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Remembering the Jacobites at Traquair

You'll find Jacobite connections in an atmospheric old house and a moorland fairy well, on this walk.

Distance 6.4 miles (10.4km)

Minimum time 2hrs 45min

Ascent/gradient 1,378ft (420m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Firm, wide moorland tracks, 1 stile

Landscape Rolling hills and heather-clad moors - some excellent views

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 337 Peebles & Innerleithen

Start/finish NT 331345

Dog friendliness Can run free for long stretches - but on lead near sheep

Parking Southern Upland Way car park in Traquair

Public toilets None on route; nearest in car park at Peebles

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1 From the Southern Upland Way car park, join the tarmac road and walk left away from Traquair village. Continue ahead, passing a house called The Riggs, and join the gravel track following signs for the Minch Moor. After you go through a kissing gate the track becomes even grassier, then you hop over a stile and enter Forestry Commission land.

2 Continue on the obvious track to pass a bothy on the right. When you come to a crossing of tracks maintain direction, crossing an area that has been clear felled. Your route then takes you through a gate, just to the right of a cycle way. It then winds uphill, through a kissing gate, and joins up with the cycle way again.

3 Maintain direction, enjoying great views over Walkerburn to the left. It feels wilder and windier up here, with large tracts of heather-covered moorland by your path. When you reach a marker post, turn right and walk up to the cairn on the Minch Moor - the views should be great on a clear day.

4 From the cairn, retrace your steps back to the main track. Then turn left and walk back downhill - stopping to leave some food when you pass the Cheese Well (PWhat to Look For) on the left - it's by the boggy part of the path. Continue, to go through the gate again, until you reach the next crossing of tracks.

5 Turn left now and walk downhill. The landscape soon opens out on the right-hand side giving you pleasant views of the valley and the river winding away. When you reach the apex of a bend, turn right along the grassy track. Follow this as it bears downhill, go through a gate and walk in front of Camp Shiel cottage.

6 Go through another gate, cross the burn, then follow the grassy track and pass Damhead Shiel cottage. Go through another gate and follow the path across a bridge over a burn. You'll pass an expanse of scree on the right-hand side, and an ox-bow lake evolving on the left. Cross another bridge and continue to Damhead farm.

7 Walk past the farm and down to the road, then turn right. You'll now cross the burn again and will walk past some cottages on the right-hand side. When you reach the war memorial on the left, turn right and walk up the track to reach the parking place at the start of the walk on the left.

There can be few more romantic places in Britain than Traquair House, which is just a couple of minutes' drive from the start of this walk. It's the oldest continually inhabited house in Scotland and is still owned by the Maxwell Stuart family, who came here in 1491. Parts of the house date back to the 12th century, although most of the present building was built in 1680. It's a house full of secret stairways and little windows and even has its own brewery, the origins of which stretch back to the 16th century. Traquair House is one of those marvellous places that simply ooze atmosphere - largely, I think, because it is still a family home.

The house was always a popular stopping-off point for Scottish monarchs and 27 of them visited over the years, including Mary, Queen of Scots, who stayed here with her husband Darnley in 1566. The family were traditionally staunch Catholics and when the Protestant William of Orange took the throne in 1689, they joined many others in supporting the Jacobite cause. This demanded that the Stuart King James II (Charles II's brother) be reinstated on the throne and, contrary to popular myth, attracted support among English people as well as Scots. Years of repression and bloodshed followed.

The Jacobite Rebellion eventually culminated in the disastrous defeat at Culloden in 1746. You can, of course, visit the site of the battle itself, but it is somehow easier to understand what it must have been like to live during those times when you see the secret priest's room at Traquair. Often called 'priest's holes', these rooms were made in many of the great houses throughout Britain, allowing priests to live in hiding and take Mass for the devout family. The one in Traquair has such a strong atmosphere that it almost feels as if the priest has just stepped out for a moment.

The 4th Earl of Traquair was imprisoned in the Tower of London and sentenced to death for his part in one of the early Jacobite risings. However, he managed to make a story-book escape, when his wife smuggled him out of prison by dressing him as a maid. The cloak he used as his disguise is on display at Traquair. Years later, the 5th Earl was also held prisoner in the Tower for supporting the Jacobites at Culloden.

Bonnie Prince Charlie visited Traquair in 1745, passing through the great Bear Gates - so named because of the bear statues that top the gate posts. When the prince left, the 5th Earl wished him a safe journey, closed the gates behind him and promised that they would not be opened again until there was a Stuart monarch on the throne. The gates have remained unopened ever since.

Where to eat and drink

In Innerleithen you can get a drink at the Traquair Arms Hotel. They also do cakes and hot drinks, as well as more substantial meals such as filo parcels, pasta bakes and aubergine cannelloni. There's also a restaurant at Traquair House, as well as a Brewery Shop selling Traquair Jacobite Ale to take home.

What to look for

Do keep a look out for the Cheese Well by the burn on your way up to the moor. It's a local tradition to leave small pieces of cheese here for the fairies, in order to ensure a safe journey. I didn't have any cheese so I put out a piece of flapjack instead - I didn't want to offend them by leaving nothing!

While you're there

The mineral waters at St Ronan's Well near Innerleithen have been attracting visitors since the 18th century and inspired the eponymous novel by Sir Walter Scott. The well is covered by a pavilion and you can still sample the waters. Guided walks around the well and garden are available on request.

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