody knows otherwise...