Monday 30 November 2015

Scotland by Rail - Stow - sheep, river, well, 5 dippers.

My second trip on Scotland's new Borders Railway.

My first ever visit to Stow.


Stow is third most southerly station on the line. Second most southerly  is Galashiels, most southerly is Tweedbank. See my Tweedbank post here -

It's small, definitely a village, sitting soft in a valley of low round hills. I walked most of the streets, beyond all the houses to the graveyard, along river to a Roman well, then a longer circle to gain height and open the view.

1 - village
Stow has churches, ruined and not; character houses; a grand old town hall. There's an all-in-one village shop & Post Office, and an airy and bright café-gallery next door. Very relaxed. Very nice scones.


Gala Water, Stow

jackdaw & church

2 - graveyard
Walk a short way east past the café and uphill to an interesting sloped cemetery, just at the beginning of farmland.


3 - ancient well
Walking south along the nastily busy A7 main road the last building is St Mary of Wedale, Church of Scotland - look up at the spouting gargoyles. Across the road and directly opposite the church is Stow's three-arch packhorse bridge, built by public subscription in 1655. Fences were up when I was there. The bridge seems to be off-limits.

there are very nice gargoyles up there. at the top

since 1655

recognise these sheep? Scroll back up. Same flock.


No matter, immediately beyond the bridge-site you're led to safety over a fence and down to the river. Safe from cars anyway, maybe not from mud. A there-&-back path runs by the water for half a mile to a natural well which has been used since late-Roman times. In lambing season this path may be out-of-bounds.

that trunk! boled over.

"The shadows where the mewlips dwell..."

on rail-side walks - check timetable before choosing toilet spot.

On that short stretch of river was a heron, a moorhen, three mallards, two grey wagtails. (Grey wagtails are the yellow ones. Well, on top they're grey, but it's the canary-yellow unders that you notice. They're birds of water - stream and shore. Pied wagtails are the black & white that you see all over - supermarket car parks, for example. Both wag their tails. Jennifer says it's because they're happy.)

Also five dippers - a surprisingly high number. The next night I dreamed of being on the same walk and counting six. Some would say I shouldn't admit such things. I've seen some seriously exciting owls in my dreams too.
spot the heron

spot the dipper (it's that white spot. well, its chest)

spot the closer white spot (it's a dipper. well, its chest.)

At the well

Our Lady's Well wears a stone cowl and sits within a dry-stone ring. The internet tells me various and conflicting things so I'll stick with the information panel which states that this natural well has been known since late-Roman times. I think that its current dry-stoning was a project for the Millenium.

I sat and made a drawing in pencil, and a really quick one in pen.

a really quick one in pen

Our Lady's Well, a drawing in pencil

At first glance the crystal water seems absolutely motionless in its stone trough but as you look longer you see bubblings and ripplings constantly stir (very gently) the sandy sediment. The surface itself is seldom stirred - only when a bubble or two escapes from below. 

The well. That stuff that you can't see is the water. The sand, stone, sticks - they're below it. The sycamore leaves, beech leaves, fern fragment - they're floating on top of it.

4 - the hills
The longer part of my day took me out of the village and upwards in a three or four mile circle. I wasn't following a laid-out route so I won't describe it in detail. There must be many options for circles in these hills so best use your own O.S. and decide what you fancy. A lot of this land is fieldland so there are gates to be sure you close, and  farm activities & livestock will probably force you to flex route at times.

A sort-of summary:

- start on the road bridge that passes above the end of Stow station platform.

- follow the road a very short way uphill, away from the village.

- turn right, not left. A little blue Sustrans cycleway marker is there on a post.

- follow this quiet road for over a mile, looking down on the railway and the Gala Water on your right. Fields slope upwards on your left. Fieldfares, redwing, mistle thrush and blackbirds were feasting on berries, and two goldfinches on dead thistleheads. A pheasant frighted, flew up only metres from my feet, smashed horribly into the railway fencing before managing to get through and away, wings frantic.


- find a suitable spot to leave the road and work your way uphill. Again, there are fences and walls which need to be followed until they reveal suitable ways across. I ate my lunch up here, sheltered from the fierce wind by a long stone boundary wall, facing a beech that was not sheltered at all.

looking north ish

lunch spot

prevailing wind?

A helicopter flew over while I ate my lunch

a helicopter flying over while I was eating my lunch

- on the very summit is a northwest-to-southeast string of three summits (very small ones!). Follow this line from Cottie Hill (352metres) to Cribbilaw Hill (350metres) to Stagehall Hill (300metres). Down by a stream in the valley on your right are the mounded remains of a castle - Ewes. Hills roll back and back beyond it. All along this stretch were lots lots of fungi. Waxcaps especially, and quite a number of stubby black ones (but not dead man's fingers).

the next valley (south-west of the ridge)

along the ridge, Cottie, Cribbilaw and Stagehall Hills

Not dead man's fingers, because that grows on dead wood... Maybe a "Geoglossum, maybe G. cookeianum, which grows in short turf. However, they have a velvet appearance, which would be more typical of Trichoglossum hirsutum. See Roger Phillips book of Mushroom photos, page 275 in my old edition." ... - Thank you David!

waxcaps - David?

well! Another one.

- find a way back down from Stagehall Hill to the quiet road, then return to the station. Hopefully with time for the cafe.

stile approaching Stagehall Farm


the quiet road, tree tunnel

Train sketches 

pen in sketchbook

pen in sketchbook


How to get there:

There are two trains an hour from Edinburgh Waverley to Stow.
Find the ScotRail timetable here.

Many thanks to ScotRail for their invaluable support of my Scotland by Rail work.


1 comment:

  1. The fungus growing in wood is a Pleurotus, probably P ostreatus. Try this link to Roger Phillip's photos:

    Enjoyed the blog. I first visited Stow in the 1960's, but have rarely been back since then; must return.