The Borders

  • Eildon Hills - south hill from central hill - © William Mackesy
  • Southern Uplands Way - Killantringan Bay  - ©  flickr user Andrew Bowden
  • Southern Uplands Way - sheep pen and forest  - © flickr user Andrew Bowden
  • Southern Uplands Way - View from the top of Dryhope Tower  - © flickr user Andrew Bowden
  • St Abb"s Head, looking south - © William Mackesy
  • Eildon Hills - middle and south hills from north hill - © William Mackesy
  • Eildon Hills - middle hill from saddle - © William Mackesy
  • Melrose Abbey from north Eildon Hill - © William Mackesy
  • Southern Uplands Way - Dryhope Tower  - © flickr user Andrew Bowden
  • Southern Uplands Way  - © flickr user thornypup
  • St Abb"s Head - early lighhouse built by Stevenson family - © William Mackesy
  • St Abb"s Head - First bay - © William Mackesy
  • St Abb"s Head, looking north - © William Mackesy

Key information: The Borders

    •  The Borders, the hill country between England and the Scottish lowlands, is a beautiful and atmospheric area - and relatively empty of walkers.
      • Grassy (rarely heathery) hills and ridges, rolling rather than sheer, treeless other than a certain amount of rather depressing conifer forests, they separate very varied valleys. The scenery includes rough crags, moorland, hill farmland and stretches of good arable land. And the odd loch - and even coastal cliffs and wildlife reserves.
        • Rich in history, from prehistoric hill-forts to remains of the Romans to ancient brochs (round defended towers) to abbeys, churches, castles and towers, to fine houses and their gardens, to monuments and reminders of Scotland?s bloody civil and religious strife.
          • Lovely and interesting towns to explore, from the pleasing market town of Moffat to ancient Melrose, to Kelso and Jedburgh. Staying here is a pleasure, not a function.
            • These can be tough and remote hills, with always unpredictable weather. Come prepared.

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating87
  • Beauty31
  • Natural interest15
  • Human interest10
  • Charisma31
  • Negative points0
  • Total rating87

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Southern Uplands Way - View from the top of Dryhope Tower  - © flickr user Andrew Bowden

WALK SUMMARY

The Borders, the hill country between England and the Scottish lowlands, is a beautiful and atmospheric area - and relatively empty of walkers.

These are grassy (rarely heathery) hills and ridges, rolling rather than sheer, treeless other than a certain amount of rather depressing conifer forests, they separate valleys which vary from rushing upland streams and larger rivers winding through wide, lonely bottoms, to the grand, lower valleys of impressive rivers such as the Tweed. The scenery includes rough crags, moorland, hill farmland and stretches of good arable land. And the odd loch - and even coastal cliffs and wildlife reserves.

The land is rich in history, from prehistoric hill-forts to remains of the Romans to ancient brochs (round defended towers) to abbeys, churches, castles and towers, to fine houses and their gardens, to monuments and reminders of Scotland?s bloody civil and religious strife.

There are lovely and interesting towns to explore, from the pleasing market town of Moffat to ancient Melrose, to Kelso and Jedburgh. Staying here is a pleasure, not a function.

The landscape is shaped by its geology: sedimentary rocks have been buckled and lifted by the impact of the Highlands with the European tectonic plate, resulting in gentler, in more rounded hills than the rough, broken grandeur of the ancient, igneous Highlands, the geological siblings of America's Appalachians and the mountains of Norway.

The Borders have several famous long-distance trails running through them, including:

  • The Southern Uplands Way. The finest route in southern Scotland, the Southern Upland Way runs 341km north-east from the western Rhinns of Galloway Peninsula to the North Sea, across a variety of beautiful, often delightful, and usually empty landscape. The Way mainly traverses grassy (rarely heathery) hills and ridges, treeless other than a certain amount of rather depressing conifer forests (particularly in bits of Galloway and the Lowther Hills), which separate varied but consistently lovely valleys.

Every nest of hills will offer fine walking, and you can usually pick a route from a local map and head off.  That said, some favourite walks are:

  •    The peculiar but delightful Eildon Hills, a group of three steep  protruding from the rolling countryside just south of Melrose which offer grand 360? views of the surrounding landscape. A hill fort and Roman signal station crown the northernmost hill. Unusually for the area, they are heather-clad. A tour of all three takes a brisk 2.5 hours, although you would be mad not to eat at least one picnic on a hilltop here.
  •     The 25km (16 mile) stretch of St Cuthbert's Way between St Boswell's  and Harestanes, south-east of Melrose, which follows a delightful curve of the Tweed then a stretch of Roman Dere Street.
  •     A stretch of the pretty Teviot valley then Dere Street between Kelso and Jedburgh, two historic towns.

-          the hills south and north of Tibbie Shiels and St Mary's Loch (where Stages 8 and 9 of the Way meet); lovely hill walking, some on fine ridges and on old drove roads and passing the ruins of old towers, as well as the shores of the large and lovely loch itself;

-          the superb high-level old drove road from Innerleithen to the outskirts of Galashields, over Brown Knowe, under Broomy Law and over Three Brethren (Stage 10, 28km, 17.3 miles total of skirting Galashields to Melrose); and

-          the crossing of the bare, lonely heather moorland of the  Lammermuir Hills from Lauder to Longformacus (Stage 12, 25km). 

  •          A 10km (6 mile) circuit along the Whiteadder river east of Abbey St Bathans to examine the ancient (C2AD) Edin's Hall Broch (stubby round tower), then back round over the hills to the north.

  •           The lovely and fascinating St Abb's Head nature reserve on the east coast: its cliffs, coves and stacks are a haven for a huge selection of seabirds in their specialist corners. On its highlands are the faint remains of the defended C7 monastery founded by St Aebbe, a fascinating reminder of turbulent, Viking-ridden times. You won't be alone in the summer months.

  •          The area around Moffat, strictly in Dumfries and Galloway but part of the Borders as most of us would consider them. This nice town has got its ambulatory act together, and has produced a series of booklets on local walks, including Walking in and Around Moffat and Strenuous Walks Around Moffat. Well worth a few days as a base.

 Have a look at the dreaded TripAdvisor - you should get some good, current views on this area.

This page is at an early stage of development: we plan to mention a lot more walks. Please help us by recommending your best walks, making suggestions and sending photos! Thank you!

Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist. Walkopedia encourages responsible travel.

Books and Maps

Suggest books and maps

Books on this walk

Scottish Hill Tracks – published by ScotWays – 2012. Brilliant book.

Walking in Scotland – Lonely Planet

Other books

ScotlandLonely Planet Country Guide

Wainwright in Scotland


Maps

All relevant Ordinance Survey maps can be bought locally, easily.

Stanfords: www.stanfords.co.uk.  An excellent (and user-friendly) online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks).

Best times to walk/weather

Best times to walk

April to October. Summer is likely to be warmest, May and June for the best chances of good weather - and fewer people). Spring and Autumn can be lovely (especially for the heather). Long upland walks in Winter are for the experienced and well-prepared only.

Weather

Variable and changeable at all times. Always come prepared for rain, even though the eastern areas are surprisingly dry. Can be lovely.

 

For detailed weather information, have a look at: www.worldweather.org or www.bbc.co.uk/weather/world/country-guides

 Transport/permits/fees

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Skyscanner is an excellent (relatively new) site for finding the flights you need; otherwise try Lastminute.com, or look at what’s available on Tripadvisor.

Trains to/from various towns, including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Carlisle and Lockerbie, Dunbar, Berwick on Tweed. Local buses are available, reasonably plentifully, to/from the main towns such as Melrose, Kelso, Jedburgh and Moffat.

 

No permits are needed to do these walks.

Local taxi services generally exist in the towns, can (eg) take to or pick you up from a roadhead, or transport luggage.

Route(s) and wayfinding

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See Walk Summary above.

 

Wayfinding is generally easy. That said, experience and care are needed on the hills, some of which are short of obvious landmarks, especially in poor weather.

Possible problems, health, other warnings

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·         Mountain weather: rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year, snow in winter. Come prepared.

·         Heights: can be dangerous.

 

See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Make sure you have appropriate insurance.

Guided or independent?

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Independent

You can do all these walks independently, although the higher or remote mountain walks require preparation, experience and common sense.

Guided/supported

Any recommendations for good guides? Tell us about them on our “Participate” page.


Accommodation

There is endless accommodation available, from grand and trendy hotels, to pubs, to B&Bs, to hostels and campsites. The guidebooks have a selection of possible accommodation.

Camping: there are some lovely sites. Short term wild camping (2-3 nights in any one place) is generally permitted in the hills. See www.mcofs.org.uk/mag for further details. Be careful and considerate!

An official accommodation guide is published annually, and this includes campsites.

A good range of hotels can generally be found on the unimaginatively but effectively named Hotels.com; if you’re on a budget, Hostelbookers usually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation, or perhaps try for some bargain luxury on Lastminute.com.

It is always worthwhile seeing what the commentary on Tripadvisor is on possible places to stay – although do take their reviews with a pinch of salt, as they can be “interested”.

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Other information and tips

Carry a compass on high ground, in case of bad weather.

Access

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Useful websites and information

There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us. 

·         Scottish Borders Tourist Board – sbtb@scot-borders.co.uk. Various local tourist offices at Dumfries, Moffat, Melrose and elsewhere (see Cicerone for more info)

·         VisitScotland Borders – tel 08706080404 – rather amazingly, not for internet

·         www.outdooraccess-Scotland.com for information on access rights and responsibilities.

·         www.mountaineering-scotland.org.uk

·         www.wikipedia.org - as usual, a good starting place.

·         Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.


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Other things to do in the area

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Endless..…

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

Southern Uplands Way - Killantringan Bay  - ©  flickr user Andrew Bowden

OTHER ACCOUNTS
share your experiences

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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Southern Uplands Way - sheep pen and forest  - © flickr user Andrew Bowden...
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