Manor Hills & St Mary’s Loch
Take a walk through the myths, legends, history and high places of the Southern Uplands – with Jen and Sim Benson.
Legend has it that St Mary's Loch descends forever into the underworld of the Scottish Borders. In 1807 poet James Hogg suggested it contained a terrifying water-cow, a creature capable of assuming multiple forms that would entice people to the water’s edge before dragging them under. Hogg himself was a local man, who frequented the nearby 18th-century coaching inn, the Tibbie Shiels. Water-cows aside, this is a very pleasant place to walk, and the Southern Upland Way and Sir Walter Scott Way both traverse its shores. Taking its name from the church of St Mary, which once stood on the northern shore, it's the largest natural loch in the Scottish Borders, and supposedly the coldest, stretching 3 miles along the glacial Yarrow Valley.
Our walk begins on the Southern Upland Way, taking in part of the 212 mile coast-tocoast route between Portpatrick in the west, and Cockburnspath in the east. After several miles we leave the Way and wind through dense forest at Blackhouse – named after a traditional Scottish dwelling with drystone walls and a thatched roof – before emerging onto open mountain terrain. Look out for the ruins of Blackhouse Tower, on the banks of Douglas Burn; Blackhouse was a stronghold of Sir James ‘The Good’ Captain, friend and loyal supporter of Robert the Bruce. In good weather there are glorious views from the long ridge between Stake Law and Broomy Law, a rolling succession of wonderful tops including Dun Rig – the highest point on the walk at 744 metres.
The Tibbie Shiels Inn on St Mary's Loch.
A Southern Upland Way marker post on the track. heading north-east