Southern Upland Way
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Southern Upland Way
Scotland, UK

The Southern Upland Way is a long-distance hiking route that takes you through some of the most stunning scenery of Southern Scotland.

One of Scotland’s Great Trails, this coast-to-coast route crosses the country from east to west. At 344 kilometres in length, completing the route is a challenge for any hiker.

If you enjoy hiking in remote wilderness, yet like to be close enough to towns and villages where you can get a good night’s sleep, then the Southern Upland Way doesn’t disappoint.

Highlights
  • Varied terrain and landscapes, such as forests, river and lochs
  • Wildlife and many species of plants
  • Remote wilderness
  • Small villages and towns
  • A good challenge for those who like long-distance walking
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About the route

Running from Portpatrick in the west, to Cockburnspath in the east, this stunning route crosses Scotland and connects the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea.

The Southern Upland Way is great hill-walking territory. All of the summits along the way are below 1000 metres.

The rolling hills and valleys, combined with rocky buffs, make this a place where hikers can challenge themselves, but without the physical demands of hiking in mountains.

The landscape is diverse. You will find yourself walking in open moorland, riverside paths and alongside lochs. In the east, there is evidence of Scotland’s industrial past, whereas in the west you will find forest paths.

Some parts of the route are challenging in distance, even for experienced hikers. However, there are some stages that are suitable for all abilities, making the Southern Upland Way a hike for everyone to enjoy.

One of the best things about the Southern Upland Way is that it is a quiet walking route with some wild and remote areas. If like to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life, this is a hiking trail for you.

It takes around 12-16 days to complete the walk.

  • Travel

If you have time to complete the Southern Upland Way as a through-hike, then you might only be looking for travel details at the beginning and end of the walk.

The nearest international airport to the trailhead at Portpatrick is Glasgow, 106 kilometres away.

At the other end of the trail, the nearest airport to Cockburnspath is 64 kilometres away in Edinburgh.

Both Edinburgh and Glasgow have good train and bus links to many of the major towns and cities in the UK.

If you are not able to commit to a two or three week trek, the most convenient way to hike the southern Upland Way is in two stages.

The approximate halfway point is to head to the town of Moffat, just off the path at Beattock. There are good public transport links to Glasgow and Lockerbie from there.

  • Length

The Southern Upland Way is a 344 kilometre walk that takes around 12-16 days to complete.

Because some of the stages are long, you might want to factor in rest days throughout your hiking trip.

  • Grade and difficulty of the walk

The Southern Upland Way is graded 3/5.

There are some steep climbs and descents, but the majority of the route in on rolling countryside. For hikers of good fitness, the terrain will not pose a problem.

Some of the stages are long, and may need up to 12 hours of walking. However, if you are happy to camp or stay in a bothy, the distances can be shorter.

There is also road access to some of the longer stretches, making it possible to reach a pick-up-point and be transported to accommodation, before returning the next day.

  • Experience

You don’t need to be an experienced hiker to manage the terrain. However, having experience of multi-day hiking is recommended if you want to complete the longer stages.

While the path is mostly well marked, but when walking in remote areas is essential to have some navigational skills. Being able to use a map and compass is recommended, as well as having a GPS device or app.

Packing the right gear is essential for a multi-day hike along the Southern Upland Way. The ground may be boggy, the weather patterns may vary, and mist can limit vision. Make sure you pack light layers for warmth, spare socks, and a waterproof.

  • Permits

There is no permit required to hike the Southern Upland Way.

  • Guided or Self-Guided

Due to the length of this walk, it is unlikely that a tour company will provide a guide for the whole length. There may be options to have guided hiked on some stages if you prefer.

There are many operators who provide baggage transfer services, so you can have your bags taken to your next overnight accommodation.

Most hikers opt for self-guided walks, as the way is clearly marked and there is plenty of route information on maps.

best time to walk

The Southern Upland Way can be hiked all year round, and each season has its pros and cons.

The warmest and driest time on the trail is during the summer months, however in early summer you may be plagued by midges!

Spring shows a burst of new life in the landscape, with green shoots and spring flowers adding fresh colour. The temperatures may still be cool, but pleasant for hiking.

Autumn is a beautiful time on the trail, especially along the forest paths. While the temperatures are still warm, the trail may be misty or boggy at times.

The Southern Upland Way in winter can be a harsh environment, but also a beautiful one. Snow and ice may cover the trail, making navigating more challenging.

In every season, be ready for rainy spells and wind in the exposed areas.

A typical itinerary would be:

Day 1:
Portpatrick to Castle Kennedy – 21.25 km

Day 2:
Castle Kennedy to New Luce – 15 km

Day 3:
New Luce to Bargrennan – 28 km

The start of the Southern Upland Way

Day 4:
Bargrennan to Dalry – 39.75 km

Day 5:
Dalry to Sanquhar – 41.5 km

Day 6:
Sanquhar to Wanlockhead – 12.5 km

Day 7:
Wanlockhead to Beattock – 31.25 km

Day 8:
Beattock to St. Mary’s Loch – 33.5 km

Day 9:
St. Mary’s Loch to Traquair – 18.75 km

St. Mary’s Loch

Day 10:
Traquair to Melrose – 28 km

Day 11:
Melrose to Lauder – 15.75 km

Day 12:
Lauder to longformacus – 24.25 km

Day 13:
Longformacus to Cockburnspath – 28.75 km

It is worth noting that on some of the longer stages, there are limited or no facilities.

If you want to split some of the longer stages up, you are permitted to wild camp in Scotland. Or, there are bothies that provide shelter for travellers.

Accommodation

There is bed and breakfast accommodation at the end of each of the stages described.

Bothies are shelters built to help travellers, and there are several along the path. They are always open, so you may be sharing, and do not usually have any facilities other than protection from the weather.

There are campsites with facilities dotted along the Southern Upland Way.

Wild camping is permitted in Scotland, so if you are able to carry a tent that you won’t be stuck for somewhere to sleep for the night.

What to do

Take in the wonder of your surroundings. The landscape of the Southern Uplands can be rugged and high hills, sheltered valleys, and lush forests. Each day is different along the way.

Spot wildlife such as deer and birds of prey. You may even see a Golden Eagle.

While the trail does not often directly pass through town and villages, it does pass close by. This means you have the opportunity to explore, do some shopping and visit museums and galleries near the path, such as the Robert Burns House museum at Dumfries.

There is a historic abbey at Melrose, as well as Scottish National Trust areas.

Enjoy the Scottish hospitality at the pubs and inns along the trail.

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At a glance
Skills RequiredHiking, Walking
Difficulty 3/5
Starts at Portpatrick, UK
Finishes at Cockburnspath TD13 5YG, UK
Length of route 344 Km
Average time to complete 12 - 16 Days
Possible to complete sub-sectionsYes
Highest point 720 metres
Permit requiredNo
Equipment neededCamping equipment, Poles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots
Countries visited Scotland, UK

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