Big & Wee Queensberry

I first hiked over these hills on a Boy Scout camping trip over forty years ago. We were heading over the hills to camp above Beattock. I remember being told that Queensberry was the highest hill wholly in Dumfriesshire but found out later that that honour went to one of the Moffat hills. It certainly felt like the highest hill to me at the time with my short legs and uncomfortably heavy metal backed Bergan rucksack making me suffer for every inch of the climb.

Since then I have been up this grand hill over a dozen times from various directions. The main route is the one we will follow and it starts at Mitchellslacks farm. This is a place that has associations with the covenanting McMichael family. Several of the McMichaels were fugitives from the King’s troopers and they had many hidey-holes in these hills. It was one of these McMichaels who was freed in the desperate skirmish between the king’s soldiers and Covenanters in the Enterkin Pass.

Our route follows the track northward from Mitchellslacks to the gap between Upper Dod and The Law. Here we leave the road and head through the gap directly for the slopes to Wee Queensberry. It was on these hills that James Hogg (the famous Ettrick Shepherd) came to work after a chancy investment in Hebridean farming failed leaving him penniless. The songs writer and versifier Allan Cunningham (a contemporary of Robert Burns) walked up here with his brother all the way for Dalswinton to meet the cash strapped poet.

They met in a rough turf roofed bothy somewhere hereabouts and the Cunningham brothers supplied lunch and a wee dram while they discussed Scots poetry and song. As we climb on northwards up the longs braes of Queensberry it is not hard to imagine the hills ringing to the songs and singing from two of Scotland’s most talented bards.

The summit of the hill is a rather bouldery flat area with a huge cairn and panoramic views. Huge logs were piled here for a fire to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. I remember watching with field glasses from Thornhill as an intrepid firelighter tried to light the logs in the midst of a stormy night. In the end he had to abandon the idea and the logs lay there for several years. On another occasion I can remember it being so windy up there that we had to reverse our way up to the top of the cairn.

Burleywhag bothy lies a little north of west from the summit and is a place of fond memories of wild Hogmanay celebrations and Burns Supper revels. Our route takes a shorter way though and doesn’t visit this handy shelter. It goes over Glengowan Hill and down again to the main track back to Mitchellslacks. I remember just at this spot hearing a tremendous cracking noise one night on my way in to the bothy. It turned out to be two Billy goats having a rather savage ding dong head-butting bout.

This walk is just over 6 miles long and takes in 1900 feet of climbing. Landranger map no: 78.

Dave McFadzean