The Old Ways

For those who have flown over the Scottish Borders, perhaps on their way to or from Edinburgh Airport, it can be a surprise when looking out the window just how much open space there is down below. The hills here are not especially craggy or imposing, but when seen from above they roll on in waves for what seems like forever.

And looking at the hills that encircle us here in the Tweed Valley always makes us wonder what it must have been like in days gone by when people had to travel between far-flung settlements, often with livestock in tow. It’s perhaps no surprise then that the hills in these parts are crisscrossed with old tracks and drove roads – ancient routes that can still be explored today on foot, by mountain bike, or on horseback.

Perhaps the best example locally is the Cross Borders Drove Road, a historic route that travels for 52-miles between Harperrig just southwest of Edinburgh through the Pentland Hills (via the Cauldstane Slap), West Linton, Peebles and Traquair, and then on to Hawick via the Yarrow Valley. The Cross Borders Drove Road has now been recognised as one of Scotland’s Great Trails, with the majority of it part of the wider South of Scotland Countryside Trails network that has been developed specifically for multi-use.

In places, sections of the original drove road still run between the parallel dykes built so that drivers could keep their livestock on track. Exploring these ancient way-lines, it’s easy to imagine the sight and sound of tens of thousands of sheep and cattle being driven to trysts (markets) in places such as Falkirk, Crieff, and south of the Border.

Although enjoyed by walkers, mountain bikers, and long-distance horse-riders, the Cross Borders Drove Road is remarkably quiet and low-key. It’s possible to spend a whole day in the hills without seeing a soul, your only company the call of birds and the sound of the wind.

And the route can be a gateway to other gems, too: one section to the east of Traquair connects with theSouthern Upland Way (the granddaddy of long distance Scottish trails), while a shorter section between Bowhill and Hawick connects with the delightful Borders Abbeys Way. There are sections for all levels of fitness, so why not come and sample a slice of Borders history for yourself?

Further info

For much more on the Cross Borders Drove Road, including sections that can be tackled in a day from Peebles, click here

And for those who’d like to tackle the whole route, Walk Across Scotland offers excellent self-guided walking holidays along this and many other of Scotland’s Great Trails.

A note on the headline

The headline for this post is unashamedly pinched from a wonderful book of the same name by Robert Macfarlane. Probably the foremost nature writer in Britain today, his work is a joy to read. Highly recommended!

Photography: Rich Rowe; Walk Across Scotland