The Cauldstane Slap and Cross Borders Drove Road
Start location: A70 at Little Vantage car park (NT 101 628)
End location: Road end, Standalane, Peebles (NT 245 416)
Geographical area: Lothian and Borders
Path Type: Drove Road
Path distance: 37km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians, Suitable for Bikes, Suitable for horses
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Newsflash: 20th May 2020 was the date arranged for a guided walk (now postponed until next year) over the Cauldstane Slap as part of the Walks Programme arranged by ScotWays for its members. In 2020, ScotWays celebrates its 175th Anniversary and as its origins lie in disputes about access to the Pentlands, appropriately enough this walk was jointly organised by Friends of the Pentlands and ScotWays. Other historic routes featured include the Thieves Road (Feshiebridge), the Stoneymollan Road, the Herring Road, the Old Road by Macduff's Cross and the Spout of Ballochleam. If you're not yet a ScotWays member, please consider joining up as membership helps support the Heritage Paths project; it'll be great to see you on the walks when we're all back out and about!
Southwest of Little Vantage* (A70), a signpost indicates the route to West Linton. The path descends to cross the Water of Leith (footbridge), then climbs gradually to the Cauldstane Slap, the pass between West Cairn and East Cairn Hills. 1km south of the pass, the path becomes a track which goes down to Baddinsgill Reservoir, from the south end of which a road continues down to West Linton, first crossing an old Roman Road later used as the road to Biggar.
From West Linton, take the B7059 southeast by Broomlee to the Moffat (A701) road, cross and go along the adjacent farm road southwest for 800m. Then go uphill by Romanno House Farm and southeast over the hill to Fingland Burn by a broad grassy track. On the south of Green Knowe at NT186462 take the lower track and at NT188461 (where a track leads round the hill to Fingland) take the footpath through a gate into the forest, across the stream and east through the forest to Greenside (or Courhope). From there go uphill and in about 270m leave the main track by taking the right-hand fork to cross a forest ride and continue up over the hill, descending to Upper and then (along the Old Post Road) to Nether Stewarton. From there go east to the Lyne road and then south along it for about 500m, then turn left on the road to Upper Kidston. There, take a left to cross the stream and go round north and east of Hamilton Hill to a broad track leading to Peebles.
This route is almost entirely accessible to horse riders and cyclists as most of it forms part of the South of Scotland Countryside Trails (SoSCT) network. The fence in the middle of the Cauldstane Slap marks a local authority boundary and, although there is a gate, from that point north the route is less accessible. However improvements have been made to this section's accessibility, so for the latest information visit the SoSCT website.
The Cross Borders Drove Road continues as an SoSCT promoted trail using parts of the Gypsy Glen Drove Road and the Minchmoor Track.
*It is now feasible to reach the start of the walk at Little Vantage from Kirknewton. Head south from Kirknewton along the Leyden Road under the railway bridge and past Latch Farm. After about a mile and a half, there is a small car park on right for Selm Muir Wood. A prominent fingerpost indicates the way to the Thieves Road and West Linton. Taking the track into the forest for 500m, turn left at a fingerpost, leaving the edge of wood and into a field. The farm track first drops down and then rises to Leyden Farm, where you will see the Hilly Coo Wigwams. Bear right around the farm complex, turn right (NT100633) up the waymarked track past a modern house and into a large field. Take track up and across a field to a gate with guide post (NT101638). Follow waymarked route around small disused quarry and across rough grassland to the Little Vantage car park.
OS Landranger 65 (Falkirk & West Lothian), 72 (Upper Clyde Valley) and 73 (Peebles, Galashiels & surrounding area)
Roy's map of 1755 calls the Cauldstane Slap route the Road to Queensferry. It is an old drove road, cattle were driven from Falkirk and north of there, down through West Linton continuing to Peebles and St Mary's Loch, eventually to England. It is likely that James IV travelled this path in November of 1490 after buying a horse at Linlithgow.
In The Drove Roads of Scotland, Haldane shows it as being the only route cattle were taken from north of the central belt south. While it is unlikely to be the sole route, it must have been of considerably importance and surely must have had tens of thousands of cattle travelling across it every year. In the reverse direction, sheep from the Linton markets were driven to the Highlands, probably about 30,000 annually.
It is also known, as many drove roads are, as the Thief's Road as it must have been used by a fair number of cattle thieves as well as legitimate traders. As late as 1600 there is a record of a party of Scotts and Armstrongs stealing 80 cattle and taking them southwards along this path, leaving several dead and wounded in their wake.
In early June 1684, Colstouneslope (or Cairnehill) is given as the location of a field Coventicle, the preacher thought likely to be James Renwick. The isolation of shire boundary sites such as this one is said to have made them especially favoured for field preaching. The actual location may been at Wolf Craigs which lies above the Baddinsgill Burn at the southern extent of West Cairn Hill. Perhaps this event was the inspiration behind the opening chapter of John Buchan's 1915 book Salute to Adventurers, for he places its first encounter with the "crazed prophet" Muckle John Gib at the Cauldstaneslap in 1685.
A "slap" is a pass, the root of which can be seen in the Slug Road in Aberdeenshire and the Slochd on the A9 south of Inverness. Cauldstane probably refers to the wind that can whip over the pass and when walked it feels like a very remote and quiet place.
As the route passes Harperrig Reservoir, the ruins of Cairns Castle may be seen at the far end. This once belonged to Sir George Crichton, Earl of Caithness, who charged himself with guarding and warding the Cauldstane Pass through the Pentland Hills.
The route also passes Medwyn House (east of the West Linton golf course). Medwyn House stands on the former site of Bridgehouse Inn, which was a coach inn in the old days. The innkeeper was friendly with Robert Burns, who twice came to the inn without finding his friend present. Burns scratched the following into a window pane: "Honest Graham, aye the same, never to be found at hame".