Three Brethen

By James Carron

The mysteriously enchanting summit of Three Brethen, a low hill near Selkirk, is the high point of this strenuous ride over old drove roads once used by Borders cattle men.

The top is dominated by three 10 foot high cairns, the carefully built stone structures dwarfing the neat white Ordnance Survey trig point. Panoramic views extend over the surrounding countryside, a jigsaw of rolling hills dotted with forestry and grouse moors and sweeping valleys where small towns and villages nestle.

The route up on to Three Brethen takes in the historic Minchmoor Road right of way and the more recently created Southern Upland Way, the longest of Scotland's long distance footpaths. It stretches coast to coast across the border country but loses out in the popularity stakes to the more exciting West Highland Way.

From the telephone box on the A708 in Yarrowford, cross the road and on the opposite side a green right of way sign points towards the 'Minchmoor Road'. Follow the sign along a narrow street past several houses and a playing field. To the right of a block of brown wooden garages, a track rises up the hillside and into the trees. A few yards on another right of way sign directs you ahead up a narrow grassy path and at the top of this you rejoin the track and climb up through mixed, mainly deciduous, woodland, passing a line of tall old oak trees on the right. Avoid a track branching off to the left into the forest and keep going straight up until you reach a wooden gate.

Cross into a grassy field and the track turns left running alongside a wall separating field from forestry. It rises steadily passing through two gates before swinging right and then left, shortly after the second one, to run on to another gate.

Beyond this, the track climbs over exposed open moorland, curving to the right and following a rundown stone wall over the hillside. The ground is covered with purple heather and bluebells and down to the left there is new forestry poking out of the undergrowth.

The Minchmoor Road skirts along the flank of Brown Knowe to meet the Southern Upland Way (SUW) half a mile west of the summit. When you reach a prominent SUW signpost, turn right and follow the path, signed to 'Yair', over an old drove road on to the top of Brown Knowe. A cairn welcomes you.

Cross a stile on the summit and descend east along a rounded ridge to the col. Pass over another stile here and the path rises up behind a strip of Scots Pine woodland. It climbs a grassy hillside dotted with bracken and thistles then drops to cross a stile in the next dip below Broomy Law. Onwards from there the path skirts left round the hill, following a stone wall, to another stile just before a junction of paths above Broadmeadows youth hostel.

Don't cross the ladder stile over the wall at this junction just now but carry straight on towards a coniferous plantation. Pass by a gate on the right. Don't go through it but continue left of the wall. When you reach the trees pass over another stile and the track proceeds between trees on the left and the wall on the right. The summit of Three Brethen is in view ahead and the way leads straight to the top. Enjoy the view then retrace your steps back to the youth hostel junction.

Cross the ladder stile and descend south with the wall to your right. It's a fairly steep descent and as height is lost, the path moves away from the wall and runs to the left of the burn. SUW waymarker posts keep you right. In due course it reaches woodland and continues down the left hand side of this, over sheep grazing land with the ruin of Newark Castle in sight below.

The path emerges on to the A708 at a gate and right of way signpost. Turn right here and follow the road west back to the start.


Distance 9 miles/14.5km.
Map OS Landranger 1:50,000 sheet 73.
Start BT call box in Yarrowford, 4 miles west of Selkirk on the A708 (grid ref NT 407300).
Parking Roadside layby at start with space for several vehicles.
Grading Good paths over open hillside. The track up from Yarrowford is a strenuous ascent but once at the top the rest of the route is fairly straightforward.