Cross Borders Drove Road
Steeped in history, the 52 mile Cross Borders Drove Road is a truly fantastic route for walkers, cyclists or horse-riders,offering great variety in terms of scenery, surfacing, cultural and other interest. As its name implies, the route follows sections of former drove road between Harperrig, on the A70 (Lang Whang) south-west of Edinburgh, over the Cauldstane Slap - the pass over the Pentland Hills - through West Linton to Peebles and Traquair, and onward via the Yarrow Valley to Hawick.
As you follow the winding track over the rolling hills and through the sheltered glens of the Tweed Valley, think back to days gone by when literally tens of thousands of cattle and sheep were driven along this route between the trysts (markets or fairs) in Falkirk and Crieff and markets south of the border. The beastie which features on the Cross Borders Drove Road waymark disks is typical of those which were driven on the hoof along this route between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Various sections of the original drove road still run between the parallel dykes, which once helped the drovers prevent their stock form straying. Elsewhere the route climbs over open hill, or follows tracks through the forests which have been planted long after the days of droving had ceased. The only sheep or cattle you are likely to meet today are those grazing on the hills or in the fields you will pass through.
Although you won't meet any drovers, don't be surprised to meet the odd long distance walker, cyclist or horse-rider. Some, having heard tell of what an enjoyable route it is, use the Cross Borders Drove Road as part of their route from Lands End to John O'Groats. The section of Cross Borders Drove Road east from Traquair coincides with part of the Southern Upland Way, and a short section between Bowhill and Hawick coincides with the Borders Abbeys Way. The Cross Borders Drove Road is also enjoyed by local people and those out for a day-trip - but don't worry, this is far from a motorway. Generally, the Scottish Borders are much quieter than the Lake District. Although never too far from civilisation, some days you can walk for miles without meeting anyone.
The majority of the Cross Borders Drove Road (from the Cauldstane Slap to Yarrowford) is part of the 350km South of Scotland Countryside Trails (SoSCT) network, developed specifically for multi-use, and having benefitted from significant capital investment to address drainage issues, install new bridges, and to create new path links to avoid boggy sections of track or other problems. Both route and accompanying facilities have been designed to reflect the needs of horse-riders and walkers, including key considerations such as self-closing gates, appropriately spaced accommodation and parking to enable people to enjoy the route over several days, divided into lengths to suit different abilities and levels of fitness.
The Cross Borders Drove Road has now been recognised as one of Scotland's Great Trails - an elite group of long distance routes in Scotland.
Access points and parking
At its western end, the Cross Borders Drove Road starts on the A70, south-west of Edinburgh, just near Harperrig Reservoir. Walkers can park in the public car park at Little Vantage, and follow the signed footpath over the footbridge at Gala Ford to the clearly waymarked old drove road which leads up the hill to the Cauldstane Slap. Alternatively you can catch a public bus from Edinburgh out to Little Vantage.
The footbridge at Gala Ford is not passable by horses, and you may meeet a stile or two on the path between Little Vantage and Harperrig. The reason for this is that the section of route between Harperrig and the Cauldstane Slap was not developed as part of SOSCT, nor was it developed as a riding route. However the main access road down to the eastern end of Harperrig Reservoir is accessible on horseback. There is no parking for trailers or horse boxes at Little Vantage, so horse-riders wanting to follow the route from start to finish either need to set off from Kirknewton and ride along the road (take care, the A70 can be busy) to Harperrrig, or alternatively start from West Linton, on the east side of the Pentlands.
The original leaflet for the Cross Borders Drove Road launched in 2005 shows the route finishing at Yarrowford, but the Cross Borders Drove Road now continues - using sections of the Buccleuch Rides on old drove roads - right the way through to Hawick, linking directly into the Hawick Circular Riding Route, and with the Romans and Reivers route - another of Scotland's Great Trails. It's up to you how far you want to go.
Other access points
There are any number of other points where you can start or finish your journey on the Cross Borders Drove Road, including West Linton, Peebles (several large public car parks, including Kingsmeadows, south of the River Tweed, which is directly on route), Traquair (parking at village hall), Yarrowford (parking behind village hall), Bowhill and Hawick.
For those interested in a circular walk, additional suggestions of where you might start from to link up with the Cross Borders Drove Road include Lyne (west of Peebles) and Cardrona Forest, between Peebles and Innerleithen.
Accommodation and services
A variety of accommodation is available directly on or close to the Cross Borders Drove Road, with a wide range from which walkers and cyclists can choose around West Linton, Peebles, Selkirk and Hawick. Horse and rider accommodation is available at Dunsyre, Peebles, Innerleithen, Ettrickbridge, and Hawick.
Food and drink are available directly on route at West Linton and Peebles.
Finding your way
Click here for a direct link to the BHS EMAGIN website which provides OS-based maps of the Cross Borders Drove Road at different scales. From the Scotland section of "Routes by Region", look down the list for South of Scotland Countryside Trails, which will take you to a street plan scale map of the overall network. By changing the map type in the horizontal menu bar above the map, you can see the route in much more detail at 1:2,500 OS scale.
Larger scale maps should be used to follow routes on the ground, such as OS Landranger Maps 1:50,000 no. 72 (Upper Clyde Valley) and no. 73 (Peebles, Galashiels and Selkirk), Explorer Maps 1:25,000 no336 (Biggar and Broughton), no. 337 (Peebles and Innerleithen), no338 (Galashiels, Selkirk and Melrose) and no. 344 (Pentland Hills).
The mainstay of the droving trade was the movement of hardy black cattle from where they were bred in the Highlands and Islands to London, the home of one fifth of the entire English population. Each drove consisted of anything between 100 and 1,000 head of cattle. Individual drovers and their dogs might look after 50-60 cattle, walking 10-12 miles each and every day for weeks on end. The drovers slept alongside their cattle to guard them overnight, wrapped only in their plaids, surviving on a few handfuls of oatmeal and two or three onions. A ram’s horn filled with whisky was sipped sparingly morning and night.
At the peak of the droving trade, some 100,000 cattle were walked south from Scotland each year. At least equal numbers of sheep were also driven along this route to meet demand for wool and mutton. By 1900, the droving trade had all but disappeared. Tolls levied on turnpike roads, enclosure of land, the agricultural revolution, development of railways and movement of cattle by steamship all played their part in its demise. Long after the demise of droving, people continued to use the old drove roads on foot and on horseback.
The Tweed Trails route follows the main drove road south east to Gypsy Glen, but various branch routes were also used, some merging at Tushielaw Inn, others via Traquair linking up again further south towards Hawick. One route went on via Langholm to Carlisle, whilst others crossed into England near Newcasleton or followed the valley of the North Tyne to Hexham.
Who set up the Cross Borders Drove Road?
It's hard to say who "set up" the original route taken by the drovers through the Scottish Borders. As with most other drove roads, it seems to have become established by tradition as much as anything else, cutting through the natural nick between the hills high on the Pentlands at the Cauldstane Slap, and then winding its way through between hills and farmland.
By the 1990s, much of the Cross Borders Drove Road had become impassable due to fallen trees, deteriorating drainage and other obstructions. Restoration of public access along this route all started when Elsie Reid, a local volunteer with British Horse Society, asked Anne Fraser - then BHS Scotland access officer - what she could do to help, and Anne suggested she might usefully look at what could be done to re-establish access on the old drove road between West Linton and Peebles. To cut a long story short, Elsie's endeavours led to a series of community mapping exercises, led by local community councils, from which numerous routes were proposed for development. These routes, together with various other key strategic links in the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway proposed and initiated by British Horse Society Scotland, were then taken forward as part of the Tweed Trails Project. For more about how things went forward from there, see About SOSCT.
The majority of the Cross Borders Drove Road is now managed by Scottish Borders Counci, although local community path groups are still very much involved. North Tweeddale Paths, for example, are responsible for waymarking the route through their patch. Elswhere, local riders have been involved on a voluntary basis waymarking the route. Buccleuch Estates manage the section from Yarrowford to Ashkirk.
Funding for the Tweed Trails and South of Scotland Countryside Trails projects was limited to the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway, hence the original Cross Borders Drove Road route launched in 2005 stopped at the regional boundary at the Cauldstane Slap. The most westerly section of route, from Harperrig to the Cauldstane Slap, has since been improved and waymarked by Friends of the Pentlands, and is now managed by the Pentlands Regional Park Natural Heritage Service.