Walking: A Journey of Thirteen Miles Begins With The Thirty-Nine Steps

Somewhere between the Pigeon and the Sturgeon last week, we became optimistic about a decent weather forecast in the Borders. The plan was to walk the 13 mi/22 km John Buchan Way. Backwards. From Broughton to Peebles, that is.

Named for John Buchan (1875-1940), author and diplomat who had many connections with the area, the JBW opened in 2003.

Due to road projects in Edinburgh, we very nearly missed our connecting bus from Biggar to Broughton; that would’ve meant three hours’ wait for the next bus. But no matter! We did make the good ol’ 91 bus and after a ten-minute ride, we arrived at the trailhead, then stretched and took off walking.


This excellent manse, near the trailhead at Broughton, was built in 1937.


It didn’t take long for the route to resemble the adventure scenes from Buchan’s best-known book, The Thirty-Nine Steps (with a boost from the Hitchcock movie). Buchan’s hero Richard Hannay scrambled around these very hills.


The heather isn’t blooming this time of year, but it is abundant.


These stone pens for sheep are known as stells:


And this is a stile, made for clambering from one side of a fence to the other. The JBW has its share of well-made stiles. From this altitude, the cows in the background look like ants, right?


At the halfway point we paused in the churchyard of the Stobo Kirk, in tiny Stobo, for a picnic lunch. The old kirk has a window depicting Merlin being baptised by St. Mungo.


The kirk was empty, but we left some coins for a postcard of this lovely 1936 painting of the place by James McIntosh Patrick.

Bridgeman; (c) City of Edinburgh Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Bridgeman; (c) City of Edinburgh Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

At Stobo, we crossed the River Tweed, where a farmer asked us if we were lost. We weren’t – cheeky chap – thanks to our Ordnance Survey maps and the great signage from the ScotWays people. We saw huge swedes (that’s rutabagas to us) on the ground – feed for livestock?

We spotted some sort of scurrying wee lizard, hares, butterflies, birds, a fieldmouse, pheasants, grouse, many cows, more sheep; some ponies, horses, and pigs, too.


And now the sky began to darken.




Excellent warning signs. It is lambing time, after all:IMG_1275


Apart from the people — and dogs — working in the beautiful landscape, we passed just three other fellow walkers, about an hour into our journey. Well, they did inform us that “not many people walk this path.”

About that weather…the wind was generally at our backs, the sun laid low most of the day, and the rain held off til we were about 20 minutes from a whisky shelter in Peebles.

A shelter by the name of the Tontine Hotel. We’ve been here before; faithful readers of this blog will recognize the felted merino artwork, the cushy furniture, and the satisfied expression on the face of this traveler.


The last word goes to John Buchan:





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