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A Reference to Peebles

There are reminders of the founders of an encyclopaedia on this lovely walk.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hr 20min

Ascent/gradient 295ft (90m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Waymarked riverside paths and metalled tracks

Landscape Rolling borderlands and Tweed Valley

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 337 Peebles & Innerleithen

Start/finish NT 250402

Dog friendliness Great, loads of smells and chance to swim

Parking Kingsmeadows Road car park, Peebles

Public toilets At car park

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1 From Kingsmeadows car park, turn right and cross the bridge. Turn left at the Bridge Hotel and walk down the slope, past the swimming pool, to the river. Cross a small footbridge, go up some steps, turn left and follow the riverside track to pass a white bridge and a children's play area.

2 Continue following the obvious path and go over a little bridge over a burn, after which the path becomes a little more rugged. You now enter the woods, going through a kissing gate and following the signs for the 'Tweed Walk'. Eventually you'll leave the woods and will come to romantic-looking Neidpath Castle on the right-hand side.

3 From the castle continue walking by the river to go through another kissing gate. You'll soon come on to higher ground and will get a great view of the old railway bridge spanning the water in front of you. After another kissing gate, maintain your direction to reach the red sandstone bridge.

4 Go up to the right of the bridge, so that you join the old railway line - you now maintain direction and continue following the Tweed Walk. Follow this disused track until you reach another attractive bridge - Manor Bridge.

5 Turn left here and cross the bridge, then take the turning on the left signed 'Tweed Walk'. You're now on a metalled track that winds uphill - do stop and look behind you for classic views of the Borders landscape, with lush rolling hills and the wide, busy Tweed. Continue until you reach a track on the left that leads into the woods - it's signed 'public footpath to Peebles by Southpark'.

6 Follow this track for a few paces, then take the wide grassy path which you follow until you leave the wood by a ladder stile. Follow the grassy path downhill, nip over another stile and follow the enclosed path - you'll get good views of Peebles now. Follow the obvious track until you join a wide tarmac road.

7 Follow this road and turn left into Southpark Industrial Estate. Walk to the bottom right-hand corner past the units, then go down some steps and bear left when you reach the bottom. You'll soon reach a footbridge ahead of you.

8 Turn right here and follow the wide track beside the river. This is a popular part of the walk and attracts lots of families on sunny days. Continue walking past the weir, then go up the steps at the bridge and cross over to return to the car park.

Next time you're watching University Challenge, listening to Brain of Britain, or even taking part in your local pub quiz night - think for a moment about the person who has compiled the questions. They've almost certainly come up with some of them after referring to an encyclopaedia. We tend to take these great tomes for granted, casually assuming that everything they say is correct, but never giving any thought to the people that produce them. This walk will change that, as it starts and finishes in the bustling town of Peebles - the birthplace of the Chambers brothers, the founding publishers of the famous Chambers' Encyclopaedia.

William, the older brother, was born in 1800 and in 1814 was apprenticed to a bookseller in Edinburgh. Robert, born in 1802, later followed him to the city and in 1819 they set up in business as booksellers, then branched out into printing as well. They seemed to have a flair for the trade and, in 1832, William started Chambers' Edinburgh Journal, a publication to which Robert contributed many essays. It was a success and later that year the brothers established the publishing house W & R Chambers. Robert, who seemed to be the more literary of the two, continued to write in his spare time and in 1844 anonymously published a book with the less-than-catchy title Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. It was a controversial work, dealing with issues that it were then considered blasphemy even to discuss. Charles Darwin later praised it, saying it had helped to prepare the ground for his book On the Origin of Species (1859), which outlined his revolutionary theory of evolution.

The first edition of the Chambers' Encyclopaedia (1859-68) encompassed ten volumes and was edited by Robert. It was based on a translation of a German work. Robert, who had become friendly with Sir Walter Scott, continued to write, producing books on a wide range of subjects such as history, literature and geology. He also wrote a reference work entitled A Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen (1832-4).

Although not as prolific as his brother, William too wrote a number of books, including a History of Peeblesshire , which came out in 1864. He did not forget his origins in Peebles and in 1859 he founded and endowed a museum, library and art gallery in the town. It's still there today, on the High Street, and is worth visiting, if only for an enormous frieze - a copy of the Elgin marbles that were taken from the Parthenon in Athens. When the brothers died, Robert in 1871 and William in 1883, the company was taken over by Robert's son. The name Chambers is still associated with scholarly reference works today.

Where to eat and drink

There are plenty of places to choose from in Peebles. My favourite is Sunflower, a contemporary restaurant just off the main street. You can get cappuccino and a large piece of cake or choose one of their more substantial meals such as delicous bruschetta with avocado. The food's always fresh and well presented.

While you're there

Neidpath Castle, which you pass on this walk, dates back to the 14th century. Its walls are 11ft (3m) thick and conceal a pit prison as well as several historic rooms. It never really saw much action, except for the time in 1650 when it was besieged by Cromwell.

What to look for

The last time I did this walk I spotted a kingfisher darting low over the river. These brilliantly coloured birds are expert anglers, eating fish like minnows and sticklebacks, as well as tadpoles and insects like dragonflies. The bird was called the 'halcyon' by the ancient Greeks, who said that it bred in a floating nest at sea, calming stormy weather. That's how we get the word 'halcyon' which refers to a peaceful, happy time.

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