The coastline measures 21 miles (34 km). The county slopes very gradually from the mountainous districts of the Southern Uplands in the north, down to the sea; lofty hills alternating in parts with stretches of tableland or rich fertile holms. At various points within a few miles of the Solway are tracts of moss land, like
Lochar Moss and
Longbridge Moor in the west, and
Nutberry Moss in the east, all once under water, but since largely reclaimed.
The principal mountains occur near the northern boundaries, the highest being White Coomb (2,695 ft or 821 m),
Hart Fell (2,651 ft or 808 m), Saddle Yoke (2,412 ft or 735 m),
Swatte Fell (2,389 ft or 728 m), Lowther Hills (2,377 ft or 725 m), Queensberry (hill) (2,285 ft or 696 m) – which gives his secondary title to the Duke of Buccleuch and the title of Marquess to a branch of the house of Douglas – and
Ettrick Pen (2,269 ft or 692 m).
The three longest rivers are the River Nith, the River Annan and the River Esk, Dumfriesshire, the basins of which form the great dales by which the county is cloven from north to south — Nithsdale, Annandale and Eskdale. From the point where it enters Dumfriesshire, 16 mi (26 km) from its source near
Enoch Hill in Ayrshire, the course of the Nith is mainly south-easterly until it enters the Solway, a few miles below Dumfries. Its total length is 65 mi., and its chief affluents are, on the right, the
Euchan Water, Scaur Water,
Cluden Water and
River Cargen, Cargen, and — on the left — the
River Crawick, Carron Water, Dumfriesshire and
The Annan rises near the Devil's Beef Tub, a remarkable chasm in the far north, and after flowing about 40 mi (65 km), mainly in a southerly course, it enters the Solway at
Barnkirk Headlands and bays. It receives, on the right, the
Kinnel Water (reinforced by the Water of Ae), and — on the left — the
Moffat Water, the Dryfe Water and the
Water of Milk.
From the confluence of the White Esk (rising near Ettrick Pen) and the Black Esk (rising near
Jocks Shoulder, 1,754 ft or 535 m) the Esk flows in a gradually south-easterly direction until it crosses the Border, whence it sweeps to the southwest through the extreme north-western territory of Cumberland and falls into the Solway. Of its total course of 42 mi (78 km), 12 mi (20 km) belong to the White Esk, 20 mi (32 km) are of the Esk proper on Scottish soil and 10 mi (16 km) are of the stream in its English course. On the right the Wauchope Water is the chief affluent, and on the left it receives the Meggat Water, Ewes Water, Tarras Water, Liddel Water and River Lyne — the last being an English tributary, and the previous forming the border between Roxburghshire and Cumberland.
Other rivers are the
Lochar Water (18 mi or 29 km), the Kirtle Water (17 mi or 27 km) and the River Sark (12 mi or 19 km), all flowing into the Solway. For one mile (1.6 km) of its course the Esk, and for 7 mi (11 km) of its course the River Sark, form the boundaries between Dumfriesshire and Cumberland.
Loch Skeen in the north (1750 ft or 533 m above the sea) and the group of lochs around Lochmaben, are the principal lakes. There are few glens so named in the shire, but the passes of Dalveen, Enterkin and Menock, leading up from Nithsdale to the Lowther and other hills, yield to few glens in Scotland in the wild grandeur of their scenery. For part of the way Enterkin Pass runs between mountains rising sheer from the burn to a height of nearly 2,000 ft (610 m) Loch Skene finds an outlet in
Tail Burn, the water of which at a short distance from the lake leaps from a height of 200 ft (61 m) in a fine waterfall, known as the Grey Mare's Tail. A much smaller but picturesque fall of the same name, also known as Crichope Linn, occurs on the Crichope near Thornhill. Mineral waters are found at Moffat,
Hartfell Spa, some three miles (5 km) farther north, Closeburn and Brow on the Solway.