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A wild and undiscovered coast-to-coast challenge — Southern Upland Way

David Parker

A wild and undiscovered coast-to-coast challenge — Southern Upland Way

Hiking Collection by Dan Hobson

14-32

days

3-6 h

/ day

216 mi

22,600 ft

22,425 ft

The Southern Upland Way is an uncompromising coast-to-coast challenge that explores a wild, remote, and breathtakingly-beautiful part of Scotland.

Starting from Portpatrick, on the Irish Sea, the Way travels 214 miles (344 kilometers) through the border regions of Scotland to finish in Cockburnspath, on the North Sea.

The trail is hailed for its diversity of landscapes. Starting on coastal cliffs, the Way passes through pretty farmland, empty moorland, vast forests, lonely hill ranges, historical sights, and picturesque lochs to finish as it began, on rugged sea cliffs.

The Way is notoriously challenging and will test even the most experienced of hikers. Many stages are more than 20 miles (32 kilometers) long and tackle a wild and isolated landscape with no facilities or signs of civilization.

On all long stages, there is a suggestion on how to split the route with a stopover somewhere. There are free-to-use bothies on some stages. Where it is possible to split stages by staying in towns or villages close to the route, it is mentioned in the description.

Road pick-ups can be arranged on every stage, too—with the exception of Stage 04. This 26-mile (42-kilometer) stage can only be split with a stay in a bothy or by wild camping.

The Southern Upland Way is a serious challenge for experienced hikers. Preparation is vital. Ensuring you have enough food and water, the correct clothing for the weather conditions, as well as multiple sources of navigation (device, map, compass), first aid kit, and torch, is essential as civilization is often many miles away.

For those that do undertake this challenge, though, the rewards are immense: vast, empty, and staggeringly-beautiful landscapes all to yourself.

This challenging and still relatively-undiscovered trail—despite being Britain's first officially recognized coast-to-coast long-distance footpath—gives you a chance to escape modernity and return to untouched nature.

The trail is waymarked throughout. However, there are some moorland crossings which could be difficult to navigate in poor weather conditions.

In this Collection, we split the route into 11 stages. Of course, you can split up each stage into as many days as you are comfortable with. You can also walk any single stage, or a couple of stages, in isolation.

Every stage finishes close to accommodation, even if there are only a few options nearby. However, places to stay are not always abundant so it is worth planning in advance and scheduling any rest days accordingly.

If you are planning to arrive by public transport, you can catch a train to Stranraer, which has direct trains from Glasgow and connecting services around Britain. From Stranraer, you can catch the 367 bus service to Portpatrick.

To get home, you need to catch the 253 bus service to either Dunbar (for Edinburgh and Glasgow) or Berwick upon Tweed (for most of England). Both Dunbar and Berwick have railway stations with direct and connecting services around Britain.

As this is a long coast-to-coast crossing, arriving by car is not recommended. It will be a full day’s traveling on public transport from the finish back to the start. If you do wish to drive, your best bet is finding long stay parking in Edinburgh or Glasgow and using public transport to the start and finish.

For more information about the Southern Upland Way, visit: southernuplandway.gov.uk.
For the 367 bus timetable, visit: stagecoachbus.com/routes/west-scotland/367/portpatrick-south-crescent-stranraer-port-rodie/xtao367.i.
For the 253 bus timetable, visit: bustimes.org/services/253-edinburgh-berwick-upon-tweed-2.
For train timetables and tickets, visit: thetrainline.com.

On The Map

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors
    Difficult
    05:53
    13.6 mi
    2.3 mph
    900 ft
    825 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    For a route with so many tough long-distance hikes, the first stage is uncharacteristically easy and gives you the opportunity to warm-up for the challenge ahead.

    The stage begins by exploring the dramatic coastal cliffs and coves north of Portpatrick, where you are afforded sublime views over the North Channel.

    After you pass Killantringan Lighthouse, perched on cliffs in a …

  • Difficult
    11:56
    27.6 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,825 ft
    1,750 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    After an easy first stage, the real character of the Southern Upland Way reveals itself on this hike, which is the longest hike in the entire itinerary.

    This more-than-marathon hike takes you from civilized parkland and farmland into a wild and remote landscape of lonely moorland and vast coniferous forests.

    At nearly 28 miles (44 kilometers) long, only extremely fit …

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  • Difficult
    11:17
    25.7 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,975 ft
    1,925 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage takes you deep into a wild and empty landscape where nothing stirs but the wind and wildlife.

    At almost 26 miles (42 kilometers) long, this is another very challenging hike over rough terrain with absolutely no facilities.

    Only extremely fit and experienced hikers should attempt this stage. You can split this hike with a stopover at the White …

  • Difficult
    11:48
    25.9 mi
    2.2 mph
    3,025 ft
    2,775 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Wild hilltops, panoramic views, and an empty landscape combine to make this an enchanting stage.

    There is no let-up on the challenge, however. Another marathon hike, this stage winds through the most exposed and isolated section of the Way.

    There are no towns or villages to split the route and, unfortunately, no bothies either.

    If you are not confident that …

  • Intermediate
    04:22
    9.13 mi
    2.1 mph
    1,775 ft
    925 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    After some relentless recent stages, this hike takes the tempo down a few notches, affording a chance to rest and sightsee.

    Before leaving Sanquhar, it is worth paying a visit to Sanquhar Castle, an impressive 13th-century ruin that overlooks the town.

    From there, the trail crosses picturesque moorland to the old mining district of Wanlockhead, which has an interesting museum …

  • Difficult
    09:46
    20.3 mi
    2.1 mph
    2,950 ft
    3,900 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This challenging stage takes you to the highest point on the Southern Upland Way and crosses the halfway point of the trail.

    From Wanlockhead, it is a steep climb up to the summit of Lowther Hill, the highest point. Complete with giant golf ball radar station, you experience superb views over the wild and empty landscape.

    The route continues over …

  • Difficult
    09:53
    21.7 mi
    2.2 mph
    2,625 ft
    2,200 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage takes you from Dumfries and Galloway and the into Scottish Borders.

    When you cross the border, you also cross a watershed—every raindrop that falls behind you ends up in the Atlantic and every drop that lands ahead drains into the North Sea.

    Exploring farmland, lonely moorland, and forests, this varied and challenging hike is the last in the …

  • Difficult
    05:27
    12.0 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,200 ft
    1,475 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    After some tough recent stages, this relatively short and leisurely stage should come as a welcome reward for your efforts.

    Starting from the stunning St Mary's Loch, the largest natural lake in the Scottish Borders, you begin with an enchanting lochside walk before rising for a superb moorland crossing.

    You then descend into the Tweed Valley and follow a minor …

  • Difficult
    11:44
    25.3 mi
    2.2 mph
    3,300 ft
    3,250 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    After myriad lonely summits and empty moors, you may feel like you have rejoined civilization on this stage.

    From Traquair, it is a steep climb onto Minch Moor ridge before the trail descends to the River Tweed through Yair forest.

    When you reach the summit of Three Brethren, topped by three hugh cairns, a glorious panoramic view awaits. This stage …

  • Difficult
    06:56
    15.6 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,450 ft
    1,375 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The penultimate stage crosses the Lammermuir hills, the last hill range you will conquer on the Way.

    From Lauder, the trail climbs through gentle farmland and rises onto a moorland before descending into a gentle pastoral landscape once again.

    The highest point you reach on this stage is Twin Law, which affords breathtaking views over the rugged landscape.

    This stage finishes in Longformacus. Whilst there is limited accommodation in the village, you will find options nearby.

  • Difficult
    08:40
    19.5 mi
    2.3 mph
    1,600 ft
    2,050 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The final stage traverses gentle farmland to finish on coastal cliffs, a homage to where the route started some 214 miles (344 kilometers) ago.

    From Longformacus, the trail rises and falls through arable farmland and moorland, passing small villages, farms, and woodlands.

    Before you reach the coastal cliffs, the trail explores Pease Dean, an ancient woodland nature reserve where wildlife …

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    11
  • Distance
    216 mi
  • Duration
    97:40 h
  • Elevation
    22,600 ft22,425 ft

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A wild and undiscovered coast-to-coast challenge — Southern Upland Way