Whiteburn's Wanderings

One man's wanderings backpacking around Scotland plus the odd digression

Southern Upland Way – 2012

Back in 2012 I published a very short report “A Soggy Southern Upland Way” on the Walkhighlands forum giving the basic facts of the trip.  At the time I didn’t have the time or the inclination to do a ‘proper’ write up but sometime later I gathered my notes and memories and compiled a piece for my diary; I thought I’d share this as some may find it of use in planning their trip.

Friday 28th Sept 12 – Portpatrick to Castle Kennedy, 25km

Before exiting the house I jumped on the scales with the rucksack and got a shock, the 8.5kg base weight which I’d been very keen to get down had leapt to 14kg with the food, still too late to worry about it as there was a train to catch, the 55 Club had kindly provided a train ticket for £19.

After what seemed a long really long train journey I finally reached Stranraer at around 2pm and set off looking for the bus to the coast.  I was surprised at the station exit by the presence of a driver and a mini bus especially laid on for tourists heading to Portpatrick, we were soon on the road with a handful of passengers and it only cost £1:50, great service.

I got dropped off at the harbour at around 2:45pm, it was a really nice in the autumn sunshine and the tourists sitting outside the pub sipping on cold beer made staying the night look very attractive.  I decided to stick with plan B which I’d hatched on the train, instead of camping on the coast that night I’d make the most of the weather, set off and see what happened; there was supposed to be good weather forecasted until Sunday after that it seemed go downhill fast.  I quickly found the local shop, bought 1.5L of water, filled the platypus and set off before the beer tempted me to stay.

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The walk along the coast to Killantrigan light house (3 km) turned out to be the best bit of the day.

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I did note a few nice camping spots on the coast before getting to the lighthouse; around Dunskey Glen near the old cable station and a little further north.  After this there was too much tarmac bashing for my liking and then of course there was the first of many windfarms.

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I’d bashed on but it was getting quite late as I got into Castle Kennedy, I’d seen no good camping spots so I just picked up 2 litres of water from the garage shop and pushed on determined to camp at the first reasonable place.  If I could have found a stealth site in Castle Kennedy gardens I would have stopped there but all I could do was push on as it got darker.

The route led through a really churned up muddy cattle pasture and in the semi darkness it was quite disheartening.  I finally found a place to camp at around 8pm in the growing gloom, ~NX 135616, rough sheep pasture but dry and reasonable level.

I hind sight a far better tactic would have been to get a bus/ taxi to the campsite in Stranraer from Castle Kennedy and return the next day.

It didn’t take long to get the tent up, a meal cooked and consumed; having pushed the pace a bit I felt tired so it was an early night for me.

Saturday, 29th Sept 12 – Castle Kennedy to Beehive Bothy, 18km

I awoke up to a heavy frost, since I’d come further than planned yesterday I had a lazy start to the day.  I planned only a short day to get back on my itinerary which would try and make the most out of the bothies in the forecasted poor weather.  I finally got set off after 9:00am and the day past quickly with lots of sunshine; but not without lots of muttering about the really soggy conditions underfoot.  By 3pm I was at the Beehive bothy, quite a nice place only let down by the amount of litter left in the surrounding trees.  Water near the bothy was the colour of Talisker, but lacked the full flavour, I drank it and survived.

I used the Honey stove in earnest the first time, it took a bit of poking and prodding but I think I finally got the measure of it, well I managed to have a brew and cook dinner on it.  I can’t remember where I picked up the tip but raiding old fires for charcoal is a good one; the stove will definitely provide endless entertainment on the longer evenings.

HONEY

Sunday, 30th Sept 12 – Beehive Bothy to White Laggan Bothy, 39km

Awoke to another heavy frost, not having to take down the tent meant a reasonable departure time of around 8:00am, I’d a full day ahead with around 28km to get to the site of the old Caldons campsite in Glen Trool where I planned to stay the night.

A short time after setting off I passed the Laggan Stones, remains of a stone circle, and was quite disappointed that the forestry was planted so close obscuring what should have been a nice vista.

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The first 15km of the day was generally forestry track or tarmac not the most interesting walking but the weather was fine and the mileage passed quickly. Just past Glenruther the Way heads off across Glenvernoch Fell and I was glad to be off tarmac, however this was only short lived.  Once over the small hill the ground conditions deteriorated significantly and after wading through cattle churned up rough grazing for what seemed like an eternity, I just wanted to be back on solid ground.  When I hit the road I had a halt for over an hour, I was well ahead of schedule and only had 10km to go to get to the campsite in Glen Trool so I was in no hurry.  I fired up the Honey stove, had some soup and dried out the feet, trail shoes and socks.

I decided I wasn’t going to follow the next part of the official route as it was across yet more really boggy rough grazing, it was a couple of km’s of tarmac before getting into the forestry of Glen Trool.  After the morning’s bog trotting the section through the woods and towards Loch Trool was a delight and spirits were definitely lifted.  By 4:30pm I was at Caldons only to find that the area, and the path along the south side of Loch Trool, had been closed for forestry operations/ track repairs.   Change of plan; with heavy rain forecast I decided to head the 10km, all of it uphill, to the White Laggan Bothy.  I ignored a few reasonable looking camp sites on the way and pushed the pace, it was all tarmac and forestry track making for good going so I made the bothy by 7pm, after ~39km and 11hrs, I must admit I was tired and ready for food and bed.

Monday, 1st Oct 12 – White Lagan bothy to St Johns of Dalry, 22km

The forecasted heavy rain hit during the night and was still going strong in the morning as I set off into the world a little after 9:00am with the Euroschirm Umbrella unfurled, the feet were soaking again inside 3mins.  I met up with a very bedraggled guy heading west on the SUW after ½ hr and stopped for a quick chat feeling really smug tucked under the umbrella while the rain battered down.  I did get a useful heads up that the route onto Dalry, the last 1.5km had a long section of 30cm deep wading through flooded and gloopy pasture…..I decided to detour around this swamp.  Also ran into a young girl (~18) backpacker a little further along the trail packing up after very a wet night, it seemed like this was her first solo outing.  Not the ideal weather for a first solo experience, she planned 2 days for the remaining 16km to Dalry so I left her to it.  These two turned out to be the only walkers I saw on the complete route.

I’ve found that yomping in the rain means that I don’t stop much so by 2:30 I’d managed the 22km to St John’s of Dalry.  I picked up some fruit and pies from the shop, beyond that the shop was a bit of a disappointment for resupply purposes and I was glad that I’d not relied upon it.  I headed down to Newfield Farm (right on the edge of town) where there’s small campsite; no facilities on site but the public toilets are only 50m away and the pub is even closer; cost £3 donation to charity for the pitch.  The grass was over 30cm high and it didn’t look as though the site had been used much.  Later I managed a great meal, huge slab of pork + chips (probably too much protein and not enough carbs), and a few beers in the pub before retiring to the tent, the rain continued throughout the night.

Tuesday, 2nd Oct 12 – St Johns of Dalry to Polskeoch Bothy, 27km

The forecast was for 70 mph winds across the tops, it was fairly blustery in the valley, so I’d been mulling over whether to sit in Dalry for a day or find an alternative route.  Nothing to do in Dalry, other than sit in the tent, so I decided to follow the road north rather than go over Benbrack, it did mean 22km of the 25km route was tarmac.  The minor road up the Water of Ken to Lorg was at least pretty quiet and from there a good footpath led into the forest and bothy, I finally arrived at 4pm with the umbrella again having put in stirling service.  The Polskeoch bothy felt quite strange, one large room ~10m * 6m, more like a scout hut than a bothy but it was clean a dry, once again I was the only occupant, apart from the rat/ mouse that almost completely chewed through the washing line I’d tied off in the rafters!

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Wednesday, 3rd Oct 12 – Polskeoch Bothy to Overfingland, 36km

I was woken by the ‘ghost’ trucks thundering past the bothy at around 6:30am so I ended up getting a fairly early start at around 8:00am, I’d 30+km to go to my planned camp around Lowther hill with a lot of ups and downs and then I had to find somewhere to camp.

I arrived in Sanqhar around midday grabbed some supplies from the reasonably well stocked Co-op and a lunch in a cafe before heading for the hills again.  Still very wet going underfoot but it had stopped raining.  Enjoyed the afternoon’s walking over to Wanlockhead, sunshine and a good paths what more does anyone ask.

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I arrived just too late for a cuppa at the museum so I just trogged straight through the village heading uphill towards the ‘golf ball’ on the hill, quite a steep hill!  More than once I considered staying in the free campsite by the pub but I resisted many because it would have added a lot more mileage to the following day.  Once up on the ridge there was obvious no suitable places to camp given the soggy conditions so I pushed on, up and down, up and down, still it was very nice walking.

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I finally descend to to Overfingland, it didn’t seem a very walker friendly place with plenty of roadside signs in the fields bearing “No access to Southern Upland Way”.  I was glad to find a nice place to camp 1km further on at 7pm, down by the river at NS 937102, a tough day but at least the rucksack seemed to be getting a lot lighter with 4 day’s food having been consumed.

Thursday, 4th Oct 12 – Overfingland to Moffat, 25km

8:15am and I was on the road again, heavy overnight rain had topped up the soggy ground conditions but at least it wasn’t raining, yet!  The first 10km of the day generally followed good a path, on enter the major forestry where the route following the ‘pipeline track’ the conditions deteriorated markedly, lots of mud and squelching.  I got tangled up with a herd of stray cattle near the exit from the forestry, they were definitely ‘lost’ and spooky, as well as making an absolute mess of the path.

The way is definitely blighted by these horrid things

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Finally got to Moffat around 4pm and quickly found Hyslop’s Hardware to get some meths; I also noted they also stocked Coleman gas.  The Caravan Club site is very close to town centre (£6.50), a very tidy site and the staff very friendly, I was the only tent amongst a sea of caravans. There was also there’s a large Co-op supermarket right next door which met my resupply needs.  That night ate at the ‘Stag’, a reasonable curry plus a couple of beers for ~£12 very good value (Thursday night special).  All things considered I enjoyed the short stop in Moffat.

Friday, 5th Oct 12 – Moffat to Over Phawhope Bothy, 15km

I had originally thought about staying in Moffat for a rest day and if the weather had been better I probably would have done so just to dry everything out.  Instead I planned a short day, 15km, to the Over Phawhope Bothy (NT 182081).  After pigging out on the full Scottish breakfast in ‘Moffat Mills’ (right next to the campsite) I finally got set off until around 10am.  The day started with a few km’s of busy tarmac but once I’d turned off into the woods it turned out quite a nice stroll with a fair bit of sunshine.  Had a nice lunch stop close to the pass to Ettrick Head before the rain came on and got to the bothy around 3:30pm, the bothy was quite tidy but I did note a few rubbish bags stashed in the vicinity.

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I’d purchased some ham chops, yes real meat, in Moffat that I’d planned to cook on the Honey stove but heavy rain scotched that plan.   Fry; didn’t want to mess up the pasta pot and the pans in the bothy were disgusting!  Boil; not as good as high temperature cooking, far less flavour.   I decided to fire up the bothy stove while mulling it over, this was choked full of plastic and metal cans (idiots get everywhere) but quickly cleaned out.  Getting a fire going was difficult as the wood in the bothy was green so needed a lot of splitting to allow it to catch but in the end I had a small but reasonably nice fire going.  I’d found a toasting fork so managed to cook the chops in front of the stove, a great smell.  Had a nice meal and a dram while poking the fire, it didn’t seem to warm the bothy much but felt nice while the rain continued to batter down outside.

Saturday, 6th Oct 12 – Over Phawhope Bothy to Tibbie Shields Inn, 17km

Another short day planned 17km to the Tibbie Shields Inn campsite, NT 240205, so another lazy start.  It rained intermittently but nothing too heavy and it was again quite a nice walk over the old drover’s road once the tarmac was left behind.  It was around 3pm as I got to the Inn, heavy rain clouds threatened so I quickly got camp established on a bit of ‘high’ ground with only 2 other tents on the large site.  Then it was off the pub to pay for the camping (£7?), consume a couple of beers and charged the iPhone.

After return to the tent to get the bed sorted and having a short nap it was an early return to the pub to enjoyed some good food and ale while later a blues band played.  For a Saturday night it was very quiet, ~10, I guess the torrential rain was putting people off.

Sunday, 7th Oct 12 – Tibbie Shields Inn to near Galashields, 36km

Got on the road around 9am with only a reasonably short day planned, I was heading for Minch Moor Bothy some 22km away.  There was some nice going along good but soggy paths and tracks but when I got to the bothy I wasn’t really happy with it..  It was quite close to the road and obviously used by the local neds as a drinking den, I also didn’t see any water close by.  Time for plan B; thought I’d trek for another 5-6km with the hope of finding a good campsite, it would have the benefit of shortening tomorrow’s yomp to Galashields giving more shopping time.

The ‘good’ campsite, level’ish ground and water, never appeared and I found myself at the 3 Brethren with time clocking on.  Plan C; pick up 2 litres of water and then find a campsite somewhere in the woods below.  Found the water but the campsite proved elusive, finally descended and passed through a fancy shooting estate and then headed back uphill where I’d seen sheep grazing from the Three Brethren.  I a nice pasture near the top of the hill in the shelter of a small wood proved to ideal site, it was only around 3km west of Galashields, NT 466336; I’d completed another tough day.

Musing bed that night I saw that eliminating a complete day from the crossing was reasonable possibility.

Monday, 8th Oct 12 – near Galashields to Blythe Water, 29km

8am and on the hoof, an early dash into Galashields to Asda for the full Scottish breakfast!

I was in Asda shortly after 9am having been given a lift back they way I’d come by a kind gent of whom I’d asked directions.  By 10am I’d enjoyed a breakfast, completed the shopping and was heading down the road.  I skipped going walking through Melrose, I just wanted to be back in the hills.

At the 23km mark I walked into Lauder, the local shop had a fair selection but I’d already stocked up well in Galashields.  The cafe in the local recreation centre was good even if the receptionist was a little unfriendly.

I’d sussed a campsite around 6km east of Lauder next to the foot bridge over Blythe Water, NT 567507, when I got there I found that it was as nice a spot as it had looked on Google Earth, I didn’t see any anywhere half as good between Lauder and Longformacus.

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Tuesday, 9th Oct 12, Blythe Water to  Abbey St. Bathans, 32km

Was up early and on the road by 8am, I had thought about heading NE across the grouse moor but finally decided to follow the signposted route even though it looked to lead through cattle/ sheep pasture, I should have listened to my instincts.  From the very muddy and soggy official route the alternative looked a lot better and the routes converged after an hour’s walk.

The official route crosses the fields, over Scoured Rig, on the right rather than a LRT across the moor on the left.

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Probably a consequence of the land politics when the SUW was first devised back in 1984 way before Scotland’s freedom of access legislation (2003)

Beyond here the walking improved, finally passing over Twin Laws before the descent towards Longformacus (18km mark).  I was temporarily halted by a large grouse shoot so I had a quick snack and watched a young roe deer run up and down the fence line.

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Not much in Longformacus, as I sat in the SUW shelter having lunch in the rain the owner of the house opposite came out “would you like a cup of tea”, I quickly agreed!  1½ hrs later and a number of cuppa’s later I departed, there are some nice people in the world.   The rain had lessened quite a lot but the umbrella was quickly erected again.

The going to Abbey St. Bathans (29km) was fairly easy through heavily developed shooting estates with lot of pheasants running around. The recent rain had caused some heavy flooding in the area and debris was evident 5m above river level in some places.

The place where I’d looked to camp wasn’t good, pigs were grazing the area, I pushed on a little and I finally found a spot on edge of woods in a sheep pasture, NT 761633.

Wednesday, 10th Oct 12,  – Abbey St. Bathans to Cockburnpath, 14km

My campsite proved a good spot for a quick dash to the finish line and after only an hour on the road I realized the 10:44am bus from Cocksburnpath and early train home was a possibility so I pushed the pace hard.  Finally above Cove harbour I realized that it I’d missed the bus to Dunbar and backed off a little.

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I finally arriving at the end at 11am.

Plan B – 11:20 the taxi arrived; 16 minutes and £20 later I was at the station; ticket bought and on the platform with 30 seconds to spare for the 11:37 the train to Edinburgh.

General

Overall I was disappointed with the first 50 km; too much walking through farm land and tarmac bashing, the last 30km is similar.  I found the going west of Sanqhar particularly bad (wet and boggy) and sometimes the paths were chewed up by ATV traffic.  The proliferation of wind farms right across the route was a bit depressing, there doesn’t seem to be a day when one or more aren’t visible and sometimes the route passes quite close to them; not really a ‘wild’ walk anymore.

If I repeated I would also be far less inclined to strictly follow the official route; ‘better’ routes are apparent from the map and visible on the ground.

I carried enough food at outset to get me to Moffat with only the need to top up on snack foods along the way, this must have added 6kg; pack weight at outset was ~16kg (including 1.5 litres of water), tooooooo heavy for my liking.   If I repeated I’d look to reduce this load by planning a resupply in Dalry, probably using a food parcel sent to the campsite, the resupply opportunities further along the trail are ample.

The equipment I was using was pretty main stream stuff but fairly lightweight (compared with some) at about 8.5kg base weight; Osprey Talon 44, Zepheros 1; Alpkit PD400; Exped Synmat 7UL; Honey stove; Evernew Ti meths stove; Evernew 1L Pasta Pot.  The only spare clothing carried was a Rab Generator smock, HH Lifa full base layer and spare socks.  All worked pretty well; although the Talon pack proved an uncomfortable carry for the first couple of days, I’d say for me 13kg would be its max load; the star of the show was the Euroschirm Umbrella it was well worth carrying the 200g.

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3 comments on “Southern Upland Way – 2012

  1. Robin
    June 15, 2014

    Thanks. Enjoyable read. SUW doesn’t really appeal to me though and your trip notes confirm it. Glad to find another fan of backpacking with an umbrella!

    • Paul Atkinson
      June 15, 2014

      I had fairly unpleasant weather which colours the perspective a little. The central section, New Luce to Galashields is a reasonable week’s walking, not particularly difficult and does have some nice country. Like the WHW it appeals more to folk who don’t like going ‘wild’ for days.
      The umbrella has proven a good companion on spring and Autumn jaunts so long as the forecast isn’t too blowy.

  2. Martin Rye
    June 15, 2014

    I would like to walk it one day. I found this an interesting and helpful for future planning post. Thanks.

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This entry was posted on June 13, 2014 by in Trip Reports and tagged .
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