83. Loch Fell
start: Ettrick village
A fine route which attempts to link the top of the Ettrick valley with the Dryffe valley to the south. It involves a strenuous uphill push, but the views and surroundings are worth the effort.
Start at Ettrick village. James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, is buried in the nearby churchyard alongside his grandfather, Will O' Phaup, and you might want to have a look at the inscriptions on the headstones located directly south of the church tower.
It's six or seven leisurely miles along the valley to Potburn at the end of the tarred road. This is part of the Southern Upland Way and the trail passes Potburn and crosses the stream shortly afterwards at Phawhope Bothy. Follow the track as it climbs further up the valley and look out for a path off to the left through the trees which brings you out onto the open grassy slopes at Ettrick Head. Two or three hundred yards after coming out of the trees, you'll find a stile and fence marking the boundary with Dumfries and Galloway.
The SUW heads across the slopes and down to the Selcoth Burn. Our route, however, aims uphill to the left where you can see a fence dropping down from Loch Fell to a col. Aim up the side of the hill to the col first of all. You'll be pushing, but it's not too strenuous... yet. Catch your breath and admire the views from the col before gritting your teeth and tackling the serious uphill haul alongside the fence. Once you reach the point where the fence kinks to the left, the difficulties ease a tad, although it's still a fair way to the trig point at 688m. This is Loch Fell and from the summit you can take in the extensive views of the Southern Uplands, across to Dumfries and Galloway, the Solway Firth, the Lake District, right round to the Cheviots and the distinctive outline of the Eildon Hills near Melrose.
You'll also see the track that you're aiming for as it meanders down the valley to the south. Probably the easiest way to hit the track is to follow the fence going south from the summit and walk your bike downhill. Alternatively - and less steeply - you could follow the ridge and fence to the south-west and then cut back east to meet the track further down.
It's a breeze now for two or three miles. When you come across a ruined cottage by a ford in the river, you need to take a sharp left and head uphill and to the north. This is fairly hard work for a mile or more until it levels out and resorts to gentle undulations, sometimes through trees, and sometimes past clearcut.
There's a junction at (177 968) where you turn left and head uphill for a way. The track levels out and heads slightly downhill to a 'crossroads' at (185 955). Turn left and follow this track heading eastwards at first and then south-east. It will take you round to join the B723 at Fenton Yet. The road to Eskdalemuir undulates before dropping down to the village.
The Samye Ling Tibetan Centre is just a short way north of Eskdalemuir and you might want to call in if you have time. It's a gentle, but sustained, ride up to the watershed which is reached just as you enter the trees at the top of the valley. The hard work is done now and you can enjoy a pleasant cruise as the road ambles down the Ettrick Valley.
Shame on us for using an old map - it seems that there is a link from somewhere near (180 987) through to a track leading down to Black Esk Reservoir. Of course, we didn't know that, so we'll just have to go back and do it again some day...;-(
john b, galashiels
Download GPS data in GPX format.