The Scottish Borders is an area just made for running: the hills are high enough to afford great views, they have the perfect gradient, and are criss-crossed by paths and drove roads which open up some brilliant routes for adventures of all sizes.
Route 1: Hamilton Hill from Peebles
Distance: 5.5 kilometres
This run has become a favourite lunchtime excursion of mine as it’s short but rewarding: you get to the top of a hill, but can be back at work within the hour. The time pressure of fitting it into the working day also helps me to push my time!
The run follows a back road out of Peebles and then climbs relatively steeply up the old drove road onto the side of Hamilton Hill. Here the view starts to open up and you climb up through the fields on the rocky and grassy path, in summer lined with gorse with its wafts of coconut scent. The last section turns steeply up the grassy hill towards the cairn and can be a real lung-buster but the views from the top are great: north to the Pentlands, east towards Dunslair Heights, southwest to the higher hills around Stobo and back south over the rooftops of Peebles. I’ve been up here in the sun and the snow, midsummer days, orange sunsets and winter nights, and the cairn at the top is always a great place to take a deep breath, get a different perspective and then feel the rush of a fast descent back into Peebles.
Route 2: Gypsy Glen and Glen Sax
Distance: 12 kilometres
The Cross Borders Drove Road up Gypsy Glen is a local favourite for runners, walkers and bikers, and for good reason as it follows a beautiful undulating ridge with great views of the surrounding hills. It’s my go-to weekend run from Peebles as I really love being up on a ridge and the perspective unfurling as you gain height. The return via Glen Sax makes for a nice circuit, although there are plenty of options to extend the route as well if your legs are still feeling fresh after the first few hills!
The route climbs out of town up towards Craig Head, which it skirts on a lovely grassy track before joining the crest of the ridge up to Kailzie Hill. After about 350m of ascent you are rewarded with a cairn and a great excuse to stop for biscuits and enjoy the views on each side and back along the ridge to Peebles. The climbing isn’t done however with another pull up to Kirkhope Law and then an often squelchy descent down to Yellow Mire from where you drop off the ridge into Glen Sax. The stream crossing at the bottom is a great reason to stop for more biscuits and then it’s a steady trot back to Haystoun along the valley.
Route 3: Soonhope and Glentress loop
Distance: 13 kilometres
This run is good for bad weather as the forest provides a degree of shelter and there are options for a shortcut home if the blizzard / torrential rain sets in! The first section of track up through the community woodland at Venlaw and towards Mailingsland Hill is pretty hard work but you are rewarded by a swooping descent down through the trees to the Shieldgreen centre. I’ve seen some amazing Fly Agaric mushrooms in the woods here!
You can escape out along the valley here if you need to, or otherwise join the Glentress black walking route for a section, up a solid climb along Tower Rig and to within sight of the mast at Dunslair Heights. The path then drops off the side of the hill on a lovely descending traverse over Middle Hill and Soonhope Craig, bringing you back to the track network above the Buzzard’s Nest car park at Glentress.
From here I like to take the wee path that drops out of the woodland through the grass straight down into the Soonhope valley. You meet the valley track at a crossroads and can stop at the handy bench to gather your remaining energy for the final run out along the valley and back to Peebles.
Route 4: Traquair to Yair on the Southern Upland Way
One of the best sections of the Southern Upland Way (in my opinion), this is a lovely ridgetop run taking in a couple of great summits. You’ll need a buddy to car share with, or to stash a bike at one end, as it’s a one-way route but well worth the extra logistics!
The route starts at Traquair with a climb through the fields and up into the woods on the well-made track. There’s some carved stones and interesting shapes burnt into the heather to look out for, as well as the delightfully-named Cheese Well. A short detour off the main path takes you up to the trigpoint at Minch Moor, which is a fine lookout over the surrounding hills (although you might wish you’d brought your bike as the bike descent from here is great fun!).
Back to the main track and your hard work is rewarded with a steady run over the rolling ridge, never too steep, taking in Hare Law, Brown Knowe and Broomy Law. The last gentle climb takes you up to the Three Brethren, three impressive cairns representing the meeting of three estates and another fine viewpoint / snack stop.
From here the path takes you a little way further along the ridge before descending through pleasant woodland above the Shorthope Burn out to Yair Bridge.