THE Scottish Borders Walking Festival celebrates 25 years of stepping out across the region on Saturday, the first day of this year’s festival in Selkirk and the Ettrick and Yarrow Valleys.

The longest-running festival of its kind in the country, the Scottish Borders Walking Festival moves base every year and is run by local volunteers in each area, with support from the council.

The not-for-profit festival complements a programme of guided group walks for the more seasoned walker with leisurely strolls and evening entertainment, such as this year’s opening night event with outdoor writer and wilderness hiker Cameron McNeish.

Sue Briggs, chair of the 2019 Scottish Borders walking steering group, says the Ettrick and Yarrow Valleys are ideal for walkers looking for some freedom from vehicles.

“The area is a gorgeous mix of forests, rolling hills and wild uplands with twisting narrow roads that see lower levels of traffic that the North Coast 500 can only dream of these days,” she says.

A guide through the hills

Varying in difficulty and length are the festival’s main draw: 28 guided and paid-for hill walks exploring the area’s characteristic hills and landmarks.

Nature-lovers will want their cameras for the walk to Whitmuirhall and Lindean Loch, a haven for birds and flowers, while local resident Cath Henderson explores Selkirk’s past in a walk around the “Ring o’ the Toun”.

Great literary Scots

In a 12-mile hike from Traquair to St Mary’s Kirkyard with Dougie Johnston, visit the ruins of Blackhouse Tower, where poet and novelist James Hogg worked as a shepherd in the 18th century.

Sally Keen will lead another strenuous walk beginning from the tiny village of Ettrick, where Hogg was born and lies buried, and local resident Bridie Ashrowan will lead a relaxed literature walk, exploring his life and works through the village.

David Langworth of Eildon Ramblers leads a walk from Melrose Abbey, above, to Selkirk following the River Tweed to the stately Abbotsford House, home of Sir Walter Scott and occupied by his descendants until 2004.

Free and easy

The festival features a selection of free walks led by a local person who has a special interest in that theme; perfect if you want a break from pounding the shoe leather or simply prefer to walk at a more leisurely pace.

Sir Michael Strang Steel, owner of the Philiphaugh Estate, leads a free stroll around the site of the battle fought by the Marquis of Montrose for Charles 1st against Earl Leslie of the Covenanters in 1645 before visiting the estate’s salmon viewing centre, hydro station and the newly opened Selkirk Gin Distillery, housed in an old threshing mill.

Note you’ll need your own transport to and from the start points for the free walks.

All welcome

A number of the free and easy strolls are dementia, family and/or wheelchair friendly, and there’s a special Sing and Stroll event intended for people with dementia on September 7 at 10.30am at the Haining in Selkirk.

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SAY what?

Evening entertainment continues throughout the festival, with highlights including a folk night at the Gordon Arms in Yarrow Valley and a traditional ceilidh with Selkirk band Dere Street.

Kinnaris Quintet, recently longlisted for the Scottish Album of the Year Award, perform a high spirited closing night concert on September 14 at the County Hotel.

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