Between the M74 and the Dalveen pass is tucked a large wedge of rolling hills and open moorland, an area that with the exception of its eastern boundary has escaped being blanketed by plantations. I backpacked this area in February 2007 and really enjoyed the solitude, making use of the surrounding bothies. I have been keen to return and my eyes have kept spotting the lower hills to the north of Durisdeer village. They may be lower, not even hitting the 2000ft contour, but they do pack in a lot more tightly packed contours than the higher hills. A message from Pete at Writes of Way suggested that I pay a visit. Well it would be rude not to……
12 miles with 1,125 metres ascent
I knew that bad weather would be restricting what I would be able to do later on in the week so I made it a priority to get the van to Durisdeer first thing on Sunday morning. Now if you have not paid a visit to Durisdeer then you must, it is a stunning little place. A church, a few houses and a little square with a war memorial. Green rolling fields in one direction and the steep grassy slopes of the Lowthers in the other. I sat in the van for a while checking the mountain forecasts for the week ahead on my iphone (no signal in Wanlockhead where I was staying). To say that they were apocalyptic is a bit of an understatement. I needed to make the most of today.
Heading past the church to a gated lane, I took a footpath down to the Kirk burn which wound its way down velvety hills.
The long south ridge of Wether hill is steep, steeper than the map gives credit and I was soon huffing and puffing my way up. Luckily a great view gave me ample opportunities to stop, look and fiddle with my camera. It was a shame about the non descript cloudy skies which were skimming the hill tops but at least the way ahead was clear.
On the slopes of Black hill I was caught up by a fell runner who stopped and chatted for a while and then decided to walk with me to the summit. He was out practicing for a hill race in June, which although was not that long had some considerable ascents and descents among these steep grassy hills. I must be really unfit these days as I nearly burst a lung trying to keep up and talk at the same time! We parted at the trig point just as a band of rain and mist hit and I headed towards Well hill. This area of the Lowthers really reminded me of the Howgill fells, there are not many areas of the uk with this sort of landscape.
A misty crossing of Well hill was followed by a ridiculously steep descent to the Well pass below, one reason why I did this route before the snow came. At this point the landscape changed to more familiar moorland, although to be awkward the ascent up Durisdeer hill is still nice and steep.
Once up high the clouds lifted a bit giving extensive views towards the Northern Lowther with its collection of masts and a giant golf ball.
And then my day was spoilt. I noticed in the distance a crow trap with a distressed crow that had been lured in. Time to try and rescue it before it bashed its brains in. If you have not seen these structures before, they are designed to tempt carrion in via bait but make it impossible to get out again. They are a real speciality of this area. With a bit of effort I got the door open, only a small door but it gave the bird a chance. This area is also teeming with spring traps (think large mouse trap on a pole over a watercourse) which I imagine is designed to catch stoats. Heaven forbid if a wild animal kills a grouse before someone with lots of money gets to shoot it. They are easily sprung with a quick prod of a stick or a stone dropped on them.
With my moral high ground reached I suddenly found myself on the summit of Scaw’d Law much quicker than expected and got myself a bit confused. I though I was somewhere else but after a scratch of the head decided on my location.
I then tested the futility of bagging summits, a habit that I am totally addicted to. Who can resist a visit to a Donald Top? (if you don’t know what they are then you really have not lived!) All I can say is that Glenleith hill is not worth the ink wasted in putting it on the map. It’s a bit dull and its ascent is through bog and heather. However my addiction was temporarily sated and I can now reward myself with a tick.
A landrover track got me to the summit of Wedder law quickly and easily where I could look over miles of empty countryside to Queensbury, the highest hill in these parts.
I then made the wrong decision. A path is marked on the map as descending alongside Tansley burn in a deep valley. I though it would be a nice way to descend of the hills rather than taking the ridge and a landrover track. The track was a figment of someones imagination. Instead I tussled with deep heather and steep slopes and swore a bit. I enjoyed the sit down at the end of it. An easy track then leads to the superbly located disused cottage at the head of Kettleton Burn. This alarmed me when backpacking this area in 2007 as I thought that this was the bothy we were looking for.
Luckily it isn’t as that is further down the track and what a little corker it is too. Its been totally refurbished since I last visited and a great amount of work has gone into it. I quite fancied spending the night but that would be a bit weird considering I has already paid for a nice comfy cottage just down the road!
Now the track from the bothy down to Durisdeer is a bit of a scenic gem. You can’t help but smile striding down a steep valley with the sun lowering in the sky and turning the scenery around you a golden colour. Especially when the day had been pretty grey and overcast.
I was a happy man as I approached Durisdeer, even when the heavens opened briefly just before I got back to the van.