It’s threatening to be a sunny day in Hawick and I’m here for my last day cat sitting two impressively well-behaved black cats at a friend’s place by the river in town. While I was hopelessly distracted by all three series of The Boys while I was here (Not sure I’d actually recommend, I’m just a completionist when it comes to superhero TV, also I aint paying Jeff a penny, so it feels like I’m doing a billionaire out of something…), I did manage to get out and about and do some researching and writing.
The place I’m in is right on the river – with all the windows shut, I can still hear its persistent hiss, and the Hawick Flood Protection Scheme is an ongoing construction project that’s building amongst other bits, two very long bits of wall on either side, to stop it getting into the houses. I’ll write more about the flooding another time. It’s been strange, being so close to the water all the time – It’s the view from almost all the windows, and I have to cross it to get almost anywhere in town – and being physically unable to actually get to it. Before construction started on the defences, an open metal fence was between the opposite pavement and the riverbank, and while I wasn’t planning on rushing out the door and jumping in, there’s a feel of cagey-ness to the place while this is going on. Also I keep getting woken up by diggers and tractors, but the workmen (I’ve not seen any women working on it) are friendly and cheerful to me.
So anyway, I’ve been wandering about and thinking and trying to write, and wanted to share some scribbles on a walk up the Slitrig I went on earlier in the week. The Teviot, the Slitrig and the Borthwick are the three rivers that dictate Hawick’s geography. I grew up jumping into and canoeing on and skimming stones over the Borthwick and the Teviot, but I’ve not really explored the Slitrig until this week, so it was a nice little solo adventure.
I began at Towerdykeside, where I’ve seen herons before, but today there were just a couple of traffic cones. The river is beside the road until St. Cuthbert’s Church. There’s a saint with a spare head on the end of the building, and I can’t remember whose head it is. I carry on, but past the churchyard, there’s hardly any easy access to the water. I go past houses and the Lyle and Scott mill and gardens and bungalows. I get a glimpse from a metal bridge to the right, past a horse’s head carved into a huge stump of a tree. I follow the path from it until it turns into someone’s drive.
I keep going along the main road until it’s strange suburban bungalows, with a hilly rural backdrop and loud birdsong. A friend tells me later these woods are an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and ASNW (Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland), and I make a note to go back. Planned and tidy gardens feel out of place as a replacement for the edges of the river, wild and littered with… litter. Once the buildings end, there’s a gap, I think, finally! I climb down a gentle rocky slope with wildflowers and little dashing spiders to reach the water’s edge.
I’m sat beside it right now, on what I guess used to be a piece of wall, part of a mill, somewhere there must have been a water wheel. The part I’m on, just below some modern gabions and concrete, stretches across the river and under it, letting, allowing a channel of maybe 5 feet in width to cut through. Over my shoulder to my left, grumbly motorbikes pass heading back towards town.
There’s a wider fall above me, a neat, wide curtain of water that’s a kind of pale yellow where it froths before boiling and flowing between the rocks. There’s a overhang, making a cave maybe a foot high and a metre back, dried moss like stalactites waving carefully in the breeze.
Rusting iron bars and nails still pierce thick beams not so much rotting, but being worn away by water and air. The layers of growth flake away along the grain, small sheets of rust lift up on flat hard surfaces.
A young wych elm bursts from the wall ahead of me, a willow to its left, green and leafy, and too twiggy, I think, to be good basket making material.
I put my jumper on as a breeze blows through. It’s cashmere, blue, made in Hawick. Maybe It was washed in water from this river, or, would have been, a hundred and fifty or so years ago. Under what might have been a concrete floor, a block of pink sandstone is opposite me. It sits on lime mortar, more plants growing through the gaps, more moss. A piece of stranded, twisted wire curls above the flow and arcs out over the rush, rust through the shine of steel.
The sandstone continues, into two, three levels of brickish slabs under a concrete sheet.
I can’t tell what’s been washed out from under it, fallen down directly, or maybe even been there since forever. Three tiers of mossed, pink ends face me precariously, then after a gap of fallen blocks, continue onto a small pebbly beach, a bleached trunk alongside them between posts that are still vertical. Little rows of bubbles are running across the surface of the water like escapees in dinghies, survivors of the small torrent that resides just here, engineered by nature and geography, designed by mills and waterwheels and time.
The pool looks deep. I want to swim in it, to explore it with my toes and my whole body. I’m not sure I’ll have really met the Slitrig until I’ve been in it.
But not today. I have no towel, no change of clothes, and I have the knowledge that nobody knows I’m here.
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