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Our May 2021 trip to Scotland was drawing to a close, but instead of home and North Wales, we were heading to Northumbria on a family visit. This trip had been about filling in gaps by visiting hills and mountains that we usually drive past on the way to somewhere else – what better end to the trip then than to go and taker a look at the Grey Mare’s Tail, near Moffat.
The Grey Mare’s Tail is a 60 metre hanging waterfall in the Moffat Hills in the Scottish Borders area, and the surrounding area is a popular Nature Reserve in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. Most visitors go no further than to the bottom of the falls, though a hardy few climb the narrow path clinging to the hillside to reach the top of the falls.
Others go even further to the lovely lake of Loch Skeen, but only a hardy few go beyond there into the hills. Well, we were definitely booked into the ‘Hardy Few’ club, as our target was the summit of White Coomb at 821 metres height (2694 ft) and the highest summit in the Moffat Hills.
Even by UK standards, these aren’t massive mountains, but they are rough, tough hills that have a big feel. The Moffat hills could well be compared with the Berwyn range on North Wales, being of similar height and mass – they are also the kind of hills that could well ‘bite yer bum’ in bad visibility or poor weather conditions.
As we set, out the weather wasn’t very inspiring, with clouds hiding the sun from view. The path to the top of the falls leaves the car park to traverse a path that gets increasingly narrow as it clings to the side of the hill. It soon becomes apparent that the Grey Mare’s Tail isn’t a single-drop waterfall, but is a collection of cascades instead. And none the worse for that.
The next section of path above the falls is interesting enough, with early view of White Coomb, our objective for the day. There are various ways to tackle the hill, but I knew we had made the best choice of route when we arrived at Loch Skeen, a little jewel of a lake that the day trippers never get to see.
The loch was a pleasant a place for a brew of coffee as you could find, so we spent a while there. Then it was time to get to grips with the hills beyond. A short, stiff climb up the ridge of Mid Craig brought us to the high ground beyond, all of it around the 750-metre contour of higher. Those wanting a more demanding trip would easily find something to test the legs, but we were only going as far as White Coomb.
As we took the final ridge to the top, the sky began to clear, giving us good light for summit photos, and long, ‘Big Sky’ views towards England in one direction and equally good views towards the Southern Uplands in the other direction. The area deserves a longer visit, and we will probably be back, but in the meantime it was getting on for dinner time for Border Collie ‘Mist’ and time to head for home.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock