Archive for May 17th, 2010

May 17, 2010

A snowy Southern Upland Way circuit from Wanlockhead

by backpackingbongos

The day before had been a bit of a wash out except that it was not rain that had kept me indoors, it had been a huge dumping of snow.  I had spent that day mostly standing at the window watching gale force winds blow curtains of snow across the valley.  An attempt at a walk had to be abandoned on the moors above the cottage as the deep snow made going a bit too tiring.  Thankfully today there was the promise of clear skies and a spot of sunshine, a cause to celebrate.  However the van was still firmly stuck as to get to the now cleared road involved a couple of hundred metres of deep wet snow.  The snow plough passing our track had also been kind enough to deposit a huge mound of the stuff at the entrance.  A quick route was devised that would start and finish without mechanical means.

9.1 miles with 560 metres ascent

The neighbours a couple of doors down were busy with snow shovels when I passed, having cleared a large amount of snow already.  They agreed to leave them out for when I got back to enable me to dig out the van.  It seemed like the entire village was out that morning with bright orange snow shovels, clearing driveways and digging out cars.  I would imagine that they are used to snow here high up in the southern uplands.  My route descended to the lower part of the village where I took the unclassified lane that leads down Wanlockhead water.  This part of the village felt a lot less bleak than that higher up, possibly due to being more enclosed in a valley.  The drop in height meant that there was a little less snow and the snow free road gave swift progress.  The views back up towards Wanlockhead and the high snow covered hills was stunning, especially with the combination of sun and cloud.

It was great to finally feel the warmth of the sun on my face, made much more pleasant by the lack of a breeze.  I yomped further and further down the valley with the road finally giving way to a track.  It was the first day in April and the sun was warm enough to ensure a rapid thawing of the snow.  The track starts climbing towards the derelict cottage of Duntercleuch with its view of the rounded hills on the other side of the valley.

I passed two parked up 4 wheel drive vehicles full of hunting paraphernalia, dead crows and rabbits.  Quad bike tracks led up the forestry track that I was following so I assume the owners were out doing gamekeeper type things.  Once again I was pleased to be following in the tracks of a quad bike to make progress much easier.  I was soon surrounded by dense conifers giving a completely different atmosphere to the wide open spaces.  I have to admit that I found this part of the day a bit of a chore with the usual restricted views and sterility.  Unfortunately the quad bike tracks soon deserted me and I had to plough on through unbroken virgin snow.

Then suddenly there was a gap in the forest and I could see for miles, endless rolling hills disappearing into the distance.

I once again found myself on the lee side of the hill, the track being covered in deep drifts, luckily the sun had got to work on the shallower sections.

A couple of hefty snow showers passed over whilst I was eating lunch, the snow being like that polystyrene that is used to pack boxes.  It was great to watch curtains of white appear in the distance and get closer and closer, dump its goods on you and then be followed by clear blue skies.  I was soon on my way climbing towards Highmill Knowe.  The skyscape was stunning, a combination of winter blue skies and bubbling white clouds.

I soon joined the Southern Upland way again as it descended back down into the valley of Wanlockhead Water.  Wet melting snow and tussock grass defeated the waterproof lining of my boots and made slow difficult going.

Sitting on the bridge over the river finishing my coffee and eating the last of my lunch it felt that spring was on its way.  I found a different track back into Wanlockhead, this time passing through the mine workings for which the village is well know.  This included a spoil tip that is shaped like the Matterhorn, a great pyramid that defies gravity.  How did they get it into that shape?  The final few hundred metres back into the village still make you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere.  Wanlockhead is certainly a wild place.