Location: On the Roman Road, Scottish Borders

Grade: Easy low-level walk

Distance: 5 miles/8km

Time: 2-3 hours

You do wonder sometimes seeing appellations such as ‘Roman Road’ and ‘Old Drove Road’ on maps how accurate these terms are. In the case of this walk, however, there seems little doubt that you are walking in the footstep of both the legions and the hardy men who drove hundreds of head of cattle to market.

It makes a relatively simple walk all the more enjoyable. As you wander along, you can let your imagination run free and summon up a picture of the disciplined ranks of Roman soldiers, laying roads as they went and setting up camps such as the one discovered not long ago where West Linton golf course now is.

The Romans marched along the valley side, as one of the routes linking their Border forts to a base at Inveresk, east of Edinburgh. They took this line no doubt as it was a little firmer than the valley bottom which would have been a mixture of dense woodland and wetland areas. It continued to be used as a principal route between Edinburgh and Biggar for many centuries, and the walk crosses a lovely old bridge dating back to 1620. The views are beautiful all the way along.

The drovers came the other way, heading north to south, finding their way through the evocatively named Cauldstane Slap pass in the Pentland Hills and on towards the Border. Further sections of their route have been converted to walking trails around Peebles. They too make a marvellous mind picture with the lowing of the cattle, barking dogs and the drovers themselves shouting as they tried to keep their charges in decent order.

The walk also brings memories of another doughty traveller, Mary Queen of Scots, who passed this way in 1567 on her way to Biggar where thousands of her loyal subjects were waiting to greet her. The little cottage, Hardgatehead, that you pass at the high point of the walk is also linked to Mary. Here in 1585 the ‘Rebel Lords’ met to plan the capture of the future King James VI (then a teenager). Their plan failed and their leader, the Earl of Gowrie, paid with his life.

As you set off from Dolphinton, you pass an old toll house. It marks the boundary between Lanarkshire and Peebles-shire and all travellers – including the drovers – had to pay a toll. On payment you were given a ‘docket’ which meant you paid no further tolls till you left the county. Fortunately we can enjoy our walks today without any such payment.

I have extended the walk a little to take it down to the green at the heart of the attractive village of West Linton (which features another old toll house, this one now serving as a very welcome tearoom). The church in West Linton has gates proudly marking its 800th anniversary in 1960. Not quite back to Roman times, but an impressive span nonetheless. It seems that history is all around you at every point on this excellent short walk.

Roger Smith


Map: OS 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 72 (Upper Clyde Valley) or 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 344 (Pentland Hills).

Distance: 5 miles/8km

Time: 2-3 hours

Start: Dolphinton (GR: NT108473).

Finish: West Linton (GR: NT150516).

Public transport: Regular bus service between West Linton and Dolphinton. See www.travelinescotland.com

Information: Peebles TIC, 01721 723159, www.northtweeddalepaths.org.uk

Route: Walk north out of Dolphinton and take the minor road to Garvald. In about 300m turn R (signposted West Linton 4). Follow this clear track. At Ingraston, do not turn down towards the farm buildings but keep straight on through two gates. After South Slipperfield the track twists left and right over the old bridge. Join tarmac road by golf course and TR at T-junction. Cross A702 with care and follow Chapel Brae down to the village green in West Linton.