This is a relaxing walk that will take about an hour and a half. You follow a well-made track up the valley along the side of Gameshope Burn to an Old Shepherd’s cottage. After the bothy the path deteriorated and you will have to negotiate bogs and boulders should you wish to go further.
Park and start
Park at the end of Talla reservoir, just before the steep road (Talla Linn Foots), on the grassy verge. The walk starts as you pass through the pedestrian gate at the bottom of the valley. There is an information point inside the gate, showing various points of interest.
The footpath follows the Gameshope burn, and there are spectacular views as you make your way up the valley. The path is generally in good condition, but in some sections, water runs over the path, and there are some rocks and potholes to negotiate. As sections are tarmacked, it can be very slippy underfoot in the winter.
Ice Age History
This valley was under ice during the last ice age and as you look up the valley you will see the “U” shaped sides, typical of glaciation. Some of the rocks on the sides of the path also have scratch marks on them, that would have been made by rocks carried down the slope in the bottom of the glacier. You will also notice that the hills are rounded, as the glacier would have covered them completely. The river has also done some erosion on the landscape, and about halfway up the valley you will notice small round pockets cut into the rock at the side of the burn. When the burn is in spate, this will have been caused by gravel and grit carried by currents, grinding the rocks within the water.
The Dam at Talla
The path is tarmacked in places, as stones for the building of the dam at Talla were quarried from here in the early 1900s. There was a railway running the whole north side of Talla reservoir to take the stone to the dam. Some of the quarries can still be seen in Gameshope with piles of whinstone rocks, still in situ, that were ultimately not required during the construction of the dam. If you look carefully at some of the rocks on the top side of the path you will see some holes that were drilled to contain dynamite during quarrying. It is likely that the rocks were transported down the valley to the railway by horse drawn wooden sledges. Once the dam was completed, the railway was removed, and the track bed used as the route of the present vehicular road.
The old Shepherd’s cottage at Gameshope
Now managed by the Mountain Bothy Association, and is free to stay in overnight. The cottage was formerly owned by the Anderson family, and was bequeathed to the Bothy Association. To reach the bothy, you have to wade across the burn, which is not advisable when the water level is high. For centuries Talla and Gameshope was an upland Sheep farm. There used to be 6 full time shepherd’s working here, and Gameshope was home to one or two of these men, with their families. Gameshope was purchased by Scottish Borders Trust in 2013, and all the sheep have been removed.
Just beyond the bothy, past the farm shed, there is a rocky natural structure, that appears from a distance to resemble a stony fortress. Is this the site of Gameshope Castle?
In the hills behind Gameshope Castle is Pedden’s Pulpit. Grid reference: NT137183. Peden’s pulpit is a natural stone and is where Propehet Peden preached to his congregation of local covenanters, hidden from Claverhouses’s men. If you stand on top of the “pulpit’ it is easy to imagine the congregation of local covenanters gathered below, listening to his sermon.
Plans for the Area
Gameshope valley and the surrounding hills are particularly special because they offer a rare opportunity for Scottish Borders Trust to restore a large area of hills and upland valleys to their natural state providing habitats extensive enough to be more sustainable, in contrast to isolated areas of conservation found elsewhere. At its southern end the property borders both the Trust’s Carrifran Wildwood and the National Trust for Scotland’s extensive Grey Mare’s Tail Estate.
Borders Forest Trust plan to restore many of the native habitats that have been lost from this valley and are currently planting 300 to 400 hectares of native woodlands. They will leave other areas open, and regenerate blanket bogs and montane heaths.
Ancient Yew Bow found at
Gameshope in 1991
In 1991, a hiker found a bow made of yew near to the source of Gameshope Burn. When carbon dated, the bow known as Rotten Bottom Bow was estimated to date back as far as between 4040 BC to 3840 BC. The bow is now held at the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, but a replica is currently on display at Moffat Museum. Given the proximity of the Gameshope site to Tweedsmuir, who knows how many more finds lie undiscovered in that solitary Glen? Perhaps another example may lie in the boggy ground nearer to Tweedsmuir waiting to be uncovered?
Peden’s Pulpit and The Covenanters
In 1637, Charles I ordered the Scottish Church to use the English prayer book. Riots occurred in protest to this, and in 1638, a National Covenant was drawn up by Archibald Johnson, who was a lawyer born in Moffat. The National Covenant opposed the interference of Stuart Monarchs in the Scottish Presbyterian Church and resisted any attempt to introduce Catholicism to Scotland. Charles 1 was executed in 1649, and the country is ruled by Cromwell’s parliament.
In 1649, Charles II was required to subscribe to the Covenant in order to be accepted as King of Scotland. In 1660 the monarchy is restored, and Scotland resumes its status as a separate Kingdom with Charles II as King. In 1662 King Charles reneged on his promises and declared the Covenant as an unlawful oath. Bishops were reintroduced in Scotland, and Covenanters were forced underground to preach in secret and often in the open air in secluded areas. In 1679, Archbishop James Sharp, Primate of Scotland and Archbishop of St Andrews was murdered by the Covenanters, providing a catalyst for skirmishes and battles. A period of bloody persecution ensued following an order that any armed Covenanters or anybody who would not renounce their faith should be shot on sight. The Covenanters were regarded as a matter of public order by the authorities, but the Covenanters themselves were men of faith and conviction, martyrs to their deeply held religious belief. In 1680, Richard Cameron was the leader of the Covenanters. His brother, Michael, read a speech in the public square in Sanquhar, “The Sanquhar Declaration”. This symbolic demonstration, essentially a declaration of war, was among the first of a series of events that led to the Glorious Revolution and the end of the reign of the House of Stuart. The speech declared no support or allegiance to Charles II and the Government of Scotland. The covenanters opposed the governments interference in religious matters and denounced both Charles II and his brother James as papist In response Charles II, introduced executions without trial and hence the period is known as ‘The Killing Times.’
There were many covenanters in Tweedsmuir, and Church services were often held in secret in the hills and valleys. It was too dangerous to hold the sermons in the Kirk. John Graham of Claverhouse, was a nobleman and professional soldier and owned family estates near Dundee (also remembered as Bonnie Dundee). He was given the tasks of supressing Coventicles (Covenanters sermons) in Scotland. He earned the name “Bluidy Clavers”, as he was particularly brutal in his task. He was appointed Sherriff of Dumfriesshire and began a bloody campaign to stamp out the covenanting movement in the South of Scotland, including Tweedsmuir, and Talla. There is a memorial in Tweedsmuir cemetery to John Hunter, a covenanting Martyr who was murdered in 1685 by Col James Douglas (one of Claverhouses’ men), at Corehead near the Devil’s Beeftub. Alexander Peden, a renowned Covenanter, known also as Prophet Peden, is immortalized near Tweedsmuir at Gameshope Glen, at a place known as Peden’s Pulpit. Alexander Peden was one of leading preachers that rallied the Covenanters, and held Coventicles in Tweedsmuir, during the persecution of the ‘Killing Times,’ when Claverhouse actively supressing and murdering the covenanters. Peden’s pulpit is a natural stone and is where Prophet Peden preached to his congregation of local covenanters, hidden from Claverhouses’s men. The Killing Times ended in 1690, with the Act of Settlement, which legalised the Scottish Presbyterian Kirk. Queen Mary II and her husband King William III ruled England and Scotland although each country has its own parliaments.