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LAMMERMUIRS I CYCLE TOURS Polwarth Thorn First sight of the sea Polwarth Kirk


Crossgatehall and Ormiston opened in 1867 to serve the many mines in the area. The extension to Gifford was completed in 1901. Whilst its main use was carrying coal, it also transported agricultural goods, timber, whisky and passengers (30,000 a year at its peak) until 1965. Awkward wooden steps set in to the embankment marked my departure from the path, to take the road through West Saltoun. I realised, looking at the map later on, that staying on the path for a final 1/2 mile would have avoided the steps. The extra 1/4 mile would have been a lot easier!


Passing through East Saltoun, I stopped to admire the fountain erected by Bertha Fletcher in memory of her husband, John, after his death in 1903. The water supply has been cut off – it is regrettable that so many of our public drinking fountains are no longer useable. Replenishing my water supply waited until I stopped in Gifford for coffee and a second breakfast – an excellent bacon baguette. Gifford also holds the answer to a “British Cycle Quest” question. From Gifford it’s a five and a half mile climb to reach 1430 feet to cross the Lammermuirs; the weather was warming, and the earlier calm


Gavinton lunch spot


had been replaced by a north-westerly wind to help me up the hill; a curlew crossed my path as I climbed, and grouse scuttled away from the side of the road.


Several miles of mainly downhill roads followed, all the way to Longformacus. Looking across to Faseny Water, down on my left, I saw an osprey flying above it on the lookout for its next meal. The first patches of heather were beginning to bloom on the southern side of the hills. A few miles later a farm track past Langtonlees, as a shortcut to Polwarth, made for some bumpy riding. I had increased my tyre pressures for this ride – more suited to tarmac than stones! Polwarth Green is known for its thorn tree: At Polwarth-on-the-green Our forbears oft are seen To dance about the thorn When they got in their corn. Folk first danced under “the thorn” to celebrate the marriages which united the families of Sinclair of Polwarth and Home of Wedderburn. From that date the custom was introduced of holding all marriage festivals at “Polwarth on the Green”, which gave rise to a dance tune of that name, to which songs have been successfully adapted. The thorn is not


easy to find, being behind a building plot and access to it appears to be over private land. It’s a half mile further to Polwarth Kirk. It is believed that the first Christian church was established here in the sixth century on what was, possibly, already a sacred site. It is thought that St. Mungo built a church after the previous kirk had been destroyed by raiding Anglo-Saxons. The building was replaced in 1378 and, unusually, included a crypt.


Three hundred years later, in December 1684, Robert Baillie of Jerviswood and Mellerstain had been arrested because of his links with the Rye House plotters (a plan to assassinate Charles II and the future James II & VII). His friend, Sir Patrick Hume, first Earl of Marchmont, sent his twelve year old daughter Grisell to Edinburgh’s tollbooth to take messages to Robert Baillie. Later he himself went into hiding for a month in the crypt of Polwarth Kirk, while Grisell came daily to bring him food and tell him stories. The family then went into exile, returning after the Glorious Revolution. Grisell married Robert Baillie’s son, George. She is remembered not only as an exceedingly brave woman but also as a songwriter, her best


February 2014 I Cycling World


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