Walk: Grey Mare's Tail, Dumfries and Galloway

High in the Scottish hills Donald Grieg explores a valley that becomes a snow-clad wonderland in winter, complete with an frozen waterfall cleaving through its middle

9th January 2017
Difficulty
Medium
Distance
5 miles
Duration
3 hours

The Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve lies on the eastern edge of Dumfries and Galloway,  near the boundary with the Scottish Borders. Nearby Moffat, 10 miles to the west, was the first ‘Walkers are welcome’ town in Scotland and makes the perfect base for year-round exploration of the peaks and valleys of the Southern Uplands. 

This easy-to-follow path from the car park 200m up the side of the Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall to Loch Skeen at 500m is a personal favourite, especially in winter when the chances are you might have it all to yourself. It’s full of geological, wildlife and archaeological interest and delivers superb views. Check the forecast before setting out and take care on the path – it’s narrow in parts and the drops are precipitous. Sheep and feral goats graze the hillsides so dogs are best kept on leads.

1. FROZEN FALLS

Cross the bridge over the Tail Burn to the viewing area, from where the top of the falls can be seen cascading from a hanging valley for the initial drop, the first of several that make up its 60m height. The falls are iconic, especially for the ice climbers who come to scale them when the cascades freeze (the last time, in 2010, temperatures reached -22°C). To have a go yourself you need Mountain Instructor accreditation, but the hillside path makes a good vantage point for watching the climber’s daring deeds.

The view also inspired Sir Walter Scott to pen these lines:

Where deep deep down
and far within

Toils with the rocks
the roaring linn

Then issuing forth
one foamy wave

And wheeling round
the giant’s grave

White as the snowy charger’s tail

Drives down the pass
of Moffatdale.

Behind the viewing area lies a prehistoric bank popularly known as the Giant’s Grave. Constructed around 2,000 years ago, it may once have served as a defence or a site for rituals. Climb the steps next to the viewing area and follow the path as it ascends beyond the top of the waterfall. 

A walker takes in the fascinating frozen landscape of Grey’s Mare Tail waterfall in winter

2. THE WILDLIFE OF WHITE COOMBE

Once the path rounds the hillside it follows the burn and reveals Loch Skeen, the highest natural loch in the Southern Uplands, in all its serene glory, with the peak of White Coomb to the west. The rocky outcrops here make a good spot for an impromptu picnic.

Return to the car park by the same path, enjoying ever expanding views along Moffat Water. Keep an eye open for peregrine, small herds of shagggy goats and possibly even golden eagle. 

3. DOB'S LIN

Back at the car park, make the most of a day out by turning
left along the road and dropping down the hillside into Dob’s Linn, a globally important site for its tiny graptolite fossils, marine animals that lived over 400 million years ago. The area takes its name from Halbert Dobson, a Covenanter who took refuge here during the ‘Killing Time’ in the 17th century, a period of conflict between Presbyterian Covenanters and the government forces of Kings Charles II and James VII. From here you can retrace your steps to the falls.

Photo credit: Alamy

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