The paths around Hoolet are hard trodden these days, as the village takes its daily gulp of fresh air. Along hedgerows, down tree-lined avenues, through the woods and by the stream, legions of boots have stomped, marking out time. With almost no rain for six weeks, the lanes are dusty and tracks that were made by tractors, horses and bikes in the February mud have solidified into treacherous ruts.

On the gravelly, rocky trails up to the hilltops walkers pull into heathery lay-bys to allow others to pass. Almost everyone abides by the coronavirus code, which carries an echo of the police speed awareness course I was once obliged to attend. “Only a fool ignores the two second rule," went the jingle for keeping your distance from the vehicle in front. Breaking the new rules could be even more hazardous.

Everyone extols the virtues of regular walking, and to judge by people’s faces and mood, it’s doing us good. There’s nothing like having your liberty taken to encourage you to get outdoors while you can. A favourite walk follows an old drove road, along which herders would drive their beasts to market, either locally or in the north of England. Wide, and partially cobbled, this route allows you to get into a stride, while scanning trees and sky, or field upon field of horses and their winter foals.

A drove road like this could be as old as the village, or even older. Hoolet was officially granted permission to hold a market in the early 1500s, so it’s possible that from miles around people traded their animals to and from here along tracks such as this. One of the commonest books you’ll find in second-hand book shops is A R B Haldane’s The Drove Roads of Scotland.

Regrettably I have lost my father’s copy, but have a sellotaped edition of my husband’s. First published in 1952, it looks off-puttingly dry and yet it offers a riveting insight into a way of life so long gone as to feel mythical. By way of research, Haldane spoke to shepherds, farmers, crofters and factors to mine them for local knowledge. The result is a testament to the part livestock and their keepers have played in our history.

A colourful passage from a Victorian onlooker describes a livestock “tryst” at Stenhousemuir, where around 100,000 sheep and tens of thousands of cattle were gathered. He writes of the tar pots used to mark sold beasts, the cacophony of cattle dealers, drovers, pedlars, gamblers, ballad singers and beggars, and of servants “running about shouting to the cattle, keeping them together in their particular lots and ever and anon cudgels are at work upon the horns and rumps of the restless animals that attempt to wander in search of grass or water”. Such a welter of beasts recalls the great buffalo herds in the American mid-west, and the drama, and danger, of keeping them under control.

Did such a multitude of hooves ever thunder past the village? The old track is so tranquil, despite the orchestration of birds, it’s hard to imagine its former use. But I find that is the case with almost everything about country life. Books, newspapers and documentaries constantly inform us about tempting rural walks we can take for our health and pleasure, and walking during lockdown has enjoyed a resurgence in the same way as biking. Yet well into the 20th century people from a hamlet like ours, and all across the country, walked for miles every day: not as a hobby or to keep fit, but because it was their only means of transport.

The picturesque village of Denholm, not far away, is the birthplace of the famous linguist John Leyden. As a young man he once walked 40 miles in a day, just to record the final verses of a song to add to Sir Walter Scott’s compendium of border ballads. The shepherd James Hogg would think nothing of crossing the hills of an evening from the Ettrick valley to Tibbie Shiels’ Inn by St Mary’s Loch, to carouse with friends. It’s a round trip of over 16 miles. When his household needed provisions from Selkirk, the nearest town, that would entail another 34-mile jaunt. Presumably a mule or pony was used for such a distance? But even for the four-legged, that is quite a schlepp.

Another legendary walker was Thomas de Quincey, a forerunner of the redoubtable Captain Tom Moore. In the 1840s he planned to cure himself of his “opium misery” by walking himself fit, but at this precise moment his legs failed him. His doctor’s warnings were dire and, fearing that if he didn’t cure himself he would be disabled for the rest of his life, he took to the garden of his cottage near Lasswade. Measuring its perimeter, he estimated 40 laps came to a mile. Starting out cautiously, he gradually grew stronger. Soon he was doing 11 or 12 miles a day until, he wrote, “I had within ninety days walked 1000 miles". While he lived here, his medical student lodger trudged seven miles to Edinburgh University and back every day, so commonplace an occurrence it was barely worth remarking on.

It’s easy to look back on the great distances country folk covered with pity as well as awe, but as any serious walker knows, few things are more enjoyable – in decent weather – than clocking up the miles. There are moments when you feel like a piece of machinery, the cogs and wheels working in unison. It’s also a failsafe way of clearing the mind, and finding fresh inspiration. Whenever my husband is stuck for the next sentence, he heads out. The top of every article or chapter he writes should record the tally of miles walked between first word and last.

It’s no wonder so many writers have been walkers. Not all were obliged to tramp the hills and roadside every day but many, like Robert Louis Stevenson, recognised the therapeutic benefits. He didn’t want to scale the heights, or keep to a strict and demanding schedule. A steady pace was his aim because, “once you have fallen into an equable stride, it requires no conscious thought from you to keep it up, yet it prevents you from thinking earnestly of anything else...”