|Location Map ( geo)|
|Via:||Tibbie Shiels Inn|
|Distance:||33.4 miles (53.8 km)|
|Meets:||A701, B709, B7039, A707|
|Old route now:||A701|
|Route outline (key)|
The A708 follows a roughly WSW-ENE alignment and provides a dramatic route across the Southern Uplands of Scotland. For most of its length it follows rivers, from the west it climbs up with the Moffat Water in Dumfriesshire and then descends with the Yarrow Water in Selkirkshire.
Moffat - Birkhill
At the western end, the A708 starts on the A701 at the southern end of the double-width main street of Moffat, indeed, there is some reason to believe that it formerly, and perhaps still does, officially followed the road along the eastern side of the square, and it is still signed as such at the northern end. From the town centre, the route follows Holm Street as it curves round to the west and crosses the Birnock Water on Millburn Bridge. It then winds gently along The Holm, passing between modern housing estates and playing fields before briefly narrowing to pass through a block of older housing. After leaving the town, the next mile is through unexceptional open country, as the road climbs slightly over the southern ridge of Hunterheck Hill, before dropping into Moffat Dale. After curving round the end of the hill, the road drops down through fields and patches of forestry to reach the river just beyond Craigieburn, where the road narrows to cross the eponymous burn and then takes some time to widen again. The section is controlled by traffic lights but there are also a couple of private drives, with their own sets of lights, so there can be long waits at times.
The hills either side of the Moffat have now closed in, and as the route heads north east the views can be spectacular. Unfortunately, trees often line the roadside, providing only glimpses of the valley. Eventually, the trees peel back and the gently rolling hills can be seen in all their glory, stretching away into the distance. The river has disappeared into the bottom of the valley, but a line of trees show its meandering course as the road winds a little too, between long undulating straights. Most of the farms and cottages passed seem to sit in the dips around the numerous side streams that spill down the hillside and on into the Moffat Below. The Blackhope Burn is one of the larger, streams, with the road climbing up the hillside to cross it at Blackhope Bridge. A couple of miles to the north, it again climbs a little to cross the Carrifran Burn, with sharp bends onto both bridges. Forestry then resumes on the slopes above the road, and trees once more intermittently block the views, although recent felling means this is no longer a real problem.
As the road winds gently upstream, the river is now visible down to the right with the narrowing valley drawing traffic forwards, wondering where the road goes as the hills close in in the distance. The forestry ends just before the Poolmoodyburn Bridge, and half a mile further on a large car park sits just before the Tailburn Bridge. This provides parking for the Breathtaking Grey Mare's Tail, feeding the Moffat Water from Loch Skeen in the hills to the north. The falls are barely visible from the road, but an easy walk leads to a good vantage point, and paths lead on into the narrow fold of the hill which the falls have carved over the millennia. A short distance further on, the A708 crosses the Moffat Water itself, and continues along its southern bank, although winding less severely than the river below. A curious feature of this section is that there is what appears to be an old road or path higher up the hillside above the current road, the two ultimately converging.
As the road climbs, it slowly lifts away from the river down in the narrow valley floor, winding this way and that along the contours. There are a number of small landslips, or deliberate gradings of the slope, which seem to have allowed the road to be widened, as it no longer meanders quite as much as the boundary fence does, with some very wide areas of tarmac in one or two places. The steeply sloping, shapely hills, suddenly ease, and a house is seen ahead, the first for several miles. This is Birkhill, and just beyond the route reaches its summit at about 331m. The summit is the watershed (and also the county boundary), with a small patch of forestry on the far side.
Birkhill - Selkirk
As the road emerges from the trees, a familiar landscape opens up ahead, although the headwaters of the Yarrow have formed a somewhat wider valley than those of the Moffat just left behind. The road is back on the north side of the valley, and follows the river downstream as it slowly curves round to the east. This is the Little Yarrow at first, meandering back and forth, often just a few metres from the road at the bottom of the bank. Although the valley floor remains fairly wide, the slopes on either side become steeper as the road curves back round to head north again, passing a scattering of farms and crossing the small Chapelhope Burn. Just after the bridge, the short Loch of the Lowes is reached on the right, with the route skirting along the western shore, often supported by a retaining wall. There are no laybys, however, and with the steep wooded slopes rising up to the left, no prospect of stopping to enjoy the scenery.
At the foot of the loch, sits the Glen Cafe, a popular biker stop, with a number of car parks providing for the hundreds of people who come out on a bright summers day for fishing, walking and watersports in this beautiful location. An old stone bridge crosses the river to reach the Tibbie Shiels Inn and sailing centre on the far side of the valley. This river, however, is short, as Loch of the Lowes is followed almost immediately by the much longer and just as scenic St Mary's Loch. Situated on the narrow tongue of land separating them The Tibbie Shiels Inn is one of the most famous in Scotland. It takes its name from Isabella Shiels, who, after being widowed in 1824, supported her six children by taking gentlemen lodgers into the inn up until her death in 1878. The same building still stands at the spot, although now much extended and no longer trading. The A708 is back at the waters edge as it works its way along the western shore of the loch, before wandering inland a little to cross the Megget Water about a third of the way along at Cappercleuch.
Just after the bridge, an unclassified road on the left climbs up the valley and leads to the large Megget Reservoir, then follows a spectacular route through the hills to the smaller Talla Reservoir and the A701 at Tweedsmuir 14 miles north of Moffat. Back on the waterside, the road returns to the shore as it now heads north east, crossing the Kirkstead Burn at Dryhope at the foot of the loch. The route is now generally heading only slightly north of east, and just after crossing the Douglas Burn, the valley opens out into what feels like a vast open space after the tight confines already passed through. This wide area slowly funnels down, but not before a junction with the first classified road junction since leaving Moffat. The B709 crosses the A708 at the Gordon Arms, left for Innerleithen and right for Eskdalemuir and Langholm. Continuing east through fertile pastureland with countless livestock visible in the fields beside the Yarrow Water, which is off to the south, and on the hillsides above. The road is somewhat windier than it has been, with numerous twists and turns as it follows the river downstream.
A cluster of houses are strung along the roadside at Yarrow Feus, where the river starts to turn northwards, and the road has to follow. The road climbs a little after the tiny village, offering some expansive views of the valley ahead as it curves back to the east to find the equally tiny village of Yarrow. Here a minor road crosses the river on Yarrow Bridge, before climbing a spectacular route over the hills to reach the B7009. A couple of miles further on, the road drops to the riverbank as it approaches Yarrowford, with blocks of forestry and woodland to either side, that to the north part of an old country estate. At Yarrowford itself, the road crosses the river twice in quick succession, cutting off a short meander. The first crossing is by Broadmeadows Bridge, the second bridge is somewhat more stylish, but apparently un-named and shrouded in trees, making it almost impossible to see.
The A708 is now less than four miles from its end. At Foulshiels, it twists round to follow the river south east for a time, past Harehead and on to meet the B7039, which crosses Generals Bridge to the right and links to the roughly parallel B7009 from Selkirk inthe valley of the Ettrick Water to the south. A little further along, the Yarrow turns away from the roadside and flows into the Ettrick itself. As the road resumes a more north easterly course, it passes the flat ground of Philiphaugh to the right beside the river. This is the site of a battle on 13 September 1645 when a Royalist army led by the Marquis of Montrose was defeated by Covenanter forces under Lieutenant-General David Leslie. Attacked from all sides, Montrose's small force of cavalry retreated and fled, leaving his infantry to be slaughtered. This is now the green outskirts of Selkirk, with playing fields down on the river bank, and before long the A708 comes to an end on the A707 just above Selkirk Bridge.
Up until the 2010s, the A708 had a spur at its eastern end, but a highly unusual one. Nowadays, of course, spurs aren't much of a quirk - but this is unusual in that it dates right back to classification in 1922 when they were almost unheard of, the A4200 in London being another example. The spur forked left above the playing fields and took a more northerly course to meet the A707 at a TOTSO at Bannerfield. This section of road has now been closed up at the fork, and largely converted into a cycle track / footpath as far as can be seen, with the old bridge over the Long Phillip Burn apparently removed.
At the western end, the A708 originally started much further south-west, on the pre-bypass A75 (now A780) in the centre of Dumfries. In 1935, the A701 was extended by some distance and took over this section of the route, meaning that the entire western end of the original A708 between Dumfries and Moffat is now part of the A701. Elsewhere along the route, there seems to have been very few changes to the road. Some sections have clearly been widened a little, and a couple of laybys hint at slight improvements on bends, but the geography of the route offers few opportunities for substantial improvements, especially on what is a fairly quiet route outside of the peak summer season.