Summer adventures at the Selkirk Common Riding 2013, part 1

Our Citroën Grand C4 Picasso parked at Hoscote House, ready for adventure.
Our Citroën Grand C4 Picasso parked at Hoscote House, ready for adventure.

Nearly three weeks ago we packed up our car, loaded the children into it, attached my bike to the back of it and drove south in search of fame and fortune. Or Hoscote House at least, and a group of 16 cousins of mine from California who had flown over for the Selkirk Common Riding. It was one of the best holidays we’ve ever had.

The reason for the trip was that my third cousin (my great-grandmother Georgina and his great-grandfather Robert ‘Honolulu Bob’ were brother and sister) novelist, screenwriter and philanthropist Robert Mailer Anderson had been elected Colonial Standard Bearer for the 2013 Selkirk Common Riding, exactly 100 years after Honolulu Bob had held the same office.

Hoscote house

Hoscote House
Hoscote House from the drive

About 18 months ago I emailed Robert and his wife Nicola, who live in San Francisco, and said that we were planning on coming down to the Scottish Borders to support them.

Do you have any ideas at this point where you guys might be staying? We don’t want to gate crash your party but it might be nice to be near, to meet up.

Robert replied a couple of hours later saying

we are renting a manor [Hoscote House] and you are more than welcome to join the family there. Isn’t that what this is all about?

And so we graciously and gratefully accepted Robert and Nicola’s kind offer and on Friday 7 June we rolled up outside Sycamore Lodge and moved in for the week.

Sycamore Lodge, Hoscote Estate
Remarkably the only photo we have of Sycamore Lodge was taken by Reuben as we were leaving on the last day of our holiday.

It was a fabulous wee holiday cottage: three bedrooms, one en suite; a generous family bathroom; an open-plan living room and dining room, with a galley kitchen off it. It was comfortable, and as the week wore on we appreciated the space that we had away from the “big hoose”, particularly when getting the boys down to sleep at night.

The “big hoose” was a ten minutes’ walk up the drive. And boy! was it big. The 16 Californians who flew out to this remote backwater in the Borders of Scotland were accommodated there quite comfortably.

When they could find it, that is. And they weren’t driving in a vague vicinity of the place for two hours, crossing every river they could find. Whether it was at a ford or not. I’ve never seen someone so traumatized about a car journey. And don’t rely on the GPS: it directs you to Martins Bridge (which was being rebuilt):

Martins Bridge, A711 outside Roberton
Martins Bridge, A711 outside Roberton

or across another ford!

Ford near the A7, outside Roberton. Genuinely that is an official way to cross the river.
Ford near the A7, outside Roberton. Genuinely that is an authorised place to cross the river. You can just see the road on the other side of the river.

Built in the 1850s Hoscote House sits in its own 450 acre estate about a 25 minutes’ drive from Selkirk—through umpteen open fields, across many a cattle grid, and after the obligatory stand-off on the road with the local wildlife (I’ve rarely felt as nervous in my car as when I was slowly edging forward towards a young heifer with about twelve cows to my left and a rather concerned-looking bull to my right). But it was a beautiful place to spend ten days (the midges aside), with mostly great weather, and definitely with the most wonderful company.

Our boys met their American cousins for the first time and they all seemed to just click, particularly Reuben (4) with his Californian counterpart Callum (6). It was brilliant, such a joy to witness. They just took themselves off into the trees and bushes on the estate to climb and explore, to build dens and gather sticks. Even the memory of it now brings a tear to my eye. They were in their element, and we were content that they were safe… just as long as they didn’t wander too far into the sheep field on the other side of the drive.

Sheep grazing in the field at Hoscote
Sheep grazing in the field at Hoscote.

Inside the house was generous and homely: two sitting rooms (one decorated entirely with padded tartan walls); an enormous, and always far-too-hot conservatory; a small office with a seating area outside it which became Internet Corner™ as it was the only place in the house you could get a WiFi signal; a billiards room; a huge kitchen, with a to-die-for farmhouse kitchen table; and a dining room that comfortably sat all 21 of us.

The place was grand but not over-the-top, and not uncomfortably posh. It was certainly quirky with an old rifle and two bugles at the front door (perfect for announcing your arrival), and various stuffed-and-mounted animals around the place. A little odd, but rather in keeping with the place.

Bike – bridge and hill

The decision to bring my bike was a last minute one, having only discovered a couple of days before we left that our bike rack did actually fit our car (it was bought many years ago to fit to a rather smaller Vauxhall Astra hatchback). But I’m so glad I did. Each morning, sometime between 05:00 AM and 07:15 AM (depending on when I woke up) I would get up, change into my cycling gear and pedal out into the countryside.

On our first morning there I tucked the Orndance Survey map into my fluorescent yellow jacket and headed off into the mist to recce the area. I’ll cycle down to Martins Bridge, I thought to myself, just to see how it looks. It looked about two to three miles away on the map.

It wasn’t. It was nearer seven.

I could just turn around and head back, but where’s the fun in that? So out came the map and I discovered a ford (yes, that ford) with a narrow bridge to the left of it, which was only just wide enough for me to shuffle across.

Rather than riding through the ford, I decided to take the narrow bridge instead.
Rather than riding through the ford, I decided to take the narrow bridge instead.

On the other side was a hill. On the other side of that hill was Hoscote House. The contours of the map promised a climb and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Having left the house just after 05:00 AM, having had no breakfast, thinking that I’d just have a quick cycle around and be back in time for the boys waking up at 6:00 AM, I was still climbing the hill as it was approaching 07:15 AM. I remember thinking to myself, “should I be panicking now?” My main concern was that I couldn’t get in touch with Jane to let her know that I was okay. Although I had my mobile phone there was no signal.

As I climbed, and I have to admit that I got off at one point to push the bike up a particularly steep 200 meters or so, I rose above the mist and emerged into the most beautifully rolling countryside beneath a deep blue sky, scratched at here and there with wispy clouds. In the distance I could see the top of the fog that I’d ridden through and into which I would soon descend.

In the distance, the tops of clouds beneath the hill.
In the distance, the tops of clouds beneath the hill.

The eight mile climb, including through two get-off-and-open-and-close gates, led to a one mile descent. That was fun! Honking at sheep to get off the road, and racing past with a cheery “Thank you”. I rounded a corner having just passed a sign that read “cattle grid” I wondered to myself, “I wonder how far before I get to the…” BRRRRRRRR! as the cattle grid rumbling beneath my wheels provided the answer.

I rolled into the small car park outside our lodge, I dismounted, propped the bike against the wall and wobbled in through the open door. I’d clocked up about 14 miles, the longest cycle I’d enjoyed since before my various back injuries of the last two years. It was great to be back on my bike. And what a return. Over the week, and since, I’ve discovered that it has given me so much confidence in my ability on the bike. I just have to think back to that mammoth, breakfast-less climb and it assures me that I will reach the top of this hill, that I do have the energy to keep going.

Bike – Craik

Over the next few days I went out a further three times. The next trip was out to Craik, a small village in the middle of the Craik Forest and at the end of a dead-end.

After that I turned right into Craik Forest itself. I thought I’d put my mountain bike to the use that it was intended for and for 45 minutes I cycled steadily up a forest track, surrounded by thick woodland, on another glorious morning. It was hard going, but satisfying: ducking beneath overhanging branches, bunny-hopping over fallen trunks, and simply admiring the view. My plan had been to climb the track to a crossroads that I’d seen on the map then turn right and roll down the hill to approach Hoscote from the opposite direction that I’d set off from.

Conscious of the time, and my energy levels, I made a final push towards a clearing that was a few hundred metres ahead. Success! I’d reached the crossroads. Jubilant I turned the corner and … was stopped in my tracks. The path was littered with coniferous trees. Some had grown right on the edges of the track, so that when I started to cycle down it they whipped my legs and made me feel as though I was trying to cycle through a wardrobe or a car wash. And to add to the problem there were very small saplings growing down the middle of the track, between the ruts. The way ahead was impossible.

I turned round and went back down the path I’d come. It took me 45 minutes to climb up, and less than 10 minutes to descend. Mostly screaming like a little girl. “I DON’T LIKE THIS!” I heard myself shout. “I DON’T HAVE MY SPARE GLASSES WITH ME!” But actually, I really did quite enjoy it.

I’m surprised I didn’t wear my brakepads down to the metal. Even with me pulling hard on them I was still reaching 25 mph, with pot holes and branches to negotiate.

I had hoped to cycle to Selkirk one day but I simply ran out of time. So my final outing, the day before the Common Riding, was simply up an enormously steep hill to Roberton, and back down the gentler brae by the Borthwick Water. By that time I’d put in the uphill miles and so when I reached the top rather unexpectedly I said out loud, “Oh! Is that it?!”

Next time: Meeting American family, and the Selkirk Common Riding.

“Talking faith” article by my Mum in local newspaper


Every week my Mum faithfully sends me the local newspaper, the Selkirk Weekend Advertiser.

This week, on page two, was a short “Talking faith” article by “A member of St John’s” (the Scottish Episcopal Church in Selkirk). That member was my Mum, and her thought for the day ‘column’ was inspired by two of my beautiful children, Reuben and Joshua.

“Just you and me!”, said one of my three-year-old twin grandsons, contentedly trotting off to play tennis with his Mummy.

“Just you and me!” said the other twin going to the shops with his Daddy. They were experiencing individual quality time… attention… being loved. Let’s enjoy ‘just you and me’ quality time with God.

Come to me with your ears open, and you will find life. I will give you all the unfailing love I promised. Isaiah 55:3 NLT

Christmas 2011

Above: Isaac gives a knitted Santa a cuddle a few days before Christmas.

Christmas Eve

“I was very surprised that you agreed to preach at the midnight mass,” said Jane on Christmas Eve, “after you’d said last year that you were going to take a year off this year.”

“Did I say that?” I asked.

Apparently so, but I’m glad that I had forgotten because the midnight service at All Saints’, St Andrews was beautiful. The nave (where the congregation sits) was in darkness, lit by hand-held candles, there was a procession during which the baby Jesus was placed in the crib, which was then blessed. The choir was small but enthusiastic; and daring (In dulce jubilo in German). My sermon was warmly received, with another member of the clergy team saying to me afterwards that he thought that it was “spot on”, which I found encouraging.

I drove back to Anstruther around a quarter past one, glowing and thanking God. While I was waiting for the toast to pop-up at home I tweeted:

Fabulous midnight mass at All Saints, St Andrews. The good news of Jesus preached. Feeling very blessed. Happy Christmas one and all. x

I retired to bed for about four-and-a-half hours.

Christmas Day

The drive to Selkirk wasn’t quite as I had planned; particularly the 30 mph winds. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared while driving. The Forth Road Bridge was closed to high sided vehicles, buses, cars with trailers, caravans, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians: pretty much everybody apart from us. I crept across the almost deserted bridge at 30 mph, driving mostly down the line between the lanes.

Just south of Edinburgh, at Newtongrange we discovered that Isaac had a very dodgy tummy. And that we’d forgotten to pack a change of clothes. He turned up to St John’s in Selkirk wearing his pyjamas: a George Pig (Peppa’s brother) fleecy sleep suit. Very sweet.

Jane stayed at my Mum’s to prepare Christmas lunch while the rest of us (minus Reuben, who wanted to stay with Mummy) went to church.

We had Christmas lunch round a wallpaper-pasting table covered in a table cloth, which was a great idea and fit the space perfectly. Jane’s lunch was cooked to perfection—even the parsnips in honey and mustard which always go wrong for us.

Before and after lunch presents were opened, mostly by Reuben and Joshua regardless of whose name was on the label—they were so excited, it was great. And all too soon we were packing up bags and boxes and loading up the car again for the equally-windy drive back to Fife.

Once back home the boys all transferred effortlessly (and for us thankfully) from the car to their beds. We unpacked the car, reheated some Christmas dinner and crashed out in front of the telly to watch the season finalé of Merlin that we’d recorded from the night before.

Then bed.

Boxing Day

Above: Joshua (left) and Reuben rip open a present on Boxing Day morning.

This was our stay-at-home day, with the majority of Reuben, Joshua and Isaac’s presents still to open. It was nice to stretch out their presents over the last two days rather than overwhelming them with everything all at once.

Jane had picked up a big box of action figures: underwater, mountain, space, etc. which you can see Reuben and Joshua opening in the photograph above. They have loved playing with them all day. At one point they were both lying on top of the dining room table totally engrossed in their play: fabulous!

It was also a tired day, as the busyness of the last few days caught up with us. Jane crashed out on the sofa around mid-day; I went for a sleep mid-afternoon; Reuben fell asleep on the armchair just before dinner.

That said, bedtime still took about three-and-a-half hours. And everybody wanted Mummy to put them to bed.

And to be honest, that’s where I should be now, so I’m going to be uncharacteristically sensible and catch up with as much sleep as I can get. That is, after all, the only thing that I asked for for Christmas: a sleep.

Night, night! And Happy Christmas!

Isaac’s baptism cake


On Sunday morning we set off at 07:35 for Selkirk in the Scottish Borders—where I grew up, and where my Mum and sister still live—to celebrate Isaac’s baptism.

We chose Selkirk because my sister is really unwell and is unable to travel long distances, and so wanting her to be a part of it we travelled to her, to the church of St John the Evangelist where I had been baptised around 14,450 days earlier.

After the baptism the cake appeared: a magnificent Noah’s Ark cake <whisper>from Marks & Spencer</whisper>.

Reuben, Joshua and Isaac were absolute stars the whole day, I was so proud of them all.

A lovely day with friends and family, and many prayers of thanks to God.

Commissioning of the Ministry Leadership Team

Bishop Brian preaching at St John's Selkirk
Bishop Brian preaching at St John’s Selkirk.

On Saturday Jane and I drove down to Selkirk — via Kirkcaldy to pick up a pram, via South Queensferry to have lunch with my brother, via Hermiston Gait (Edinburgh) to buy winter supplies for the car, and via Gilmerton (Edinburgh) to help set up Jane’s sister’s new broadband connection — to visit my Mum, sister and nephew.

The reason for going, other than simply because I love my Mum and it had been too long since I’d been to visit, was that Mum was one of seven being commissioned by Bishop Brian as part of a Ministry Leadership Team at the Church of St John the Evangelist, Selkirk.

St John’s

It was a lovely service, lovely to be back in St John’s (who encouraged and sponsored my own ministry) amongst friends. Bishop Brian preached a great sermon about the need to share in ministry rather than share out ministry. It was encouraging, insightful and realistic.

One thing he said, which stuck with me (if I remember it correctly) was that these seven people were not being commissioned to wow! with their competence but to be obedient servants and just get stuck in and do what they could.

Then minutes after the comment about not wowing with competence Bishop Brian stepped out of the pulpit, knocked over a banner which tumbled onto the window ledge upsetting a flower display.

It was a genuinely beautiful moment of humanness, which was received by the congregation and reflected as a warm and delighted laugh. Brian, one of the seven to be soon commissioned, leapt to the Bishop’s aid and between them they re-set everything as it had been.

“There’s collaborative ministry in action”, David, the Priest-in-Charge affirmed.


Bishop Brian commissioning the Ministry Team at St John's Selkirk
Bishop Brian (in the pointy gold hat) commissioning the Ministry Team at St John’s Selkirk; Mum is in the bright pink top.

Following the creed and a re-dedication of the people of St John’s:

Brothers and sisters in Christ,
will you renew your commitment
to the loving service of God,
of one another
and of your fellow men and women?

and confession the seven were introduced to the Bishop by my sister Jenni and Annie, one of the servers, where he commissioned them:

Brothers and sisters in Christ,
you have been entrusted with the leading of Christ’s people
to fulfil their baptismal calling to ministry in this place.
Are you willing to undertake this service,
under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit;
following the example of Jesus Christ,
who came not to be served but to serve?

I was so proud of Mum, who has been such a role model and encouragement in my own journey of ministry. It was a joy, delight and privilege to be there. It was lovely to share that too in the company of Jane, who had only had two hours sleep the night before.

The Peace

When the Bishop introduced the peace:

“Where two or three are gathered together in my name,” says the Lord, “there I am, in the midst of them.”

It occurred to me that “Where two or three are gathered together…” could easily describe Jane just now!

Pick and eat

After the service, after the coffee, many of the congregation retired to the church hall for a buffet (my brother as a child called these a ‘pick and eat’), which was served by our newly commissioned team, ably demonstrating their servant natures.

Sitting at a table with my nephew Benjamin he asked: “Which places would you like to visit before you die?”

Jane thought for a moment before saying “the doctor’s, the hospital and the operating theatre!”