The Southern Upland Way 2011 - Foreword

“In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”

So wrote Tennyson. Parodists remark that an old man’s fancy turns to gardening or retirement, but mine turns to serious walking. The Southern Upland Way (SUW) is a multi-day trip made for springtime: I wouldn’t walk it in either winter or midge season. With a couple of weeks free between Easter and mid May, I hoped the well-established dry weather would stick around for me.


I followed Sentinel’s lead. He’s a fellow member of a walkers’ Message Board. He planned to hike the SUW from east to west. That made sense: the gentle landscapes in the east would warm me up for more challenging days in Dumfries and Galloway. I ordered the Cicerone guide book and some 1:50000 OS maps, stuck my nose into a couple of websites, ( & then checked out train times and phoned for B&B.


The SUW runs for 212 miles across the south of Scotland between the Irish Sea and the North Sea. Whilst the area is sparsely populated, the SUW crosses at least one major road on every day. On the other hand, distances between accommodation providers often exceed 20 miles. The terrain varies, as does the land use. The trail’s reputation for consisting of miles of uniform conifer plantations interspersed with bog is unfair.


Apart from the section between Melrose and Traquair, the route was new to me. The start and end points are near railway stations. People write fondly of their experiences on the Way. Above all, it would be a challenge, which for me is the essence of Long Distance Paths.


As usual, I walked alone. Often in my mind was Neil Spencer, a mentor of my teenage years. He confessed his envy, because he’d wanted to do this walk but his health rules it out. To Neil, organiser of many a hiking trip, and to other walking and camping mentors from the late 50s and early 60s, particularly John Parker, John Thornton and David Wardman, I owe my thanks.


I read the guide book twice but didn’t carry it. I pored over maps, prepared route cards, and then I trimmed the maps to save weight. I built up my regular walks to satisfy myself I was ready for successive days of more than 20 miles. The train took me to Dunbar on 26th April 2011, and I enjoyed a steady 12 miles along the John Muir Way beside the North Sea to the start of the SUW at Cockburnspath (pronounced Coe-burns-path).

John Muir (1838-1914) was born in Dunbar. In 1849 his family emigrated to the United States. There he became an environmentalist and is referred to as the “Father of the National Parks”. In Scotland the John Muir Way follows the coast from Edinburgh to Berwick on Tweed.

The beautiful Berwickshire coast from the John Muir Way…

…also has an unsightly quarry…

…a cement works…

…and a nuclear power station – what would Muir have thought? Hetch Hetchy all over again, I guess.

Happily, it also has excellent coastal scenery and pretty woodland in the steep and narrow valleys that plunge to the sea.


Cockburnspath is a pleasant village with a couple of B&Bs and a shop, but no pub or cafe. I was well looked after at Cockburnspath House, formerly a coaching inn on the old Great North Road.

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