The first person we met over the border in Scotland was a retired man called Norman from Portsmouth. He was working in his garden and was curious to know where we were walking. When we told him he kindly invited us to sit down and offered us a cup of tea and a Kit-Kat. In all the long miles we have walked Norman was the first stranger to invite us in and offer us a cuppa.
Further on near Newcastleton we were treated to a delicious dinner and a comfortable bed by Isabel’s family friends Emma and Toby; a treat to be in a welcoming home, having been on the road for nearly two weeks. Toby told us about farming in the borders and the terrible days of the foot-and-mouth disease. Emma taught us about the Reivers and something of the history of the Scottish Isles with their remote communities of diminished populations. We wished we had longer to learn more from them both, delve into thier library of fascinating books and wander around the garden.
In Langholm we drank from the White Well and saw a huge monument built by Freemasons in honour of a Sir John Malcom, a Victorian Scot who spent his working life in colonial India. Later we were button-holed by a man called George, a proud Scottish Tory who had been a professional gambler and a ‘face’ around the racecourses of Newmarket in South East England. Like so many other strangers we have met he was quick to share tales of loss and illness. Is it because we are passing through that folk feel able to confide in us?
As the news of the atrocity in Manchester reached us we were on our way to the small town of Lockerbie, famous for its own appalling terrorist attack. In Lockerbie we found a cheerful bustling community with little sign of the deep wounds inflicted thirty years ago. It was quite by accident that we stumbled upon a memorial to the families killed in their homes when parts of the stricken airliner fell from the sky. The stone was in a peaceful garden in a rebuilt cul-de-sac.
A local lady walking her dog told us that the town had healed itself in the intervening years, but she remembered her own fear of flying in the aftermath of the bombing. We learned how local residents took care to gather up and wash the clothes and possessions that had rained from the sky, sending them to the families of the 250 victims on the plane. If this tiny community could recover from such shock and devastation, there is hope that Manchester too will find its way out of the dark days of grief, despair and anger.
As we walked the Annandale Way to Dumfries the green land was bathed in warm summer sun. We discovered the ruine church of St Mungo’s near Milk Castle and recognised the names on the family tombs- my paternal grandmother Beatrice had once lived and worked here as a servant and travelling companion to the local noblewoman. Together they had travelled the Mediterranean between the wars. I never met Beatrice and it was strange to think I was perhaps walking in her footsteps quite by chance.