Wintercleuch Bastle House Trail

The hills of Upper Clydesdale abound in archaeological sites and monuments. Of the many sites to be seen are Bronze Age houses, burials, field systems and burnt mounds. Also recently discovered are the 17th century bastle houses with their associated farm buildings, enclosures and sheep milking buchts. This walk leads through a pre-historic landscape to Wintercleuch bastle house and farm.

Heritage trail route map

No vehicle access is allowed and dogs must be kept on leash at all times as the area is stocked with sheep.

Please observe the Countryside Code by leaving nothing behind and taking only photographs and memories with you.

The walk is entirely on a track and is 2.8km long, returning by the same route. You will be rewarded by panoramic views of the Lowther Hills and the Daer Valley. Wildlife will depend on the season, but buzzard, raven, curlew, plover, snipe, skylark, wagtail, and many other birds may be seen.

The Bronze Age around 4500 – 3000 years ago.

Hunter gatherers roamed these hills in search of food and left traces of their campsites between 10,000 and 6000 years ago. The Bronze Age, 4500 to 3000 years ago, is seen in burial sites, field systems of small cairns and burnt mounds (places where water was heated using hot stones). Strangely, although many are known from nearby locations, no pre-historic house sites have been found in this valley.

The historic record begins only in the late 16th and early 17th centuries with the construction of bastle houses and their associated farms, where sheep and cattle were and still are the main farming product as is still the case today. Sheep were milked in pens known as buchts, and butter and cheese were made.

Map of pre-historic walk

On the south side of the track there are 8 small cairns which are most likely to be the result of field clearance.

Also on the south side there is a slightly oval structure consisting of a stony bank that encloses an area 8m in diameter. Within the enclosure is a smaller circular area, 2.5m in diameter, constructed of stones. On the basis of evidence from elsewhere, this site is interpreted as a Bronze Age Enclosed Cremation Cemetery.

Lying about 100m north of the track and on a slight terrace is a cairn, 14m diameter, which may have been robbed of much of its stone. Such isolated cairns are often found in association with Bronze Age burials and rest upon cremation and/or inhumation deposits.

When you ascend the next part of the trail you will have magnificent views of the Lowther Hills, Glenochar Bastle House and Fermtoun and the Daer Valley. Then follow the track down to Wintercleuch Burn and the Bastle House where further information is given.

Wintercleuch Bastle House around 450 – 350 years ago

The bastle houses were defensive farmhouses, built to protect their tenant farmer occupiers from the infamous border reivers. These were the first stone and mortar buildings in this rural landscape, apart from castles and churches. Other houses were made with turf. Some of these upland farm sites were abandoned leaving time capsules of life in the 17th and 18th centuries. The valley flourished through the 19th and early 20th centuries on pastoral farming.

Heritage trail route map for the bastle house

Wintercleuch Bastle House and its associated farming landscape was occupied from the early 17th to the mid-18th centuries and then abandoned. The bastle was barrel vaulted on the ground floor and had an internal stair leading to the house above. The byre in the basement had an open drain with two drains leading through the walls.

The bastle was originally built with defence in mind, and the only entrance door would have one or two draw bars to protect it against forced entry. The windows would have been few and tiny, probably with iron bars to prevent entry. In this bastle the roof must have been a form of thatch since no evidence of slates were found as was also the case at other bastle sites.

Sheep were folded in the nearby enclosures and milked in the adjacent buchts. A small patch of lazy beds, where vegetables were grown by spade cultivation, is visible just up the burnside. Much further down the burn is a series of turf buildings which were milking buchts and shielings. Prior to the modern track, access to this site was by foot and over the hills or along the burn side. Wintercleuch bastle is within sight of Smithwood bastle whcich can be seen by looking down the course of the burn and on to the opposite valley. These house occupants could have communicated by fire or smoke to each other at times of attack.

Heritage Trail