Wild Routes

Dale, Hills and Woods

Dale, Hills and Woods

Adoon winding Nith I did wander, To mark the sweet flowers as they spring

(Robert Burns, ‘Phillis The Queen O' The Fair’)


The lower slopes and woodlands of the Lowther Hills, part of the Southern Uplands, are the backdrop for this itinerary which cuts across the broad bowl of mid-Nithsdale.  Aside from the impressive Buccleuch Estate, which includes Drumlanrig Castle, this is one of the less visited parts of Dumfries & Galloway.  This means you’re more likely to get the recommended wild locations to yourself with a greater chance to spot local wildlife such as red squirrels, roe deer, wild goats and a variety of bird life – plus a wealth of local heritage.  All the more reason to take a short break in the area!

The itinerary runs through the villages of Tynron and Penpont, to the west of Thornhill, up to Drumlanrig Castle, on the Buccleuch Estate, and onto Durisdeer, in the shadow of the Lowther Hills.  From here it turns south to explore the sandstone scenery of the Nith valley before reaching the more popular woodland walks and bike trails of Ae Forest.   The total distance by road is about 32 miles but some of the locations along the way, such as Drumlanrig Castle and Ae Forest, offer a good day out in themselves so it would be worth considering a short break to enjoy the area properly.

The Itinerary

The Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Stenhouse Wood reserve at Tynron, just off the A702 to the west of Thornhill, is a relatively undisturbed broadleaved woodland at the entrance to Shinnel Glen.  This steep-sided site is an ideal location for spotting red squirrels, the occasional deer and species of woodland birds such as woodpeckers, tits and spotted flycatcher.

The road through Shinnel Glen runs north west from here for about 5 miles and is well worth exploring, as is the old churchyard in Tynron itself.  To the north of Tynron is the flat-topped Tynron Doon, the site of an iron Age hilltop settlement, the path up to which is signposted from the road back to the A702.  

The nearby village of Penpont boasts an unusual attraction, about 200 metres north of the crossroad at its centre.  The Joseph Thomson Local Heritage Centre commemorates the life and expeditions of the Victorian explorer of Africa who gave his name to Thomson’s Gazelle and Thomson’s Falls, in modern day Kenya.  This tiny cottage was his birthplace and contains many original features as well as other visitor information on local attractions.  Ask in Penpont Tea Rooms for the key.

A choice of roads lead north from the A702 through the Buccleuch Estate to Drumlanrig Castle where there is plentiful parking.   The castle is open to visitors from April to the end of August and the gardens until the end of September but the estate and surrounding countryside are open through the year. 

A series of waymarked trails of varying lengths and grades through the local woodlands offers untold opportunities for walking, cycling and viewing nature.   Follow, for example, the River Nith, running through the middle of the estate, to catch a glimpse of dramatic sandstone gorges and cascades; or devise your own path to link up the various lochs that surround the castle.

The village of Durisdeer, to the north east of Drumlanrig, is a picture postcard settlement nestling perfectly at the base of two shoulders of the Lowther Hills.  It also sits at the entrance to the spectacular, broad-sided valley of the Kirk Burn, through which runs the Weld or Wall Path, a former Roman road that was used as the principal local thoroughfare north until medieval times.  

Use this path, or others heading more steeply into the local hills, to view red kites, buzzards, grouse and other moorland bird species depending on the season.  In amongst the folds of the hills to the east of this area walkers will very often come across grazing families of wild goats, resplendent in their rough coats of black, white and brown.

Before leaving Durisdeer, don’t miss the opportunity to view the Queensberry Aisle, the 18th century marble monument atop the Buccleuch family mausoleum at the back of the church.

Six miles south of Durisdeer, on narrow country lanes running parallel with the A702, and two miles east of Thornhill is the hamlet of Gatelawbridge.  From the T-junction on its eastern outskirts, turn right and, less than a mile on, as the road enters woodland on both sides, look for a wooden signpost for ‘Crichope Linn’ and park in a suitable layby.

This little gem of a site is part of the Covenanters’ Trail – the narrow sandstone gorges, caves and waterfalls (linns) carved by the Crichope Burn were reputedly hiding places for religious dissenters during the so-called ‘Killing Times’ of the late 17th century.  The vertical walls are covered in mosses, liverworts and other damp-loving plants while the surrounding woodland abounds with birdlife.

Keep to the path on the higher ground, to the left side of the river, to complete a short but spectacular walk along the top of the gorge.  Take special care along the narrow tracks above the steep valley sides towards the end of the walk.  From the bridge at the end of the path retrace your steps or follow the country lane which runs parallel with the walk on the east side to return to the start.

Return to the A76 and continue south, through Closeburn, to the signposted road for Loch Ettrick and Ae.    This minor road meanders for about 8 miles to the forestry settlement of Ae, in the middle of roughly 10,000 hectares of woodlands – one of the largest in Britain. 

Along the way the quiet shores of Loch Ettrick are home to herons, geese, ducks, various species of waders and a large colony of nesting yellow wagtails, all of which can be enjoyed from a lochside path and wooden pier.

The Forestry Commission for Scotland / 7 Stanes mountain biking centre at Ae boasts two large car parks, a café, maps and interpretation boards and an extensive network of walks and bike trails within the surrounding forest.  Wildlife which it is possible to see include roe deer, red squirrels, otters and bird species such as buzzards and woodpeckers.


Scaurbank Cottage

A cosy sanctuary on the wooded bank of the Scaur Water in beautiful mid-Nithsdale, this red sandstone, detached cottage (Visit Scotland 4 star) set in its private wildlife friendly garden makes the perfect place for a peaceful holiday surrounded by nature. Visitors have so far encountered red squirrels, otter, deer and more than 60 bird species. 

Contact: Caroline Buck

Tel: 01848 330129

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Between Durisdeer and Gatelawbridge are the ruins of Morton Castle, beautifully situated above Morton Loch

North of Thornhill, on the road to Sanquhar, the spectacular Mennock Pass leads to Wanlockhead, the highest village in Britain and home to the Lead Mining Museum 

Between Thornhill and Dumfries, Ellisland Farm was a home of Robert Burns

Look for local nature-based events and walks to enhance the enjoyment of your stay by clicking here

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