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Walking the John Buchan Way: Broughton to Peebles

Written by Fiona

October 18 2017

After checking the weather (rain and some sunny spells with a fairly stiff south-westerly wind) I suggested to my friends Mark and Becca that we walk the John Buchan Way in reverse, from Broughton to Peebles.

Most routes on-line detail the 13-mile walk through Tweeddale, in the Scottish Borders, in the opposite direction, but since it is waymarked it mattered not. I thought that it would be preferable to have the wind (and rain) at our backs.

We had two cars and left one in a free car park in Peebles and the other in Broughton, close to the start of the mostly off-road walk.

What we did not realise until we started walking the JBW from the A701 in Broughton and towards the hills of Broughton Heights is that there is a “walkers’ car park” part way along the route. The car park is around 1km from the road and 500m past Broughton Place, a grand home in the style of a castle, next to a shepherd’s cottage.

If you are looking for an easier start to the JBW, this is a good place to park.

John Buchan Way route.

Who was John Buchan?

John Buchan was a Scottish writer and diplomat. He was also the first Lord Tweedsmuir. Most people will connect him with his most famous book, the Thirty-Nine Steps. My mum has a collection of John Buchan first editions so I know he wrote many more novels, such as Greenmantle, The Island of Sheep and the Gap in the Curtain although I can’t recall any more! (I admit I had to check the titles of even these!)

He was born in Perth and graduated from Oxford University before becoming editor of The Spectator. He served as Member of Parliament for the Scottish Universities, became director of Nelson’s the publishers and was also High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

In World War I, he served in the government as Director of Information and wrote many articles about the war. In total he wrote some 100 books of which 40 are fiction. He died aged 65 after becoming Governor-General of Canada.

The Buchan family have many links to the Tweeddale area. John’s parents had grown up in Tweeddale and family holidays were spent with relatives in the area, so Buchan developed a passion for the Borders countryside and its people.

Buchan’s brother Walter was town clerk of Peebles and with John founded the solicitors, J. & W. Buchan WS.

His younger sister Anna wrote novels under the pseudonym O. Douglas. She lived most of her life in Peebles.

The John Buchan Society, which has members all over the world, has close links to the Buchan family and with the John Buchan Centre (now closed) in Broughton. There is a small John Buchan Story Museum located in the Chambers Institution in Peebles.

Walking the John Buchan Way with friends

There are a few things I love about a long walk with good friends. First, there is the fun of the planning. We are all busy people and when we finally came up with a date and a location it felt like a really special event to be meeting up.

We like to walk in new places and the JBW was new to all of us, although I had walked sections before by chance because my home town is Peebles.

The drive to the walk ­– and the many walking miles  – afforded us plenty of time for a big catch up on each other’s news, family life and work. We met through journalism.

The sense of achievement and shared memories mean this walk will be long remembered by all of us.

One problem with a walk with friends, however, is that when you are chatting you forget to look at the map and the signposts.

I confess we got lost during the first half of the walk from Broughton to Stobo and then, during the second part of the walk, it was only Mark’s eagle eye (I never imagined I could write this, Mark!) that saved us from getting lost a second time.

While Becca and I were deep in a conversation about something important, Mark noticed we had walked past a signpost. Thanks Mark for saving the day! (He asked me to promise that I would not write this sarcastically!)

John Buchan Way: Broughton to Stobo

Most people start the linear (A to B) walk in Peebles. You can see a John Buchan Way route description on Walk Highlands. I downloaded a GPX file on to my OS maps app and Viewranger app. This meant that I could see the route as we walked, even when there was no 3G.

We started at Broughton village, where there is easy car parking, and headed towards hills known as Broughton Heights. Rather than climbing over the hill summits, a track, very muddy in places, heads between the hills.

The landscape here is wonderfully undulating and the views as we climbed were magnificent, especially with the stunning autumnal colours. I think we reached a height of around 400m, that is all.

A long descent, with a few small ups and some flat, led us towards forestry. It is here that we went a little off track. I think we ended up off route because we missed a waymarker, but there were many tracks in the hills and it was probably an easy mistake.

Fortunately, I was able to spot our actual location on a map app and navigate us to the route again. We enjoyed our wee detour past Stobo Castle and through beautiful grounds.

Because of our detour we had to walk a longer stretch along the B712 towards Stobo but it was a fairly quiet road and we also found a nice roadside picnic table for our lunch outdoors. It even had a fence around it so I could let Wispa the Wonder Whippet off the lead while we ate.

Until this point we were feeling extremely lucky to be walking in mostly dry and sometimes sunny weather. The forecast had not bee too good.

A novel use of tennis balls and duct tape to make the steps easier to climb over.

John Buchan Way: Stobo to Peebles

From Stobo, after our wee detour, we found the John Buchan Way again and headed up into more hills. The climb was a little steeper this time, although still mostly on good tracks.

At a waymarker (the one we almost missed but did not thanks to Mark’s amazingness) the route became steeper and very muddy. We were walking along the edge of farm fields and it has been very rainy in recent days.

This is when we started to see the clouds closing in. By the time we reached a place in the middle of the rounded hills, The Glack, the rain and wind had picked up. We were thankful to have the wind mostly behind us but we were quickly wet though.

The rain came on so quickly that we did not have time to put on waterproof over-trousers. We were also required to walk through a field with a mean looking bull in residence.

Becca was nervous so we skirted around the edge of the field and encountered a deep, gloopy mud mixd with cow poo. Yuk!

Again we reached another section of quiet road, this time a very minor road. We were wet and a little chilly and starting to feel weary.

I offered Mark and Becca a choice: To walk back to Peebles along the road or to stick to the route and head over another hill, Cademuir. I had walked Cademuir many times before so I didn’t mind what we did.

The decision to follow the road at a lower level was probably the right one. It added a little extra distance on to the route but it felt more direct and it was easier than ascending another hill through muddy, wet fields.

Despite being at a lower level for the rest of the walk we were still treated to yet more beautiful views of rolling hills, the bright leaves of autumnal trees and small copses of evergreens. I can’t think of a better time to visit the Scottish Borders and the walk reminded me of the times when I used to take my nan for a drive for her birthday tea at a country pub.

Autumn is a truly glorious time of year to be out for a walk.

Although the rain stayed off we were all still quite damp as we plodded into Peebles, via Kingsmeadow Road. We walked past houses I recall form my school days and Peebles High School itself, where I was educated from fourth year.

Driving back and a café stop

Driving back to Broughton in the car we had left in Peebles we were all dreaming about tea and scones. We imagined we would need to return to Peebles for a warm café stop but as it turned out the very welcoming Laurel Bank Tearoom on Broughton main street was still open. The fruit scones were delicious and the service was excellent.

We agreed it had been a superb day out with a mix of all the things that we really enjoy: Great chat, friendly banter, beautiful Scottish views and exercise. It’s a route I would like to do again, this time without getting lost, and perhaps from Peebles to Broughton next time.

There is a pdf download of a John Buchan Way leaflet, although it states there is a John Buchan Centre in Broughton, which I believe has now shut.

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