Diversions on the road to Edinburgh


Something we had been thinking about for a while was a slight diversion on our route to Edinburgh. This week we finally got around to it. After topping up the caffeine levels in Moffat we took the A708 towards Selkirk from the south end of the High Street. It is a quieter road than the A701 Edinburgh road but there are a lot of forests on the hillsides so large forestry trucks laden with wood are not uncommon. There are passing places where the road is narrow. The road follows the Moffat Water and then the Little Yarrow rivers through the valley. Our first stop was 10 miles up the road at The Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve. It is one of the highest waterfalls in the UK, dropping 60m from Loch Skeen which is the home of a rare fish, the vendace. It is apparently a relic from the ice age only found in a few freshwater lakes in southern Scotland and Cumbria. There is a 2.75 mile walk up to and around the loch but it began to rain heavily so we contented ourselves with looking at the waterfall (while I tried to remember when I had last been here), views of the valley and the heather which was flowering.


There are a number of ancient sites along the valley including, at Chapelhope, the site of Rodono Chapel. Further on the road reaches the Loch of the Lowes and following a short stretch of river under the bridge lies St Mary’s Loch. At one point there was only one loch but stones and gravel washing down from the hills separated them.

There is a café next to the Loch of the Lowes car park and a sailing club on St Mary’s Loch. Nearby is the Tibbie Shiels Inn which used to provide accommodation for walkers, including those on the nearby Southern Upland Way and was named after a widow who ran it between 1824 and 1878. Sir Walter Scott was a regular visitor. The inn closed in 2015. A statue on the hillside is of James Hogg born in 1770: the Ettrick Shepherd who became a writer. His work was admired by Thomas Carlyle and Walter Scott who introduced him to Edinburgh publishers but he never really left his work of sheep farming.

There is a circular walk round St Mary’s Loch which we might do at some point in the future.

A minor road to Tweedsmuir leaves the A708 at Cappercleuch.

It passes two reservoirs. The first, Megget Reservoir was finished in 1983 and supplies Edinburgh with water.

A mile from Tweedsmuir is Talla Reservoir which was opened in 1905. Construction began in 1899 and a railway was built to transport the materials. It is still possible to see some of the rail route and some of the bridges alongside the A701. The railway was dismantled in 1912.

Along the roadside were rowan trees laden with berries and many wildflowers including rosebay willow herb. Talla and Gameshope along with two other sites nearby are restoring the landscape to its previous wilderness state and providing a haven for wildlife. Where the forests are being regenerated, grazing sheep are excluded. The 4.500 acres includes blanket bog, moor, heath, rocky screes, lochs and burns.

At Tweedsmuir we re-joined the A701 and were soon in a very busy Edinburgh.

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