Posts tagged ‘Southern Uplands’

April 3, 2016

Micro wild vanping in the Carsphairn hills (part two)

by backpackingbongos

Downgrading from the Bongo to a Doblo sized campervan has taken a little bit of adjustment. During bad weather it’s not quite as simple as shutting the door and being protected from the elements. Everything takes a bit of thinking about, there really is not much room, especially with a wet dog in tow!

It is designed so that the kitchen is outside under the tailgate, fine if it is not hammering it down with hail being thrown at you on thirty mile an hour winds. Therefore with much shifting about of gear I managed to bring the cooker inside which enabled breakfast to be made with a modicum of comfort. To avoid suffocating in the small space a couple of windows have to be left open, the hail and rain finding an easy way in.

After a few days living in it in bad weather, things start to get a bit grubby inside, all sense of order is lost. You really can’t remember what has happened to your last pair of dry socks. You wonder if you will ever get rid of all those dog hairs.

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Each evening just before it got dark I would stand outside Chrissie and Geoff’s van with my nose pressed up against the window. Next to me would be a shivering staffy, his face a picture of unhappiness. More often than not we would get an invite inside and Reuben would prostrate himself on the sofa, a big grin on his face.

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On the Easter Monday Geoff and Chrissie decided that they would start to make their way south, leaving me with a cream egg. The forecast for the day was reasonable so Reuben and I went back into the hills to bag some more Donald’s and tops (hills over 2000ft in this part of the world). The day started off cruelly with a lung busting climb up the steep slopes of Ewe hill.

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It was whilst descending from the summit en-route for Alwhat where I came across a rather sad sight in these lovely quiet hills. A wind monitoring mast had been erected, a sizeable structure when up close. There are plans for the massive Lorg windfarm here with turbines up to five hundred feet high. One thing I had noticed over the past couple of days was just how many of these things had sprouted up in the surrounding area. It looks like the wind rush in these parts is not yet over.

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The grassy slopes of Alwhat was easily gained and a short descent and re-ascent brought us to the summit of Alhang. In the col between Alhang and Windy Standard there was yet another wind monitoring mast.

It was on the ascent of Windy Standard that some of the wind turbines that make up Windy Standard wind farm came into view. By modern-day standards these turbines are tiny at 35 metres high, the blades spinning furiously rather than the slow whoosh you get these days.

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To the north and east the landscape remains relatively untouched, rolling hills filling the horizon all the way to the snow-capped Lowther hill.

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The summit of Windy Standard itself is dominated by turbines which march down the ridges to the north. As far as wind farms go it certainly is not the most offensive that I have come across. With such small turbines they were not really that noticeable from the surrounding hills the previous couple of days. The roads that service them being no wider than landrover tracks. What was very noticeable however was the nearby construction of Windy Standard 2 wind farm. There massive wide highways had been constructed across the hillsides, banks of earth piled at the side. Numerous diggers and trucks were at work clearing areas the size of football pitches to lay the foundations for the massive new turbines. The whole area was a horrible mess. Coming home and looking at the internet there are already plans for Windy Standard 3😦

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Reuben and I quickly turned our backs on the whole sorry scene and hurried down the slopes to the south. This was also due to the black clouds piling in from the north. With all the recent stormy weather the last place I wanted to be was surrounded by turbines if there was a threat of lightning! This lead to the head of the Holm Burn with its numerous drumlins, a good place for Reuben to pull a pose.

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Down in the glen is an atmospheric ruin, this must have been a truly remote spot before the advent of the motor car. I sat on the low wall that surrounds an old stand of trees, soaking up the rare warm rays of the sun.

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The only difficulty of the day came at the end of the walk whilst trying to get back onto the public road. I ended up inadvertently trespassing through someones garden, luckily no one was at home. I felt guilty as I joined the track, sending up a chorus of barking from the nearby farm.

Back at the van I fancied a change from the hills and decided to drive to the Solway coast to spend the night. Dalbeattie provided some half decent fish and chips en-route for Powillimount. I arrived at the beach during the golden hour, the sun just beginning to descend behind the hills to the west. It is a lovely spot but I decided not to stay the night. There was too much coming and going and sadly the car park was full of blowing litter. Instead I sat on the rocks for a while as the last of the Easter bank holiday disappeared into a warm glow.

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* All photos taken with iPhone 6s Plus.

March 30, 2016

Micro wild vanping in the Carsphairn hills (part one)

by backpackingbongos

The headlights on the van pierced the darkness as I steered a course along the bumpy track in the depths of the Galloway Forest Park. A small gravel car park overlooks the deserted settlement of Polmaddy, invisible under the inky black sky. I had been driving for seven hours, especially tiring after a day at work. The Easter weekend had given me a five day slot to escape into one of the quietest places I could think of. I was keen to use every moment of it.

Ten minutes of fumbling saw the Doblo being turned from a daily run around into a fully fledged micro camper, complete with a full length and very comfy bed. Reuben could be heard exploring the immediate surroundings, his name tag tinkling on his collar as he sniffed and pee’d his way along.

It’s always very exciting waking up in the morning after arriving somewhere the night before in the dark. I removed the blinds to a sparkling morning, birdsong filling the crisp air. Coffee was brewed and breakfast eaten outside whilst Reuben once again sniffed at and pee’d on his surroundings.

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I was going to meet up with Chrissie and Geoff later that evening, but first I wanted to make the best of the unexpectedly good weather window. The van was pointed in the direction of the Green Well of Scotland where it was deposited on a grassy verge. The plan for the day was the 797 metre summit of Cairnsmore of Carsphairn. This rises head and shoulder above the immediate hills, its grassy dome punctuated by rocks piercing the earth. It’s a simple grassy walk, firstly along a track before breaking off to ascend Dunool and then contouring round to the summit of Beninner.

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Lunch was had sheltering behind a boulder that provided scant shelter, Reuben shivering until I put on his warm jacket. He did not turn down the crusts from my sandwiches. I kept close to the steep fractured western slopes on the way to the deserted summit of Cairnsmore of Carsphairn. The view was across miles of empty hills and on towards the Central Belt. The weather was on the turn, cloud building from the west and the wind gusting to gale force. The zip on my jacket got stuck and I managed to break it whilst battling the wind. This resulted in it being zipped to the neck but gaping in the middle. I like to think that it accentuated the fine curve of my belly.

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A drystone wall provides a steep but direct way back down to the track, on which I followed a short distance behind a couple. As a misanthropic hill walker this made me uneasy as I wanted the whole hill to myself with none of my fellow humans clogging up the view. There were also practical considerations such as do I quickly overtake or stop regularly so as not to get too close. You probably now understand why I rarely visit the Lake District.

The weather forecast for the following day was for wind and rain of Biblical proportions, apt really considering that it was the Easter weekend. A sheltered woodland site was therefore chosen to spend the night and meet up with Chrissie and Geoff and their very energetic hounds. No sooner had the van once again been turned into a camper they turned up. The dogs spent a good hour running after a ball, enough to ensure that they would be sensible during the evening.

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A top tip when wild vanping in a very small van is to invite along people with a very big van. This means that you have the benefits of something easy to drive with great fuel economy but also somewhere warm and comfy to spend the evening. Sadly Chrissie does not drink so Geoff and I had to finish a bottle of red and some beer all to ourselves. Nonsense was probably spoken and I later retired to the cold Doblo with a dog who would have much rather stayed in the big, warm and very comfy van.

The weather forecast duly delivered the next day, trees creaking in the wind, the continuous pounding of rain on the van roof. The planned four mile walk was quickly dismissed. A quick yomp was followed by lots of sitting in the big van, the heating creating a sauna from our wet clothing, steaming hot drinks and snoring dogs adding to the pleasant fug.

We later relocated to a much more remote spot, six miles up a dead-end valley, accessed by a single track road. The amount of water pouring off the hills and into the Water of Ken was an impressive sight. Fields had quickly become lakes and water was crashing down the steep rocky sections of river.

It was a night with the vans being rocked by increasingly strong winds, rain coming in violent squalls, punctuated by moments of calm. These moments of calm would often catch you out if you dared go outside without full waterproofs. Hail would be thrown at you without warning, sending you running and cursing.

The following day had promised improving weather and I was lulled into a false sense of security whilst climbing onto Colt Hill with Reuben. The sky quickly darkened and curtains of hail swept down the valley. The icy crystals were painful on exposed skin and Reuben quickly let his displeasure be known. We huddled together behind a stone wall as ragged clouds covered the hills. The storm departed as quickly as it came but it set up a regular pattern for the rest of the day.

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The reason I had chosen Colt Hill was because I wanted to see one of the Striding Arches, a collection of sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy. You can read about the project here. Large sandstone blocks make up this particular arch, perfect Reuben thought for giving his back a good rub.

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The way back to the vans was through a dark mossy forest, the trees draped in living curtains of green. Ideal for making art work of my own, although I’m not sure Reuben was very impressed.

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A mile or so further up the valley from the vans we passed the lonely cottage of Lorg. From what I can gather on the internet it has been deserted for years. It is a place that really appeals to me, an isolated cottage at the end of a remote glen in a little known part of the country. It even has telephone poles and an electricity supply. However things in this quiet glen could soon be changing, the men with machines are planning to industrialise the immediate surroundings. More of that in the next post.

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March 6, 2016

A solo mid Winter Borders / Kielder bothy trip (part two)

by backpackingbongos

Once the van had defrosted it was a short drive back to Newcastleton, the bakery providing some not very complex carbohydrates to take away for lunch. The destination was Kielder reservoir but I was keen to detour to deepest Liddesdale and the imposing Hermitage castle.

The castle sits in a wild and lonely spot, sombre moorland hills rising up around it. Unfortunately it does not open until April, so I was unable to explore inside. The low gate across the bridge that leads to is easy to hop over though and I spent a while walking around its forbidding exterior. The morning was cold and sunny, the grass still frosty in the shadows, with surrounding hills covered in a light mist. During the long bothy nights I was reading the fourth book in the Game of Thrones series, Hermitage castle conjured up the sights and sounds I had imagined in Kings Landing. More info on the castle can be found here. I look forward to returning in the summer when it is open.

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I returned to Reuben who was waiting patiently inside the van. It was not too far to drive to Kielder and I parked up in a woodland car park to the south of the village. The ground and air were damp and fragrant,the smell of the forest filling my nostrils. Low winter sunshine was filtering through the trees at an angle, casting mysterious beams of light onto the mossy floor.

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I decided that the car park was too secluded to leave the van so I drove into the village of Butteryhaugh and left it at the Village Library / School car park. There was a nearby sign stating that public nudity was an offence, with a request for people not to get changed in the car park! Luckily I was fully dressed when Reuben and I set off south, heading for the path along the north shores of Bakethin and Kielder Reservoirs.

The sky was becoming overcast as we walked along the Lakeside way, the forecast was for heavy snow to arrive later that evening. A mysterious shape in the woods beckoned us onwards, its empty eyes and gaping mouth looking over the large expanse of water. A large wooden sculpture called Silvis Capitalis invites you to explore inside its head but unfortunately the ladder that leads you upwards has been removed, to be replaced in the spring.

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The reservoir was left behind, forest tracks taking us uphill towards Wainhope Bothy.

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The bothy sits in a large clearing, a pleasant space after being hemmed in by trees. I looked for the telltale smoke from the chimney or movement outside but it looked like I was going to have another bothy night with just Reuben for company.

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The bothy is a very attractive building with a lone tree outside and surrounded by a stone enclosure. Inside there are two main rooms, the one on the left being large with a stove and space to sleep lots of people on a wooden platform. I chose the smaller right hand room with its open fireplace. The bothy was tidy with no rubbish about but it looks like it receives a large amount of traffic, confirmed by the comments in the bothy book. I set about giving it a good sweep and then went to fetch water from as far away from the building as possible.

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As I was filling my bottles from a stream Reuben pulled off one of his poses on a handily placed moss-covered log.

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I was glad that I had carried in a bag of coal and kindling as the bothy was devoid of any fuel. It saved me a long trek into the woods with a rusty bow saw. With the fire lit and candles spread around the room, the bothy soon felt warm and cosy.

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When I popped my head out of the door later that evening I saw that snow had started to fall, gradually settling after the earlier drizzle. At one point I noticed bright lights and the sound of machinery to the north as if there was a vehicle on one of the remote forestry tracks. It never passed my way and I assume that it was someone working in the forest.

I awoke to a white wonderland, the first time this winter that I had seen proper snow. I crunched around outside for a while, a big grin on my face as my hands got cold whilst throwing snowballs at Reuben.

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I had planned to bag the remote Dewey of Monkside but a late start and the effort of walking through the snow would have meant I would not be able to get back to the van before dark. Instead I picked a series of high level forest tracks that eventually led down to a bridge over the kielder Burn. It was great walking through the virgin snow, with not a soul to be seen all day. Reuben especially enjoyed yomping along, seeking out all the best smells.

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When I got back to the van it was still plastered in snow which had frozen solid. It took ages to scrape it all off but at least the doors had not frozen shut this time. The set of winter tyres that have been next to useless this winter finally came into their own as I drove towards home on the snowy road along Kielder reservoir.

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November 30, 2015

Battered days and bothy nights in the Ettrick Hills – pt1

by backpackingbongos

The hills that circle the lonely Ettrick water are some of my favourite in Southern Scotland. Rounded and grassy they remind me a little of the Howgills further south. However the Howgills are positively heaving with people in comparison. During this four day backpack at the end of October I did not see a single person on the hills.

The approach to the head of Ettrick water by car is long via the narrow winding road through Eskdalemuir, then the single track one up the valley. You do get a sense of remoteness when driving there, the prayer flags of the Tibetan Monastery at Samye Ling fitting in against the backdrop of hills.

Moffat provides a much more accessible jumping off point for these hills via the Southern Upland Way. I found a spot for the car a couple of miles outside of town and headed east on the waymarked long distance trail.

This is the first walk in a long time where I have left my camera at home, I decided to use just my mobile phone to take photographs to see how they would turn out.

Total distance – 47 kilometres with 2230 metres ascent

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The forecast for the weekend was not very promising, heavy rain and strong winds were to be a feature of this backpack. With this in mind I had planned the route so as to make use of a couple of the MBA bothies that are dotted around these hills. It was meant to be particularly wet and windy the first night so I hurried up the forestry track, keen to get some distance under my belt before the rain swept in.

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The Southern Upland Way as it makes its way towards Ettrick Head passes through a large forestry plantation, not exactly inspiring walking along the wide gravel tracks. I eventually managed to escape it on another vehicle track that ascended south towards Scaw’d Law. This ended at a turning circle where I managed to locate an old grassy track that took me onto the heathery open hillside. The views once up high were typical Southern Uplands, rolling hills, forestry and the ubiquitous wind turbines.

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Scaw’d Law is designated a Marilyn which allowed me to add another tick to my list. I walked a short way from the true summit to a large cairn giving great views down Wamphray Water and beyond. The clouds were beginning to gather in the west, spits and spots of rain being carried on a strengthening wind.

From the summit of Scaw’d law I descended very steep heather clad slopes to the east, a real punishment for the knees. A barbed wire fence at the bottom caused a bit of difficulty as it was just above groin height and too wobbly to climb.

The ruined farm at Garrogill is located in an idyllic spot next to a rushing burn. It would have been a beautifully wild and remote place before the forestry came and blanketed the hillsides. Sometimes I wish that I could wind back time and have a glimpse at the life people led in these out of the way corners of the country. It must have been a harsh existence.

There is a good path that ascends onto the moors to the east of Garrogill that is not marked on the map. This I was thankful for as I had envisaged a battled through the trees. From the saddle between Cowan Fell and Ewelairs Hill it was a short descent to the landrover track than runs to the head of Dryfe Water. I glanced up to the summit of Loch Fell, its top being grazed by cloud, I would be climbing it the following day.

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The walk down Dryfe Water was a delight, autumn firmly in charge of the colour scheme.

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Dryfehead bothy was to be my home for the night and I approached it wondering if anyone would be there. You can usually tell if a bothy is occupied by the smell of wood smoke long before the bothy comes into view. There was no such smell as I approached the back of the bothy, the chimneys smoke free.

The setting is idyllic, it has a grassy lawn and some well established trees surrounding it, the burn a short distance away.

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It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the gloom inside. There is a room either side, one with a stove the other with an open fire. There is a small room in the middle just big enough for one person. I decided to stay in there, just in case a group of people turned up later that evening.

Water was fetched from the burn and wood sawed into useable lengths. The stove was soon roaring and water boiling for a coffee. I had packed some tea lights, so as night fell the room was bathed in a warm glow. With it being a Friday night I expected other people to turn up but no one came. The rain soon started and the wind picked up. I love being in front of a warm bothy fire when the weather is bad.

I only managed to stay up until 9pm before retiring to the single room to get comfy in my sleeping bag. All night the rain lashed the window and wind rattled the front door. This was loud enough to wake me up a couple of times, thinking that someone had come in. The downside to bothies on your own is your mind can play tricks, ghosts prowl lonely buildings.

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It is rare for bothies to have toilets (although there are a few that do) so my first ‘job’ in the morning was to take a long walk with the bothy spade………..

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The rain had cleared to a thick drizzle as I set off with the spade down the track. The burn was raging, foaming with brown peaty water. There was a constant drip of water from the trees, the long grass soaking my trousers. Back at the bothy I quickly packed up, no wet tent to contend with. Breakfast when backpacking is always bacon Super noodles and coffee, even better when you have a bothy table to sit at and a window to look out of.

The bothy was swept, the door closed and bolted and I set back up the way I had come the day before.

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The track climbs high onto the shoulder of Loch Fell which meant only a short pathless climb to the summit. The weather quickly closed in, a wall of cloud bringing stinging hail and gusty winds. Wrapped up in winter Paramo I was well protected from the elements.

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The route was along a high grassy ridge linking Loch Fell with Ettrick Pen. The weather was changing by the minute, clear blue skies would be followed by punishing showers of rain and hail. It was both exhilarating and hard work.

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The last shower of the day was the worst, a natural version of waterboarding leaving it hard to breathe when facing the weather.

As quickly as it came it was gone, leaving a few ragged clouds under blue skies.

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I had wanted to camp high to take advantage of the views, but the wind was far too strong for a quiet and comfortable night. I dropped down to the head of the Muckle Cauldren Burn hoping to find a dry flat patch, but everywhere was very wet. I followed the burn down its boggy course failing to find a suitable spot. In the end I descended all the way to where it intersects Glendearg Burn. There below a tin hut was a flat spot sheltered from the wind. The Enan was pitched in the fading light, stars appearing in the clearing sky.

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October 11, 2015

On high empty rolling hills – a backpack south of Peebles

by backpackingbongos

Between the towns of Peebles and Moffat sits an area of high rolling hills. A constantly shrinking island of wild land circled by wind farms. The hills frequently raise their heads above the 800 metre contour, a place where you can often sit in solitude with just sheep and moorland birds for company. There is only one road that crosses these soft velvety heights and that is the single track one between Tweedsmuir and St Mary’s Loch. I was keen to explore the land to the north of this road, an opportunity to tick off a batch of Donald hills (hills in lowland Scotland that exceed 2000 feet). With it being the first weekend in August it was also an opportunity to avoid the silly season in the popular National Parks. The trip to Sarek was only a couple of weeks to go, so it was also a good reason to stretch my legs and try out the new Hilleberg tent.

Total distance – 46 kilometres with 2350 metres ascent

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(Click for full size map)

As this trip was a couple of months ago I thought that I would do a photo post with some captions instead of a full trip report.

P1090595On the steep ascent of Black Rig, looking down to the grassy track up Mill Burn.

P1090598Climbing the final heathery slopes of the Scrape. The views across the Manor Water are to the hills around Hundleshope Heights.

P1090600The Hilleberg Enan pitched at the headwater of the Drumelzier Burn at the 630 metre contour.

P1090603The Enan is probably the easiest tent I have ever pitched. Up in a couple of minutes and a perfect pitch every time no matter how uneven the terrain.

P1090604Descending to Taberon Law, the Culter Hills on the horizon. The eleven turbines make up the Glenkerie wind farm, the proposed extension has thankfully for now been rejected.

P1090607The huge bulk of hills between Dollar Law and Broad Law, rising to over 800 metres. From this angle they reminded me of the Cheviots.

P1090613A fine cairn on the lower slopes of Dollar law.

P1090618Another view of the Culter Hills, this time looking down the length of the Stanhope Burn.

P1090622Having previously climbed Dollar law I missed out the summit sticking instead to the Thief’s road. The track is slowly being reclaimed by the moor. The body of water just visible is the Megget Reservoir.

P1090623Continue walking in this direction and you will cross some fine wild hills, eventually coming to Hart Fell before descending to Moffat. Peebles to Moffat is a walk I fancy doing one day. It’s a shame they are not linked together by public transport. Instead you would need to go in and out of Edinburgh, or use two cars.

P1090624Looking back at Notman Law. The grassy sections on these hills give easy walking, the rest is heather or tussocks.

P1090626An excellent pitch right at the head of the long and remote Manor Valley.

P1090630Looking down the ravine of Bitch Cleuch, Bitch Crag just out of sight.

P1090631Foulbrig is aptly named, an area of bog and tussocks, crossed so I could get another tick by climbing the small bump of Deer Law.

P1090632Looking back across Foulbrig,the bulky hill on the horizon is Dollar Law.

P1090634Tussocks are Latin for Hell.

P1090636This weathered stone contrasted sharply with the newly constructed track that I crossed soon afterwards, a jarring scar on the landscape.

P1090638The summit of Birkscairn Hill. There was a brief lull in the wind and rain that had battered me on the climb up. The shower was so violent that I expected flashes of lightning and bangs of thunder. Thankfully there were neither.

P1090644The passing storm did provide a great rainbow though.

P1090646An hour later and I was pitched in the sun at the head of the very scenic Glensax, a glen that would not be out of place much further north in the Highlands.

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P1090649I I half expected to see leather face from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre run out of this farmstead. An atmospheric building in a beautiful spot.

P1090652Looking back to the head of Glensax.

P1090653Looking north down to the lower reaches of the Glen, heather in full bloom.

P1090655The hills were full of Cloudberries which sadly were not fully ripened. I only found a couple that I could eat.

P1090657Steep heathery slopes led me to Stob Law, the final hill of the day.

P1090658Hundles Hope, with Peebles just out of sight on the right hand side.

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P1090663Across the Manor Water to the first hill of the trip.