One morning in late summer, Anton Hodge and his trusted companion Tony set out from Berwick-upon-Tweed to walk along the Anglo-Scottish Border. The book – a History of the Border in 10½ Chapters – is the resulting account of that journey, retelling their encounters with the people and the pubs, alongside a history of the frontier from prehistoric to modern times. It covers topics varying from the Romans to the Scottish Wars of Independence, the Border Rievers, fairytale weddings, man-made forests and Gretna Football Club.
To read extracts from The Border, click here
Anton Hodge is a personable companion and his stock of tales, legends and the general hoo ha of Border life is great fun.
Eric Robson (Writer and Broadcaster)
For the next few weeks crossing the Border between England and Scotland, or more precisely between the Crossways Inn in Gretna and the Gretna Chase Hotel might damage your health.
If you want to smoke a mild cigarette in Scotland you have to stand out in the biting cold winds and risk catching pneumonia, whereas, if you take a short walk across the River Sark you can sit in the warm fug of the Gretna Chase and puff away to your heart's content.
Obviously the Border does still mean something, as Anton Hodge and his resourceful companion, Tony, found out when they took a trek along that national divide last September.
They began with high hopes. Anton is one of those optimistic blokes who always travels expectantly.
This time he was drawn by that old rhyme about Berwick which promises a "Pretty girl at every door, And very generous people".
He found the girls – crowded like a gaggle of aspiring models in a bar, but he tells us nothing of the generosity...
...Such are the trials and tribulations of trekking.
And trekking it was, slipping and sliding along the banks of the Tweed and encountering marauding dogs and other discomforts.
And then there was the case of mistaken identity. The anxious landlady in Jedbergh eyed them up and down, fearful that these two strapping young men were the couple booked into the double bed by the Tourist Office. "I mean I know it happens," she laughed, rather too hysterically as she showed us to our room, "but... well... I didn't think any would come here."
But all this chatter is just an excuse to tell the story of the Border. Forget the rain and the dogs, the unwieldy keys, the anxious landladies and even the pretty girls, Anton Hodge is a companionable walker who knows his history and has a fine sense of place.
On the Border is history writ large. It can boast one of the longest-running conflicts of all time: "The Romans arrived sometime after 70AD and built the city of Luguvalium in the west as a military frontier town. Seventeen hundred years later, that city, now known as Carlisle, was still being besieged by invading armies from the north."
In fact, Anton takes the conflict even further back. Four hundred million years further back to be exact. At the time when vast landmasses drifted across the globe, a small detached portion of Gondwanaland, later known as England, crashed into a corner of the Laurentian Shield, that later became the home of the Scots. "Mud from the collision," says Anton, "later became the Border Hills."
And all this mud and collision is celebrated in the turbulent Border history with its Reivers and Jeddart Law and the fine old ballads.
Anton is as keen on his history as he is on pretty girls and beer. He does not stick rigorously and religiously to the Border Line as that fine old trekker Maynard Mack did 80 years ago of as the comfortably indefatigable Eric Robson did when he dragged his dog along the Border a year or so ago.
But he brings the land and the people alive with his anecdotes past and present.
And he's right up-to-date, enthusiastically recording the achievements of Gretna's football club. "I can only hope that Gretna's dream continues for as long as possible".
The Cumberland News
1 June 2007
Paperback; 140 pages illustrated with 45 black and white photographs and six maps.
ISBN 978 190 452 4496 RRP £10 or £5 if purchased direct from this site