Venture forth from Bowhill to find a crumbling castle, scheming nobility, and bloody murder.
Distance: 7 ½ miles
Start and Finish: Bowhill Estate (NT 42715 27860)
Access: Parking at Bowhill. No public transport; bus X95 between Edinburgh and Carlisle stops in Selkirk.
The walk starts at Bowhill house, three miles west of the village of Selkirk in the Scottish Borders. Access to the estate is free, but there is a charge to enter the house and its grounds.
From the car park, follow the estate road as it climbs gently. Below on your left stands Bowhill house.
The lands around Bowhill were granted to the Scott family in the mid-1500s, although the current house dates to the early 19th century. It has served as the seat of the Duke of Buccleuch since the 1740s, after the house was purchased from its original owners. Art lovers may wish to pay a visit to the house, which boasts part of one of the most significant art collections in the country.
Past the house you’ll soon arrive at a junction where a dirt track on the right leaves the road, marked by a yellow arrow. This leads into the forest on the flank of Pernassie hill, with the summit of Fauldshope hill soon becoming visible through the trees ahead.
After a while you will arrive at a stone seat, in the centre of which is a stone heart engraved with the initials B and Q and the dates 1864 and 1935.
The B and Q on the stone seat stand for Buccleuch and Queensbury, the full title of the Duke. While Bowhill is the seat of the Duke of Buccleuch, the seat of the Duke of Queensbury is at Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfries and Galloway. The two titles were originally separate, but came together after the death of the third Duke of Queensbury in 1810.
Although the Duke of Buccleuch is the chief of Clan Scott, the heart represents another clan from which the Duke of Buccleuch is descended: Clan Douglas. After the death of Robert the Bruce, his heart was taken on Crusade by Sir James Douglas, better known as “The Black Douglas”. Douglas may have been killed before he reached the Holy Land, but the King’s heart was recovered and is now buried at nearby Melrose Abbey.
Carry on past the stone seat and through a gate onto open moorland. As you climb into the saddle between Fauldshope and Fastheugh hills, take a moment to turn and look back at the views behind you. The three peaks of the Eildon hills sit prominently in the Tweed valley, while on a clear day far-off Cheviot dominates the horizon.
The path swings to the right, leading towards Fastheugh hill. After passing a series of sturdy grouse butts, the path leads through a gate on your left. You now have fine views across the Yarrow valley towards the Minch moor, and on occasion you may catch the light glinting off St Mary’s Loch to the West. Continue along the track towards a large stone cairn atop Newark hill. A short detour can be made to the cairn itself, although this can be rather exposed to the elements. Whatever your choice, the track descends here towards a gate.
Passing through the gate leads to the curiously named Black Andrew Wood. This small patch of woodland is a pale comparison of the great forest that once covered the region during the Middle Ages.
Continue through the woods until you reach a tarmac road where you should bear right. This otherwise unremarkable section of the walk also serves as part of the 51-mile Cross Borders Drove Road, one of Scotland’s Great Trails, which connects Hawick to the south with Little Vantage in West Lothian. The drove road soon separates from our walk via a track to your right; stick to the tarmac and you’ll soon arrive at the impressive ruin of Newark Tower.
“He pass’d where Newark’s stately towerSir Walter Scott, The Lay of the Last Minstrel.
Looks out from Yarrow’s birchen bower:
The Minstrel gazed with wishful eye —
No humbler resting-place was nigh”
Also known as Newark Castle, the “New Werk” was built during the reign of King James III. It was used as a royal hunting seat, and the surrounding forests would be stocked full of game for the entertainment of Scotland’s nobility. This lasted until the land was granted to the Scott family in 1550. The tower was laid waste by the forces of Oliver Cromwell in 1650 when he invaded Scotland in his quest to crush the Covenanters.
The last person to actually live in the tower was Anne Scott, the first Duchess of Buccleuch. Her husband was the Duke of Monmouth, an illegitimate son of King Charles II. Monmouth rose up in rebellion after his uncle, James II, was crowned king. His rebellion was a failure and Monmouth was executed for his crimes. The Duchess, however, managed to survive her husband’s treason and kept both her title and position. She lived a long life and was eventually succeeded by her grandson Francis, who purchased Bowhill house.
After passing the tower, you now have the option to shorten your walk by following the estate road as it continues to Bowhill house. For a more scenic route, follow the driveway that descends sharply to your left. Below the ruined castle, a narrow grassy path can be found squeezed between a house and the Yarrow water.
A small stone footbridge crosses the Newark Burn at a point known locally as Slain Man’s Lea. After their defeat at the Battle of Philiphaugh, 100 Royalist followers were marched to the courtyard of Newark Tower by their Covenanter captors. There, they were all murdered and their bodies dumped in the nearby woods. The burn was said to have run red with their blood for many days.
As you pass deeper into the trees, you’ll reach a fork in the path. Take the steps on the left, following the river into Harewood Glen. Eventually the path climbs again to join a path coming from your right. After the path bends sharply to the right, you’ll soon arrive back at the estate road. From here, you need only follow the signed route along the drive to return to the car park.