Walking the Eildon Hills

Over the years we’ve seen the Eildon Hills from so many directions, but we’d never actually been up them. But last week, having our first holiday in two years up in the bonnie Scottish Borders we walked up them from Melrose, using the St Cuthbert’s Way for the first part of the walk.

Eildon Wester

Long before the Romans retreated behind Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman Empire extended up to the Antonine Wall, and just by present-day Melrose, was the Roman fort and settlement of Trimontium – taking its Latin name from the three dramatic tops of the Eildons.

Eildon North

If you’ve ever read Rosemary Sutcliff’s wonderful novel The Eagle of the Ninth, set here after the Romans had gone, all of this would seem very familiar. If you haven’t then do seek it out for some escapist reading. And there’s a splendid BBC dramatisation from the 1970s, out on DVD – we enjoyed it before we went. And a rather good modern film version just entitled The Eagle.

Eildon Mid

And, of course, you really should walk all of the hills in one go. There is an initial steep bit of the St Cuthbert’s Way, first up a seemingly mountainous flight of wooden steps, then through gentle pasture land with herds of contented cows, before you emerge on to the open hill.

Eildon Mid

We tackled Eildon Mid Hill first – a steep and rocky path, but with wonderful all round views across the Borders from the top. Mid Hill is the highest summit and the hardest, so best to get it over with first.

Siller Stane

We descended back to St Cuthbert’s Way and followed it for a while through an absolutely beautiful beech wood, passing the glacial erratic boulder known as the Siller Stane (Silver Stone), hidden in the bracken a few yards east of the path. Hard to find out much about it, but it must bear the legends of hidden money – and curiously while most of the stones around were well-lichened, this one was almost bare of lichen.

View from Eildon Hill North

We followed the beech wood round, such was our delight in it, doing a full circuit of the smallest of the Eildons, Eildon Wester Hill, which we then climbed. Another grand view point and an easy ascent.

Eildon Mid Hill and Eildon Hill North

Then a tramp through heather moorland and trees and the broad path to Eildon Hill North, where the Romans had a fort and a signal station – a wooden tower which must have looked very dramatic when seen from below. There’s not much archaeology to see – though the fort the Romans re-occupied dates back to the Bronze Age. Another grand top with splendid views.

Top of Eildon Mid Hill

Tradition has it that the hill is hollow and that King Arthur and his knights sleep within – very similar to the tales told of Glastonbury Tor and Alderley Edge. Thomas the Rhymer supposedly went inside.

In the Beech Wood

In the days when our ancestors held the land as sacred, it is likely that the three hills were held to be sacred places. Many of the springs and wells around them, now dedicated to Christian saints were once probably sites of pagan worship.

View from Eildon Wester Hill
The Steep Wooden Steps on the way down
Eildon Wester Hill
Wester and North Hills

(c) J and A Bainbridge

By John Bainbridge

Rambler, hillwalker, stravaiger and trespasser, access campaigner. Novelist writing historical and period crime fiction.

19 comments

  1. As you say, these hills are distinctive from many directions. You were lucky with the views.
    My last visit to Melrose was in 2014 on the occasion of commencing St. Cuthbert’s Way. A perfect evening unfortunately changed into a dismal, rainy morning. We trudged up those steps to the col but didn’t summit any of the hills as visibility was zero. So it is good to see your photos, thanks.

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  2. Those were some of my mother’s favourite Scottish hills (she loved the borders). I haven’t don’t them yet but would like to. The only visit we made to Melrose had horrendous weather – it was hardly fit to get out of the car, never mind do the hills.

    Interesting to hear about the Roman Fort named after them.

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      1. Richard’s itching to get to the border country of Scotland – has been for years. Now I’m not Munroing etc. we could go really. It would be nice to go somewhere quieter than the Lakes

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      2. There are some good hills – old favourites of mine are the Broughton Heights and Cademuir Hill. Has the advantage that it’s not far to drive from Cumbria,

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      3. Peebles – just over an hour past Carlisle if you take the Moffat to Broughton back road,

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      4. We’ve stayed at Biggar and Peebles in the past. This time we stayed at Stow, just north of Galashiels in a very modestly priced one bedroom cottage.

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  3. We missed out on these fine looking hills when we walked a truncated version of St Cuthbert’s Way. Due to family commitments we didn’t have enough time to complete the whole route and had to start the walk at Morebattle.

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  4. Apologies that I missed this post, John. I’m a bit in and out of the blogsphere at the moment because we’re decorating the house from top to bottom in readiness to put it on the market. It’s a hard task! But the Eildon’s look wonderfully enticing, and with the legends and history associated with them they must have been so atmospheric to walk among. I love the look of the Beech Wood, and that your route took in part of St Cuthbert’s Way, which I hope to do one day, this looks to have been another perfect walk. Great photos too, as always.

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