Rivers have been at the centre of Scottish life for thousands of years. For the earliest settlers a river meant survival – a source of food, drinking water and transport. Over the centuries villages, towns and all of Scotland’s cities have grown and developed along the banks of a river. From the Industrial Revolution, when Scotland was one of the manufacturing powerhouses of Europe, until the long decline of heavy industry in the 20th century, rivers were integral to Scotland’s economic development. As towns and cities attempt to reinvent themselves in the wake of that decline, rivers and riverbanks are crucial to regeneration, providing key destinations for residential developments, offices, leisure and recreation.
Water activities such as rowing, sailing, kayaking, canyoning and fishing are increasingly popular, and wildlife is making a comeback as the environment begins to recover from pollution. From source to sea, a river passes through a variety of landscapes – from mountains to hills, towns to cities, countryside to concrete – and the best way to discover the scenery, wildlife, architecture and history is to walk.
The increasing number of paths and walkways along riverbanks present plenty of opportunities to explore. Whatever your ability – walking at high or low level, following tough terrain or a simple route – this series offers something for everyone.
The River Tweed
At 96 miles in length the River Tweed is the fourth longest river in Scotland, although for the last few miles of its journey it crosses the border into England. The close proximity of the countries has bestowed an intriguing history upon the River Tweed. It has been a boundary for thousands of years, and was a crossing point both for trade between Scotland and England and for marauding armies. A number of bridges span the River Tweed and have played key roles in the story of this beautiful river. The Scottish Borders have, at times, been unfairly judged as a poor relation of the Scottish Highlands.
However, the sense of tranquillity the landscape engenders, the wildlife and the scenery soon dispel that notion. The term ‘lowlands’ is a misnomer, as the Border country has an abundance of higher ground, granting some superb walking opportunities. The 25 routes in this guidebook have been chosen to illustrate the varied landscapes, and thus the diversity of walking, to be found on and near the banks of the River Tweed as it travels from source to sea. Many of these routes are circular to take in the best of the scenery in the area around each stage of the river’s journey and to explore some of the most interesting towns and villages that have grown up along its banks. The walks also highlight the wildlife, architecture and history to be found along the way.
A place apart
In common with the land north of the Highland Boundary Fault, the Scottish Borders has its own dialect. The language of the Scottish Borders is distinct from much of Scotland and derives from the 1st Millennium when the region was a Celtic culture. An early form of Welsh was spoken, which can still be detected in names such as Kelso, Peebles and Galashiels. By the Middle Ages, English had become the dominant language: Broughton, Selkirk, Berwick and the many Laws (Dollar Law, Kirkhope Law and Broomy Law, for example) that rise above the River Tweed have their origins in Old English. The derivation of the name Tweed is vague, but possibly stems from the Brythonic tau or teu, which mean ‘strong’, ‘silent’ or ‘flowing’. The source of the River Tweed is Tweed’s Well, found in rugged moorland approximately six miles north of Moffat.
It is a lonely setting, and a number of little burns trickle down from the surrounding hills to join the burgeoning Tweed as it travels north and then east. Several significant rivers, such as the Teviot, Ettrick, Yarrow and Lyne, flow into the River Tweed as it meanders through the Scottish Borders, running along the Northumbrian Border and entering the North Sea at the magnificent walled town of Berwick- upon-Tweed. On its route, this great river runs through bustling, historic towns and villages such as Peebles, Melrose, Dryburgh, Gala and Kelso. Over the course of its journey, the River Tweed runs beneath the higher ground of Annanhead Hill, Broughton Heights, Drumelzier Law, the stunning Glensax Horseshoe and the iconic Eildon Hills, all of which grant superb views. It travels through some beautiful expanses of woodland and alongside great swathes of rich, fertile farmland. The riverbanks, woodland and farmland are alive with roe deer, otter, kestrel, heron, kingfisher, buttercup, red campion, bluebells and ramsons.
The very earliest Stone Age and Neolithic hunter-gatherers used the river as a means of transport, travelling in traditional boats such as the currach. The river was also a source of food and water. During the next few thousand years, as the land was farmed more intensively, cattle, sheep and pigs provided important sources of food, milk and clothing. The Bronze Age and the Iron Age saw more definite roots being laid down, particularly by the Votadini tribe. Forts were built on Cademuir Hill near Peebles and the Eildon Hills above Melrose, the latter being home to a community of around 2000 people for many years.The Romans, too, were attracted to the shapely outline of the Eildon Hills, and when Julius Agricola led his army across the border in 79AD they paused near Melrose at Newstead – reputedly the oldest inhabited village in Scotland – and stayed for the next 150 years.
Trimontium, a fort, was built at the base of the Eildons and was at the height of the Roman occupation home to around 1500 soldiers. The environs of the Tweed are also home to some of Scotland’s most important and celebrated buildings. The illustrious abbeys of Melrose, Kelso and Dryburgh were built along the banks of the river during the 12th century. Great castles, such as Roxburgh, Norham and Berwick were primarily a form of defence, but also a focal point for the bustling towns and settlements that sprang up along its banks.
The close proximity to England was a double-edged sword – trade links were strong, but Edward I of England looked longingly at Scotland, and he invaded with devastating effect in 1296, leaving a litany of destruction in his wake. Major battles like those at Flodden and Philiphaugh, near the River Tweed at Selkirk, as well as the activities of the Border Reivers in the 16th century, led to a succession of governments proclaiming that the Borders were becoming as problematic as the Highlands. As the 18th century and the Industrial Revolution approached, the River Tweed was the source of a remarkable economic expansion along its banks. Although the Borders were far removed from the heavy industry of Central Scotland, the textile industry proved to be an unqualified success, employing thousands of people and putting many of the towns along or near to the Tweed, such as Peebles, Galashiels, Innerleithen and Selkirk, on the map.
The production of knitwear, cashmere, hosiery and linen flourished, as did tweed. It is wrongly assumed that the river gave the cloth its name – the original name, tweel, was the Scots name for twill, a type of weave. A merchant misread tweel as tweed, and subsequently it became known by this name. By 1821, Galashiels alone was home to ten mills. Mill owners prospered, but it was hard graft for the mill workers, who worked six days a week under tough conditions. The economy in the Borders was also helped by the arrival of the railway. The Edinburgh to Carlisle line was constructed between 1847 and 1862, and generated jobs through the export of coal.
However, during the 19th and 20th centuries, the majority of the stations and lines closed. Mass production of textiles meant that many of the mills could not cope with the workload, and today only a few exist, although the world-famous quality of the textiles has not diminished. Over the centuries, writers and painters, including Sir Walter Scott, James Hogg and J M W Turner, have all depicted the River Tweed in a favourable light, drawing tourists into Scotland’s southeast corner. Innovations in fly-fishing by the Victorians meant that great rivers, particularly the Tweed, became incredibly popular with anglers. Nowadays, the River Tweed has become one of Britain’s great salmon and trout rivers, providing around 15 percent of all salmon caught in Scotland. These days, manufacturing still accounts for 20 percent of local jobs but, like much of rural Scotland, the Scottish Borders has used the landscape to boost its economy and create work. Fishing still plays an integral role and outdoor tourism, focusing on activities such as cycling and walking, has made the region a major draw for outdoor enthusiasts.
How to use this guide
The walks in this guidebook run from the Moffat Hills above the source of the Tweed to the sea at Berwick-upon-Tweed. Wherever possible, the start/finish for each walk is easily accessible by public transport and, if not, there is car parking nearby. The majority of the walks are also easily reached from the villages and towns along the length of the River Tweed, with access to shops, places to eat, accommodation and public toilets. Each route begins with an introduction detailing the terrain walked, the start/finish point (and relevant grid reference), the distance covered, average time to walk the route and the relevant Ordnance Survey (OS) map.
Public transport information is also detailed, although this may change from time to time and should be checked before commencing any of the walks in this guide (travelinescotland.com). A sketch map shows the main topographical details of the area and the route. The map is intended only to give the reader an idea of the terrain, and should not be followed for navigation – the relevant OS map should always be used for this purpose. Every route has an estimated round- trip time. This is for rough guidance only and should help in planning, especially when daylight hours are limited. In winter or after heavy rain, extra time should also be added for difficult conditions underfoot.
Risks and how to avoid them
Some of the routes in this guidebook are challenging hillwalks whilst others cover more remote terrain. The weather in Scotland can change suddenly, reducing visibility to only a few yards. Winter walking brings distinct challenges, particularly the limited daylight hours and the temperature – over higher ground, temperatures can fall well below freezing. Please take this into consideration before commencing any of the hillwalks in this guide. Preparation for these walks should begin well before you set out, and your choice of route should reflect your fitness, the conditions underfoot and the regional weather forecasts. Even in summer, warm waterproof clothing is advisable, and comfortable, supportive footwear with good grips is a must. Don’t underestimate how much food and water you need and remember to take any medication required, including reserves in case of illness or delay.
Do not rely on receiving a mobile phone signal when out walking in the hills or remote areas. It is a good idea to leave a route description with a friend or relative in case of emergency. There is a route for almost all levels of fitness in this guide, but it is important to know your limitations. Even for an experienced walker, cold, aches and pains can turn an easy walk into an ordeal. Those routes that venture into the hills or rough terrain assume some knowledge of navigation with use of map and compass, though these skills are not difficult to learn. Use of Global Positioning System (GPS) is becoming more common; however, while GPS can help pinpoint your location on the map in zero visibility, it cannot tell you where to go next and, like a mobile phone, should not be relied upon.
Until the Land Reform (Scotland) Act was introduced in 2003, the ‘right to roam’ in Scotland was a result of continued negotiations between government bodies, interest groups and landowners. In many respects, the Act simply reinforces the strong tradition of public access to the countryside of Scotland for recreational purposes.
However, a key difference is that under the Act the right of access depends on whether it is exercised responsibly. Landowners also have an obligation not to unreasonably prevent or deter those seeking access. The responsibilities of the public and land managers are set out in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (outdooraccess- scotland.com). The walks within this guidebook cross land that is only fully accessible due to the co-operation of landowners, local councils and residents. Some of the routes pass through farms, golf courses and streets, and near homes and gardens. Cyclists and horse riders often use the paths and tracks, and anglers and canoeists may use the river and riverbank. Consideration for others should be taken into account at all times and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code must be followed. At certain times of the year special restrictions are implemented at low level and on the hills, and should be respected.
These often concern farming, shooting and forest activities: if you are in any doubt ask. Signs are usually posted at popular access points with details: there should be no presumption of a right of access to all places at all times. The right of access does not extend to use of motor vehicles on private or estate roads.
Red and Sika Deer Stalking:
Stags: 1 July to 20 October
Hinds: 21 October to 15 February
Deer may also be culled at other times for welfare reasons. The seasons for Fallow and Roe deer (less common) are also longer. Many estates provide advance notice of shoots on their websites.
Grouse Shooting: 12 August to 10 December
Felling: All Year
Planting: November to May
Heather Burning: September to April
Lambing: March to May – although dogs should be kept on leads at all times near livestock.