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The Gypsy Palace of Kirk Yetholm

This energetic walk takes you over the border to England.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 3hrs 45min

Ascent/gradient 1,378ft (420m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Wide tracks and waymarked paths, one short overgrown section, 3 stiles

Landscape Rolling open hills with panoramic views

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL16 The Cheviot Hills

Start/finish NT 839276

Dog friendliness Excellent, though keep on lead near sheep

Parking Car park outside Kirk Yetholm at junction of Pennine Way and St Cuthbert's Way

Public toilets None on route


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1 From the car park cross the burn by the bridge, following the signs to the St Cuthbert's Way. Follow the obvious track uphill, keeping the Shielknowe Burn below on your left. Eventually the track crosses the burn, then continues uphill, skirting the edge of Green Humbleton hill and eventually reaching a fingerpost.

2 This is where the St Cuthbert's Way splits from the Pennine Way. Take the left-hand track, to follow the St Cuthbert's Way, a narrow grassy sheep track at this point. Continue following this track as it winds uphill, then takes you to a fingerpost by a wall marking the border between Scotland and England.

3 Follow the track which eventually bears downhill to a boggy area. Look out for the waymarkers, then continue to reach a wood. Go over the stile and into the trees. Maintain direction, then turn right at the fence and follow the fence line. You'll soon walk down an avenue of trees and leave the wood by another stile.

4 Maintain your direction now across the field, then walk down to cross the burn and join a wider track. Eventually this winds down to reach Elsdonburn farm. Walk through the farm buildings and follow the track as it bears to the right. Join the metalled track with the conifer wood on the left and the burn on the right.

5 Follow this track, crossing a cattle grid, then leave St Cuthbert's Way and join the track on the right. Follow this, passing a sheepfold then two conifer plantations. The track eventually winds upwards, skirts a hill, then descends to Trowupburn farmhouse. Walk in front of the farm buildings then bear right to a fingerpost.

6 Go through the gate here and follow the sign 'Border Ridge 1½'. Wander along this wide grassy track then cross the ford next to the very large sheepfold. Maintain direction with the burn now on your right, then cross the burn again, nip over the stile and join the sheep track that bears left through the bracken.

7 Walk round the hill and, when you are parallel with the sheepfold on the left, bear right so that the valley of the Wide Open burn is on your left, the sheepfold behind you. Work your way uphill through the bracken to the head of the burn until you reach a fence on the higher ground.

8 Go through the gate at the corner and maintain direction across open ground - the views are glorious. Walk down to cross a burn and continue ahead, crossing the border into Scotland, then bearing right along the Pennine Way. At the fingerpost follow the track downhill and walk back down across the burn to your starting place.

This is such a lovely walk that I could do it again and again. It's easy to follow, the paths are good and the views have a definite 'wow' factor - so do try and save it for a clear day so that you get the full effect. The walk includes the added thrill of crossing the border from Scotland into England - no, you won't need your passport.

The little village of Kirk Yetholm was noted as a gypsy settlement from at least 1695, although they were probably there before that, as gypsies were in Scotland by the early 16th century. Gypsies were generally regarded with suspicion as they had a reputation for stealing and aggression - it was even said that they kidnapped children and brought them up as their own. However, they were also said to be loyal to those that helped them and never broke their word.

No one is quite sure how the gypsies came to settle in Kirk Yetholm, although many moved to the wild areas of the Borders where they could hide in the hills, after a law was passed in Scotland in 1609 making it legal to kill them. Some say that a young gypsy boy saved the life of a local laird, who showed his thanks by building several homes for gypsies in the village; others, that a gypsy boy helped a local laird to recover a horse that had been stolen and was rewarded with a house in Kirk Yetholm. There were certainly several homes for gypsies in the village, with one cottage being specially built for the royal family - it's called the Gypsy Palace today.

The gypsy royal family had the surname Faa. The first king in Kirk Yetholm was Patrick Faa, who was married to Jean Gordon. Jean was born not far from here and was a powerful character who lived a wild life. Three of her sons were hanged for sheep stealing and she was eventually banned from Kirk Yetholm after attacking another woman. She was said to be the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott's gypsy character, Meg Merrilees. She was later immortalised by Keats in his eponymous poem that began: 'Old Meg she was a gypsy; and lived upon the moors: her bed it was the brown heath turf, and her house was out of doors?'.

The last queen of the gypsies was Esther Faa-Blythe who once said the scattered village was 'sae mingle-mangle that ane micht think it was either built on a dark nicht, or sawn on a windy ane'. Her son, Charles Blythe, was crowned king in 1898 - but the gypsy way of life had gone by then. Today only the Palace remains.

Where to eat and drink

The Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm is a friendly little pub that sits right at the end of the Pennine Way. If you want to eat there in the evening, try and book as they can get very busy.

While you're there

Coldstream is only a few miles away, marking the border with England. The town gave its name to the regiment of Coldstream Guards, the oldest regiment in continuous existence in the British Army. Eloping couples from England used to come here to get married - you were allowed to marry younger in Scotland than in England.

What to look for

St Cuthbert's Way, a popular recreational trail, is 62 miles (100km) long and runs from Melrose Abbey in the Borders to Lindisfarne, off the English coast in Northumberland. The route links places associated with the Christian missionary, St Cuthbert.


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