Southern Upland Way Day 14: Innerleithen to Galashiels

Published 23 February 2012

Cartoon of a walker in the fog saying to three cairns, "Have you seen the view?  I think someone's stolen it!"

It was after nine when I set off, but I still managed to leave before a bickering French family of cyclists who’d been packing up since before seven.

The lady at reception had told me that the path running near the river, conveniently accessible by a handy gate in the tent field, would allow me to bypass the town and get back to the Southern Upland Way a little quicker. It turned out that most of it was the old trackbed of a now dismantled railway. Thanks to Doctor Beeching there was no open railway station left in this entire part of Scotland, and the former railways had found new uses. The day before I’d gone past the former Innerleithen station which had now been converted into a rather normal house. Well I say normal. It’s hard to describe a house as normal when it has an old platform in the garden, complete with a wooden canopy over it, with a clothes line hung underneath it.

The old trackbed was soon lost in a modern housing estate of pebble-dashed bungalows and I ended up zigzagging around a variety of alleyways and short streets before being deposited right on the edge of town, ready to tackle the trip up the main road in order to return to Traquair. Strangely it seemed much easier to go up it than it had to go down the day before and I was soon back on the Southern Upland Way, heading up another hill and into the Innerleithen Forest Park.

I’d originally thought of staying the night at the Minch Moor Bothy that I now passed but looking inside I was glad I hadn’t. It was a grimy place, full of litter and graffiti for the “True Love Gang” whoever they were, although I could hazard a guess as to why they liked the bothy and what they did there.

Coming off a side path ahead of me, a fell runner made his way uphill and the occasional sound of voices and chatter let me know I wasn’t entirely alone even if I couldn’t see anyone in the forest. But as I got higher, the less there was to see as the whole place was covered in a firm blanket of cloud. At one point a sign next to the path told me that the circles cut in the heather some way off were a work of art designed to encourage more people to use the Southern Upland Way, but in this level of cloud it was difficult to make anything out at all.

Offerings on the Cheese Well

A little way on, The Cheese Well was a bit more noticeable, but then it was right next to the path. Two stones marked the source of a spring and traditionally travellers left offerings of cheese or other food to the fairies of the well in return for safe passage. A few coins on the top suggested piles of rotting diary products had fallen out of favour, but that the old traditions where being upheld by at least a few people.

No sooner had I passed the well and it was all go again as I passed yet another Ultreia plaque attached to a waymark post, and a short way on I discovered an urn buried in a dry stone wall which contained my sixth coin.

The Southern Upland Way was following an ancient travel and droving road, and in the gloom and mist it had a slightly unreal quality to it especially with the dark forests located on either side. Staying a respectful distance from the path, the trees offered a lot of shelter from the elements and it was only as I left the forest and headed uphill over the moorland of Brown Knowe that I realised how strong the wind was. Still, the old road was well made and quite visible in the fog which was slowly but surely getting thicker and thicker.

A pile of rubble meets me

Brown Knowe became Brooms Law and the heather-lined path became a less distinct grass one which, thankfully for the purposes of navigation, followed a dry stone wall for most of the way. Three mountain bikers passed me, struggling to stay on two wheels in the winds and one was hit by such a gust that he was knocked to the floor, somersaulting along the ground before quickly getting on his bike once more and riding on.

The Way now entered a recently felled patch of forest, and a seat stood optimistically positioned at a new viewpoint where nothing could be seen except cloud. With no way of seeing landmarks, I’d little idea how far I’d come, only knowing for sure when, silently appearing out of the cloud, the Three Brethren appeared. These giant, 3m high cairns, thoughtfully joined by an Ordnance Survey trig point, were built in the middle ages, one each in the lands of Selkirk, Yair and Bowhill which all met at this point. They were certainly impressive feats although why they’d built three to mark a boundary when just one single one would have done, was a question I couldn’t answer.

The Three Brethren in the Southern Upland Way
The three giant brothers

I passed two walkers wearing t-shirts, shivering in the cold. With my body being clad head to toe in waterproofs and fleeces, the difference between our attire was very noticeable but all was explained when I came out from the cloud to find Yair Hill Forest in the middle of a heatwave where bright sunshine and high temperatures abounded. The bad weather I’d been stuck in all morning was suddenly nowhere to be seen.

Much of Yair Hill had been clearly designed to be an “attractive” woodland-esque forest, with gentle, dainty paths and wild flowers hiding the grim, monotonous side of mass-produced timber from its visitors. The kind of forest people love and want to stop governments from selling off in the aim of a speedy buck. It was wonderful after days of trudging through never-ending pines and conifers, so much so that I didn’t really want to leave it behind.

Leave it I had to though, and I walked onto the road, over Yair Bridge and headed uphill once more. After the forests and moorland I was now firmly back in farming territory with sheep looking at me quizzically as I approached, before bounding off to safety if I got too near.

Cairn overlooking Galashiels

Over the horizon was Selkirk and then, on the other side of a hill, the town of Galashiels. The Southern Upland Way began to descend to the latter, passing through woodlands and fields. Soon I found myself on terraced streets and went off to find the bus station in order to pick up a ride to nearby Melrose.

My plan was to spend two nights at Melrose and do the short section between there and Galashiels the next day as well as having a bit of a rest. The weather was excellent too which meant it was perfect for camping, and at Melrose that meant a visit to the Caravan Club site which, handily, did camping as well.

As I approached my heart sank on seeing the “Site Full” sign propped up next to the barrier. Surely there must be room for one small tent I thought, and indeed there was. In fact the whole tent area had space on it, but they had lost their “tents only” sign. Sited at the top of a rugby field next to a school, the camping section’s views weren’t amazing but at least the ground was dry.

After attending to the most important matter of laundry I headed into the town of Melrose to see about food. I was in dire need of a curry but no Indian restaurant could be found and instead I got a takeaway from a nearby Chinese and ate it outside my tent with a warm can of beer. And as crows cawed, rabbits hopped around the campsite and footballers practised their game, I studied my maps.

I was getting dangerously close to finishing. Just 49 more miles to go, probably over four days. Nineteen days in total from start to finish wouldn’t be beating any speed records for the Southern Upland Way – some insane people had been known to do the whole route in just ten – but nineteen days wouldn’t be bad. And once I’d left Melrose it would get really fun. But that was the future. The following day I had a modest five miles to do and a chance to relax and unwind a little before the final push. And I was quite looking forward to doing just that.

Next time, it’s an easy day that takes in the delights of Melrose



18 May 2012 at 9:37 pm

Loved reading this, wish I had before we set off. If you would like to see the artwork above Traquair please have a look at our Day 3 photos…K

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