This tour takes you well off the beaten track in Southern Scotland. Too many visitors to Scotland feel that the area between the English border and the central belt is simply an area that needs to be crossed in order to get to the "real" Scotland: i.e. the Highlands. It's not often appreciated that some of Scotland's remotest areas are actually in the south of the country. This tour shows you just a few of them.
The main circular route shown on the map in dark blue is 86 miles long, mostly on good quality "B" roads, though the 16 mile stretch between Ettrick and Eskdalemuir is single track, as is the very minor road that leads you for 10 miles over the hills from Langholm to Newcastleton. The tour assumes a starting point of Selkirk, and is described in an anti-clockwise direction. It can be tackled from Edinburgh by the addition of 34 miles each way to Selkirk.
From Selkirk you need to find your way onto the B7009, which heads south-west down the south-east bank of the Ettrick Water. The turn off onto it is not far from the centre of Selkirk, and if you cross the river, you have gone too far. Before leaving Selkirk explore this attractive town which extends from the hilltop location of its Market Place and High Street down steep slopes to the impressive old woollen mills and more modern industrial estates along the valley of the Ettrick Water. Not much of the old textile industry still survives, but fascinating examples of what does can be seen at Andrew Elliot Ltd's Factory and Mill Shop and at nearby Lochcarron of Scotland.
Once out of Selkirk the B7009 stays fairly close to the south-east bank of the Ettrick Water as far as the picturesque little hamlet of Ettrick Bridge where, as the name implies, the road crosses to the north-west bank of the river before continuing to follow its valley in a very gentle climb into steadily hillier and more remote country.
A little south of a couple of junctions (which you ignore) in Crosslee, watch out for a sharp left hand bend with a junction at which a very minor road joins from the right. This is worth following for a mile through the hamlet of Ettrick to Ettrick Kirk, in a beautifully hilly setting. En route you will pass a monument marking the birthplace of the writer James Hogg.
The next stretch of road is single track, almost as far as Eskdalemuir. If this name rings a bell it is because the Meteorological Office has an outpost here and it is sometimes mentioned in weather reports. This is sited at the Eskdalemuir Observatory, which opened here in 1908, partly to provide long-term monitoring of the UK's geomagnetic field. Today the Observatory is run primarily by the British Geological Survey. It moved here from London's Kew Observatory when the electric power supplied to London trams started to upset the readings. A similar, if possibly more spiritual, motivation probably underlies the location in the village of Eskdalemuir's big surprise. The Kagyu Samye Ling Tibetan Centre was founded in 1967 and remains the largest Buddhist Monastery and Tibetan Centre in the western world.
From Eskdalemuir you follow the valley of the River Esk downstream to Langholm, an attractive town despite having the main A7 running through its heart. From the junction of the B709 with the A7 in Langholm, you head north along the A7 for half a mile, then take a narrow minor road steeply uphill to your right. This crosses the flank of Whita Hill, where a parking area and a short path give access to the striking memorial to the poet Hugh MacDiarmid.
This minor road takes you over the hills to Newcastleton the largest settlement in Liddesdale, the valley lying to the east of the line of the modern A7 and even closer to the line of the English border. For many centuries Liddesdale lay on the front line in the wars between England and Scotland, though as a planned village laid out in the late 1700s, Newcastleton itself postdates much of the areas very troubled history.
From Newcastleton you follow the B6357 then the B6399 north (follow signs towards Hawick). About five miles north of Newcastleton look out for signs pointing up a minor road to your left to Hermitage Castle. If you want a true feel for just how grim the history of this part of Scotland could be, Hermitage Castle is the place to get it. This is a forbidding and oppressive place. Seen from the east or west the architecture seems utterly brutal: sheer walls relieved only by a blind arch. Radio Scotland once broadcast a feature in which Hermitage Castle was described as the embodiment of the phrase "sod off" in stone. It's a difficult description to better.
Back on the B6399 you emerge in Hawick the largest town in the Scottish Borders and the most urban-feeling of them. One visitor to the town in the 1820s described it as a sort of "Glasgow in miniature", a comparison that today would probably not be appreciated by either. From Hawick it is only a short run back up the A7 to your starting point in Selkirk.
Visitor InformationDistances: The main circular route covers 86 miles. It can be reached from Edinburgh by the addition of 34 miles each way.
Fuel: There are petrol stations open at least some of the time in Selkirk, Langholm and Hawick.