Start location: A707/A708 junction, Philiphaugh, Selkirk (NT 457 287)
End location: B709, Traquair (NT 330 346)
Geographical area: Lothian and Borders
Path Type: Rural Path, Medieval Road, Drove Road
Path distance: 16km
Accessibility info: Suitable for pedestrians
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At the junction of the A707 and A708 (NT457287), a roadside wooden post and sign, reading "Philiphaugh Walks", points northwest across the road and into the track, tarred initially, towards Philiphaugh Farm. After some 300m, there is a car park on the right, where there is an information board with a map, and a white-on-brown sign reading "corbielinn. 3 brethren". This route is marked by yellow arrows on subsequent waymarker posts. A stony Land-Rover track leads up through woods and eventually into open ground above. After almost 2km, a small reservoir is passed at NT442299 and the route traverses an area of stones and rubble where the burn has flooded, the onward route - more of a quad-bike track now and eventually only a pedestrian path - being on the north side. Approaching the burn junction at NT434304, the path veers away from the burn and more to the north, heading directly for the Three Brethren, now in direct view. This is at odds with the line on the map, which runs more to the west, by-passing the summit by some 300m. However, the line as described is the stronger and more obvious, the objective for the modern user undoubtedly being the three distinctive cairns. The surroundings are open heather moorland, and anyone wishing to follow the mapped line could easily do so. Approaching the cairns, there is a fence, easily crossed by a stile. The route westward is now part of the Southern Upland Wayand is waymarked.
Alternatively, start on the A708 at Yarrowford (NT407300). Ascend northwest along the line of the Minchmoor Road, joining the above route where it enters the forest just before Hare Law (9.8km). This Yarrowford variant of the Minchmoor Track also forms part of the Cross Borders Drove Road promoted by South of Scotland Countryside Trails (SoSCT) - along with part of the Gypsy Glen Drove Road and the route through the Cauldstane Slap - which means this section at least should be accessible to horse-riders.
The Minchmoor Track is one of the oldest paths in Scotland and one of the best candidates for a pre-Roman route. While firm evidence in support of the Minchmoor as a Pictish road has yet to be unearthed, the sheer age of the road is demonstrated in particular by the defensive earthworks (including the ancient Catrail and Wallace's Trench) passed along the way.
At least three variants of the route have been claimed - the oldest is said to have run over the shoulder of Peat Law and across Linglee Hill. That route was replaced by that which runs up from Philiphaugh and is described here, although it should be noted that the old route did not run directly by the Three Brethren. In its turn the Philiphaugh route was replaced by that up from Yarrowford, which is labelled as Minchmoor Road by the OS at least as far back as their 1st edition 6" mapping. This last variant is the only one shown on Roy's mapping of Lowland Scotland (1752-1755); it is marked as road from Peebles to Selkirk.
What we know for sure is that the route across the Minch Moor was the main Borders highway between east and west via Peebles into the medieval era. It was mentioned by Edward I in his Itinerary and referred to in the State Documents of 1505 when a man was hired to keep the road free from robbers for the eight days around the Roxburgh Fair on 5th August. In 1645, the Marquess of Montrose is thought to have retreated along the Minchmoor track to Peebles, after his defeat by the Covenanter army at the Battle of Philiphaugh.
Two extensive defensive barriers are passed along this route - one called Wallace's Trench and the other the Catrail. Wallace's Trench is an earthen breastwork from 4 to 6 feet high which extends directly across the road, leading to a marshy area in the north and a steep hill to the south. A shallow trench for water drainage on its eastern side provides evidence that the Trench was erected to defend against a western invader. Further along the route to the east is the Catrail, a massive earthwork barrier, which at one time extended some 50 miles north and south. Evidence here suggests the Catrail was created to defend against a massive eastern force. Whether there is any connection between Wallace's Road and the Catrail is entirely hypothetical, however it is reasonable to assume this road was a very important route in ancient times and that it was necessary to defend at two points in history against invading forces.
The route has been used for all manner of purposes in the ensuing centuries and is still marked in part as an Old Drove Road on the OS maps. Its contemporary importance as a recreational route can be traced back for over 80 years, for it was just south of the Minchmoor Track at Broadmeadows that the Scottish Youth Hostel Association opened its first building in 1931. The hostel is now sadly closed, but it is still passed by a signposted right of way. Today, the Southern Upland Way follows much of the Minchmoor Track's general line, but those in the know will be able to spot where the modern route has deviated from its predecessor.