Tibbie Sheils and the Southern Upland Way
With the weather forecast being pretty reasonable, I decided to return to the Borders and walk a section of the Southern Upland Way (SUW), returning to Tibbie Shiels via a route that would in essence create a giant figure-of-eight loop.
I had managed to extract myself from bed on time and drove the scenic route to the start point, hoping that the cafe at the car park might be open for a nice bacon roll. No such luck. The car park was deserted as was the cafe, so getting the gaiters on I made a leisurely start at around 9:30, crossing the stone bridge that crosses the short river that connects the Loch of the Lowes and St Mary’s Loch.
Passing the Inn (opened by the wife of a molecatcher after his death, and who the place is named after) I was on the SUW, climbing steadily and quickly along a farm/forestry track. While not particularly arduous, the track just seemed to rise steadily on for ever. There was, however, ample compensation with the views opening up behind me. Naturally I had to stop every so often to turn round and enjoy them!
At a rather out of place metal signpost, the way turned off the track into some forest for a brief moment, before bursting out the trees at a stile. Suddenly I had a superb view, looking up a glen with the Ettrick Horseshoe in the background, still covered in smattering of snow. Not having paid much attention to the map, and suddenly losing a lot of height very quickly, I assumed that the way would be following Whitehope Burn along the bottom of the glen. How wrong I was. The path quickly climbed out the glen, leaving me breathless and staring around at the astounding views, including a glimpse of Tibbie Sheils Inn nestled in the distance on St Mary’s Loch. The ridgewalk along Pikestone Rig was wonderful (and superbly waymarked) with a fine view of Broad Law in the distance – one of the highest (I was going to say peak, but most of these hills are just big lumps) hills in the Southern Uplands, and a Corbett to boot.
At this point I had a fine tail wind and was romping along, the way contouring delightfully above the Scabcleuch Burn which it follows down to the Ettrick Water. It was here I left the SUW turning left as it turned right to head towards Moffat, a mere 16 miles away. This was now a short road walk along a delightful valley that is more reminiscent of the Dales or the Lakes than Scotland, the commercial forestry the only thing that marks this area out as being in quite a different location. Lunch was had in the shelter of Ettrick Kirk, keeping me comfortably out the wind before starting to make my way alongside the Kirk Burn along a route that would see me complete a circumnavigation of Craig Hill, which sports some exceedingly large cairns.
It is important to note now, that the presence of a path on the map does not necessarily mean there is a path on the ground (even when the path has a nice big signpost telling you that St Mary’s Loch really isn’t that far away!). I managed to follow a rough quad bike route that was heading in my general direction, before that petered out and I was left to trail blaze my own route into a hefty head wind. In less than ideal conditions this would have to be a map and compass job and I certainly would not want to attempt this route without either in my possession. It was tough going as well, with high tussocks, wet ground and a couple of deep burns all having to be negotiated, as well as the wind. It was with some relief that I reached the SUW again where another metal signpost points to Ettrick Kirk. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t see a path on the ground – still, all good fun!
Steps were retraced on the SUW for a Kilometer or so, before striking off to take a slightly more direct route back to the car. A clear path contoured round Peat Hill, then suddenly there was the Loch of the Lowes and St Mary’s Loch spread out before me. The path I was on traversed a rather steep slope as I slowly descended to the Loch Side – again not so much a path as a motley collection of sheep tracks which turned into a real strain on the ankles. It was a great relief to reach the Lochside and follow a slightly better used path that made its way back to the car park.
I hadn’t met a soul all day, which surprised me a little, as Tibbie Sheils is a popular place and can get busy. This, however, was a Tuesday in February and I had the hills to myself. A fantastic days walking which has given me an appetite to have a stab at the SUW.
Day Rating 9/10
Thoroughly enjoyable. The SUW along here is a delightful section of path with fantastic all round views. I was pushed along nicely by the wind for the first half, but really toiled walking into it over rough ground on the way back, which is why it doesn’t get a 10 (for making it hard work!). This area is spectacular and it always strikes me as strange that it just isn’t as popular as the traditional “walking” areas around the UK. The Borders really are brilliant! Go there.