Walking in Southern Scotland
Traditionally hill walkers have headed to the north of Scotland, with Torridon and The Cairngorms the biggest draws. There is no doubt that the mountains in the north are spectacular, but many people forget that Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders have some of the best walking trails in the country. The mountains here may not be as high as in the rest of the country, or the waymarked trails not as famous, but for those willing to travel outside the main tourist destinations they will be rewarded with stunning locations and unbelievably quiet trails. For those who started hillwalking in the 70s it’s like a return to the good old days before paths started to resemble motorways and you would be surprised to see another person all day. It can be wild and challenging walking at its very best as well as offering options for the less experienced day tripper.
The Merrick is the highest hill in southern Scotland but as it falls just short of Munro status, being 843 metres high, it does not attract the numbers of walkers it surely deserves. You can make the summit and back in a good 4 hours from the starting point beside Loch Trool but there are many ways to extend this with a foray into the charmingly named Range of the Awful Hand, or a visit to the notorious Murder Pool. The uncanny rock formation known as The Gray Man of Merrick which sits below the hill is also well worth a visit. Craigie Knowes, on the shores of the Solway Firth is a luxurious and tranquil retreat where you can relax with amazing ocean views after a long day out on the hill. Further west along the coast from Craigie Knowes is the Mull of Galloway Trail. This was officially opened in 2012 and winds its way north as the Loch Ryan Coastal Path for a total distance of 35 miles to Glenapp in South Ayrshire where it links with the Ayrshire Coastal Path.
When it comes to long distance walking routes the West Highland Way gets all the attention but there are a number of equally scenic long distance paths that wind all the way through the south of Scotland. One of the newest of these is the Annandale Way, a 55 mile long walking route linking Moffat and Annan. It starts high above the source of the River Annan with a circumnavigation of the Devil’s Beef Tub before dropping down its eastern side to Moffat and then following the river along the valley bottom, all the way to the Solway Coast. The route is generally flat and offers numerous opportunities for spotting wildlife including birds, such as wintering barnacle geese, and otters hunting in the river. Berryburn is just a few miles away from Annan, a beautifully furnished historic house that gives great access to all the fabulous walking in this often overlooked part of Scotland.
Long distance walks are not just about nature though; they can be used to highlight and link together important parts of our history. Getting outside and immersing yourself in history is a great way to get a feel for how things must have been centuries ago. The Borders Abbeys Way is a circular walk in the heart of the Scottish Borders, full of attractive countryside it also passes by four 12th Century Abbeys and through several Border towns. The route is just over 100km long and is divided into five sections of roughly equal distances. This can be undertaken in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction starting and finishing at any of the Border towns. Since the opening of the Borders Railway there is now an additional option of starting and ending the Way at the Tweedbank railway station. Gateshaw House sits right on the edge of this waymarked and varied route, because of its proximity to a number of the towns on the route you can easily plan to do individual sections of the walk and then return home in the evening.
If you like the idea of a historical trail but maybe feel that walking it all would be too much of a challenge then the Romans and Reivers Route has been developed to appeal to horse riders as well as walkers and mountain bikers. Starting at Ae Forest, this route follows old Roman roads, forest tracks, drove roads and short sections of quiet lane through the heart of notorious Reivers country, providing enjoyable walking, cycling and riding right through the Southern Uplands. The terrain is stunning but still accessible, winding its way through sheltered woodland and forestry, with some sections through more open farmland. Branxholm Park House prides itself on all the facilities it offers but if you feel the need to get away for a day or so adventuring then the route is a just short cycle away.