What is there to do?
You will love to stay beside St Mary’s Loch at Cappercleuch if you like gorgeous scenery, peaceful walks, spotting wildlife, watching the dark night sky, fishing, kayaking, cycling, driving or motorcycling on relatively quiet roads… or just reading your book!
You won’t find street lights, club venues, jet-skis or fast food outlets. Those things may be great in their place but that place probably isn’t St Mary’s Loch!
Of course, if all this countryside gets too much, it’s less than an hours drive to the “park and ride” on the outskirts of Edinburgh if you want to spend some time in the capital. Drive all the way into the city by all means but be prepared for some pricey parking! The Borders Railway is another alternative and attractive way to get into the Centre of Edinburgh.
At or near St Mary’s Loch
Walks include the ring of the Loch circular which incorporates a short section of the Southern Upland Way along the south shore. This walk effectively starts at your front gate. The “Grey Mare’s tail” is a scenic waterfall that’s 5 miles along the road where you can walk up to the tiny Loch Skeen, surrounded by hills that are reminiscent of Highland mountains. You can be completely free-form if you want as you can walk pretty much anywhere in the hills around here without restriction. Get properly togged up, make sure you have the relevant Ordnance Survey map (or app) and off you go. Do be aware that the early part of the year is lambing time. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code sets out the “rules”. Here’s some information about specific detailed walks:
- walkhighlands.co.uk : check out the Scottish Borders on their site (and also the Moffat area of Dumfries and Galloway) for walks close to St Mary’s Loch.
- Short Walks on the Southern Uplands Way : download free here (costs £2.50 to buy a paper copy)
Looking out of the bedroom window you will often see an osprey fishing on the loch. Golden eagles were reintroduced to the Borders in 2018 so keep your eyes peeled! Buzzards are so common everywhere these days that they risk not being seen as special but their soaring flight and their ability to hover almost as well as the Kestrel are still worth watching. Peregrine falcons can be seen over the Grey Mare’s Tail and wild goats are in the same area. If you see an enormous crow it will likely be a raven. We have a red squirrel that visits the garden from time to time and there are usually pheasants there too. A tawny owl sometimes perches on the old telegraph pole in front of the house. Otters have been seen around the loch where there are also many different types of ducks, grebes and divers. Whooper swans migrate to the loch in winter (they come all the way from Iceland). Looking up to the hill behind the cottage a red fox was seen, in full flight with his tail streaming out behind him (not welcomed by the farmers but a fine sight)! The roe deer graze the scrub on the same hill and are reputed to swim in the loch.
Hares come down from the hill and one sometimes does a circuit of the village hall! We spotted a white mountain hare on Cappercleuch Law behind the house this year (2022). We have seen lizards and slow worms, both common in the area. Adders are occasionally seen but you are probably more likely to find one dead on the road than to spot a live one!
The St Mary’s Loch Angling Club looks after the fishing in the loch itself and in the adjacent Loch O’ the Lowes (rhymes with cows and often just called “the wee loch”). We can give you use of a free fishing permit. The club also rents out boats. Huge pike are regularly caught but there are also brown trout, perch and eels. Sometimes salmon will come into the loch, though they are not a regular catch. If you want river fishing then the Tweed is, of course, world famous for salmon – nearest point is just 20 minutes drive away. The FishPal site gives useful information about the Tweed but their page relating to St Mary’s Loch was way out of date last time we looked. Contact should be made directly with the Lochkeepers before fishing: 07412659569 – John Fri,Sat,Sun 07414591455 – Karen Mon,Tues,Wed,Thu.
The St Mary’s Loch Sailing Club would be the first point of contact if you want to find out about sailing on the loch. Their site does refer to temporary memberships but direct contact well in advance would be advisable.
If you have your own small craft e.g. canoe or kayak then you can launch from the shore just down from the cottage. We can provide locked garage space to keep things safe if you are bringing your own. There are now kayaks and stand up paddle boards for hire at the Loch of the Lowes (which adjoins St Mary’s Loch).
Activities in the wider area
There are free trails at Innerleithen (20 minutes drive) and Glentress (25 mins) in the Tweed valley. If you are serious about the sport you will almost certainly already know of these locations as they regularly host international level events. However, there are also trails for all abilities. If you don’t bring your own bikes they can be hired from Alpine Bikes. You can even take a course at Ridelines to improve your skills, kids level right up to total bonkers adult level! You an also “Go Ape” at Glentress.
Abbeys and Historic Houses:
Where do we start! Well, the nearest, oldest and most significant big hoose in the area is Traquair House which is about a 20 min drive. The maze at the back knocks Hampton Court’s into a cocked hat (in my opinion)! Here’s a list of significant historic attractions with links to their Websites. Nearest first:
- Bowhill House – much much more than just a house
- Abbotsford House – home of Sir Walter Scott, good restaurant
- Melrose Abbey – and a lovely little town
- Dryburgh Abbey – Part of it operates as a hotel
- Jedburgh Abbey – a Scottish Tourist Board 5* attraction
- Kelso Abbey – and attractive market town
- Floors Castle – biggest in Scotland
All these attractions are heading east from St Mary’s Loch. If you are in the area for a while it’s worth making a trip in that direction to appreciate the huge changes of landscape in the Borders. Going all the way to the east coast is quite a long drive but the roads are extremely quiet (enjoyable motorbike run) and the scenic coast (e.g. St Abbs) is beautiful.
Dawyck Botanic Arboretum:
Dawyck botanic gardens is the tree specialist arm of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (Dawyck is pronounced Doik … like a young ruffian with a letter D in front). If you like trees even a little you will love this place. These are not just trees, they are TREES! Nice cafe too.
Samye Ling Buddhist Monastery:
Save yourself the plane fare to Tibet and come to Samye Ling Monastery in the Scottish Borders! The drive itself is a delightful and perhaps spiritual journey! The monastery has been here for more than 50 years. This is not some kind of recreation (unintended Buddhist pun) in the Disney style. It’s the real thing. However you do not need to be a Buddhist to visit and sample the spirituality, the beautiful setting, the extraordinary buildings, the tea, the rugs. The monastery runs a number of different courses such as meditation, mindfulness and other topics related to the philosophies and religion of Buddhism.
Walking with Alpacas!
Looking for something completely different? How about going for a trek with a group of Alpacas? Velvet Hall Alpacas get fantastic feedback and are very near Innerleithen in the Tweed valley, about 20 minutes away by car.
A general visitor guide to the Ettrick and Yarrow valleys is available to download. (St Mary’s Loch is in the Yarrow valley.)