Coast to Coast
Planning on walking the Southern Upland Way this year? It runs from Portpatrick – a picturesque wee harbour that looks across to Northern Ireland from the Dumfries & Galloway coastline – all the way across Scotland, ticking off ranges of hills as you go: the Galloway Hills, the Carsphairn Hills, the Lowther Hills and the Ettrick Hills before skirting the Manor Hills, the southern edge of the Moorfoot Hills and finally the Lammermuir Hills, reaching the North Sea at Cockburnspath with 212 of Scotland’s most stunning, remote and history-filled miles behind you …
The Southern Upland Way – Some Facts & Figures
- Britain’s first official coast to coast long distance foot-path offers superb and varied walking, still undiscovered by many enthusiasts. The Way provides a real challenge for the experienced walker, yet some of the shorter stretches are suitable for families and the less ambitious.
- The Southern Uplands have been heavily sculpted and rounded by the effects of glaciations to leave a series of gently rolling hills with occasional rocky outcrops. There are no Munros – summits above 3,000ft (914m) – but there are 80 Corbetts, peaks that rise above 2,000ft (610m), offering some of the very best hill walking in the UK.
- Although the route is waymarked, you must be able to navigate with map and compass when visibility is bad – and you must be well equipped and prepared for emergencies. Strong walking boots, waterproof and windproof clothing are essential.
- The time taken will vary according to individual fitness and weather conditions, but walkers should allow between 10 to 14 days. The Southern Upland Way works across the grain of the country rather than following valleys and lines of least resistance so, although there are many miles of level walking, there are also many miles up and down hill: be prepared.
At each end of the Way are short sections along cliff tops. Here there are masses of Sea Pinks and other flowers in the summer months attracting a greater range of butterflies than elsewhere on the route. Out at sea, the most conspicuous large seabirds are the Gannets, those in the west nesting on Ailsa Craig (and Scar Rocks, Luce Bay) and those in the east on the Bass Rock.
The open moorland sections owe their present appearance to man’s activities: forest clearance, the introduction of cattle and sheep grazing and, more recently, the towering turbines of a burgeoning wind farm industry. In the Lowther Hills, the remnants of an industrial past can be explored at Wanlockhead and Leadhills. The Museum of Lead Mining is on the Way – and just off it, you’ll discover Leadhills and Britain’s highest narrow gauge railway. If you need to put your feet up, check in to the Hopetoun Arms, Scotland’s highest residential hotel.
The grouse moors in the Lowthers and Lammermuirs are managed intensively to create the ideal habitat for Red Grouse which are shot on 12 August and the following weeks; through the careful burning of small patches of heather, a mosaic type habitat is created offering nutritious young shoots for the birds to feed on and larger plants for birds to find shelter and nest in.
The Forests & Their Inhabitants
Much of the landscape adjacent to the Way is continually changing: where the route passes through coniferous forest, improvements are being made by opening up viewpoints and modifying the forest edges. When the mature trees are harvested, new planting schemes will be designed with the walker in mind, offering a greater variety of tree species, more open space and here and there, where possible, small ponds may be created. The conifers have their own specialist types of wildlife: look out for Siskins and Common Crossbills feeding on the seeds in the cones. Barn Owls hunt some of the open areas in late evening and Shorteared Owls breed in the younger plantations and open moorlands, usually flying about during the day.
Farming & Wildlife
You’ll spy sheep – lots of them! Sheep on the hills are predominantly Scottish Blackface or Cheviots but other breeds and crossbred sheep may be seen. Look out for the Belted Galloway, an uncommon distinctive local breed of cattle kept for its beef and dairy value. The more numerous black or dun-coloured Galloway Cattle are a different breed reared exclusively for beef production. Early in the year, Ravens build large stick nests either on precipitous cliff faces or in tall isolated trees. In Spring, the first Wheatears arrive in the hills after spending the winter in Africa: they’re easily spotted by their conspicuous white rears as they flit from boulder to boulder.
We can’t possible do the 212 miles justice in this wee snapshot. It passes through spectacular scenery, ancient towns and picturesque villages – right across the Scotland’s border country. Click on the following sections to discover more together with useful maps to help in your planning: this is listed as ‘west to east’ and is the recommended way to tackle to the Way as the sun will be on your back and lighting your route and the prevailing winds will also be behind you, pushing you up the hills! There’s also a section on accommodation on the Way’s website to help in your planning …
Thanks for reading.