The strange spell of the River Tweed

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Just another river the Tweed may be, but to me it has come to mean a few things. Regular visits to Northumberland mean I’ve been close to the Tweed on numerous occasions, and have even swum in it more than once. But this deep blue-green ribbon of water is enigmatic, and on each bi-annual trip I have tried to solve the puzzle only to end up more dazed by its evergreen banks, that are always close at hand, and always hard to reach.

On one day of our holiday we chased the Tweed for miles upstream, passing through Cornhill, Coldstream, Kelso and Melrose, criss-crossing from England into Scotland in the process. At Abbotsford Sir Walter Scott built his house overlooking the river, with a path leading to it. In a funk about something I couldn’t quite define, I took my children down onto the banks and skimmed some stones. Some of the stones were scaly and fishy, some flew creating growing circles an rainbows in the spray they kicked up. While driving back the Tweed kept appearing in the sunshine of a perfect afternoon, curving round shallow hills and behind trees, then disappearing.

Another day we stopped at Paxton House, another grand mansion facing the river. This one had much wilder and less perfect gardens, and a path which led down to the river’s edge which, with the top of the tide helping out, was deeper than our previous meeting. ‘No swimming’ signs were evident, and we had a glorious stroll alongside the water, an hour or so of complete perfection.

And from there we went on the the Chain Bridge, where a path leads down from the Scottish side o the bank, and then a small muddy beach offers a good way in. No anti-swimming signage here. After a few steps it made sense to flop in and swim a few strokes into midstream, quietly breast-stroking behind the backs of salmon fishers. Now in international waters, I retreated back to the bank, exhilarated by being back in fresh, cold water. Imogen swam next, and could have done more. We were both going carefully.

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Once in it, the Tweed feels more raw, soft and real. So why the mystery? The river guards the border for much of its length, hiding the subtle differences between nations in plain sight, and crossing it offers some visible change, but in some ways no change at all. It feels set apart from view unless you go out of your way to get close to it, and also seems in many places reserved for those who can afford to fish in it. But this is a beautiful ribbon of water right the way to the Berwick Amateur Rowing Club boathouse and Tweedmouth, and its meanders ask quiet questions of the visitor to north Northumberland and the Borders.

More exploration is needed.

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