All about the Southern Upland Way

Walking from coast to coast across an entire country? Find out more...

Walking from coast to coast across an entire country? For many of us, that’s the type of holiday we dream about. It’s good exercise, puts you right in the centre of your surroundings, and gives you a real sense of accomplishment when you’re done.

Scotland is rife with incredible walking paths – we’ve already covered the West Highland Way – and there truly aren’t many countries that can boast as much breathtaking natural landscape, particularly so close to us living in the UK.

This time around we thought we’d take a closer look at the Southern Upland Way, Scotland’s first and only official coast-to-coast long distance route. Coming in at 340 kilometres (212 miles) it could take you up to two weeks to go the entire distance, but it’s also split into 12 individual stretches that would each take you around a day to complete. From Portpatrick on the west coast to Cove and Cockburnspath on the east, here’s all you need to know about the Southern Upland Way.

The history behind the Southern Upland Way

Cold weather doesn’t have a lot going for it, yet we have it to thank for many of the world’s most spectacular settings. Indeed, the rolling hills and outcrops along the most southerly part of Scotland – just north of the English border – comprise the Southern Uplands, which were created as a result of glaciation.

Officially opened in 1984, the Southern Upland Way is known for covering an array of habitat types. Walkers will pass through farmland, parkland, varying woodlands, and open moorland. It doesn’t have the same level of dizzying heights that other routes may have – there isn’t a single summit along the way above 3,000ft (914m) – yet it’s got more than enough for some enjoyable hill walking, with more than 80 points rising above 2,000 feet (610m).

You’ll also cross several major rivers, including the Water of Luce, and there are plenty of attractions along the way that you’ll want to allocate some time for. Let’s have a run-through of the route.

You’ll set off from Portpatrick on your way to Castle Kennedy, and along the way you’ll come near the port of Stranraer – which for 150 years was a ferry link to Ireland. Castle Kennedy will probably be your home for the night, and whilst you’re there you can have a stroll through the hidden treasure that is the Castle Kennedy Gardens. Get an earlyish night, mind; you’ll need the rest before you head off on the nine to 12 hour trek toward Bargrennan.


Beginning in delightful parkland, you’ll eventually reach some pretty desolate moors. Make sure you bring all the necessary equipment with you such as maps and torches, especially if it’s misty out. You’ll also be trekking through forests, so bring the wellies!

Day three is another long one, and will see you heading through Galloway Forest Park and the Galloway Hills. If you’re just looking to head out for a day or two, then Bargrennan to St John’s Town – about 24.75 miles, which’ll take you around nine to 12 hours – is definitely one of the most recommended. Not only are the paths clear and in good condition, but the scenery is remarkable.

Stages 4-7

It’s yet another long day on day four – St John’s Town of Dalry to Sanquhar. You’ll reach the highest point of the Way so far during this 12-hour stint – up to 1,033 metres – and it predominantly involves open moorland hills. There are some minor roads and farm tracks too, though. When you arrive or before you leave the next day, try and visit the Tolbooth Museum which tells you all about the town of Sanquhar’s history.

The next stage towards Wanlockhead is a lot shorter, giving you far more time to stop and see some sights. For one, you’ll pass the old mining district along Wanlock Water where there’s plenty to explore. Interesting fact: Wanlockhead is Scotland’s highest village at 1,531ft (467m) above sea level.


Day six will see you making headway to Beattock including an ascent of a further 1,005m to reach the highest point on the Way. The majority of your time will be spent strolling through the high rolling hills and admiring the fantastic views that surround them, along solid paths and tracks. Like many places along the Way, though, it can get misty.

The journey from Beattock to St Mary’s Loch is the last of the really long days, taking eight to ten hours. You’ll pass through a short bit of forest before making your way up the hills towards Ettrick Head at the border of Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders. Interesting fact: this area is the watershed of Scotland - meaning every drop of water that falls on the land behind you ends up in the Atlantic, whereas from here on everything will drain into the North Sea, according to ribbonofwildness.co.uk.

Stages 8-12

Next it’s on to Traquair, a slightly shorter day but no less beautiful. You’ll spend the day walking along beautiful lochside and the paths are in condition and well-posted. In Traquair why not make a visit to the Traquair House Brewery? It dates back to the early 1700s and special tours can be arranged.

Then it’s a stop at Melrose on your way to Lauder – but you’ll want to split this section into two days and spend the night. Both Melrose and its neighbour Galashiels are historic towns with plenty to offer visitors. On the second day you’ll climb the Minchmoor ridge before making your way back down through Yair forest and onto Lauder. Here you’ve got the Scots Baronial Thirlestane Castle, the Soutra Aisle remains dating back to 1160 AD, and plenty more to see and do. At this point along the Way you’ll be just 22 miles south east of Edinburgh.

The last trek is from Lauder to Cockburnspath is also split across two days. Day one will see you tackle the Lammermuir hills, but unlike previous hills these aren’t as tough as the large uplands you’ll be used to. There are good paths the whole way to Longformacus, where you’ll likely stop for the night. It’s just a small village in Berwickshire, but there are some nice pubs and restaurants to keep you entertained in the evening.

Then it’s the last push to Cockburnspath, across farmland and onto the coast. It’ll take around six to eight hours before you reach the cliff tops and the end of the Way. You’ll have gone from coast to coast across the country on just your pins – a great accomplishment.

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