From Broughton to Broughton

Broughton in the Borders
Broughton in the Borders

I recently moved house into my first place by myself. It’s only a wee move from the bottom of Edinburgh’s Leith Walk to the top, but I realised upon moving in that I now bide in the area of Edinburgh known as Broughton. It might not sound significant, but as I grew up in a village of the same name, 30 miles away in the Scottish Borders, this latest move made me ponder the parallels of those two places of the same name…

From the age of 7 to 16 I lived with my mum in a wee cottage on a farm just outside the village of Broughton. From our house you looked out (past the sheep pens) onto the glorious Ratchel hill, beneath which nestles the village. I used to sit in the window in the living room – set into a nearly metre thick 18th century wall – and watch the sun setting across the valley on Broughton Place, a beautiful building designed by Basil Spence in the 1930s in the style of an old Scottish tower.

I joined the Primary School in the village when we moved, sporting the maroon jogging bottoms with glee, as evidenced in my gappy toothed school photos of the time. The school was only a couple of fields away so as I grew up, I’d walk down the hill through the fields with the boys next door. We were like siblings when we were kids. Always out in the fields or in the cow shed mucking about with Doug the dog. We’d have competitions to see who could hold onto the electric fence for the longest and I remember one particularly muddy time, after falling into the burn at the end of the garden as a result of a tractor tyre swing disaster, Mum insisted on hosing us down in the yard before we could come into the house.

Though we didn’t have much, it was a good childhood, full of farm cats and freckles earned from hours playing outside. But as the three of us grew into our teens and started at Peebles High, we spent less time together and drifted apart. As teenagers almost everyone I knew from the village and the surrounding area was desperate to leave, to branch out and go live in the city, able to go out at night unhindered by protective parents and the trials and tribulations of rural public transport.

I sang in a band for a while, pink haired with ripped jeans, attempting covers of Nirvana and Metallica. We practiced in Peebles – a weekly excursion on the bus with my amp, followed by a taxi called Mum to bring me back to reality. Gradually from about 15, my best mate and I started going out to rock clubs in Edinburgh – a huge deal for a country girl like me – and by 16, I’d finished my sixth year at High School and we’d both got a place at Edinburgh College of Art, fulfilling life long dreams.

In many ways leaving the south was heart wrenching, but the draw of being able to walk home from a night out, to see my friends whenever I wanted and have somewhere to go and something to do at any time of the day or night was too strong to resist. With no real way to stay at home and commute and even less chance of studying closer to home, the move to Edinburgh was inevitable.

That was over 12 years ago now and I’m still in the city, having stayed on for work after my studies. After art college I became student president for two consecutive terms, learning the tools of the campaigning trade, and I found myself looking for work in a similar field. Again, the city held the opportunities and by then I’d built a network of friends to keep me tied to this giant village.

Sitting now in my wee flat in Broughton, Edinburgh and looking to the end of this year and the start of my 30s, I find myself increasingly yearning for the hills of home. In just three years time, I’ll have lived in the city for longer than I lived in the country. That’s the kind of thought that puts a sturdy frown on my face.

I love this city with its tenements and its coastline, jutting out onto the Forth with confidence. I no longer have the sunset on Broughton Place or the sight of the moon rising above Ratchel but I have Calton Hill a stone’s throw away and I can still hear the birds singing in the brambles outside my window. I don’t come home by rickety bus followed by a walk up the road and the rich, warm smell of the sheep. But I do have a rickety ride over cobbles on my bike and the smell of the rain on the grey city streets.

In many ways I feel like a person of two halves. The white hi-top trainers I’m wearing in Broughton, Edinburgh wouldn’t last a minute in Broughton the village. But my propensity to leap over city walls like they’re farm gates and my “just get out the toolkit and fix it” attitude definitely marks me out as a country girl in the city. I think if I’ve learnt anything in this journey from Broughton to Broughton, it’s that you can be both – rural and urban, country and city – and that it’s ok to be proud not just of where you come from but of where you are. Ultimately, my heart belongs to Broughton.

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