Day out: Rhymer’s Stone and the Eildon Hills, Scottish Borders
Visit the Eildon Hills in southern Scotland, a landscape famed for its distinctive peaks and mysterious folklore
Whether it’s the dramatic form of the three conical peaks, or something more intangible, for centuries the Eildon Hills have been central to local folklore.
Rising 422m above the Tweed Valley, these were Sir Walter Scott’s “delectable mountains”, visible from his nearby Abbotsford House. The heather-clad tops featured in his poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel, where the wizard Michael Scott splits the Eildon Hills into three peaks with a malign spirit.
The Romans called the hills Trimontium, a name also given to an adjacent camp, while other storytellers have linked King Arthur to the Eildons. But the most enduring of the ancient Borders folklore concerns an enigmatic seer with powerful links to the fairy world, Thomas the Rhymer. Blessed with the gift of prophecy, he was said to have predicted, through his poems, many key battles and political events, from the death of King Alexander III in 1286 to the defeat of Mary Queen of Scots’ forces in 1567.
Fairies and elves
The character is thought to be based on Thomas Rimor de Ercildoun, a 13th-century Berwickshire laird and poet. His powers were gained, it is said, after falling asleep under a hawthorn tree on the estate of Melrose Abbey during a hunt. He was visited by the Queen of the Fairies who kissed him and led him to the Land of the Elves for seven years. A stone marks the reputed site of the amorous meeting.
See the Rhymer’s Stone on an engaging four-mile walk up the Eildons, described in detail in Paths around Melrose, available from local tourist offices. Download a free copy of the route from the Scottish Borders Council website.
Start at Melrose Abbey and follow the Borders Abbey Way east towards Newstead. After a little more than a mile, the path swings south to the site of the fairy encounter and the Rhymer’s Stone, before climbing the Eildons for superb views over the Borders and out to the Cheviot Hills.
Fergal is an outdoors writer who loves exploring Scotland on foot and by bike.
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