Southern Upland Way 2003

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 5 - Traquair to Longformacus


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Day 11 - Saturday 7th June - Traquair to Darnick (near Melrose)

Distance: 16 miles + 0.5 miles diversion to Minch Moor, Ascent: 2,800 ft + 150 ft to Minch Moor

I had a good breakfast at 8.30 a.m. and was off by 9.30 a.m.. I mentioned the map reference to Mrs. Caird and she said that it was the grid reference of her previous house. She has asked the publishers to change this for three years running, and she thinks that it has now been updated on the 0n-line version but not in this year's printed version of the accommodation guide.

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Tweeddale from ascent of Minch Moor
Tweeddale

The way leads up a steady climb to Minch Moor, with fine views back to Tweeddale. Though there is forestry on the ascent, it doesn't interfere with the views because of the gradient together with clearings and felling/replanting. I passed an elderly walker on the way up and was following a couple of walkers ahead. They look as if they are just out for the day, as it is Saturday and there are there are many more centres of population near to here - Edinburgh, for instance, is only 29 miles away, and there are a number of busy roads up this side of Scotland. This is the difference between here and the western part of the way, which is out on a limb, and is only visited by those few people with a definite purpose for being there.

On long distance walks, I tend to go through various phases from lethargy, when every ascent is an effort, to periods when I am feeling full of energy and hills are no problem. At the moment, I was feeling energetic, so I made rapid work of the ascent. The route skirts past the summit of Minch Moor, but there is a 400 M path up to the trig point and cairn on the top, where there is a complete panorama of rolling hills. The weather was not at its best, with dark clouds, spots of rain and a cool wind, but it was still good enough to get an appreciation of the views, and there was some shelter afforded by the cairn. The elderly walker came by, but he was a man of few words and soon continued on his way. After a while I retraced my steps to rejoin the route, where I met a group of nine walkers, again just out for the day.

For a while, the conifers took over the view, but it was not too long before the track emerged into open moorland covered in heather. At the edge of the forest, I stopped for a rest so that I could shelter from the wind whilst still enjoying open views beyond. The next few miles were fine upland walking with only gentle rises and falls in the path and with wide open views, though they were not shown to their best by the overcast weather. A heavy shower made me stop to put on my waterproof jacket and, although the rain soon stopped, I left the jacket on as protection against the wind until the hillside of Broomy Law afforded me some shelter. I could see the Three Brethren cairns ahead and was hoping to have some shelter there from the wind for my lunch break, at the same time as having a good view of the scenery. The huge cairns are marvellous examples of dry stone building, and make a fine landmark, which can be seen for miles around.

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The Three Brethren Cairns
Three Brethren Cairns
Path erosion caused by storms several days earlier - holes were 2 ft deep in places
Path erosion

Having met hardly anybody in the first ten days of the walk, I was quite amazed at the number of people around. Several mountain bikers passed by and, at the cairns a total of ten other walkers in various groups stopped by for a lunch break. None, however, were walking the Southern Upland Way, they were all just out for the day to visit this popular local beauty spot. Although the cairns afforded some protection, it soon got quite cool and, for the first time since the start of the walk, I put on my fleece. After about three quarters of an hour, I started to make my way down the hill, but there was some very threatening weather heading my way, and it wasn't long before I had to stop again to put on my waterproofs. The wind was an icy blast and a heavy downpour soon followed, although it wasn't long before the wind and rain abated and the sun came shining through.

The route down had suffered very badly from erosion caused by storms and flash flooding just over a week ago. Deep channels had been gouged out of the path by rainwater and, in places, these were two foot deep. Everywhere around there was evidence of erosion and, wherever water had run down the hillsides, there were deep scars and stone debris littered around. The most dramatic evidence of this was to be found at the bottom of the hill at Yarm, where Shorthope Burn, now a gently trickling stream, had washed tons and tons of stones and pebbles across the road. The road had since been cleared leaving huge piles of stones at either side. It was obviously one of those occasions when a hundred years' worth of erosion takes place within a matter of hours, and the mind boggles as to what it must have been like at the time for anyone caught in the storm.

I couldn't decide whether to take off my waterproofs or leave them on, as the weather was changing so frequently but, eventually, as I reached Yarm Bridge, it was looking better, so I took a chance on removing them, because I was getting too hot. As I started up the track, after crossing the bridge over the Tweed, I met a chap coming the other way with a large pack. He was walking from Land's End to John O'Groats and using a small section of the Southern Upland Way on his route. He had been walking for three months and expected to take another month to reach his destination. The route he was taking was one with as much off-road walking as possible, making use of many National Trails and other walks, including the South West Coast Path, Cotswold Way, Pennine Way, St. Cuthbert's Way, West Highland Way and Great Glen Way, as well as this walk. The total distance, doing it this way was, I think, 1,172 miles, as opposed to something over 800 miles by the shortest route, but a small price to pay for making the walk so much more interesting and enjoyable. The weather had been pretty good for him most of the way so far, which was just as well, as he was camping with occasional stops in youth hostels. He last slept in a bed three weeks ago. After an interesting chat, I wished him well, and we went off in opposite directions.

Climbing up the hill, I met up with a group of walkers, mainly girls, who were walking from Traquair to Galashiels. I chatted with them for a while along the way, before going on ahead. The weather brightened up somewhat and it was easy walking along over the lush green hilltop, eventually dropping down into the edge of Galashiels. The route then heads along the side of Gala Hill with fine views across to the Eildon Hills, much loved by Sir Walter Scott. These are three very distinctive hills, which can be seen from many miles back, and they were bright yellow on their lower slopes, which were covered in gorse. When I was back at the Three Bretheren cairns, one chap said to his friend "What are those three over there?" The friend, who was a bit of a wag, replied "They are hills - look, you can see by the shape of them!"

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Eildon Hills from Gala Hill with Abbotsford in foreground
Eildon Hills
Abbotsford from across River Tweed
Abbotsford

Further along, there is a lovely view across to Abbotsford, a fine country house beside the Tweed. After dropping down, across the road, to a path by the riverside, there is a much closer view. The path led onto a road to cross a tributary of the Tweed before joining a cycle/walking track on the route of a disused railway line, which was even less exciting than a track through a dense conifer plantation, as it was in a cutting most of the way with nothing to see. After about a mile, I rejoined the road network to find my B&B in Darnick, a village near Melrose, where I had a relaxing bath before making my way into the town centre, which was about a mile away.

I had seen an advert in my room information for the King's Head, which had real ale, but I must have missed it on my way, so I called in the Ship Inn for a pint before Walking back down the road, where I found the King's Head. They had a choice of three real ales, and I tried the Caledonian, which was very good. The place was very busy, it being a Saturday night in a rather popular pub. I managed to find a place to sit for my giant Yorkshire pudding with beef casserole and, after a couple more pints, I had a look around the town and its fine abbey.

There were lots of tourists about including several Americans and Germans, who were wandering around by the abbey. The whole area looks very prosperous, with many grand houses and having a general air of affluence, unlike most of the places further west. Instead of the north south divide in England, Scotland seems to have an east west divide in terms of prosperity.


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Day 12 - Sunday 8th June - Melrose to Lauder

Distance: 10 miles, Ascent: 1,250 ft

I decided against the full breakfast, with its long list of items, and settled on sausage, bacon, egg and tomato, which was more than enough. I could have had haggis if I had ordered it the night before, but I didn't notice until it was too late. I only about 10 miles to walk to Lauder, so I was in no hurry to set off, especially as it was still raining a bit from overnight. I had a long chat with the owners of the guest house about the ups and downs of the hotel and guest house business. They also showed me photographs in the local paper of some of the damage caused by the recent storm, which was particularly bad at Broadmeadows, about a mile south of the route. There had been hailstones so big that they were causing damage to cars, and there was also a lot of damage caused by flooding and all the debris washed down by the water.

It was after 10 a.m. before I set off to rejoin the way by the side of the River Tweed. The riverside walk was very pleasant, and the rain had just about stopped, although it was still rather overcast. I made a diversion into Melrose to buy a few things for lunch and to have another look at the abbey, which is very impressive, even in ruins. I rejoined the route at the chain bridge, a pedestrian bridge over the Tweed, and then continued on the riverside walk back up the other side of the river. There were quite a lot of people around Melrose and many walking dogs on the riverside paths.

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Melrose Abbey
Melrose Abbey

The way then leaves the river to make its way over an upland area towards Lauder. I met an elderly chap and his son on the way up the hill. They were out walking for the day and obviously liked bird-watching, as they kept stopping to look through their binoculars from time to time. He was telling me that he had done the Southern Upland Way some years ago, but they had taken bikes with them, which proved very useful on the long forest tracks and roads. The landscape was one of undulating grassy fields with a few outcrops of trees and views back over the Tweed, although the overcast weather marred the view. As I got higher, it started raining steadily. It was time for a lunch break, so I made for a nearby plantation to seek shelter. The conifers did not offer much protection, but I found a beech which was better.

The rain eased off after a while, and I started to get trouble from the midges, so I carried on along the way. Soon I came across the father and son again. They had stopped for lunch by a wall overlooking a small tarn where there was considerable noise and activity amongst the bird population, mainly of oyster-catchers. The father was extolling the beauty of this area and, indeed, this spot was particularly pleasant, but I didn't find this section of the walk a match for much of the scenery that I had seen along the way.

A long straight track leads across the gently undulating landscape and the high hills were no longer visible, at least not today, with visibility of about five or six miles. There was a great deal of dampness in the air and this produced a lot of crackling from the high voltage power lines as I walked underneath. It was only a quarter to three and I had barely two and a half miles left to walk, so I stopped for another break. The final stretch down to Lauder was more interesting, as it ran along the edge of the steep sided valley of Lauder Burn, beside the golf course. At the bottom of the hill was one of the usual Southern Upland Way shelters and information boards and I decided to phone home from there on my mobile phone, as it was spotting with rain. The only problem was that somebody had been making mud pies all over the seats, and plastering the notice boards with mud. I just managed to find enough clean space on the seat to sit down and by the time I had finished, it had started raining steadily. This made me put on my waterproofs for the walk through town to my B&B, which was at the far end.

I had a very warm welcome when I arrived, and was introduced to some of the owners' friends, one of whom was visiting from South Africa. Lauder is a reasonable sized town with quite a few shops and pubs, so the only problem in finding somewhere for an evening meal was the weather, which had deteriorated to heavy rain. Fortunately, the Lauderdale Hotel was close by and was serving food, and the rain was not quite so heavy at 7 p.m., when I went out. I had lasagne and chips in the bar along with a few pints of Belhaven Best, which was a beer I had found in many pubs along the way. There were a number of others in the bar, including two German motorcyclists, who were keeping an eye on the rain outside before deciding to go on their way. I passed some time away by doing a couple of crosswords from the paper before deciding to return to my B&B, the rain now having stopped. When I got back, some more guests had arrived. This is the busy A68 to Edinburgh, so they get a lot of passing trade, especially in the tourist season.


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Day 13 - Monday 9th June - Lauder to Longformacus

Distance: 14.5 miles, Ascent: 1,800 ft

I awoke to sun streaming through the window and it looked like I was in for a fine day ahead with hardly a cloud in the sky. I had breakfast (ordered the night before) at 8.30 a.m., with some of their specialities such as South African boereworst, which are rather spicy sausages made completely of meat. They have them made by the local butcher to a recipe that they got from South Africa. Two ladies from Sheffield were also down to breakfast. They were touring and walking in the area and I chatted to them for a while. They knew Kirk Smeaton, where I used to live, as they had visited Brockadale Nature Reserve, where I used to help out as a volunteer warden.

I set off at 9.15 a.m. to walk back through town, where I stopped to buy sandwiches for lunch, then on past Thirlstane Castle, which was originally medieval but had been given a romantic new look by restorers. The route then climbed steadily up the hillside through green pastures and a couple of short sections of forest, before entering a large expanse of open moorland. There were good views back to the distant Eildon Hills, and over Lauder and everything looked good in the fine weather conditions. It was quite hot work in the sunshine, until I climbed higher, where a breeze sprang up, making it more pleasant. A footbridge crosses Blythe Water in an attractive little valley, and this made a convenient place to stop for a break with sheep and cattle grazing nearby, and oyster-catchers, curlews, lapwings and pied wagtails in the air.

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Thirlstane Castle, Lauder
Thirlstane Castle
Eildon Hills from Park Hill
Back to Eildon Hills
Footbridge over Blythe Water on Way to Twin Law
Footbridge, Blythe Water

The path then climbed steadily onto the wild, open, heather moors to a small plantation before joining a track over towards Twin Law. I was planning on a lunch break by the cairns on Twin Law, which could be seen over in the distance. In poor weather, these moors offer very little shelter, except for the odd rusty barn, a sheep fold, or the summit cairns themselves. The track seemed to go on forever across the featureless bleak moorland and, to make matters worse appeared to be going off in the wrong direction for quite a way before coming to an end with a footpath taking a sharp right for the remaining mile to the summit. At this point the view towards the Cheviots was in sight whilst walking, whereas previously it had only been visible by turning around. This made the final stretch to the cairns much more interesting, and the walk did not drag so much.

From the viewpoint by the cairns, there was a panorama of distant hills with the view to the west extending to about 50 miles. To the east, where the sea should be visible, it was a little hazy, so I was not quite sure whether it was the sea that I could see, or whether it was just the absence of land. There were a number of people about by the cairns, which are again magnificent examples of dry stone building work, each one with a shelter hollowed out of one side, just big enough to seat a person. I met a couple with an elderly mother, who had walked up from Watch Water Reservoir, and they were followed by three girls, who had walked from Lauder.

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Twin Law cairns
Twin Law cairns
Distant Cheviot Hills from Twin Law
Cheviot Hills
Watch Water Reservoir on descent from Twin Law
Watch Water Reservoir

It was quite breezy on Twin Law, but with a bit of shelter from the cairns, it was quite pleasant whilst the sun was shining, but rather cool otherwise. I must have made good progress, as I only had about five miles to go, so I was in no hurry. The view across to the Cheviots was very good, with a patchwork of fields and small plantations in the lowlands between. After the drabness of the moors, there was now a complete contrast, particularly when looking over to Watch Water Reservoir, with the bright blue of the water, the lush green of the fields and the red earth of some of the ploughed fields. The walk down was a joy, with lovely views ahead, and springy turf underfoot, so it seemed no time at all before I was walking beside the reservoir.

I now had less than two miles to go and it was still quite early, so I decided on a spot of sunbathing overlooking the reservoir, as it had been too cool higher up on Twin Law. I set off again at ten to five along the road into Longformacus, where I found my B&B about three quarters of a mile before reaching the village. It was marked as an hotel on my map, and was originally built as a hunting lodge for the Duke of Argyl. Over the years it has been used as an hotel at various times, but had closed down for some time before the present owners, Pat and Dave, bought it a year ago to run as a guest house in their retirement. It is a very splendid building in large grounds and with a very impressive hallway, but not the easiest place as far as upkeep is concerned, and the cost of heating it in the winter must be enormous.

After a shower, I enjoyed a pot of tea talking to Pat, who had walked Land's End to John O'Groats in 2000 to raise 1,500 for charity. She completed it in nine and a half weeks, but did a lot of road walking, as she was not too sure of her navigational skills. Dave joined her at weekends through England and also for the last stretch through the Cairngorms to the finish.

I had no reception on my mobile phone, so I walked down into the village, where there was a call box. I lifted the receiver only to find that it said 'No cash calls'. As I had spoken to Jean earlier, I thought that she would not be too worried if she didn't get a call. Nevertheless, I walked up a hillside nearby to see if that gave any mobile reception, but to no avail.

Dinner back at Pam and Dave's was parsnip soup, Moroccan chicken, meringue with ice cream and strawberries, then cheese and biscuits and coffee. It was all very nice, but I don't think I could have managed a meal like that every night of the walk.


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