Sunday, 30 April 2017

Borders - Minchmoor meander

The Minchmoor is an old drove road in the Borders hills that connects Traquair with Selkirk. Since cycling it last summer, it's a place that's stayed in my imagination for its quirkiness, its history and the open, airiness of its landscapes. So I was back there at Easter, walking its route with friends Graham and Andrew. 

From Edinburgh we took the Borders railway to Galashiels and jumped onto a bus that was heading back to Edinburgh. We only stayed on it for a few stops of course and stepped off in Innerleithen. There was time for coffee and cake outside in the sun, enjoying the outdoorsy vibe of this mountain bike-mad wee town.

Just south of Innerleithen we picked up the Minchmoor as the line of its old road cut across the fields and started to climb into the blue above. The Southern Upland Way, a long distance walking route, joins the Minchmoor here and we would use it over two days to walk back to Galashiels. 

A steady climb put us on top of the ridge that we would follow eastwards. There were some undulations but mostly we were up and staying up. The top of the climb is called Resolution Point and its marked by a sculpture and arty circles created in the heather. It's an interesting spot, the area being part of a project to increase the black grouse population here.

Just beyond Resolution Point, we came to the Cheese Well where it was said that travellers in days gone by had to make offerings of cheese to the fairies here to ensure a safe passage. We didn't have cheese, at least not since we'd eaten our lunch at Resolution Point, but we did leave some coins which we placed on the marker stone. On a hot day, we were also glad to be able to fill our bottles here with the cool spring water.

This wonderful route meandered now along the top of the hills, making us feel like we were on the roof of the Borders. The sense of space and the expanse of the view was wonderful. It was such a quiet place as well, we hardly passed anybody all day and the busiest spot was the top of Minchmoor Hill where a few mountain bikers had escaped the lower, groomed trails of the biking centre below.

We walked on into the hot afternoon, stopping at one point to marvel at Wallace's Trench. We had read about it on the train journey down. It's an ancient defensive trench, protecting against attackers from the west, the way we had walked. Given how the old trench is, we were perhaps expecting to see some shallow markings in the heather that might indicate where it had been. We were impressed therefore to come across the trench pretty much intact and 5 or 6 feet deep, cutting right across our route and extending a little way down the hillside. 

We walked on and on, through woods and over the gentle undulations of the ridge. We knew we had gone a fair distance east when the Eildon Hills came into view far ahead of us. We'd enjoyed a walk there just a couple of weeks ago so it was interesting to see them from a new angle.

By late afternoon we were nearing the end of the ridge and the climax of the day's walk, the Three Brethren. These huge stone cairns date from the 16th century and mark the boundaries of the three estates that meet at this point - Buccleuch, Yair and Selkirk. They're a stunning feature on what's already a beautiful spot.

Weary wanderers now, we dropped off the ridge and followed a path down the Philiphaugh Long burn to find a camp spot. Before the sun dipped behind the ridge, we sat outside drinking tea and cooking a hot supper. I surprised the boys later with a hot pudding of chocolate brownie and custard. It was the final act of the evening as the sun sank and we wrapped ourselves up in our sleeping bags. I think we were all pretty much asleep by lights out.

The following day was another cracker and we climbed back up to the ridge to rejoin the Southern Upland Way into Galashiels. The route was lovely, initially dropping down to Yair through springtime woods full of birdsong and then crossing the Tweed to make a gentle climb over the next series of low, rolling hills.

The path struck out across fields which were criss-crossed with drystone dykes. I loved the crossing points for walkers which were not the traditional gate but a series of stepping stones laid into the walls themselves. We must have used a dozen of these on the short leg into Galashiels.

After a final pull up a wee grassy hill, we were suddenly looking down on Galashiels. We ended the trip as we started ... with coffee and cake before catching the train home.

Fact File
Start: Innerleithen. Train from Edinburgh to Galashiels. The bus interchange is right opposite the train station and the Edinburgh-bound bus stops at Innerleithen.
Route: We walked south out of Innerleithen on the B709 for about 2km. Just after Traquair there is a quaint three-way junction at the war memorial - turn left here to join the Minchmoor and the Southern Upland Way. The route is signed now all the way to Gala and stays high across the tops. It's worthwhile making the short detour to the Minchmoor viewpoint which is signed from the main route. This, Resolution Point, the Cheese Well and Wallace's Trench won't be missed as they are right on the route. The Minchmoor high level route ends at the Three Brethren. We dropped down to the right here to find water and a camp spot then retraced our steps next morning. From the Three Brethren we stayed on the Southern Upland Way through to Galashiels. It was a lovely walk through springtime woods down to Yair then over gentle open hills into Gala.
Tips: Nice coffee shop on the main street in Innerleithen opposite the junction for the B709. And nice coffee shop in Gala immediately behind the Interchange.

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