The day started off sunny, warm and blue-skied. By the time I got off the bus, it was cloudy, but light shone at either end of the hills. As if I had entered a tunnel, this valley with the river running along it, at its lowest point. A sleeve of blue clouds wrapped the sky above the river.
This is a part of the Tweed I haven't walked along before. At the side of the road I saw a path leading through a field, with a gate a little further along. A sign at the gate said 'please close' so I knew I was on the path I'd seen marked on the map. Through this gate and then another, and it led to the straight track that followed the river. It's an old railway line, slightly raised above the level of the rest of the field. On the map, the dotted line of the path stayed on this side of the river for a mile or so then crossed over and continued on the other side. I walk straight ahead, the grass barely damp, though there's a line of yellowish sticks near the river edge, showing how far the river had spread itself, in the recent rains.
The sound of the water is a kind of pulsing rush, almost like short lived waves on a beach. But there is no sense of in breath, pause and out breath, just a persistent rhythmic rushing sound, as the water surges always in the one direction. This sound is relaxing and reassuring. I cross another fence, with a stile. In the distance I see a figure run across the field, with a loping gait. I wonder what he is doing. Perhaps, I think, his car is parked over by the road. But why is he running? I wonder still more when I see him run back the way he had come, to the river bank, which is exactly where I am heading. A few trees screen him from view. Perhaps I think, he had left something over on the other side of the field, and had gone to pick it up. That must be it, I think, there can be no other reason for someone to run across a field and then run back. I begin to wonder about this loping stranger. Usually, if I meet anyone at all on these paths, it's another walker, or someone with a dog. Strange things can go through your mind, when you see a running stranger. I straighten my shoulders and prepare to meet a madman who charges across fields in an ungainly fashion.
The river shifts direction just a little, and the straight track no longer runs parallel with it but is on a path to meet it. And just before it does, the screen of trees ends, and I see two figures by the river bank. They are dressed in typical fishing gear, dark greenish-brown waders and jacket. I recognize the loping man (because of his long waders and general fisherman's attire) and another older man is with him. I hail them as I approach, asking if the path continues.
This is called viaduct bay they say, this is where the railway viaduct crossed the river. When the water is low in fact, you can see the concrete posts of the old bridge. I tell them that the map shows the path crossing the river and had wondered if there was a bridge. Not now they say cheerfully, you would have to wade across. I smile at the idea, as I am not wearing the thigh length waders that they sport. Loping man is moving his body from side to side as if he was doing exercises. Actually, he says, gesturing towards the river, you can see the concrete foundations now. I lean towards the river and it is true, I can see pale blocks not far beneath the water surface. But it seems quite deep, and there's a strong current so I move back again. I saw you running across the field I say. The man stops twisting his body and laughs. It's kind of you to say I was running. Well, loping, I say. I'm trying to warm up he says, before I go into the water.
I try to imagine the railway crossing the river. Surely the viaduct could not have been very high up as the remains of the track are only slightly raised from the level of the field. I imagine crossing the river in the train, looking down on the water, not far below. But it would not need to be high above the river, not really, just high enough to avoid touching it in times of flood, when the level rose and the water turned murky and its pace accelerated as rivers do, when they are full and fierce and impatient.
At the end of the field the river is only separated from the road by a thin strip of trees on a steep bank and there is no room to walk beside it. So I walk along the road, every so often looking down on the steep tree-covered bank. Once the river moves away from the road, and the steep bank levels out into a green field and the trees end, I climb down the short bank and walk again beside the river. A couple of fields further on I pass a fisherman's hut, with occupants, steamed up windows and an open door. A smell of gas and warmth from the open door takes me back to childhood, a stove must be lit in there, fuelled by a gas canister, as the fishermen make tea before deciding to wade into the water. Or perhaps they've already been in. Perhaps like the early birds, it is the early fishermen who catch the fish.
Further on, the ground forms a small hump, like a sleeping whale. The path goes uphill and, because it's bordered by trees and bushes and looks down on the water, it reminds me of Aphrodite's path near Cap Greco in Cyprus.
Just because of the rise of ground and the trees. But there is no other resemblance. In fact this one slight topographical resemblance shows that in every other way they could hardly be more different. I remember the sun high in the sky, the warmth, the spiny plants and the eucalyptus trees, the turquoise sea far below.
|Aphrodite's path, Cyprus|
I can just make out a few buildings in the distance. The next village is in sight. And at the far end of the valley, the sky is bright. At one point, through a break in the clouds a patch of sunlight falls on a hilltop and then moves down the slope.
But it is still far away. The sunlight leaps across the valley gap as if the river was something it had to bridge, and it is much higher up than the old railway bridge would have been. As if it did not want to get its sun-ray feet wet. Or was showing how high it could jump.
I walk on under the cloud cover. Just one more field now, and the straggle of houses will condense into a few streets, with a path leading from the river to the road, where I will get a bus back home.