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The longest stage of Raiders Gravel heads towards Clatteringshaws before turning left onto the tarmac of The Queens Way. A few wiggles of the road and ahead, high on the hills to the right, is the obelisk monument to a local shepherd: the striking Murray’s Monument. The monument was erected in 1835 in memory of Alexander Murray, a local shepherd boy who was born almost blind.

The Murray family ran what is called a ‘Bread and Beer’ house, providing the ‘essentials’ for travellers on the Old Edinburgh Road. Despite his poor eyesight, Murray still learned to read and spent much of his working hours reading books and teaching himself languages. This, of course, was a time before fences and stone dykes, when shepherds watched over their flocks and turned to poetry and verse to pass the time.

The Edinburgh Road was used by smugglers moving goods that had been landed at the coast, all the way across to the capital to sell. One of the smugglers, Mc Harg, a dealer in contraband tea who regularly stopped off at the Murray’s, was in the habit of obtaining second-hand books of various sorts in the city which he gave to the young Alexander Murray.

Murray became so well read on the eclectic mix of books that he became a teacher and a minister in the church. Elevated to the post of Professor of Oriental Languages at Edinburgh he caught the eye of King George III, who had dealings with Abyssinia. As Tigrinya, one of the languages of Abyssinia, was one of the languages Murray could translate, he was given a high position at court. Not bad for a lowly shepherd made good.

You turn right and pick up The Old Edinburgh Road at the head of Black Loch as you pass a tall sculpture called ‘The Eye’ – and it does have a hole that you put your eye to and look across the loch. Ahead, you now have the hardest climb of the Raiders Gravel Festival and time enough to consider those who have come this way before.

The Eye © 2021 Stuart Tilbury

Smuggling was a very popular way of making easy money in the 18th century. Pack trains would be lead along this road and the rocks still bear the wheel-marks of the metal shod cars and wagons smugglers used to carry their cargoes to Edinburgh. These included such rare and strange items as potatoes, which were sold in the capital one at a time – as befitted such a rare delicacy.

Cresting the climb, you have ahead of you the longest, fastest and most exhilarating descent of the Raiders Gravel Festival and one of the finest views in Southern Scotland, with the Merrick – the highest mountain in the South of Scotland at 843m – off to your left.

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