THE National Trust for Scotland’s Grey Mare’s Tail Nature Reserve lies on the west side of the A708, nine miles north east of Moffat.
The name is thought to be descriptive of this, the fifth highest cascade in Britain where the Tail Burn plunges 60m/200ft into a roaring linn or gorge. Robert Burns stayed nearby in 1789 by which time the Grey Mare’s Tail and the dramatic scenery around the gorge had inspired geologists and naturalists and was already a tourist attraction. Tam o’Shanter, ‘weel mounted on his grey mare, Meg’ was written a year later.
White Coomb, at 821m/2,694ft the highest hill in Dumfriesshire and a Corbett, overlooks the nature reserve. Both hill and waterfall are easily combined in a four-hour outing. On a previous visit I had climbed due north from Carrifran on a cold December day of first class visibility. This time, accompanied by the Mountain Lamb, there were neither extensive views from the summit nor any sight of the usual feral goats.
From the well-signposted car park, map ref 186145, on the west side of the Tail Burn, cross by wooden bridge to the east bank path. (The path on the left side goes directly to the base of the waterfall.) The stone-stepped tourist path clings to the steep side of the gorge, high above the burn. On our day, the cloud level was down to 1,000ft with the waterfall heard but not wholly seen. Take particular care, especially on the way down on a wet day, as there have been fatalities here in the past.
The footpath continues to Loch Skeen, the highest large natural loch in the Southern Uplands sitting at 1,750ft above sea level and home to the vendace, Britain’s rarest freshwater fish which dates back to the Ice Age. However, once above the cascades, and where the path starts to level off into the hanging valley, look out for an old drystane dyke on the far bank. The Tail Burn now has to be crossed. It may be necessary to find a crossing spot higher up, even as far as the loch, and then traverse back to the dyke.
With a path on its right hand side, the dyke heads westwards, gently ascending. At a slight dip, pass briefly by fence posts marking the northern boundary of a wooded area, but with no sign of trees on our thick-mist day. On reaching the base of Rough Craigs, go further right of the dyke to find an eroded path that zigzags up the steeper ground then leads back to the dyke.
The gradient then eases on approaching the summit, at which point the dyke suddenly turns WNW. Cross the dyke and head SSW for the short distance to the large cairn on the summit dome. Coomb is the old Scots place name for bosom. With thick clag reducing visibility to less than 100 yards, I took a compass bearing.
. Most surprisingly on such a drizzly soaking day, I met a couple on top, Julia Jackson and Geoff Davies from Cumbria, and fellow Munroists, who completed on Ben More, Mull, on 2 May, 2010. Remarkably, Geoff achieved this since becoming a Registered Blind Person.
Map Ordnance Survey map 79, Hawick & Eskdale
Distance 4 miles
Terrain Stepped path, burn crossing, then dyke-side path
Start point Grey Mare’s Tail car park off A708, map ref 186145
Time 3 hours
Nearest town Moffat
Recommended refreshment spot Tibbie Shiels Inn, St Mary’s Loch
Car park 186145
East bank path 187148
Cross burn 181152
Rough Craigs 172152
Leave dyke 164152
White Coomb 163151
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: North west