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The Southern Upland Way is a long-distance walking trail in Scotland, with its western half in Dumfries and Galloway region and its eastern in the Scottish Borders.


Plaque at Tibbie Shiels

The Southern Upland Way is a waymarked route opened in 1984, stretching 212 miles / 340 km coast-to-coast across the hills of lowland Scotland, from Portpatrick in the southwest to Cockburnspath on the North Sea coast. It's an "official" route, meaning the local council districts it traverses have a duty to keep it passable and waymarked. It's more demanding than the popular West Highland Way, since the stages are longer, crossing the grain of the land with much up-and-down. Many stage-ends lack accommodation and transport so you have to wild-camp, carrying all your kit and provisions. The route is of no great altitude but is often boggy and exposed, and seldom suitable for mountain bikes.

Allow 14 days for the route: since 2020 the record for completing it is 55 hours 42 minutes. It's usual to hike from west to east, to have the prevailing wind and afternoon sun at your back, though the western sections are longer and tougher. The east is more populated and bucolic, and closer to the cities of Edinburgh and Newcastle, so their folk bring the car for an easy out-and-back Sunday ramble then pick up the next section another time.



This page is only a brief overview of the route. There are several detailed guides, such as the free online guide by Walk Highlands.

Ordnance Survey publish a west and an east map of the route at 1:50,000 scale, plus OS "Landranger" 1:50,000 maps of sections, with map numbers given below.

Get in


Portpatrick at the start has buses every hour or so from Stranraer, which has trains and buses from Glasgow and ferries from Belfast.

Galashiels and Melrose to the east are on a busy transport corridor.

Cockburnspath at the finish has a bus every couple of hours from Berwick, heading to Dunbar and Edinburgh.


Map of Southern Upland Way
  • 1 Portpatrick (mile 0) has several hotels and B&Bs. Using OS Map 72, start at the harbour and follow the clifftop north for 4 miles then turn inland. Cross B738 then over Broad Moor. At Ochtrelure (mile 8 on the edge of Stranraer) turn south to Little Lochans then continue east. This stage is 13 miles / 21 km.
  • 2 Castle Kennedy (mile 13) is on A75 but has no accommodation. Head through the park by the ruined castle, the trail parallels the lane towards New Luce. The waymarked trail branches east to bypass the village, but accommodation here breaks up a lengthy stage. This stage is 7 miles / 12 km.
  • 3 New Luce (mile 20) has a pub with rooms. Take the lane east to rejoin the main trail, north through forest over boggy Artfield Fell, past a bothy and the Laggangarn standing stones. After about 13 miles the way turns east, descends to B7027 at Knowe then parallels the lane northeast to Bargrennan. This leg is 18 miles / 30 km.
  • 4 Bargrennan (mile 38) is on A714 and has accommodation. Switch to OS Map 77: the next long stage crosses the rugged country of Galloway Forest Park. Follow forest tracks up Glen Trool then across the flank of Lamachan Hill, where the watershed is marked by a stone carved with runes. Descend into the Dee valley: White Laggan is a bothy, but you need to bring everything to sleep or cook. At Mid Garrary the route is crossed by a lane where you could arrange a pick-up You then cross the flank of Meikle Millyea to descend into St John's Town of Dalry. This stage is 25 miles / 40 km.
  • 5 St John's Town of Dalry (mile 63) may have accommodation (probably closed in winter) and a sporadic bus to Dumfries. Switch to OS Map 76: the next stage is even longer and more exposed than the previous. You tramp north past Knowehead (crossing B729) to the 581 m summit of Benbrack, decorated by a sandstone arch. Descend to Polskeoch (with a bothy, and reached by a lane) then northeast across the well-named Cloud Hill to Sanquhar. This stage is 26 miles / 41.5 km.
  • 6 Sanquhar (mile 89) will feel like a buzzing metropolis by comparison, as it's on A75 and the Glasgow-Kilmarnock-Dumfries-Carlisle railway, and has accommodation. Switch to OS Map 78: the route ascends northeast past Conrig Hill and Glengaber to Wanlockhead. This stage is 8 miles / 12.5 km.
Start of the SUW at Portpatrick
  • 7 Wanlockhead (mile 97) is Britain's highest village, at 1531 ft / 467 m, and has accommodation. Lead was mined here in the 19th century, and the miners' cottages and beam engine still stand. The route trends southeast across Lowther Hill, topped by a giant radome, and A702; a mile beyond this you pass the halfway mark on the Southern Upland Way. Descend past a bothy and camping area into Beattock, where you cross the Annandale Way. This stage is 19.5 miles / 31 km.
  • 8 Beattock (mile 117) is on A701 and A74(M), pounding with traffic at all hours. It has accommodation but there's more at Moffat two miles north. Switch to OS Map 79: the route is northeast by either a high or low route (crossing the watershed between Irish Sea and North Sea drainage) to join the lane down to Ettrick; there's a bothy at Over Phawhop. Then a short ridge brings you to Tibbie Shiels at the west end of St Mary's Loch. This stage is 20.5 miles / 33 km.
  • 9 St Mary's Loch (mile 138) is on A708 and has camping areas, though Tibbie Shiels Inn closed years ago. Switch to OS Map 73 and follow the east side of the loch and at its far end cross A708: Dryhope Tower is a 16th century peel tower. Ascend northeast over the flank of the Hawkshaw Rigs to the summit of Blake Muir (1532 ft / 467 m) then descend to Traquair. This stage is 12 miles / 19 km.
  • 10 Traquair (mile 150) is an attractive small settlement but has no accommodation: for this, divert two miles north to Innerleithen, which is on A72 with buses on the Galashiels-Peebles-Edinburgh route. Resuming at Traquair, head east along old cattle drovers' trails over Minch Moor and Brown Knowe (1719 ft / 524 m) towards the Three Brethren, three giant cairns. Descend by forestry trails to Yair. This stage is 13 miles / 19 km.
  • 11 Yair (mile 163) has accommodation and is 2 miles north of Selkirk. Cross the low ridge towards Galashiels, transport hub for the Borders and with accommodation. However the route skirts town on Gala Hill and descends onto A7: Abbotsford House across the river is the grand mansion of Sir Walter Scott. Follow the south bank of the River Tweed to Melrose. This stage is 5 miles / 9 km.
Nearing journey's end
  • 12 Melrose (mile 168) is a pleasant small town with a ruined abbey, and another nearby plus several stumps of old castles. Plenty of accommodation, and transport on the Jedburgh-Galashiels route. The route is straight north along an old drovers' trail, much of it now a tarmac lane, so it's easy going to Lauder. This stage is 10 miles / 16 km.
  • 13 Lauder (mile 178) is a village with accommodation on A68 with buses between Jedburgh, Melrose and Edinburgh. Thirlestane Castle is the mansion at its south edge. Switch to OS Map 67: the route is east across the Lammermuir Hills via Twin Law (1467 ft / 447 m, with two large cairns) and Watch Water to Longformacus. This stage is 15 miles / 24 km.
  • 14 Longformacus (mile 193) has no accommodation, the nearest is in Duns 12 miles south. Head east by farm and forestry trails to Abbey St Bathans. This stage is 6.5 miles / 11 km.
  • 15 Abbey St Bathans (mile 200) likewise has no accommodation. Cross the ridge northeast to the busy A1 at Penmanshiel, then north besides the railway to the North Sea coast. There's a short clifftop section then turn inland to journey's end at Cockburnspath. This stage is 11.5 miles / 18 km.
  • 16 Cockburnspath (mile 212, pronounced "Koh-burns path") is on the A1 and has accommodation. The Borders Bus potters along the road every couple of hours from Berwick to Eyemouth, Cockburnspath, Dunbar, Haddington and Edinburgh.


A Waymerk

Waymerks are small metal tokens concealed in thirteen "kists" hidden along the route: you're near one if you spot an "ULTREIA" sign, a Latin greeting for pilgrims. Help yourself to a merk if you find one, but please only take one. They're individually crafted and may be of lead, copper or pewter, or you hit the jackpot if you find one of silver. A merk was a medieval Scottish coin, abolished in 1707 upon the union with England: 13 of them made one English penny, so there's probably a sly anti-Scots joke there. A kist or cist is a prehistoric burial chamber. The original installation was in 2001; a new hoard was deposited in 2007 and the kists have been intermittently topped up since.

Stay safe


Standard advice for hill-walking: prepare for cold wet weather from above and boggy going below. Some sections are indistinct and the mist can roll in at any moment, so you need navigation skills. The route is quiet, on old cattle-drovers and forest tracks, and you may not see anyone all day. However mobile phone coverage is fairly good since there are no mountains to block the signal.

Go next

  • The Pennine Way from Edale in the Peak District has its north terminus at Kirk Yetholm. There isn't a trail onward to join SUW, which feels like a missing link. But with OS maps you can easily find your own route, either via the coast at Berwick or by heading north to Longformacus.
  • The coastal path heads south past Cockburnspath to the dramatic cliffs of St Abb's, Eyemouth, across the border to Berwick-upon-Tweed, Lindisfarne, and on down the coast of Northumberland.
  • It heads north to end at Dunbar, start of the John Muir trail back across the Central Belt via Edinburgh to the west coast at Helensburgh.
  • Near Loch Lomond the John Muir Trail intersects the West Highland Way, which goes to Fort William, for the ascent of Ben Nevis and start of the Great Glen Way to Inverness. You could be at this for some time.

This itinerary to Southern Upland Way is a usable article. It explains how to get there and touches on all the major points along the way. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.