Old Post Road
Start location: B6355, Ayton Castle (NT 930 617)
End location: B6438 at Cairncross (NT 892 636)
Geographical area: Lothian and Borders
Path Type: Civil Road
Path distance: 4km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians, Suitable for Bikes, Suitable for horses
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The southern end of the Old Post Road can be accessed from the B6355 near Ayton. However, because the A1 intersects the Old Post Road, this southern section is overgrown and little used as it no longer links easily to the rest of the old route.
The alternative is to walk a little further northeast along the B6355 to where the A9 passes beneath it. On the north side of the A9, a track commences initially with a tarmacced surface which soon becomes muddy and prone to puddles and rutting. Near Aytonwood House, it crosses a minor road and improved in condition it continues to Cairncross where it meets the B438. The Old Post Road's line continues northwest from here, but as a part of the adopted road network once again.
Eyemouth's green cycle trail uses the rough section of the Old Post Road between Aytonwood House and the B6355 near Ayton. However, the leaflet notes that this section of the green route can be wet and muddy and is best avoided after a prolonged wet spell.
OS Landranger 67 (Duns, Dunbar & Eyemouth)
This road is known as the Old Post Road. The mail coach service between Edinburgh and London was established in 1786. The Old Statistical Account (1791-99) for the parish of Ayton states that the post road to London is now made and supported by two turnpikes - it is also reported that although these tolls when first proposed were keenly opposed, they are acknowledged to be of benefit and the statute labour has been commuted. By the time of Ayton's New Statistical Account (1834) three mail coaches were travelling the road every day - two London coaches and one from Edinburgh to Newcastle. However, this may have been the height of usage as a post road, as the mail coach service was relatively short-lived - the coming of the railways brought the demise of the mail coaches. The North British Railway's line past Ayton opened in 1846.
On Blackadder's 1797 map of Berwickshire there are marked mile numbers counting down the distance to Berwick. These may have been the location of milestones put in place when the road was turnpiked to support the improvement necessitated by its development as a post road. It is unclear whether any of these milestones still exist, apart from "7" on the post road's former onward alignment southwards through what are now Ayton Castle's policies.
Further north on this road, the entrance to Press Farm is the site of the 'Packet House' where horses could be changed, although there are no visible remains of this. There was also a Coaching Inn in Ayton to serve the huge volumes of traffic that must have passed by. The OSA states that as the first parish in Scotland, Ayton received many poor people, often ill or elderly, from England as they had been sent back for their home parish to care for them. For the OSA to mention it perhaps there were a lot of poor travellers slowly making their way back along the road.
Although this route is known as the Old Post Road, it is as well to remember that the road is older than the postal service that gave it its name. William Roy's Lowlands map of 1755 marks the route that became the (old) post road as Road from Edinbr to Berwick. The Old Post Road is also part of the Great North Road, a much older route that can be considered the precursor to today's A1. Alistair Moffat captivatingly tells the stories of the Great North Road as he traverses it in his 2017 book The Hidden Ways.
Cairncross is reportedly so-named because of a tradition supposing there to have been a cross here marking the boundary for sanctuary associated with Coldingham Priory. It also hosted milestone "10", but to the Heritage Paths project's knowledge no stone markers are located there today.