About Gray Mare’s Tail
The Gray Mares Tail (or Gray Mare’s Tail) was a dramatic 60m waterfall said to be the fifth highest in the United Kingdom. While the waterfall itself was very impressive, we felt that the steep-walled valley and the sense that we were in a place where Nature really mattered (something rare the further south you go in the UK, let alone Southern Scotland) was what stood out to us about our experience here. Given its location at the head of a short gorge and valley, all the trails both leading closer to the falls as well as leading above the falls on the opposite side of the valley towards Loch Skeen (the lake feeding the Roaring Linn, which was the stream responsible for the falls) allowed us to get mindblowing views of Moffat Valley while examining Gray Mare’s Tail from many different angles and perspectives; and all of this was happening while the immediate hillsides were colored purple thanks to mats of heather that were in bloom during our August visit.
There were two ways we managed to experience the falls, which correspond to the two main trails that leave from the National Trust car park at the mouth of the valley (see directions below). Both trails were pretty easy to follow from the car park (though there might be a slight headscratching moment when hiking amongst the low-lying bush towards the left side of the valley since there were some false trails as well as some overgrowth conspiring to obscure parts of the path). That said, we knew generally where we were supposed to go since the trails (and the people walking them) climbed steeply from the base of the valley and were quite visible from below.
The first trail was a short 10- to 15-minute uphill walk that led us to a closer view of Gray Mares Tail near the base of its main sections. This was a pretty straightforward trail that both Julie and Tahia were able to do though we had to make sure we had a firm grip on Tahia given how narrow and exposed to steep dropoffs the trail was. Once we got towards the end of the trail, there was a sign warning us not to go further so we contented ourselves with the views from there. It looked like many people have managed to get past this barricade and get even closer to the base of the main section of the falls, but nobody (including us) tempted fate while we were there.
The second trail was a much longer 2.5-mile round trip out-and-back trail that also went steeply uphill clinging onto the steep-walled valley containing Gray Mare’s Tail. From this trail, I was able to get even more views of the waterfall as well as its full context as the Roaring Linn funneled its way into the even narrower depths of the gorge below. When surveying the scene at each step along the way, I was able to look back at the lovely Moffat Valley with all the cars and people looking small given how high up the trail went. Moreover, I was able to see large mats of purple heather blooming on the uppermost slopes of the valley. Again, I had to be careful while on the trail because it was narrow and exposed to steep dropoffs, but as long as care was taken, I felt it was a pretty safe trail with erosion-prevention measures taken to ensure the trail would persist for others to enjoy.
For the purposes of waterfalling, the hike all the way up to Loch Skeen was optional, and it was not reflected in the hiking difficulty rating on this page. If it was included, then the hiking difficulty would be more like 3 instead of 2. That said, even though the distance of this trail was modest, it was the amount of climbing that had to be done that really took a bit out of me. And even after I finally climbed up above the Gray Mare’s Tail (revealing other hidden tiers of the falls and cascades on the Roaring Linn), then the trail flattened out and still went yet another mile or so through moorish terrain until I’d eventually reach the tranquil Loch Skeen.
I was content with the views of the loch from its southern shores, but I saw that the trail kept going around the lake before climbing some more. So perhaps it might be possible to climb even higher towards the White Coomb, which was one of the prominent hills backing Loch Skeen. I’d ultimately get my fill and return to the car park after spending around 100 minutes or so to do this side excursion. Since the shorter trail to the waterfall took all of us about 30 minutes round trip, the total amount of time I had spent away from the car was around 2 hours and 10 minutes. If I wasn’t in a rush to keep Julie and Tahia from waiting for me for too long (I actually tried to hasten my pace during the Loch Skeen excursion), the time commitment could very well be more like 2.5 hours.
We arrived at the Gray Mare’s Tail after leaving the Housesteads Fort at Hadrian’s Wall near Bardon Mill. Hadrian’s Wall was a stopover on the way as we originally started our drive from Kendal across the border in England sandwiched between the Lakes District and the Yorkshire Dales. So we’ll describe our driving route in these terms.
From Kendal, we took the A684 road (about 5 miles), which ultimately connected us with the high-speed M6 motorway. We then went north for about 40 miles on the M6 where we then exited the motorway to go onto the A69 and do the optional detour to the Housesteads Fort at Hadrian’s Wall (about 25 miles from this exit near Bardon Mill). Continuing north on the M6 (becoming A74 when we entered Scotland) for another 40 miles, we then exited to get onto the A701 towards Moffat (1.6 miles). Once in Moffat, we then followed the signs to go onto the A708 road, which continued further to the east, and we’d follow this road for just under 10 miles to get to the car park for Gray Mare’s Tail.
Overall, this route that we took between Kendal and Gray Mare’s Tail (including the detour to Hadrian’s Wall but excluding the time spend visiting it) took us about 3-4 hours to cover the 145 miles. If we didn’t do the detour to Hadrian’s Wall, the drive probably would have taken about 2 hours to go about 97 miles.
Going in the other direction from Edinburgh, it would be about 48 miles (say about 90-120 minutes) on a combination of B and A roads to get to the Gray Mare’s Tail. For additional context, it was about 68 miles or 90 minutes drive southeast of Glasgow to the falls.
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