In our quest for hillwalking pleasure, Jazz and I headed further east to Annandale just north of Moffat to do a lovely circuit taking in Hart Fell and the Devil's Beef Tub. This is a lovely part of the world with the next batch of Donalds that we need to do. They had always seemed too far away for a day trip but it turned out the M74 makes them closer in time than some of the places in South Ayrshire.
Hart Fell is a big lump that acts as a hub for several walks in the area, so we’ll be getting to know it well. It isn’t particularly attractive but has lots of arms that let you tackle it in various ways. Today we we starting near Ericstane and starting with the easy path to Hartfell Spa. If like me you had an image of a Victorian bath-house where Jazz could take in the waters then you’re in for a shock. It’s a wee stone hut covering a spring that some enterprising Victorian chap managed to persuade the gullible to pay for the cure. It was interesting to have a look, and chuckle at a stone that someone left to commemorate their visit. The Spa is in an oddly eroded gully that is strangely attractive and made for a convenient snack-stop as we delayed the next bit which was a very steep climb out of the gully to the ridge leading up to Arthur’s Seat. Bit tough.
However, once on the ridge it is a matter of following the quad-bike trail up to Hart Fell itself. I had explained to my canine companion that lunch would be provided at the summit. Unfortunately there are a few false summits on the way over Arthur’s Seat and grumblings were soon heard. As we got near the summit the wind got up and we entered cloud and so lost the view down into Black Hope that I’d been hoping for. Having to get the gloves and compass out in June seems a bit harsh. To make matters worse, in the closing straight we were overtaken by a fell runner who was quite a bit older than me and the bugger had the bad manners not to be out of breath as he stormed past. Fit. And barking mad, obviously. However, he did offer to take our picture so we decided not to challenge him to a race!
Once team relations had been restored over lunch we were heading for the next Donald: Whitehope Heights. This looked pretty small as we left the cloud but there was a nasty sting: the U-shaped valley separating it from Hart Fell has a steep decent followed by a slightly easier climb back up the other side. So the knees got a bit of crushing. However, from here it’s a pleasant wander across some smaller hills such as Chalk Rig Edge heading for the Devil's Beef Tub. As we come down Spout Craig we came across an attractive new cairn marking the source of the Annan and the Annandale Way. Being a sucker for calligraphic art 1 we appreciated the nice plaque on the side of the cairn. A large project by the Borders Forest Trust to re-forest the hills in native woodland is centred on these hills and has secured a lot of funding. At the moment they have a lovely crop of plastic tree protectors but in a decade or so this place will be transformed 2.
The final hill in this circuit, Great Hill obviously has a great PR team, because there was no obvious reason for greatness, other than it sits above the Devil's Beef Tub. This geographic wonder 3 was something I vaguely remembered from family holidays as we returned from Wales in an overloaded Morris Minor 4 when we were told about this huge hole in the ground where ne’er-do-wells in days gone by would keep their stolen cattle. Obviously reality, although quite impressive, doesn’t live up to a child’s imagination. For one thing, I couldn’t see large pools of magma bubbling miles below, only a bunch of small white dots of sheep. The path skirts back around and there is a fairly impressive drop for someone like me who is scared of heights. Unfortunately the photos don’t quite give the effect of a vertical drop onto rocks miles below as it seemed at the time. However, it raised the pulse of one team member while the other was wondering how she could go play with the sheep clinging to the crags.
The path descends down to the valley floor at the attractive Corehead farm with a pleasant wander along the Annandale Way back to the car. This was an enjoyable walk with great scenery that would have been superb if the cloud had lifted a bit. I’d recommend you do the circuit this way round as the gradient is slightly better. When we do it next I won’t be going back to the Spa but instead take the ridge immediately up Arthur’s Seat.
- Who isn’t? ↩
- Note to self: put entry in diary to come back then. ↩
- Obviously part of the job-lot of features in the UK where the local tourist board tried to boost visitors with a reference to the Devil. ↩
- Where are you now SC1603? Numpties would pay a fortune for a number-plate like that now: Scotland at the year of the Union with England! It is pretty weird that a child had those thoughts… ↩
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