Lowther Hills

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The Dalveen Pass from Capel Hill - Upper Dalveen House in the dale catching the sunlight

The Lowther Hills are an extensive area of hill country in the Southern Uplands, largely within Dumfriesshire but spreading also into Lanarkshire around the village of Leadhills and the Daer Reservoir. Within these hills are sub ranges of hills in which go under their own local names. The Lowthers form a roughly rhomboidal or lozenge shape on the map with the acute angles to north and south.

The range has river valleys along its boundaries to north east (Clydesdale) and south-west (Nithsdale) which carry the two largest arterial routes northwards into the west side of the Central Belt of Scotland. A string of small towns have long since developed along these routes..

North-east and south-west boundaries

It is some 20 miles across the rhomboid as the crow flies from the town of Sanquhar just to the west of the Lowthers to the towns of Beattock and Moffat on the east and some 18 miles from the town of Thornhill near the southern apex to Abington near the northern one apex. Sanquhar and Thornhill stand on the River Nith, Moffat on the River Annan and Abington on the River Clyde.

Annandale and Clydesdale taken together, form a corridor between the Lowther Hills and the Moffat Hills (which lie to the east.). This corridor between the hills carries the main route running northwards towards Glasgow on its west side. It carries both the West Coast railway line and the M74 motorway, and has been the main route north since ancient times.

Nithsdale to the west of the Lowthers carries both the A76 road and the rail line from Dumfries to Kilmarnock. The next range of hills to the west beyond the River Nith is the Carsphairn and Scaur Hills

The Dalveen Pass from Cold Moss

North-west and south-east boundaries

The north-west boundary of the hills runs up the Crawick Water in a north easterly direction from where the Crawick Water runs into the River Nith. This boundary follows the B740 road through Crawfordjohn and connects to the old trunk road north which was used before the M74 was built on its present route. North of the B740 the hills gradually fizzle out into the Central Lowlands though Tinto Hill (2,320 feet) is an outlier seven miles north of Abington.

The south-east boundary of the hills is formed by the Forest of Ae which is one of the largest forests in Britain, at 25,000 acres. A continuous band of trees runs, again in a north-easterly direction, from Auldgirth on the River Nith (five miles south of Thornhill), for some 16 miles until it meets the M74 motorway six miles north of Beattock. South of the Forest is the plain that surrounds the town of Dumfries.

Hill passes

Heading north on the ancient bridle path to the Enterkin Pass
There are three passes running in a north easterly direction diagonally through the Lowthers linking the A76 trunk road to the M74 motorway.

Dalveen Pass

Dalveen Pass is the most southerly and the longest. It runs from Carronbridge on the A76 just north of Thornhill to Elvanfoot near the M74 and carries the A702 trunk road. The road passes near the village of Durisdeer en route and reaches a height of 350 metres at the top of the pass.

Mennock Pass

The Mennock Pass carries the B797 which runs from the small village of Mennock on the A76 to Abington near the M74, passing through the villages of Wanlockhead and Leadhills. The B797 reaches to a height of 1,352 feet as it leaves Wanlockhead.

Roman Fortlet from Durisdeer Rig

Crawick Pass

Crawick Pass is the most northerly of the three passes and carries the B740 from Crawick to Crawfordjohn and on to the M74. The Crawick is the shortest of the three passes without the steep ascents and overarching hills that characterise the other two. It is also the lowest of the three reaching a maximum height of 945 feet.

Ancient passes

There was another pass from Durisdeer through to Wanlockhead called the Enterkin Pass which was an old pack horse route through the hills from Dumfries to Glasgow. It has been argued by H.R.G. Inglis (1924)[1] that this route was used mainly for extracting lead to the Solway coast and was never viable as a main route north because of its height. There is no road through there now though there is a track for walkers into the centre of the hills. The Enterkin Pass was the location of a 1684 Covenanter ambush of a party of Dragoons during the The Killing Time|Killing Time[2][3]

Durisdeer Hills from the A702

The Romans built a road through from their fortlet near Durisdeer[4] on a route which takes a more direct route to the head of the pass than is offered by the Dalveen Pass. Inglis calls this route Well Path and he considers this to have been on the main pilgrimage route from Edinburgh to Whithorn[5] and one of the main ancient routes northwards through the Southern Uplands.

Durisdeer and its church

The village of Durisdeer sits at some distance from the A702 nestling tightly into the foot of Durisdeer Hill at the bottom of the pass through the hills that the Romans used. The Duke of Buccleuch, the largest private landowner in Britain,[6] owns much of the land for many miles around this area and has a castle at Drumlanrig on the west bank of the River Nith some 3 miles north of Thornhill. In the church at Durisdeer[7] there is a mausoleum to the first Duke of Buccleuch complete with marble statues[8] of him and his wife Mary dating from 1713 though there has been a church on this site since mediæval times.

Source of the Clyde

Source of the River Clyde at Glenochar

On the approach Elvanfoot on the A702 stands an apparently insignificant farmhouse by the roadside called Glenochar. Two things of interest are to be found close by here though. Just to the north, there is Glenochar Bastle and Fermtoun[9] a 17th-century settlement and fortified house. The archaeological dig which revealed this was the winner of the 1997 Pitt Rivers Award for amateur Archaeologists. Also, just to the south is the source of the River Clyde[10] which flows north through Lanarkshire and passes through the City of Glasgow. Where the Daer and Potrail Waters meet the River Clyde is born. The Daer Water has its head waters near Queensberry Hill and it flows through Daer Reservoir before it meets the Potrail. The head waters of the Potrail are on the north east side of Durisdeer Hill.

God's Treasure House in Scotland

Two villages 1,500 feet up in a desolate hillside in the Southern Uplands require some explanation. This area became known as "God's Treasure House in Scotland" because of the rich variety of minerals to be found here - especially some of the world's purest gold (22.8 carats) which was used in the manufacture of the Scottish Crown Jewels[11] - dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. The name "Leadhills" testifies to the fact that this was also a lead mining area and there is a lead mining museum[12] in Wanlockhead. Leadhills had the oldest subscription library in the UK and was the birthplace of the 18th century poet Allan Ramsay whose son, also named Allan Ramsay was the leading portrait painter in Britain in the mid 18th century. There is also the Leadhills & Wanlockhead Railway.[13]

Hill walking

For the hill walker the Lowther Hills would be taken to mean the string of tops lying between the Dalveen Pass and the Mennock Pass and running south eastward from near Elvanfoot over Lousie Wood Hill (2,028 feet), White Law (1,955 feet), Dun Law (2,221 feet), Dungrain Law (2,195 feet), Peden Head, Green Lowther (2,402 feet), Lowther Hill (2,379 feet), East Mount Lowther (2,070 feet), Thirstane Hill (1,913 feet) and Steygail (1,880 feet) which dominates the steepest part of the Dalveen Pass on its northern side. Green Lowther is the highest hill in the whole Lowther Hills area and like Lowther Hill it has a Civil Aviation Authority aircraft tracking station on top of it. The huge white ball on the top of Lowther Hill can be seen from many miles away in all directions. The Southern Upland Way passes over the top of Lowther Hill.[14]

The Durisdeer Hills lie to the south east of the Dalveen Pass, they offer views into the Dalveen Pass and to the Lowther Hills beyond and for hill walkers they merge into the Queensberry Hills which lie between them and the Forest of Ae. Mitchellslacks, on the northern edge of the Forest Ae, and which provides access to Queensberry Hill, along with nearby Locherben, were the homes of the Harknesses involved in the Covenanter ambush.

Lowther Hills from Scaw'd Law in the Durisdeer Hills. Lowther Hill left of the ridge and Cold Moss in front, Green Lowther middle, Dun Law one third in from right and Lousie Wood Law on right. Well Hill is the nearer hill

Outside links


  • Andrew K.M. and Thrippleton A.A. (1972) The Southern Uplands. The Scottish Mountaineering Trust sbn 901516 57 0
  • Turnbull, Ronald (1999) Walking the Lowther Hills. Cicerone Press ISBN 1-85284-275-X
  • Marsh, Terry (1988) On Foot in Southern Scotland. Devon: A David and Charles Book ISBN 0-7153-0161-8
  • Williams, David (1989) A Guide to the Southern Upland Way. London: A Constable Guide ISBN 0-09-467910-X
  • Prentice, Tom (1995) 25 Walks - Dumfries and Galloway Edinburgh HMSO ISBN 0-11-495217-5