Friday, 14 April 2017


It's been a while since our little hillwalking trio, myself, Andrew and Pauline, had an overnight outdoor adventure. Recently we had enjoyed a one day walk to the Eildon hills of the Borders, taking in the Roman settlement of Trimontium, and the Borders countryside was to once again provide us with a destination, this time for an overnighter in our tents. With the Easter holidays in full swing, and sunny skies forecast, we set our sights on a small section of the Southern Upland Way, starting out from Innerleithen and finishing at Galashiels.

Access to the start of our walk was a mile and a half or so along tarmac, across the River Tweed, and then onto the route proper. The path we followed for the entire walk was great, and skirts an area called the Minchmoor.

The first day was a long pull gradually upwards, under hot, cloudless skies, but it was a fabulous, leisurely wander. The Southern Upland Way is the longest route of its kind in Scotland, some 212 miles, from Portpatrick in the west to Cockburnspath in the east.

The Minchmoor section we were walking has evidence to date it back to pre-Roman times as a Pictish Road, and was the main highway well in to Medieval times between east and west.

It is said that the Marquis of Montrose used this very route to flee from the battle of Philiphaugh in September 1645. He was eventually captured and hung in Edinburgh, and his head was displayed on a  spike in the Tolbooth. Lovely. It is said that as he was fleeing he buried a stash of money somewhere along the route, so we were keeping our eyes out for buried treasure.

A couple of hours in we came upon The Cheese Well. It is a natural spring and provided refreshment for thirsty travelers along the route, as it did for us this day as we filled out water bottles. It can be found marked on maps going back to the 1600s and derives its name from leaving small presents of cheese to thank and placate the fairies. These days people leave a coin or two on the engraved rock, so when in Rome, as they say.

A little further on, and a short few hundred yards detour, we came to the summit cairn of Minchmoor. A number of mountain bikers were already there, and in the short time we stood on its summit a number of others arrived, such is the popularity of the area with bikers. We had just come down and back on to the Southern Upland Way when Pauline found buried treasure. Well, actually, commemorative coins stashed in a hole in the wall to anyone who wants one. You'd have to know they were there mind you. There were only three left, and all a little corroded, so we only took one.

As I said at the beginning, we had walked the Eildons a few weeks back, which were now visible in the distance. On that walk we had enjoyed a treat of visiting the ancient Roman site of Trimontium. There we marveled at depressions and lumps and bumps on the ground, showing evidence of a once mighty settlement. As our walk along the Minchmoor progressed we came upon a man-made gouge called Wallace's Trench. This was a purpose built defensive ditch some 4 to 6 feet high, clearly made to defend one area from an approaching force of some size. As our small band of three got closer and closer, it looked from a distance like a slightly raised line of ground. More lumps and bumps of things long buried. But when we finally reached the actual site it was astonishing in its scale and preservation, still perfectly formed as a trench many hundreds of troops could have easily concealed themselves in.

Near to the end of our day was the third highlight of the route, and the title of this blog, The Three Brethren. When Pauline had first mentioned them I thought it referred to three slightly rounded hills next to each other, but in actual fact they are three giant cairns atop a hill at 465m.

Beautifully constructed, and standing some ten feet tall, they mark the intersection of the estates of Buccleuch, Yair and Selkirk. Originally there was only one cairn, built by Alexander Pringle in 1512 (of the wool jumper fame) and owner of the Yair estate.

This was to be our cut off point to drop down on the southern side of the route to camp for the night. As the sun was setting we tucked into our evening meals among the heather, relaxing after a rewarding day.

The sun shone again for us the following morning. This was to be a much shorter day as we made our way to Galashiels, but the walk was through some of the prettiest woods, along fabulous little paths dappled in sunlight, that I have ever walked.

As we descended toward the mighty River Tweed once more, the path was lined with great stands of Douglas Fir. It was popular in Georgian and Victorian times to plant Rhododendrons and Douglas Fir in the extended gardens of large estate houses.

So I started to think we may come upon just such a house. And we did. A beautiful, and grade 1 listed, Georgian mansion, built of red sandstone, the seat of Yair estate and Alexander Pringle that had built the first of The Three Brethren. A long time back the estate and house had been sold to pay off debts, but Pringle went to India, made a fortune, and on his return bought back the family estate.

We now ascended for one last time, across rolling farmland manicured by munching sheep, across well made dry stain dykes, past estate workers burning heather to create new and fresh habitat for red grouse, to eventually sit upon a small rounded hill overlooking the town of Galashiels.

The trip ended as it had begun, with coffee and cake. Of course.

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