The Eildon Hills are probably the most visible and easily-recognised landmarks in the Scottish Borders and are criss-crossed by an excellent network of paths including the St Cuthbert’s Way, offering an great choice of walks to view the geological features as well as archaeological sites and wealth of natural history.
The three large hills (North, Mid and West) are sometimes wrongly thought of as extinct volcanoes, but in fact are basalt intrusions of Carboniferous age. The only real sign of a volcano is the often forgotten fourth Eildon, the Little Hill, which is a small volcanic vent lying between the West and Mid Hills, but not active for the past 350 million years. It is easily reached along a footpath from Bowdenmoor Reservoir.
Most of the underlying rocks on the Eildons are acidic, and have given rise to peaty soils and large tracts of heather. A few pairs of Red Grouse reside on the moorland, and Kestrels and Buzzards are regularly seen enjoying the thermal currents.
The calcium-rich volcanic rocks around the Little Hill give rise to rich grassland with a characteristic flora of lime-loving plants such as the Rockrose Helianthemum nummularium with its showy yellow flowers. The rocks themselves support a number of locally rare mosses.
The Eildons are rich in butterflies with a good colony of one locally rare species, the Scotch Argus.
North Eildon is a particularly important archaeological site, dating back perhaps 12,000 years, with the largest hill-fort in Scotland around its summit. Within the ramparts nearly 300 house platforms have been identified, dating back around 2000 years, but the lack of water suggests that it may not have been a permanent settlement.
All around the Eildons are signs of former inhabitants, not least the Romans who coined the name Trimontium for their military settlement at Newstead.
Following the St Cuthbert’s Way from Melrose is an excellent way to explore the Eildons, though it is a steep pull up to the ‘North Col’, from where paths lead in all directions, including to the Mid Hill summit at 422 metres and the North Hill at 404 metres.
It is easy to understand why the Romans built a Signal Station here, as the view of almost the whole of the Borders is breathtaking. Increasing areas of Bracken and Gorse are colonizing some of the slopes, and on the south side woodland is slowly spreading uphill from the Buccleuch Estate woodlands below. Quite quickly the path descends into deep shade where the calls of
Nuthatches and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers break the silence.
The first meeting of the SWT winter lectures is tonight, October 1, in Duns Parish Church Hall when Graeme Skinner from Guisborough will talk about Amphibians and Reptiles. Meetings starts at 7.30pm. Visitors are welcome.