A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Hooptedoodle #61 - Glentress, and the Lumberjills

Been walking again this week - taking advantage of some fine weather at the end of the school holidays (so this was family walking), and trying to get some more miles in toward my build-up for Hadrian's Wall next month.

On Wednesday we walked from North Berwick, along the John Muir Way as far as East Linton (this is all East Lothian, South-East Scotland), which is a straightforward walk, without any particular hills - the only challenges were some rough conditions underfoot around field margins, with long grass and some marshy bits, and a remarkably smelly compost works to be passed by.

Looking South across the Valley of the Tweed, between Peebles
and Innerleithen, from the edge of Glentress Forest

Today we were in hilly parts again, at Glentress Forest, near Peebles. This was a bit more demanding in the up-and-down department, and we had a good walk - around 6 miles of pretty vigorous going in woodland - but I got a real surprise - I felt, literally, like a visitor from another century.

Peebles and I have a lot of history. It's a fine little town, on the River Tweed, and I've spent a fair amount of time there. For a while I had occasional use of a holiday cottage there, but I've also done a lot of walking in those parts (Glentress and Cardrona Forest Parks), played tennis and cricket there, even done a little fishing - an easy drive from Edinburgh, it has always been a good watering-hole and relaxing place. When my first lot of kids were young we must have walked hundreds of miles in the Peebles area - at Glentress especially.

Anyway, today we estimated it was three or four years since we were last at Glentress, so it was time we went back. What a change. The place is unrecognisable - they have constructed a very ambitious mountain-biking facility - this is obviously a huge money maker for the area, and though we were a bit taken aback by how busy it is now, it is great to see so many people enjoying the countryside and getting exercise. The downside, sadly, is that they have taken a lot of trouble to keep the walkers and the bikers separate - which is eminently sensible - and the poor old walkers are now restricted to a small number of rigidly-defined walks in the edges of the forest area. We had a nice enough walk, and I enjoyed it, but a small part of me is a little sad that it has changed so much.

In the forest we came across an unusual (solar powered) monument to the Women's Timber Corps of WW2 - the "Lumberjills". A branch of the Land Army, these girls worked in the forests - in the East of Scotland there were a lot of them, mostly making pit props as far as I can see. The little monument was set up to play some audio selections - the recollections of local women who had worked in the forests, along with some excerpts from wartime newsreel clips on the subject. I had a look round the online Pathe News library when I got home, but couldn't find anything relevant.

There is a traditional tale told of the Land Girls in this area - the choice between being called up for the ATS or working on the farms and getting to meet Italian PoWs was regarded as something of a no-brainer...

[Late edit] The John Muir Way - In reply to an email from the US - yes, this is the same John Muir, naturalist and explorer, who is famous for mapping and opening up Yosemite and other places in North America. He was, in fact, a Scotsman - a native of Dunbar, which is about 10 miles from here. Old JM is now commemorated with the big coastal walkway from Musselburgh to Cockburnspath - named after him - and there are statues, a permanent exhibition in a dedicated building in Dunbar High St, and - the ultimate tribute - the HQ of East Lothian County Council is now called John Muir House. However, this huge surge of pride has all been comparatively recent, as far as I can see - he was little known in his homeland until the 1970s, and most of the impetus for raising his profile here came from visiting Americans asking questions about the great man and getting blank looks! 

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