The central bit of the Southern Upland Way (SUW) is a bit isolated and needs help from a friendly spouse to do pick-up/drop-off duty. The possibility of doing a couple of days walking opened up when I pointed out to the Missus that a couple of Sustrans cycle routes were in the area and she could amuse herself with a cycle invasion of northern England. So it’s off to Moffat for a couple of days walking of the SUW heading east.
We start in Beattock and head under the M74 and the most artificial view on the SUW. It’s then quiet lanes and fields until we enter the lovely woodland at Dumcrieff. This isn’t the commercial forestry that is standard on the SUW but instead is an old beech woodland beside the Moffat Water stuffed to the brim with singing birds. This was a very nice start to the day but it didn’t last because soon we start heading up into the usual spruce blanket forest. The SUW route has two options up here: the high (harder but great views) or lower (easier but in forest). We’d been in a bit of a quandary on this but the decision was forced as the high route was closed as foresters cleared wind damage. So we’ll skip the boring bit and resume at a nice cutting through the hills with a moss-covered boulder field with the splendid name of Crookedside Sclenders near the point where we leave D&G commercial forest for the last time. We emerge at the foot of the Cat Shoulder on Croft Head and the Craigmichen Scar: a dramatic spot for lunch.
The path now goes through a steep gully and over an attractive footbridge beside a stone sculpture before climbing to the watershed and the boundary between D&G and the Scottish Borders: this is beyond halfway in mileage terms but it makes for a nice way-point and a feeling that we are making progress. It’s also nice that the rivers start heading east too.
Soon we are back in to commercial forestry at Ettrick Head but soon emerge at the well maintained bothy of Over Phawhope where we have the obligatory nosey 1 before having an apple sitting on the bench outside. Unfortunately this part of the forest is being harvested now and is a bit of an eyesore. Soon we reach metalled road that we’ll follow for the next 8km: and what a road – I’ve never seen such a smooth expanse of tarmac, It’s still sore on the feet but we are following the River Ettrick and the weather is improving all the time so we are enjoying warm sunshine, white fluffy clouds in blue skies: what’s to complain about? At one point the Ettrick decides it wants to become the River Tilt and looks positively highland.
Finally we turn off the road for a classic hill track with the brilliant name Scabcleuch that heads north through the steep-sided hills towards St. Mary's Loch. On the way we met a local shepherd with the mandatory Border Collies hanging onto the quad-bike. How did shepherds survive before quad-bikes? I mentioned that I’d found all the sheepfolds (called “Stells” in these parts, apparently) in superb condition: the farmers had received grants to maintain them – an excellent use of public money, in our opinion. This grassy track is lovely walking with great views, especially as Loch of the Lowes comes into view. The only fly in the ointment is when the SUW decides for no adequately explained reason to drop from its nice ridge down to the ruined cottage of Riskinhope (another classic name), crosses a nice footbridge built by the Gurkhas in 1983 (just before the SUW opened) and then up Earl’s Hill. At the end of a long day that was just mean.
However, it is now downhill all the way to Tibbie Shiels Inn at the side of St. Mary’s Loch. This is a famous hostelry that everyone ever employed by Visit Scotland, e.g. Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg (local shepherd/poet), have stayed. So it seems ludicrous not to go in for a meal and a pint: good food and even better beer, This was a long day that wasn’t too arduous with a variety of landscapes to enjoy: probably my favourite section of the SUW so far.
|Previous section of SUW:||Overfingland to Moffat|
|Next section of SUW:||Tibbie Shiels Inn to Traquair|
- So that’s where the old Broadmeadows YH sign went. ↩
|Do It Again:|