Missing Link Trek: Milngavie to Kirk Yetholm
I decided last year that it would be good to walk from Milngavie (start of the West Highland Way) and Kirk Yetholm (end of the Pennine Way). I walked my version of the West Highland Way (WHW) in 2003 and the Pennine Way in 1974. Somehow, at the end of the WHW in Fort William I agreed to carry on northwards to Cape Wrath over the following 2 Summers and ended up walking from Glasgow (Milngavie) to Cape Wrath.
Joining the two treks seemed the obvious thing to do. Unfortunately the central belt between Glasgow and Edinburgh is pretty densely populated and I didn’t want to spend days walking through towns so I gave up on the idea for a few years. Then a couple of years ago some friends were talking about enjoying walking along the canals in that area so I had another look at finding a route. My Missing Link Trek was born.
The plan was to walk from Milngavie to the nearest canal and follow that as far as possible eastwards until I could then head south over the hills to Peebles and beyond. Milngavie to Peeble was about 76 miles and Peebles to Kirk Yetholm was about 67 miles. Both sections were 5 days each.
Part 1: Milngavie to Peebles
During some web searches I read about the Roman Antonine Wall and saw a few photos. That sounded more interesting to me than sticking to canals the whole time. I also found the John Muir Way (father of National Parks) and Thomas Muir Way (father of Scottish democracy). There were a few others too but these were the useful ones for my route.
Saturday 22nd June 2019
Originally Jan and I were going to walk it together but we couldn’t find anyone to do the luggage transfer so Jan volunteered to be my support team and drop me off each morning and pick me up each afternoon. We decided it was also easier to stay in the same place for the 5 days to Peebles.
It was a bit of a late start considering that it was a 15 mile day, I left Milngavie town centre at 11am.
The start of the West Highland Way looks very grand now with a big metal sign erected between Costa Coffee and Greggs announcing the start. In 2003 it was just a finger post partly hidden, I remember we had to ask someone where it started as it wasn’t obvious.
I headed north to Lennoxtown to pick up the Thomas Muir Way. This followed a small river south through woodland to Kirkintilloch where I followed the canal to Twechar. From here I headed uphill to the Barhill Roman Fort and the first section of the Antonine Wall on my route. It was also the place where I met Jan coming the other way to meet me. Jan had parked our car in Croy, about 3 miles away.
It was just under 15 miles, completed in a bit under 5 hours.
It was dry and warm and mostly walking through the countryside, a good start. We ended the day with a pint at the Boathouse Inn at the nearby Marina.
Sunday 23rd June 2019
Another warm dry day, quite sunny from later morning. Temperature was 18°C rising to over 20°C mid-afternoon.
Lots of long sections of Antonine Wall today and an odd Roman Fort or two. Rough Castle had an impressive section of wall and ditch but no visible buildings, just lots of lumps and bumps.
From here it was a short walk to the Falkirk Wheel, a stunning piece of engineering to link 2 canals together.
Then it was canal walking, followed by Callender Park in Falkirk and more canal to finish at Redding.
It was over 16 miles today and took 5.5 hours, including a 15 minute break at the Falkirk Wheel.
Monday 24th June 2019
A very wet day from start to finish. Drizzle in the morning, low clouds on the hills and torrential rain, as in stair-rods rain, in mid-afternoon.
The day started with several miles along the canal from Redding in southeast Falkirk. This included crossing the Avon Aqueduct, the longest and highest aqueduct in Scotland. Quite a view over the river below!
This was followed by crossing hills and reaching the top of small hill Cockleroy at 12.30pm with a cairn and a topograph on top (donated by the AA). No view and steady rain. On the way down I was passed by a young woman running up the hill in full England running kit, I felt a bit over-dressed wearing 4 layers including full waterproofs. She passed me twice more while I was descending.
Then followed some forest trails, fields, another hill (Riccarton Hill) in thick cloud and driving rain. I had intended to go up a third hill but couldn’t see beyond the hedgerow because of low cloud so gave it a miss.
The rain became heavier until it was a deluge mid-afternoon. The path was running like a river with between 2 and 4 inches of water. This lasted about an hour and was very unpleasant. It was with relief I made it to the Grapes pub in East Calder, southeast of Livingston.
Tuesday 25th June 2019
A hill walking day at last. An overcast but dry day, cold wind on the tops.
From East Calder at 11am we walked through a housing estate to an old road and a footpath. This crossed the main road and a railway line where Jan turned back to return to the car. I followed the minor road up the hillside before crossing the fence to make my way to the top of Corston Hill at 12.30pm. The sound of gunfire from the clay pigeon range down below was a bit distracting until the hill hid the noise as I dropped down the other side. No track to follow but firm ground everywhere except the drainage ditches near the main road.
I had been looking forward to the next section as it followed the old Cross Border Drove Road to West Linton. Unfortunately, the recent rains had put the route under several inches of water. It was less of a road, more of a pond. I made my way along the top of the ruined wall to avoid the worst of it.
The next section had lots of new wood mini bridges over the worst of the peat bog. This took me to the col where I left the main track to head up the hill to my left. There was a small indistinct sheep trail leading to the top of East Cairn Hill which I reached at 2.20pm. There was a cold strong wind at the top so I put on my waterproof jacket as a windproof, hat, gloves and neck warmer. The rest of the day was spent walking along the long ridge over Wether Law, The Mount, Grain Heads, Mount Maw (4.15pm) and Faw Mount. I came off the end of this to rejoin the CBDR to West Linton.
Jan walked to meet me so we did the last couple of miles together. In West Linton I had a celebratory pint in the Gordon Arms before Jan drove us back to our hotel.
Wednesday 26th June 2019
A complete contrast to Monday, it was sunny and warm most of the day.
We parked in West Linton at 10.45am and walked along the road south. Jan turned back after a mile or so as it was just road walking.
After a couple of miles I picked up the old drove road to Peebles. This led me into the hills behind Halmyre Mains, through woodland and onto open hillsides. I made a brief detour up Drum Maw before returning to the drove road which I followed pretty much into Peebles, except for another slight detour up Hamilton Hill for the view over Peebles.
About 3 miles out I stopped for 20 minutes or so to chat with a man walking from Lands End to John O’groats for the eighth time.
As I came down Hamilton Hill I met Jan coming to meet me and we walked into Peebles together. We headed to the Wetherspoon’s pub for a celebratory drink and some food before driving back to our hotel.
So that ended the first section of the Missing Link Trek of Milngavie to Kirk Yetholm. It was just over 75 miles in 5 days including 11 hills. It included parts of several trails including the Thomas Muir Way, the John Muir Way, the Antonine Wall Way and some old drovers roads.
I didn’t carry my Mamiya 7 camera as I didn’t want to carry the weight and wasn’t sure any photos would make it worthwhile. All blog post photos were taken on my Motorola One phone and simply edited using Snapseed (convert to black and white, crop, curves).
I enjoyed the hill days the most but found the Antonine Wall bits very interesting, especially when you consider it was only used in anger for 23 years.
The last section from Peebles to Kirk Yetholm is scheduled for 5 days in September, fingers crossed.
Part 2: Peebles to Kirk Yetholm
At the end of September 2019, Jan and I travelled up to Peebles. I wanted to walk from Peebles to Kirk Yetholm. This was the last gap in my Cape Wrath to Sennen Cove ‘Top-2-Bottom’ Trek between Cape Wrath and Clun in Shropshire. It will take another 5 trips to complete the entire trek, 3 in 2020 and 2 in 2021 – about 440 miles.
Jan managed to arrange luggage transfer for all except the first day from Peebles to Innerleithen so she didn’t walk that day and dropped me off in Peebles and moved the car to Jedburgh so that it was easier to retrieve from the end of the trek.
Monday 23rd September 2019
The first day from Peebles was over several hills including Dunslair Heights, Black Law, Black Knowe and Lee Pen before dropping down to Innerleithen and the Traquair Arms for a pint. It was dry all day until later in the evening. We stayed in the St Ronan Hotel at the other end of the main road and were very well looked after and had a good spacious room.
Tuesday 24th September 2019
Jan joined me for day 2 which started in the rain. There was a section along the old railway line, then a long stretch along a narrow road before striking up the hillside over Meigle Hill (a Marilyn). Good views from the top. We headed for Galashiels and Wetherspoons for a pint before finding our accommodation at Watsons Lodge Guest House (very unimpressive, small room – needs some money spending on it, to say the least). There was heavy rain through the evening. No photos.
Wednesday 25th September 2019
For day 3 we walked several miles along the river and railway line (recently reopened as far as outskirts of Melrose with trains to Edinburgh). Past the Chain Bridge into Melrose. It was quite a grey showery day. From Melrose we made our way uphill to the Eildon Hills, first to the Roman Fort marked on the OS map (so well hidden we couldn’t actually see anything except earthworks!) on Eildon Hill North. From there we made our way over to the highest of the 3 Eildons, Eildon Mid Hill and then to the last and lowest, Eildon Wester Hill. From here we descended steeply to the village of Bowden and the old Pant Well. Finally we walked the last stretch to Newtown St Boswell and the Dryburgh Arms, our hostelry for the night. We had a good sized, clean well equipped room and this was the friendliest place we stayed. Sharon, the manageress, served me a well earned pint and chatted with us for ages. Unfortunately they don’t serve food anymore, except breakfast, so we had a takeaway delivered to the pub and they were quite happy for us to eat in the bar.
Thursday 26th September 2019
Jolly good huge breakfast next day to set us up for day 4 heading for Jedburgh. After breakfast we started out in damp conditions which briefly turned to rain so we put full waterproofs on. Our route criss-crossed the River Tweed using various bridges. Lots of fly fishing going on from both banks. Interesting well at a big house near St Boswell, powered by donkeys in its day. From here we followed the Roman Road of Dere Street for several miles before turning off for Jedburgh. We dropped our rucsacks in the car (that Jan had left outside our guest house on day 1 before catching the bus back to Innerleithen) and headed into the centre of town and the Carters Arms for a pint. We stayed in the Capon Tree Town House. Our room was fine but it had a small bed to make the room look bigger, there was plenty of room for a full sized bed but they chose not to have one. Strange. Breakfast was unusual, there was nothing that I could eat with my allergies! All a bit pretentious so they did us special breakfasts that were not on the menu so all was fine in the end. Definitely not one to come back to!
Friday 27th September 2019
For the final day I was on my own again, Jan decided to look around Jedburgh and drive the car to Morebattle to meet me for lunchtime and then on to the end in Kirk Yetholm. It was pretty easy walking to Morebattle, I managed about 10 miles in 3 hours. The Templehall Hotel was just opening as I walked up. I ordered a pint and was told that it was half price because I was walking on the St Cuthberts Way. In fact most of my route from Melrose to Kirk yetholm was on this long distance route. The price subsidy was courtesy of Belhaven Brewery, even though I was drinking a pint of Born in the Borders beer! The last section from here was a sting in the tail, over a couple of hills of Grubbit Law and Wideopen Hill. In my haste I decided to go through a ford rather than use the bridge a bit further on. The water was about 8 inches deep in the middle but didn’t come over my 10 inch high Meindl Dovre Extreme boots, fortunately. Then it was up Grubbit Law onto the ridge for some grand views. I was on my way down before the weather started to close in. I put full waterproofs on as I could see what was coming as distant hills disappeared one by one. Fortunately it was light rain until the last 30 minutes down in the valley floor walking to Kirk Yetholm. The heavens opened and it was torrential rain right up to the Border Hotel. I walked in looking like a drowned rat but no-one batted an eye, obviously a regular occurrence here as the hotel is at the end of the 300 mile Pennine Way that starts near home in Edale, Derbyshire.
In 5 days walking I covered 67 miles and the longest day was the last one at 17.3 miles, luckily I found a pub to break the journey after 10 miles! Jan walked with me for middle 3 days from Innerleithen to Galashiels to Newtown St Boswell to Jedburgh.
Having checked the forecast before leaving home I didn’t have my Mamiya 7 film camera gear so I only took a few phone photos to illustrate this blog post. I’ll have to come back in good weather.