The South of Scotland not only flaunts incredible natural landscapes, but also a rich cultural heritage and history. Turn your Raiders Gravel experience into a weekend getaway by exploring this beautiful region. This Southern Uplands itinerary highlights some of the gems to visit and places to stay as you come or leave Gatehouse of Fleet, our event village.
The first bit of Scotland that you come to that looks like the Scotland of postcards is the Southern Uplands. This is the bit that Hadrian pulled back to the south of when the Romans gave up on trying to control the north. While it is now Scotland and England, those that live on the ‘Borders’ still consider themselves borderers first, and Scots and English second. The recent media campaign Scotland Starts Here sums it up perfectly. This often overlooked area has defined much of Scotland’s history. The fashionable tweed fabric, started here on the Tweed, plus Abbotsford House, the home of novelist Sir Walter Scott, and more fine castles per square mile than anywhere further north. And yes indeed, the highest village in Scotland – who knew that! The Clan Armstrong put a man on the moon and a blacksmith from near Thornhill invented the modern bicycle.
Once the very heart of the UK knitwear industry and still home to some of the world’s best, Hawick and its factory shops are well worth a visit. Locals are passionate enough about their hometown: “A day out of Hawick is a day wasted” is the local saying. Talk is often about rugby, horses or sheep prices.
Samye Ling was the main and oldest Tibetan centre in Europe. While still a strange vision across the open moorland of the border landscape, it is very much part of the local community now.
In 1969, musicians David Bowie and Leonard Cohen were students at Samye Ling. In fact, Bowie not only studied Buddhism at Samye Ling, he almost became a monk there. It has a great cafe, and there is another cafe a mile further away which also has a campground and accommodation. The artwork and architecture are certainly worth seeing.
At 1,532ft Wanlockhead is Scotland’s highest village – slightly disputed by nearby Leadhills. They both owe their existence to lead mining, which the Romans were keen to exploit. There is a mining museum with a great cafe and they offer courses in gold panning – the local stream is the source of some of the biggest finds in the UK! The cycling in these Lowther Hills is the closest the Borders has to Alpine – just amazing!
One of the most stunning castles in Scotland: ‘The Pink Palace’, as it is called by locals. It is the setting for many films and the Outlander Series. Nearby is Keir Mill where Kirkpatrick Macmillan, a local blacksmith, invented the modern bicycle: he is buried in an almost unmarked grave nearby – you should pay your respects!
You are now on the Raiders Gravel route and, sitting outside the Clatteringshaws Cafe, you look out at Merrick, the highest mountain in Southern Scotland. The sky here is amongst the darkest in Europe on a still and clear winter’s night. As far as the horizon, there are tracks and trails to explore during your time here in Galloway.