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It’s rare that we visit the Scottish Borders area, other than driving through on the way to the Highlands and real mountains, though occasionally we take a diversion as we did to the Grey Mare’s Tail in April 2021 (see blog post #304). We weren’t going as far as the Highlands on this trip though, as it was just a continuation of the short shake-down cruise for the new campervan. I’d previously read about the Eildon Hills but never been there – time for a visit then.
One of the best views of the Eildons is heading north on the A68, where three shapely hills come into view. The scientists will explain that the three hills are the eroded and weathered remains of volcanic lava flows, but there is another explanation – it is said in legend that Michael Scot, a local 13th Century ‘wizard’, split one existing Eildon hill into the three hills you see today. Scot was big on civil engineering projects, as he also altered the course of the River Tweed. Or so it is said.
Our plan was much less ambitious and didn’t involve any hill splitting, river diversions or other wizardry. We set off from the old Borders town of Melrose by a steadily rising path that leads to a col at an altitude of about 320 metres, and which forms a natural hub for the routes up to the three Eildon summits. From there we followed the paths to the summits in turn, returning to the col each time.
Eildon #1 was Eildon Hill North, standing tall(ish) at an altitude of 404 metres (1325 ft). In many ways it is the most interesting of the three – it was occupied as a hill fort in the late Bronze Age (about 1000 BC) by the Segovia tribe, who ruled and lived in upper Tweeddale until the arrival of the Romans. By 100 AD the Romans had started doing what the Romans did best, building stuff (see post #318), and a signal station took over the site of the ancient hill fort.
The summit of Eildon Hill North gave good views of the other two Eildons as well as our starting point at Melrose. Also below us, but not in view, was the portal to Elfland, or so ‘tis said – a 13th Century tale describes how Thomas the Rhymer was enticed by the Elf Queen to enter her domain; when he returned seven years later, it is said that he was incapable of telling a lie, which obviously ruled out any chance of a career in politics. It must be getting a bit crowded in there by now because the Eildon Hills are hollow, and King Arthur and his knights lie there sleeping, ready to emerge at times of peril.
Meanwhile, back at the col, it was time for hill #2, Eildon Wester Hill. We abandoned a wide track to follow a narrow path contouring around what would be our hill #3. The path scarcely gained or lost a metre in height, pointing us straight at Eildon Wester Hill, which was the lowest of the three at 371 metres (1217 ft) and probably the least interesting. We didn’t hang around long before heading back to the col, ready to take on Eildon Mid Hill (#3)
We had saved #3, the highest hill, until last, though at 422 metres altitude it wasn’t likely to cause any difficulty, and nor did it – a survey trig point and a view indicator marked the summit, but as with the other two hills, the most interesting views were of the neighbouring Eildons. The weather started mucking about a bit at this point, and our Gore-Tex jackets probably looked like overkill to the family group dressed in T-shirts who were heading up as we went down to the col for the last time.
From the col, the weather still looked as if it could change at any minute, with showers moving in over Melrose, but as we took the final turn downhill, it looked as though we would get away without a soaking. The whole route, with its three branches came out at 8 kms (5 miles) with a total height gain of 470 metres (1542 ft). Hardly earth shattering in its ambition but ideal for our aging Border Collie ‘Mist’ – although 14+ years old, a walk up a hill or two was still the highlight of her day.
Text and images © Paul Shorrock