61. Grey Mare's Tail
start: Gordon Arms, Yarrow Valley
This is a fine route through some fairly rugged and remote country and there's no doubt you'll be pushing on some of the rougher sections. The rewards, though, are plentiful passing, as we do, through some of the best that the Southern Uplands have to offer - enjoy!
Start from the Gordon Arms Hotel and take the road south to Tushielaw. This climbs inexorably, but gently, for over three miles to the watershed before giving you a run down into the Ettrick Valley. From Tushielaw it's about 3 miles to Ettrick. Just near the school you'll pass a monument on the site of the cottage where James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, was born in 1770.
The road continues for a few miles up the valley then turns to a track as you approach Potburn. Follow the track to pass Over Phawhope bothy - we cross a stream here and head gently upwards into the forest. You're actually following the Southern Upland Way now so watch out for a sign where it leaves the forest track and heads through the trees to emerge at Ettrick Head at almost 1700ft. On a good day the views are extensive. When I was here the cloud was down and visibility a problem, so be aware of that possiblity.
Follow the path over the grassy slopes and then down, steeply, to a small wooden bridge over the Selcoth Burn. The path follows the left bank of the stream and the gully walls start to steepen. You'll need to push for most of this, upwards in places, before dropping down to a sheepfold at (160 058). The Southern Upland Way heads SW but we're taking the path going NW. This is a narrow trail with serious drops on the R down to the stream - not advised for those of a nervous disposition.
This is hard work in an unfrequented valley but you're looking to pick up a distinct track further down and on the other side of the stream. Once you've crossed the stream the difficulties ease. This track emerges on a farm access road - it's signed as a public footpath but my map shows it on the other side of the stream.
Turn R and go past a fish farm, turn L and head up to the road. This is an 'A' road but it doesn't carry too much in the way of traffic. In any event the views along the steep-sided valley are fine. Don't forget to look back to where you've just come down - from here, it seems an improbable route indeed.
The Grey Mare's Tail is a waterfall that tumbles down a steep sided valley about four miles further on. There's a small parking area and paths that take you either to near the foot of it or, steeply, up the side of it towards the hidden-from-view Loch Skeen - a worthwhile trek if you've time.
The road now heads upwards to the watershed marking the boundary of Dumfries and Galloway with Scottish Borders. From the top you've a leisurely roll down to St Mary's Loch with Tibbie Shiels Inn at its southern end. It's about six miles or so from here back to the Gordon Arms.
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