Posts tagged ‘Wanlockhead’

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.

May 15, 2010

Green Lowther and Lowther hill in the icy grip of winter

by backpackingbongos

It had been snowing throughout the night and when I opened the blinds, Wanlockhead was lost in a swirling white world.  I knew that the forecast would be bad with poor visibility and I was concerned about bumbling along rounded featureless hills in the snow and mist.  However stupidity won the day and I decided that I would pop up Green Lowther and Lowther hill, the highest hills in the area!  There is a tarmaced road that gives access to the various masts and the golf ball up there.  With that in mind it would be an easy day out, right?

6 miles with 480 metres ascent

As soon as I left the front door I discovered that deep wet snow is not that easy or pleasant to walk though, none of that light fluffy stuff for me today.  I got a strange look off a worker at the start of the radar station road as I plodded past into the wind on the snow covered road.  At this point I decided that it would be fun to try and make the journey to the top circular instead of linear.  The snowy road was left for snow covered tussocks as I failed to find the path I was looking for down to the shores of an unnamed reservoir.

I could just about make out the summit masts through a white and grey world, at least in this weather I had a pretty large object to head for if the mist came down!  If I failed to locate the top I should be hanging up my boots and staying at home.

A locked building by the reservoir failed to give me any shelter from the wind and driving wet snow, so with a shrug and my flask of coffee unopened in my rucksack I continued with the hope of a bit of shelter from a grouse butt higher up the hill.  A path across the dam wall leads to a faint path through the heather contouring round to reach the first of a line of grouse butts up the hill.  Snow covered heather made progress difficult but I had my eye on the highest wooden butt.  I was soon clearing snow off its wooden floor and with relief I sat down out of the cold strong wind and finally opened that flask of coffee.

Once my face had defrosted from its frozen grimace I packed up and continued heading up into the storm.  I could suddenly hear the noise of an engine and turned around to see a quad bike racing up the hill towards me.  The driver was dressed for the arctic, his face covered by a balaclava and googles.  He totally ignored my wave as he sped uphill clearing a path for me through the snow.  I soon forgave his rudeness as I could now walk through his tracks for a while until they suddenly veered off to the right.  Ahead the slopes got steeper and the summit was in sight.  However with each step the wind got stronger and the snow got deeper.  I was on the lee slope and the wind was depositing the snow on this side of the hill in huge drifts.  It’s sad to say that I found it easier crawling on all fours up the final slopes rather than sinking up to my thighs.  It was with relief that I reached the building located next to the massive hoar-frost covered phone mast.  For some reason I could get no mobile reception here!

I found that I could not get much shelter huddled next to the wall of the building, so I lurched off into a swirling white world along the road that runs along the highest point of the ridge.  It was the snow poles that gave away the true location of the tarmac as on the ground there was just swirling spindrift and the odd patch of road showing.  In the gloom another building and mast loomed up in front of me, looking somewhat like something you would see in a film about Antarctic.  I am sure on a clear day all these masts and buildings would be a damn eyesore but today I could fantasise that I was an arctic explorer!  I took advantage of the building as its door had a porch I could shelter in, I grabbed a snack and shot a quick video of the maelstrom around me.

I was soon getting pretty cold and I still had a good kilometre to go before the big golf ball on Lowther hill where the road starts it descent down into Wanlockhead.  The wind took my breath away as I lurched back into it and staggered from side to side along the road.  It seemed to be ages before I reached the huge dome on the summit where I once again took shelter from the wind against the building.  The wind seemed to have picked up here and was being funneled between two buildings.  Time to get a bit more video.

Trying to get back onto the road I started to panic, the wind was too strong to stand up in.  I had visions of either staying here and freezing to death or being blown off the hillside.  I took the plunge using a crash barrier to steady myself on, the wind sucking the breath out of me.  I finally reached the road a few metres away and grabbed hold of a snow pole.  My descent consisted of me lurching from pole to pole as when I tried to stand still on the icy road I would quickly get blown into the drifts at the side.

Exhaustion was quickly taking over so once finally out of the clouds I made a direct beeline off of the hill towards Green Lowther and finally to shelter from the wind.  There was a strange etherial quality to the light and the view down into the valley.

Back at Wanlockhead its altitude could be felt and the village huddled under the early spring snow storm.  It had been snowing continuously for 24 hours and little did I know that there would be another 24 hours of snow and gales to come.  The met office issued an emergency weather warning something I had never heard of.  I was going nowhere the next day.

April 17, 2010

East Mount Lowther from Wanlockhead

by backpackingbongos

The weather forecast was for snow to come in during the afternoon, with this in mind I thought that I should leave the van at home and do a walk from the front door of the cottage in Wanlockhead.  It would be a bit daft to drive elsewhere and risk not being able to get back to the cottage.

8.5 miles with 670 metres ascent

One of the best things about starting from the front door at 1500ft above sea level is that it is pretty quick and easy to get up into the hills, not suprising really when you are surrounded by them on all sides.  It had been raining the previous night and there must have been just enough of a chill in the air to give a light dusting of snow on the highest summits.  The Southern Upland way runs pretty much past the cottage I was staying in and I was soon crossing stake hill with a view of Lowther hill straight ahead.  The giant ‘golf’ ball was drifting in and out of the clouds and I spotted a car driving up the private road that leads to a couple of the summits and a motley collection of masts and buildings.  Pretty unsightly but what a place to drive up to work in the morning!

A bit higher and the Southern Upland way joins the tarmac for a short distance before I left it to join a faint path that contours round the hillside to the Ettrick pass.  The views below me were really beginning to open up and I could get a sense of the height that I was at, even though I had not done a great deal of ascent.

I followed an unsightly line of electricity pylons to the top of the Etterkin pass, a narrow neck of land between East Mount Lowther and Lowther hill.  The views down the Etterkin valley were stunning and I was left pondering who decided that those pylons should run the length of this otherwise secret valley.  The powers that be leave me feeling confused sometimes.

It is a short easy climb to the summit of East Mount Lowther which has a view point indicator.  It was a shame that it was so cloudy as the views from the top should extend to the Galloway hills and beyond.  Instead I began to wonder why this hill was so named considering that it is the most westerly hill in the group.  At least I could see the hills that I had climbed the day before, which I noticed now had a light dusting of snow.

An easy descent leads to another narrow pass called Deils barn door before I crossed Threehope height and descended to a path marked on the map as Dempsters road.  This must not receive much foot traffic as the line of the path is not much more than a sheep trod.  It does however give stunning views down into the Mennock Pass and the road that runs along it.  If you ever visit Wanlockhead make sure that you approach it via this road as it gives a dramatic entrance to the village.

The path descends on a contouring line across the hillside before disappearing in a boggy mess near the river.  This was easily forded and I began the easy ascent of the hillside on the other side of the road.  Grassy slopes gave way to burnt heather and I soon located the landrover track that leads pretty much back to Wanlockhead.  However I had my bagging head on and decided to head for the Marilyn of Green hill where I had the usual optical illusion of all the surrounding ground appearing higher.  I dashed across to the summit of stood hill that looked to be the higher summit but once there the hill I was just on appeared higher!  All the time I was doing this I noticed the sky darkening and the clouds lowering over the Lowther summits.  A cold sleety rain started to fall, specked with larger flakes of snow.

Feeling an urge to sit in front of a cosy fire I descended to Black hill which gives a good view of Wanlockhead nestling in its fold in the hills at the head of Wanlockhead water.  From here I could appreciate just high the village stands, something that would be re-enforced over the next few days when the snow really started to fall.

April 4, 2010

Spring? in Wanlockhead – Scotlands highest village

by backpackingbongos

I am now back in ‘civilisation’ after spending a week in the wilds of the Lowther hills, 1530ft up in tiny Mill cottage located in the village of Wanlockhead.

My plans before setting off had including gamboling up many hills, generally spending every minute of daylight hiking gently rolling hills and deep steep cleughs.  The weather clearly had other plans for me.  Monday afternoon brought snow and gales which unfortunately got progressively worse over the next 48 hours.  I woke up on the Wednesday to find that I was well and truly snowed in, being a soft southerner I have not seen so much of the white stuff since I was a child in the wilds of Suffolk.  This was the view from the front door that morning.

With a quick video shot barefoot in the snow.

I spent most of the day on Wednesday looking out of the window at a complete white out, gale force winds bringing down the same constant steady snow.  However later in the day things started to improve and I could begin to make out the outlines of the hills on the other side of the valley.  I excitedly kitted up and headed out into the deep snow, I got roughly half a mile up the hill behind the cottage and gave up!  One minute the snow was ankle deep the next I was swimming up to my waist, the strong wind making my face hurt.  I decided that I would be crap on the Cairngorm plateau during a winter storm.  I took a photo, shot a quick video and headed back to the woodburner.

As I got back to the cottage the sun finally came out (shame it did not do so on the hill!) and the forecast for the next day was looking good.  The snow was already beginning to thaw and a mini avalanche off of the roof had wiped out the garden fence!

Over the next few days I will do some posts of the days when I did manage to get into the hills.  It really is a cracking area to explore