Over the years we’ve seen the Eildon Hills from so many directions, but we’d never actually been up them. But last week, having our first holiday in two years up in the bonnie Scottish Borders we walked up them from Melrose, using the St Cuthbert’s Way for the first part of the walk.
Long before the Romans retreated behind Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman Empire extended up to the Antonine Wall, and just by present-day Melrose, was the Roman fort and settlement of Trimontium – taking its Latin name from the three dramatic tops of the Eildons.
If you’ve ever read Rosemary Sutcliff’s wonderful novel The Eagle of the Ninth, set here after the Romans had gone, all of this would seem very familiar. If you haven’t then do seek it out for some escapist reading. And there’s a splendid BBC dramatisation from the 1970s, out on DVD – we enjoyed it before we went. And a rather good modern film version just entitled The Eagle.
And, of course, you really should walk all of the hills in one go. There is an initial steep bit of the St Cuthbert’s Way, first up a seemingly mountainous flight of wooden steps, then through gentle pasture land with herds of contented cows, before you emerge on to the open hill.
We tackled Eildon Mid Hill first – a steep and rocky path, but with wonderful all round views across the Borders from the top. Mid Hill is the highest summit and the hardest, so best to get it over with first.
We descended back to St Cuthbert’s Way and followed it for a while through an absolutely beautiful beech wood, passing the glacial erratic boulder known as the Siller Stane (Silver Stone), hidden in the bracken a few yards east of the path. Hard to find out much about it, but it must bear the legends of hidden money – and curiously while most of the stones around were well-lichened, this one was almost bare of lichen.
We followed the beech wood round, such was our delight in it, doing a full circuit of the smallest of the Eildons, Eildon Wester Hill, which we then climbed. Another grand view point and an easy ascent.
Then a tramp through heather moorland and trees and the broad path to Eildon Hill North, where the Romans had a fort and a signal station – a wooden tower which must have looked very dramatic when seen from below. There’s not much archaeology to see – though the fort the Romans re-occupied dates back to the Bronze Age. Another grand top with splendid views.
Tradition has it that the hill is hollow and that King Arthur and his knights sleep within – very similar to the tales told of Glastonbury Tor and Alderley Edge. Thomas the Rhymer supposedly went inside.
In the days when our ancestors held the land as sacred, it is likely that the three hills were held to be sacred places. Many of the springs and wells around them, now dedicated to Christian saints were once probably sites of pagan worship.
(c) J and A Bainbridge