Hillwalking Hijabi explores the South of Scotland

by Zahrah Mahmood, 6th May 2022
Zahrah Mahmood - the Hillwalking Hijabi | River Tweed Valley
Hillwalking Hijabi explores the South of Scotland

If you had told me we would be going on a family walking trip in March, I would have pictured; rain, bog, cold and more rain! That couldn’t have been further from the reality. Blessed with great weather, we truly were treated to seeing the South of Scotland’s beauty in all its glory.

Arriving at Peebles on Friday evening, we checked into our family room at Peebles Hydro Hotel and then quickly went back outside to explore the stunning grounds. Luckily baby Muhammad Harris fell asleep at this point and my husband and I engaged in a friendly(ish) if somewhat competitive game of giant outdoors checkers (I won!). There were so many outdoor activities to choose from – putting green, archery and tennis courts. After exploring the grounds, we went back in to freshen up and get ready for dinner. Dinner was amazing, there were plenty of inclusive choices on the menu and I would highly recommend the Vegan Sharing Platter for mains!

Outdoor giant chess or checkers game for guests at Peebles Hydro Hotel.
Super-sized chess or checkers await at the Peebles Hydro Hotel.

Exploring the many trails of Peebles

The next day, after a hearty breakfast, we checked out bright and early and embarked on the busy day’s activities. First up was our walk along the River Tweed and Neidpath Castle. The route started from the centre of Peebles, we quickly left the quaint high street, heading in search of great views along the River Tweed. The weather was so great, we even passed some locals wild swimming and in great spirits.

The walk through the woods and along the river and then out in the beautiful, serene countryside was just what we needed to blow away the cobwebs. Views to Neidpath Castle were surreal as well. There is an option to lengthen the route by almost double, but with a busy day ahead – and a hungry baby- we continued on the shorter version (though still a cool four miles!) Our tired legs brought us back along the river and park – now busier with families enjoying the great weather also.

Family walking trip: Zahrah Mahmood and baby Harris enjoy a walk along the River Tweed and take in the sites of Neidpath Castle.
With young Harris adding helpful gurgles, we made our way along the River Tweed to be treated to a wonderful view of Neidpath Castle.

Before our next stop, we had a quick wander around the high street and managed to nab some lovely unique mother’s day gifts for my mum and mother-in-law. We also managed a quick pitstop at the famous Cocoa Black for some delicious refreshments!

Lichen lovers delight at Dawyck

Next stop was Dawyck Gardens and having never been before, I was expecting the usual garden walks. Nice, scenic..and short. I was wrong – Dawyck Gardens is 65 acres! And had some steep sections. What was great about it was that I got a rest from carrying my baby and was able to take him in the pram, as there are also way-marked accessible routes.

Anyone who knows me, knows I love finding lichen. So imagine my child-like excitement when I realised that Dawyck has a lichen safari (I think the lovely ladies at reception were bemused by my reaction!). Content in the knowledge that I was breathing in the freshest of air (and wondering how I could possibly bottle some of it up to take back with me) I went on the safari and happily racked up the kms and the steps, even after the long walk in the morning! There’s loads to see at Dawyck – the majestic tree trail and the Scottish tree trail are also must sees and we finished the walk with a nice lunch at the garden cafe. Day 1 concluded on almost 20k steps – the most I’ve done since giving birth to Harris 5 months prior, so it was a great high to finish on!

Lichen at Dawyck Botanical Garden in the Scottish Borders on a family walking trip with the Hillwalking Hijabi.
I have always loved lichen and the Lichen Safari at Dawyck Garden was a real treat as were the pram-friendly paths.

When we finally had our fill at the gardens (both with the walks, the indoor exhibits and the lovely lunch), we made our way to Blackaddie House Hotel in Sanquhar, our accommodation for the second night. The service at Blackaddie was outstanding. The lovely staff were so helpful and told us about all the fruit and veg they grow on site. They grow everything from three different types of carrots to melons! They had so much left over the previous year that they took the produce to the local school. The dinner and next morning’s breakfast was mostly all made with local produce which was why it tasted so delicious and fresh!

Fresh ingredients are the order of the day at Blackaddie House Hotel as Zahrah Mahmood found out on a recent visit during her family walking trip in the South of Scotland.
Blackaddie House Hotel, Sanquhar grows much of its own fruit and vegetables – breakfast was a real treat.

Bite-size chunks of the Southern Upland Way

Our second day was amazing. If I’m allowed to say I have a favourite, then the morning hike up Lowther Hill radar station, as part of the Southern Upland Way (SUW) with Ranger Tom was my favourite. We were treated to, not only great weather again, but also a fountain of knowledge from Ranger Tom. He and his colleague have done a brilliant job working on the SUW path and let me tell you, it shows! For those that don’t know, the SUW is a 344km long distance path. Ranger Tom was keen to point out, it’s not just for the “ultras”, it’s for anyone and everyone. There’s no rule that says you need to do it all at once (though if you do, then all the power to you!) You can do it in sections and chip away at it over a period of time, like the amazing woman who completed it in her 80’s! One thing’s for sure, I will definitely be going back to tick off another section of the SUW.

Family walking trip with Zahrah Mahmood, aka the Hillwalking Hijabi on the Southern Upland Way, Dumfries and Galloway.
Ranger Tom has inspired me to tackle more parts of the Southern Upland Way.

Safe to say we had built up quite an appetite, so we stopped for lunch at Thomas Tosh, in Thornhill. It is a lovely art gallery, shop and cafe. We had a delicious bite to eat, and then I perused the books and bought one for myself and one for Harris! I’d really recommend stopping here if you’re in the area. The service, staff and owners were all so lovely and welcoming and there’s a real relaxed community atmosphere.

Chocaholics heaven

The day could’ve ended there and it would have been amazing, but there was one more treat in store for us. We had the most perfect ending with a private workshop from the Chocolate Queen, Liz from The Moniaive Chocolatiers. Liz is so passionate about what she does and is an absolute perfectionist and great teacher. She has created the world’s first tartan chocolate and let me tell you – it’s delicious! Moniaive Chocolatiers has a solid fan-base, including Vivienne Westwood – and if it’s good enough for her then it’s good enough for us! We made some of our chocolates and decorated them and got to take them away with us, but just in case they weren’t as good as Liz’s – we also purchased some to take away with us… not surprisingly our families knew which ones were made by the professional and which ones were made by us!

On a family walking trip, Zahrah stopped to try her hand at making chocolates at Moniaive Chocolatiers.
Moniaive Chocolatiers have a fan base including Fashion Royalty, Vivienne Westwood.

With the weekend over, we left the South of Scotland with contented hearts. Not quite ready to say goodbye though, we decided to take the scenic route home, via the Mennock Pass, so we could hold onto the great South for a bit longer! But you won’t be able to keep us away for too long…we have already booked up to go back later this year and are counting down the days!