The Moffat Hills

The Moffat Hills are a range of hills in the Southern Uplands of Scotland, situated in Dumfries & Galloway, very close to the boundary of the Scottish Borders. They are grouped in a rough triangle, bordered on their southeast side by Moffat Water, and on the west-southwest side by the River Annan and River Tweed (both of which have their sources in the Moffat Hills, Annan running south to join the Solway Firth, the Tweed running north and east through the Borders, finally reaching the North Sea at Berwick-Upon-Tweed). The hills are home to some spectacularly gaunt, rugged, and wild landscapes, and a stunning range of wildlife (including peregrine falcons, feral goats, ring ouzels, occasional ospreys, and Britain’s rarest freshwater fish, the vendace). So too are the Moffat Hills home to some historic and widely-renowned sights.

Grey Mair’s Tale, its name inspired by the silver silken-sheen of this sixty-metre waterfall, is the highest fall in the UK, and leads visitors up its flanks to the captivating Loch Skeen – a big and beautiful body of water, nestled at the foot of three higher hills: Lochcraig Head, Mid Craig, and the summit of White Coomb. Ascending these, on a clear day one can enjoy breath-taking views south to the Lake District and Northumberland National Parks.

North of the town of Moffat (one of only two population centres in this area) lies the Devil’s Beef Tub: a deep, dramatic hollow formed between four hills (Great Hill, Peat Knowe, Annanhead Hill, and Ericstane Hill). The Devil’s Beef Tub, much like the ‘Beef Tub’ below Harden House, derives its name from the tradition of the local Johnstone clan, who hid their stolen cattle in the hollow during reiving times. To their enemies, the Johnstones were called ‘devils’. The site is also remembered in later history as the spot of covenanter John Hunter’s murder. Hunter was attempting to flee pursuant dragoons by running up the steep sides of the Devil’s Beef Tub, but failed. He was shot dead on the spot, and today the site of his death is marked by a monument on the hillside opposite. Its inscription reads: “On the hillside opposite, John Hunter Covenanter was shot by Douglas’s Dragoons, 1685. His grave is in Tweedsmuir Kirkyard.”

Back toward the northeast of the Moffat Hills runs St. Mary’s Loch. Popular with windsurfers and fishers alike, at its southern end is Loch of the Lowes (at the point where the two lochs almost join there is a monument to James Hogg, ‘the Ettrick Shepherd’), and to its west is Megget Reservoir, where nearby can be found the Megget Stone (an ancient and mysterious standing stone, probably used as a meeting point). Further to the west of the Megget Reservoir is another, called Fruid; in recent times, two Bronze Age roundhouses were excavated there, and on the road between Tweedsmuir (the only other population centre here) and Fruid Reservoir, there are numerous other standing stones.

The Moffat Hills also mark the tip of the Annandale Valley, which stretches roughly from Moffat to the Solway. It was once a major valley of the West March, held in early times by the Bruces, Lords of Annandale, and possessing a bloody history, including battles between the Johnstones and Maxwells.

‘It looks as if four hills were laying their heads together, to shut out daylight from the dark hollow space between them. A damned deep, black, blackguard-looking abyss of a hole it is.’
- Excerpt from Redgauntlet 1824 by Sir Walter Scott, in
reference to the Devil’s Beef Tub