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A Beefy Devil of a Walk in Moffat

A hearty walk around the intriguingly named Devil's Beef Tub near the small town of Moffat.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 1,076ft (328m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Grassy moorlands and firm farm tracks

Landscape Dramatic gully and extensive views of borderlands

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 330 Moffat & St Mary's Loch

Start/finish NT 055127

Dog friendliness Keep on lead as plenty of sheep

Parking By forest access gate

Public toilets None on route; nearest off High Street in Moffat

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1 From the forest gateway on the A701, go through the wooden gate on the right-hand side, then climb the wooden fence ahead. You now start to ascend the grassy slope of Annanhead Hill, keeping to the right of the two wire fences as you walk up to reach the trig point on the summit.

2 Bear right over Peat Knowe, keeping the wall and fence to your left. You then follow the path down the grassy slope to the head of a gully, where your path meets the wall. Walk to the other side of the gully, then turn right and pick your way to the edge to enjoy the views over the Devil's Beef Tub.

3 Now follow the narrow path as it continues to descend, walking over grass and bracken - you'll get good views down into the valley. Eventually you'll reach an area of pasture, in front of a plantation. Walk to the two gates and go through the metal gate on the right.

4 Continue downhill on the grassy bank, then go through the gate and along the rough track, swinging left round the wall of the plantation. Go through the gate behind the red-brick house, then continue towards the farm buildings. Walk between the buildings on to the tarmac track and towards the timber barn, continuing ahead to join a farm road.

5 You now follow that farm road along the valley bottom. Keep an eye out for a small area of undulating land on your right - it's all that remains of an ancient settlement. Eventually you'll reach Ericstane farm.

6 Turn right, now, through a gate, then head uphill on a stony track, with woodland on your left. You'll soon pass an area of pronounced banks and ditches - another reminder of a former settlement - and will then come to a house. Shortly after the farmhouse, go through a gate, then turn sharp right, following the track as it runs by a stone wall. Eventually you'll reach the main road, where you cross over - take care as it's busy - and go through a gate.

7 Your route now takes you over Ericstane Hill. Bear right and follow the track as it runs north round the far side of the hill. The track is rather indistinct in places, covered in grass and reeds. Keep to the left of the summit, walking around the brow of the hill to rejoin the road. Turn right here if you'd like to visit the Covenanter memorial, or turn left to return to the start of the walk.

Dark, forbidding and dramatic (Sir Walter Scott once described it as a 'black, blackguard-looking abyss of a hole'), the hollow known as the Devil's Beef Tub has a history as turbulent as its name suggests. Over the years this deep, natural bowl has been used as a hiding place by thieves, formed a refuge for the persecuted and witnessed feats of daring - and even murder.

Once known as the Corrie of Annan, it gained the name the Devil's Beef Tub in the 16th century when it was frequently used by the Johnstone clan, a local reiving (rustling) family, to hide stolen cattle after a raid. In reference to this it was also sometimes sardonically referred to as the Marquis of Annandale's Beef Stand.

The tub was not only useful for sheltering stolen animals, however - it was also used as a hideout by persecuted Covenanters during Charles II's so-called 'Killing Times'. The origins of the covenanting movement went back to the time when bishops were imposed on the Church of Scotland by James VI. Years later his son, Charles I, who also believed in the Divine Right of Kings, tried to interfere further in Scottish ecclesiastical affairs. This provoked such hostility that there was a riot in Edinburgh, resulting in the signing of the National Covenant in 1638. This document affirmed the authority of the Church of Scotland over the King in all spiritual matters and was circulated throughout Scotland, gaining particular support in the south west.

Throughout the 17th century, religious fanaticism grew and Covenanters became a powerful force in Scotland. When Charles II, who had Roman Catholic sympathies, was restored to the throne he tried to suppress the movement. There were many battles and prisoners were often brutally treated. Finding themselves outlawed, some ministers of the Church began holding illegal services, known as 'conventicles', in the open air. Persecution only fuelled resistance and during the years 1684-7, the 'Killing Times', hundreds of people were slaughtered by officers of the Crown. The most notorious of these was Graham of Claverhouse, later Viscount Dundee. There's a reminder of these violent times near the car park at the Devil's Beef Tub, where you can see a stone dedicated to John Hunter, a Covenanter who was shot on the hills here in 1685.

This violent period in history came to an end when James II's son-in-law, William of Orange, came to the throne in 1689 - but was soon replaced in the following century by the violence of the Jacobite Rebellion. In 1746 a prisoner from the Battle of Culloden, which had brought the rebellion to an end the previous year, was being marched to Carlisle for trial. He escaped his guards by leaping into the Devil's Beef Tub and disappearing in the swirling mist. Once again this great hollow had played its part in Scottish history.

Where to eat and drink

Moffat's just a short drive away and has plenty of places to choose from. Among them is the Balmoral Hotel on the main square, which serves bar meals such as fish and chips, and the Ariffe Café, also on the square, which serves teas, ices and snacks. If you've got a sweet tooth you can also investigate the Moffat Toffee Shop, which sells a wide range of traditional sticky sweets.

What to look for

Long before the days of the Border Reivers and the Covenanters, this area of Scotland was part of the Roman Empire. Ericstane Hill, which you pass on the latter part of this walk, was the site of a Roman signal station. It was used to monitor and coordinate troop movements along the Roman road that stretched from Carlisle to the Clyde.

While you're there

Moffat has several historical associations. Robert Burns wrote one of his poems at the Black Bull Hotel and Graham of Claverhouse, the scourge of the Covenanters, once stayed here. Of more recent interest is the fact that the town was the birthplace of Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding, who led Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain.

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