Grey Mare’s Tails and Donalds

Grey Mare's Tails

As keen followers of these ramblings will know, our usual planning process involves a quick check of the maps on a Friday evening with a glass of Chilean red for company.  Not so this time: the Brat had managed to persuade her Mother that a pre-University party wouldn’t result in the house getting trashed.  Jazz and I spotted the warning signs very early and made plans a month in advance to clear out for three days walking well out of ear-shot.  Today was the first day and we were doing a nice circuit of three Donalds starting at the Grey Mare's Tails between Moffat and Selkirk.

Approach to Loch Skeen

Loch Skeen, Mid Craig and Lochcraig Hill

Looking down on Loch Skeen

We took the steep path on the east side of the falls that quickly gets to the top of the cascades (including the ones the tourists don’t see) and followed the path to the lovely Loch Skeen.  The NTS have done their usual excellent job of path-laying and it’s an easy walk.  After the falls the scenery opens up with the day’s hills ahead of us.  Our route was anti-clockwise around the loch and then up the obvious path onto our first Donald Lochcraig Hill.  Unfortunately you need to cover the peat-hag ground around the loch first.  The climb up is pretty steep (i.e. Jazz left me behind) but the views just keep getting better.  The lunch-stop at the cairn gave a fantastic view down onto Loch Skeen a long way below.

Loch Skeen from Molls Cleuch Dod

After lunch we headed onto the next Donald: Molls Cleuch Dod – great name but an utterly boring hill from this side.  If you came up from the Talla Reservoir side it would be a tough climb given the steepness of the sides, and you’d be disappointed with the reward.  Still, it was a great afternoon with lovely clouds scurrying across the sky leaving shadows on the hills – and I wasn’t at work!  It is also my favourite part of a hillwalk: the flat.  So man+dog happily sauntered over to the high point of the day.

White Coomb beyond Loch Skeen

Feral Goats

White Coomb is the highest hill in Dumfries-shire apparently and barely a climb in this direction.  It does have steep flanks though and the descent gave my knees a bit of a thumping.  I’m not sure what I like least: the acid in legs going up, or the knee joints getting trashed on the way down.  We followed the nice squelchy path down the side of an old wall to the top of the falls.  On the way we passed a tribe 1 of feral goats that were totally unbothered by a stinking Spaniel giving them a sniff.

The only problem now was crossing the Tail Burn.  OK, it isn’t the Nile, but it is too wide for a guy like me with short legs to jump or even hop across the boulders without coming to serious wetness 2.  So it was paddling time. Let’s just say that the thermostat on Loch Skeen seems to have been stuck on “Bloody Freezing”. To encourage myself I decided to throw my boots to the other bank to leave my hands free to grab boulders on this epic crossing. 3

Suitably dried, it was an easy wander down the path back to the car with lovely views of the Moffat Water valley when I remembered to look up instead of concentrating on the uneven path.  The line of the last glacier’s debris could be easily seen on the other side.  This was a lovely walk combining great scenery with a couple of nice hills.  Despite being a major tourist stopping point, by taking the steeper path you quickly leave everyone behind and have the entire Loch Skeen area to yourself.  Thoroughly recommended.


  1. Wikipedia gives it as an alternative to boring old “herd”.
  2. Note to NTS: a set of nice stepping stones here would be greatly appreciated!
  3. Those people who know of my legendary throwing skills will be amazed to hear that the boots landed safely and together on the other bank.  I did have visions of my nice boots heading over the falls and confusing the tourists.
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