T0 pass from the Highlands to the Borders is of the nature of an anti-climax. Nothing here was lofty enough to give shelter to such snow plants as may have retreated up their sides. The southern uplands are moorland and sub-alpine.
What rare wild flowers there are, may best be shaded off by what are missing. No rare saxifrages, no snowy gentian, no rock speedwell, no mountain forget-me-not, of the northern alpine area, grows on those more moderate heights with their shallower glens.
I am settled by the Border stream, and looking forward to a long walk over the hills. This is in the yearly round. It has been my delight to make myself as much at home on the heights above the Tweed as on those of the Perthshire Tay and the Forfar Isla and Esks.
Several days are spent in getting myself into condition. In my day and night fishing I have done a good deal of tumbling up and down the banks; but climbing is a thing apart, and needs a training by itself.
I start up one of the wild side-glens of this portion of the valley. The burn, innocent-looking as it is to-day, responds like an untamed colt to the lightest lash of a cloud, by breaking into a gallop, or clean taking the bit between its teeth and careering headlong down.
Oppressively desolate and lonely at first, these glens take possession of one after a while, and become wonderfully attractive. A day with the rod is pleasant, if only as a strong contrast to casting along the milder course of the Tweed. One gets used to the crossing and recrossing of the sheep over the stony channel. So, too, do the trout. The paddling of the "trotters" does not seem to scare or keep them from taking the hook.
Countless little springs, without the strength to form a channel or a current to lend them character, sipe through the grass on to the road, to find some hidden way into the stream. Their moist track down the slope is marked by the purple of hairy sedum, by the pink of alpine willow herb, and the yellow of the marsh buttercup.
The goal is Windlestrae Law - the highest hill in the neighbourhood. The peak - more than two thousand feet above - is, as yet, hidden from sight by intervening ridges. A slope, not very steep in itself, is so beset with shrubs as to put one's endurance to the test. There is no escaping a wide belt of heather. Ling, in this case, certainly deserves its name, being longer than usual.
Heather, when knee-deep, so that one cannot very conveniently lift each step clear over the top, is very troublesome to walk among. From its recumbent habit, it has a nasty tendency to catch one just above the boot.
Three feet of ling, two of which are trailing, is not only a drag, but very much of a trap as well.
In case of undue haste, one is apt to be tripped up and rolled over and over among the pink blossom. The latter experience mainly overtakes one in running down - hill. Climbing is too serious a business in itself for any such frivolity.
The moist places are thickly dotted with sphagnum, both stout and fragile; and of all pleasant shades, from very pale to ruby-tipped. The fleecy water variety floats out on the little dark pools of the peat. Much of it - more, I think, than ever I saw before - is in fruit. In my mental register, that experience is noted down as "A day among the sphagnums." In my little map, which no one ever sees, Windlestrae is named Sphagnum Hill.
A day among the cloudberries, too. These smallest of our native brambles seem well-nigh to cover the summit. Many bear fruit. Some are in flower - a very pretty white blossom, like the rest of the brambles. One entire cloudberry, root and all, I put into my buttonhole, and wear for the rest of the day.
The boggy ground - rather too boggy, in some places, for comfort - seems to suit the plant. It is pretty widely distributed under similar conditions, and is perhaps more characteristic of these uplands than any other form. It is as near an approach to an alpine as we are likely to find. Since there can be no rivalry between a moss and a wild flower, Windlestrae also appears on my map as "Cloudberry Hill."
A very early hour of the second morning after finds me dropping behind a curtaining ridge, out of sight of the placid Tweed. Before me, a pastoral region slopes down to form the banks of the stream, and melts away over the gently rounded hilltops.
The vale is suggestive of undefined emotions and pensive thoughts. Appealing to the imaginative and impressionable of bygone days, it has found utterance in sad and tragic ballads. Who says that a scene may not have a character? Is it fancy that there are lines of ineffaceable sorrow ? I sit down by Yarrow-side to rest. The way left behind, though not long, - only ten miles, - needed a good deal of stiff climbing.
The whole morning had been delightful. As yet there is no hint of change to quicken the pace - only a little mist on the distant hills ahead, whence the gentle airs come. A leisurely saunter along the even ground will be a pleasant contrast to the ups and downs.
The lake is a part, the eye of the scene. As in the case of other eyes, much of the expression is there - reflection among the rest. Its shadows are reflections, in the deeper sense. Sad St. Mary's! A good deal is in that "sad." In its silent depths, memories lie. When I come in sight, it is in one of its quieter moods, not cheerful; it never is - only still.
Even as I look, the aspect changes: the trouble comes to the surface, the face darkens, the spirit of gloom sweeps over it with a moan. Out of the dark cloud comes the rain. Storm on St. Mary's has something of a human outburst in it. Rain falls with the bitter significance of tears.
Five minutes are long enough to wet one through. The seven miles to "Tibbie's" become a dogged walk with water - water everywhere, from cap and finger-tips to boots. The Selkirk coach has just come in, full of passengers. There is no getting near the fire, and the floor looks miserable with the drippings.