Winter Walks in the South of Scotland

by Sara Barton, 23rd November 2022
Malcolm Monument, Langholm.
Winter Walks in the South of Scotland

Taking in the crisp, fresh air on a sunny winter’s day is such a boost for your mental and physical wellbeing. And where better to enjoy the outdoors than in the gorgeous South of Scotland – named by Lonely Planet as a Top Destination for 2023. Whether you are after a coastal stroll, a hike to marvel at a monument or a loch-side walk sheltered by woodlands, here are a few of our favourite options – which will you choose?

Captivating Coastal Walks

Distance: 10km/6.25 miles

Difficulty: Easy – Moderate

This delightful circular walk takes you through the charming town of Portpatrick and along stunning coastline to visit a lighthouse.

You start at the northern end of the Portpatrick harbour where an interpretation board marks the start of the Southern Upland Way.

The coastal scenery on the first part of this walk is breathtaking, with towering cliffs and secluded, sandy bays. In spring and summer the cliff tops are a blaze of colour with wildflowers such as thrift, spring squill and yellow rattle. Kittiwakes and fulmars nest noisily on the cliffs below, jostling for the best sites. Views along the coastline are stunning and on a clear day you can see over to Ireland.

Soon, you cross open moorland and Killantringan Lighthouse lies up ahead. Built in 1900 to warn ships away from the rocky coastline, dangerous cross currents have still caused many a shipwreck. The remains of the Craigantlet, a container ship that ran aground in 1982 can just be seen at low tide beneath the lighthouse. From here you’ll continue on past the lighthouse, enjoying views of hills, forests and woodland as you had back to Portpatrick.

Wonderful views await you on the Southern Upland Way from Portpatrick to Killantringan lighthouse.

Distance: 6km/4 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

The delightful gardens of Galloway House near Garlieston provide a sheltered start to this wonderful walk. The gardens come into their own in springtime with rhododendrons and azaleas, but children can have great fun following the trails which lead to the seashore, no matter what time of year.

Heading past the house itself or walled gardens and down to the picnic site on the Bay you may get lucky and see seals basking along the shoreline. Of historical interest, the harbour was one of the sites for the top secret plan to develop landing stages for the beaches of Normandy prior to the D-Day landings during WWII.

Walk along the beach and the path then climbs upwards through mixed woodland. The fauna changes as you climb and the trees become windblown old oak, ash and beech trees. Emerging through the woodland you pass through a gate into fields along the cliff top.

You will soon spot the old arch, all that is remaining of Cruggleton Castle. But the eastern view of the Galloway Hills will reward your efforts. And do watch out for the cormorants basking on the rocks below!

Your efforts will be rewarded with wonderful coastal views and the Galloway Hills in the distance at Cruggleton Castle.

Distance: 23.5km/14.5 miles

Difficulty: Challenge

Take on part of the Berwickshire Coastal Path with this challenging circular route that leads you to the attractive settlement of Ayton. Here you can see the impressive red sandstone Ayton Castle and walk through its grounds. Built in the Scots baronial style by architect James Graham, the castle remains a family home but part of the grounds are open for walks, while the house itself is open for tours on certain days of the year.

The river Eye flows through Ayton (Eyetown) and out to the sea at Eyemouth and as you journey, you’ll pass an old mill by the Eye Water. This impressive river once powered 13 corn mills, two textile mills and a paper mill. The multitude of corn mills is indicative of Berwickshire’s arable farming landscape.

Travel inland from the Berwickshire Coastal Path to be delighted by Ayton Castle.

Take it easy

Distance: 4.5km/2.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Two short loops exploring the countryside west of the scenic conservation village of Eddleston along farmland and woodland tracks. The village has origins dating back to 600 AD and it was long believed that the village possessed spiritual and healing properties thanks to the particular arrangement of water that flows through and around it.

You’ll cross over the Eddlestone Water which has itself been the subject of ‘healing’ in recent years. The river – known locally as ‘the Cuddy’ – was extensively straightened, which left it prone to serious flooding. But in the past decade the river has seen the introduction of meanders, extensive planting of native trees, creation of areas of wetland and engineered log jams. All have helped slow the flow of water and improve the ecological health of the river.

Further in your walk you will have the chance to visit the Polish Map of Scotland. This relief map in the grounds of Barony Castle was created as a memorial to the Scottish people for their hospitality to Polish soldiers during WWII. Barony Castle is now a hotel and so could be a useful stop for lunch or teas during your soujourn.

These routes offer pretty views through farmland, so be aware of livestock if you have a dog with you.

The Great Polish Map of Scotland offers plenty to look at while you complete this easy walk.

Distance: 3.5km/2 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Outside of Dumfries this gentle walk takes in the ruins of Britain’s only triangular castle. The first 100m of this linear woodland and estate walk is an all ability trail which terminates in a viewing area overlooking the merse. The woodland path then runs along old earthbanks associated with the early castle and skirts along a strip of spruce trees. Mid way along the path there is an option to turn off to a picnic area and bird-viewing seat.

The huge mudflats of Blackshaw Bank are home to millions of shellfish and worms which provide sustenance for thousands of waders and wildfowl, such as curlew, oystercatcher and shelduck. The entire population of barnacle geese from Svalbard (an island off northern Norway) spend winter on the Solway and a large proportion choose the merse and farmland around Caerlaverock. The rare and protected natterjack toad can also be found here; in fact Caerlaverock is home for the northernmost population. It can be identified by a distinctive yellow line along its back and can be heard croaking on warm summer evenings. Towards the end of this linear walk, you’ll get a first glimpse of Caerlaverock Castle which was abandoned around 1277 when the buildings started to subside and collapse. Continue to the impressive sandstone ruins of the second castle, a unique triangular medieval fortress which is managed by Historic Scotland.

Caerlaverock Castle, Historic Environment Scotland
Caerlaverock Castle is Britain’s only triangular castle.

River routes

Distance: 6.25km/4 miles

Difficulty: Easy

This classic, low-level circuit packs in a huge amount of interest as it heads upstream along the banks of the Tweed from the centre of Peebles. Gorgeous woodland, an imposing castle, tempting swim spots (but maybe wait until the spring!), ancient bridges and panoramic views are all part of the mix. Take your time or, better still, sit and pause for a while, and you may spot some of the abundant wildlife found along this stretch of the river: dippers bobbing on favourite rocks, herons standing motionless by the water’s edge, red squirrels darting through the trees, and perhaps even an otter hunting along the riverbank. With so much variety, it’s a great route for kids to enjoy too!

Neidpath Castle near Peebles in the Scottish Borders.

Distance: 10km/6 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

This circular route passes the elegant Paxton House, crosses the Anglo-Scots border on the banks of the River Tweed and follows the course of the river. Paxton House was built in 1758 for Patrick Home of Billie; the building is one of the finest examples of Palladian architecture in Britain. It is worth a diversion into the woodland of the house to see how architect and engineers solved the problem of how to get water uphill to the new house. Cutting-edge technology of the industrial revolution took fresh spring water from Paxton Dene to a storage tank at the top of the house. There are excellent information boards on site and restored examples of how the system worked.

Restored Georgian Water Wheel
Restored Georgian water wheel at Paxton House.

Follow the Faeries

Distance: 8.75km /5.5 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

A delightful hill walk that follows the route of the Southern Upland Way to reach the summit of Minch Moor – with outdoor art, a natural spring and a site where travellers once left gifts for faeries along the way! It’s a popular local walk with stunning views in all directions on a clear day. It’s steep in places, but there are plenty of resting points, not least at Resolution Point (an art installation consisting of shapes cut in the heather) and the Cheese Well (a natural spring which has long been used by travellers on this ancient drove route). It’s here that travellers used to leave offerings – including cheese! – to thank the faeries for safe passage. But don’t worry: modern-day walkers have little to worry about.

Minch Moor – will you see faeries or just leave them a treat?

Distance: 14.5 km /9 miles

Difficulty: Hard – steep gradients

Take in an interesting variety of terrain from the lovely architecture of Melrose to hill, farm and woodland which surround the town. The sections over the Eildons and Cauldshiels Hill can be steep, so proper walking footware is highly recommended. Your journey will take you past the Rhymer’s Stone. In the 13th century there was an Earl called Thomas of Ercildoune (now known as Earlston). Folklore has it that as he sat beneath the Eildon Tree near Melrose, he heard the tinkling of silver bells and the sound of a horse’s hooves. A beautiful lady approached, riding a white horse. Thomas fell under her spell and followed her into the hollows of the Eildon Hills, for the lady was the Queen of Elfland.

He lived with her for seven years and she gave him the gift of prophecy. When he returned to live with men once more he was unable to lie and he foretold of significant events in Scottish history and was gifted as a poet, hence his name, Thomas the Rhymer.

This romance became legend when Sir Walter Scott expanded a ballad of the tale into three parts. Today’s walk will take you through the Eildon Hills where Thomas met his fairie Queen and where Sir Walter Scott would also frequently walk  – it is a magical spot even if you don’t believe in fairies.

Wonderful winter walk along the Rhymer's Route and through Melrose.
See the spot where Thomas the Rhymer supposedly disappeared to live with faerieis under the Eildon hills along the Rhymer’s Route.

Alongside a loch

Distance: 8.5km/5.5 miles

Difficulty: moderate

This circular lochside and forest walk north of Newton Stewart gives you the chance to soak up the legend of Robert the Bruce. A short detour from the car park takes you to Bruce’s Stone. This large, granite boulder was erected to commemorate the Battle of Trool and sits on a commanding viewpoint overlooking the loch.

At the head of Loch Trool in March 1307, Robert the Bruce defeated a 1,500-strong English army led by Sir Aymer de Valence. Bruce’s army numbered only 300 men but, by luring the enemy along the steep sides of Loch Trool, he managed to ambush them and knocked them into the water with boulders.

This walk picks up the Southern Upland Way and passes through remnants of the ancient woodlands that once covered most of Glen Trool. As you head uphill into the conifers of the steep southern side of Loch Trool, you will be rewarded with viewpoints offering fantastic vistas over the loch to the Fell of Eschoncan and Buchan Hill, the foothills of the Merrick.

The route winds through Buchan and Glenhead woods, passing waterfalls and burns rushing down from the hills above. Both are excellent examples of oak woodland and are home to a variety of wildlife, from roe deer to redstarts.

Take a winter walk around Loch Trool and see where Robert the Bruce defeated the English.
Loch Trool was the scene of the Scottish king, Robert the Bruce’s, victory over an English army greatly outnumbering his own.

Distance: 7km/4 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

An interesting walk near Melrose through woodland and over moorland with a visit to Faldonside and Cauldshiel Lochs passing through the grounds of Abbotsford, home of Sir Walter Scott. His estate is one of the most significant designed landscapes in Scotland, laid out between 1811 and 1825. Many of the paths through Abbotsford are just as Scott designed and laid out in late Georgian times.  The walk along the River Tweed is quite beautiful with views back to Abbotsford before you head off to the woodlands and moorlands and the Lochs.

Home to Sir Walter Scott, Abbotsford as viewed from the banks of the River Tweed.

Marvel at a monument

Distance: 6km/4 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

You will get two monuments for the price of one on this walk out of Langholm. After heading out of town by road and path, this walk turns up hill and passes the memorial to Hugh MacDiarmid, the famed local poet who wrote A Drunken Man Looks at the Thistle. From here you trek on to the Malcolm Monument on top of Whita Hill, Langholm’s most prominent landmark, and a superb viewpoint

This landmark was built to commemorate Sir John Malcolm, one of the ten Malcolm sons of Burnfoot, Langholm. Young John Malcolm entered the service of the East India Company at 13. Later, he was appointed a cadet in Madras and saw active service against Tipu Sahib, Sultan of Mysore.  Monuments to his memory were erected in Bombay, at Westminster Abbey and on Whita Hill. This plain obelisk, built of the freestone of Whita Hill was erected in 1835 and at a height of 100 feet it can be seen from up to 30 miles away.

A word of caution though before you head out on this walk: Make sure to choose a fine day with no wind as you are crossing exposed land.

Two monuments on view from Langholm, first the Macdiarmid Monument.

Distance: 2km/1 mile

Difficulty: Easy

For a bit of mystery on your walk, why not take a visit to the Monteath Douglas Mausoleum not far from Ancrum near Jedburgh. Just 20 minutes from the ancient Dere Street, which forms part of St Cuthbert’s Way, there is a waymarked path from Milliards Tomb that will take you across the A68 trunk road (take care when crossing) and on up to the Mausoleum.

Standing high on the natural escarpment of Lilliards Edge, the Monteath Douglas Mausoleum is a spectacular Victorian building with views northwards to the Eildon Hills and Smailholm Tower, southwards to the Waterloo Monument at Peniel Heugh and the distant borderlands of the Cheviot Hills.

It was built by an enigmatic General in 1864 solely for himself, after a lifetime in the British Army in India. No-one knows why he built it here, or why it is such an unusual design for a mausoleum. The entrance is guarded by two life-size stone lions, one awake and the other, mysteriously, asleep. Inside the crypt (key available from Ancrum village shop for a small fee) the tomb is watched over by two huge sculpted angels, possibly images of his daughters. High above, pale light filters down into the chamber from a domed roof pierced by 48 glazed stars. On sunny days the star shapes drift across the high stone walls. You can download an audio guided tour, picnic on the grounds and enjoy the stunning views surrounding you.

Monteath Mausoleum, Borders Aerial Photography
The mysteriously beautiful Monteath Mausoleum with stunning views across the Scottish Borders.