Feel the Burns


three brethern
Rough Grazing to the top at the three brethren

The Border hills are similar and repeated. Valley after valley, ridge after ridge. They have few cliffs, few roads though they can go almost anywhere so there are some tasty climbs for cyclists. There are huge areas of woodland and muir sheep farming. Philiphaugh is just at a change.  A few miles to the west the land is very different, flat rich farmland with spuds, barley and vegetables and a very sedate wealthy feel. To the south, north and especially to the west are ranks of these hills and valleys. None of the hills make it to 3000ft so tend to be less well visited. The hills are largely made up of shales. They are largely similar because they are what is left of the ooze on the bottom of an old ocean.


The ocean that separated Scotland and England 500m years ago closed. The deep ocean bed was pushed under Scotland – part of Laurentia – and as the hard but light basalt of the ocean bottom was pushed down under Scotland to it’s hot, earthquaky, volcanoes inducing disappearance, all the slimy slobber that had fallen onto the ocean floor wrinkled up against the side of Scotland. Like soap and hair gathered by a razorblade. That’s the border hills. Old oceanic slobber and other assorted stuff. Anything that could sink to the ocean floor formed hundreds of meters thick mush. “unconsolidated or semi consolidated sediments”. But do remember Scotland was on top of England!!!

It’s these folded layers that set the grain of the country that we now live in. I’m told that the layers would have created Alpine or even Himalayan size hills and what we are left with is the roots. There were other things that got caught up in this continental car crash; remains of volcanic islands, corals, lumps of the basalts and limestones from warm shallow seas. All bashed and bumped together.

What does it matter? It makes the hills the way they are, rounded, not very high and with broad valleys. So running on these hills is usually lovely transitions from arable farmland – or at least nourishing in-by fields with orderly farm houses cottages and steadings. The in-by fields have fences and dykes and then thick tree plantations as you climb. Towards the top you get onto tracks and ways through what I’ve seen advertised as “rough grazing”. Rough grazing is that horrible tussocky stuff or heather 2 feet deep. It’ll graze Blackface sheep and sometimes if it’s upmarket stuff a few black cattle.

If you are running in rough grazing, then consider the track or the path no matter where it goes. But rough or not you get up onto one of the most beautiful and peaceful landscapes I know.

This race is typical of border hills and with two decent climbs it’ll be fun. You pass the three Brethren, large stone cairns put up in the 16th century to mark the point where three different estates meet at a hill top.

I’m sitting here in my borders home the day before the race with a foot or more of snow so in January there may occasionally have to be a different race I suppose. Check the website.

I would love to encourage you to get up and do the race, but I see entries are electronic and closed. Of course, you could just go for a walk or jog yourself.

The roads to the west and southwest of Philiphaugh are real adventures. The route to Eskdalemuir and Lockerbie is a real belter. It has sheep and hills and cows and paddling and bogs and forests and hills and a Buddhist monastery and a nuclear bomb detector. A great knock on a bike too. The shorter route to Moffat is glorious too. Both take you through the typical border heartlands of valley after valley and ridge after ridge of the wreckage of an old crash of continents

Oh yes! Fair fa’ yer honest sonsie face! Dinny get passed by a pudding in the race!

Race details here and here