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Exploring the Southern Upland Way

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Embark on an unforgettable journey through Scotland's stunning landscapes with Eddie Webb, the Admin behind the Southern Upland Way - UK National Trail Facebook group. In this blog post, Eddie shares his personal connection to the trail which stems from his first unforgettable walk with his brother-in-law. From discovering hidden treasures and remarkable sculptures, to appreciating the wildlife and remoteness that make the Southern Upland Way an adventure like no other, join us as we explore the magic of this iconic walking trail through Eddie's eyes.

Images © Eddie Webb

I can recall the publicity surrounding the launch of the Southern Upland Way, over 40 years ago. As Scotland's only coast to coast route stretching around 217 miles shore to shore, I couldn't help but get wrapped up in the excitement. This was my 21st year of life, to me it felt like the most exciting challenge since man walked on the moon. Planning began post haste, but life's diversions for a 21 year old are many and ever present. So the plan was delayed and mostly forgotten.

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40 years later I found myself on the harbour wall of the picturesque fishing village of Portpatrick on the West coast of Scotland looking to stride out for Cockburnspath on the East coast, partnered with my brother-in-law, a far from weathered walking buddy. The logistics had not started well, having snail mailed his walking gear over from Northern Ireland with a 48 hour guarantee, it still had not arrived several days later. So, in mostly borrowed equipment purloined from my friends including boots (you can see where this is going) we took the obligatory toe in the water of the Irish Sea and moved out.

I'm unclear as to what our expectation was, as two guys spending 14 days together was going to be challenging enough. We decided 15 mile days on average was doable, even at our age. Confusingly, the initial route took us North headed to Kiltringan lighthouse before finally striking west. 14 days later we were to emerge largely unscathed and still on speaking terms into Cockburnspath, having diverted quickly down into Cove harbour to dip our feet in the North Sea.

So, what was the Southern Upland way to me? As I look back on my notes and excitable Facebook posts at the time, I wrote that it was "stunning beauty wrapped in a challenge with the enigma of hidden treasure thrown in, what's not to love". I clearly felt I was Ernest Hemingway.

The route was a challenge, but its various beauties are what I recall the most. My notes are full of the bird song on the route as I had recently taught myself to recognise many birdsongs as a Covid project (I also had the aid of a clever app on my phone). 11 days of multiple cuckoo calls, which I suspect I may never experience again, spoke of the remoteness of the path. Another sight of note was the famous naturalist sculptor Andy Goldsworthy's three arches, nestled gracefully on the top of the hills above Sanquhar. The bothies on the route, little havens of rest - like the Polskeoch bothy with its colourful, lively painted bookshelves created by a local lady, was a delightful stop over if only for lunch.

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The bright yellow tops of the way are marked as beacons, driving you in your travels as you seek the skyline for the next one. There are even some specially painted way markers inspired by the kids from local schools helping you climb out of the remote Scaur valley.

This is a walk steeped in Covenanter history - one day leaving the track to visit Linns tomb, the final resting place of a minister shot out on the moor. A detour we regretted at that time as the grave was surrounded by wet sticky bog.

In the area of the big hills as you leave Dumfries and Galloway and enter Borders regions, we looked to the skies for sight of the soaring Golden eagle - where it is thought as many as 35 now reside as part of a reintroduction programme over a number of years.

The almost childish fun of the hidden treasure strung out across the many miles of the trail where posts marked with the "Ultriea" signal, a hidden kist box with unique coins to be cherished- 13 kists, 13 treasure hunts. We found ten, missing three due to the inattentiveness of my walking partner.

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The Twin laws monument is said to be in remembrance of two brothers who fought and fell on a battlefield on opposite sides. An analogy not lost on me with my brother-in-law trailing painstakingly behind me with his feet more bandaged than an Egyptian mummy. Hidden within Twin laws was a wonderful visitor's book full of the treasured thoughts of the travellers on the Way.

So our walk became less about the path less trodden, although filled with great walking and wonderful views, it was more a journey of sight, smell and sound. Looking back now to my closing remarks from my notes, I clearly at the time believed the spirit of Robert Burns resided within me and I found these closing words to encapsulate my journey.

- Sharp smell of sheep and the sweet smell of gorse
- Tadpoles in potholes, cuckoos and curlews
- Timber stacks and backpacks
- Hilltop arches and boggy marshes
- A bothy library, turbine blades and reiver raids
- Dry stane dykes, a hill top golf ball and a clear spring waterfall
- Roman roads and herring trails
- Ruins and mansions and deep water lochans
- Found and missed kists, bluebells aplenty, skylark companions
- One way
- Twin law
- Three brethren
- 20 metres of rock tape
- 550,000 steps
- 217 miles done

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If you're feeling inspired by Eddie's story, you can join the Southern Upland Way - UK National Trail Facebook group to keep up to date with Eddie and any news about the trail. Walkers of the trail also use the group to share their own experiences and photos they've captured of the route.

If you are planning on walking this beautiful trail for yourself, you can plan your trip using the HARVEY Southern Upland Way Map.

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