Wednesday, 1 May 2019

10 Miles From Moffat. Loch Fell. 688 metres. A Hillwalk in the Southern Uplands.

                                                  ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
With the blackthorn in bloom on bare branches without a single leaf in sight and spring in the air I received an invite from Alex to go down to the Southern Uplands on a bagging trip. "You can have a fairly easy day or a long hard one..." he offered sportingly.
It was a no brainer. These days I will unfailingly pick the easy option.
We therefore passed through the pleasant village of Moffat on our way to the hill. Although England may not have remote empty wilderness outside the Lake District and its National Parks what it does have is history and centuries old riches in abundance with hundreds of picture postcard memorable small towns and villages full of interest and quirky surprises. Over 500 of these communities worth a day trip visit compared to less than 50 worth sufficient tourist interest to last a full day up here. Scotland is often an uncivilized, poor relation, ghost town, by comparison, village and small town wise that is, but Moffat is one of the pretty ones, along with Bigger, Peebles, Melrose, and Strathaven.
Happy pig with an Easter treat. (I think it's an Oxford Sandy and Black breed.) Around 10 miles outside Moffat however we were deep in the rural solitude again that the Southern Uplands are famous for. Nowadays, many parts of the Scottish Highlands are busy with tourists nine months of the year. You can still find empty wilderness aplenty up there, away from the tourist hot spots but it's not that way on the road network or car parks, many of which are crowded in peak season or during any holiday periods.
Alex ( and I ) prefer the Southern Uplands these days due to the always quiet roads and empty landscapes. When we last visited Knoydart ( 'the last great Scottish wilderness' in many older hill-walking guidebooks) it was still spectacular and rugged but it did not feel that empty anymore with dozens of tents, numerous caterpillars of hill-walkers setting off every morning up the hills and sizeable, if quiet, beach parties at night. Like Ibiza with midges. (Although it's supposed to be remote, enterprising Londoners with big wallets can get there within one day by plane, train and ferry from the metropolis.) The area and village has featured in numerous Sunday magazine colour supplements over many years as a remote 'bucket list' location so that's no surprise. Mind you, I have met quite a few unattached locals over the years who enjoy the influx of visitors each summer as it gives remote areas and remote individuals a better chance of finding someone to date and start a relationship with- always a problem in the Highlands and Islands where traditionally many young folk have to go to the cities to find work or suitable partners.
Being the Easter holidays no two hour tailback queues on the Loch Lomond road for us however and we were also the only car in the car park down here all day. With no Munros and hundreds of hills to climb in this vast coast to coast area that's not surprising. And as you can see it might not have the rugged mountains and cliffs of the Scottish Highlands but it does have, in certain places, a wild beauty all its own.
In typical bluesky weather conditions we set off for the hill- me not having a clue where I was going due to not finding my Moffat OS map and Alex leading by intuition and baggers scent sniffing guide for a summit trig alone.
For an easy hill it seemed a long way in through a vast wilderness. The 215 mile long distance walking route the Southern Upland Way would be crossing our path at some point and this section is one of the scenic highlights of the entire route. This blue speck, a fellow walker in the distance, was the only other person we came across all day.
S.U.W. Info board halfway in.
It was warm with a heat haze building but a cool breeze kept it pleasant. In my own book, Chapter 13, 'The Borderers' I was calling these hills 'Teddy Bear' summits in that they do feel warm and friendly, cuddly almost, especially in fine weather, with no major cliffs, dangerous hazards, or sharp rocky ridges to negotiate. The slopes are usually covered in lush golden or brown grass and paths to trig points are few and far between so you do feel like ants clambering over a warehouse of discarded soft toys. Even the ground underfoot is bouncy and padded, ankle deep and tender on the toes. Although mainly around the 2000 to 2500 foot mark they still feel hard to ascend, especially as we were still approaching Alex's peak with no clear view of it yet in sight. Mind you, I still had no clue what one it was, trusting to Alex to find it as his only map was phone sized and digital these days on a tiny screen I never gained a look at.
"I'm glad we picked the easy one." I remarked dryly, after walking a fair distance inwards and no sign of a furry belly button or Steiff tag anywhere. "Whatever one that is." He just smiled and carried on.
A lot of Southern Upland scenery can look very like this, especially lower down around the bothies with miles of pine forests, or on the more nondescript uplands, hill after hill of slowly spinning wind turbines but this area was special.
Further in we arrived at a steep ravine with almost vertical scree slopes leading down to a gurgling steam bed.
A narrow path/sheep trail hugged the side of this gorge with a sharp drop of several hundred feet down into the gully on our left. This section did not feel 'teddy bear' friendly in any way and at one point a chunk of the path had fallen away altogether, down into the gorge, maybe marking a luckless sheep of too heavy hoof print, making an quick unwanted exit here at terminal velocity towards the abbyss. Narrow and airy for a good distance it was uncharacteristic for the Southern Uplands in general but they do have their moments.
Gradually the deep gorge ran upwards to meet the traverse path and at the end of it we could finally see our hill. Loch Fell, A Donald, 688 metes or 2258 feet. Hooray!
This path took us up onto Cat Shoulder, seen here, and the official high level route of the Southern Upland Way. Around us at this point we had Capel Fell, Ettrick Pen, Crofthead Hill, and White Shank, all around the 2000 foot mark.
At this point we started going back downhill again.
'Hey, the summit's up there!' I informed my errant companion.
'Secret bagging tick to collect.' he winked. 'Follow me.'
I decided secret bagging ticks, when they lost me hard won height, were bad news but we did find a nice hidden bridge then headed up again. Despite wearing shorts I was pleased to report no sheep ticks afterwards. Another bonus.
And this is us... heading up the slopes of Loch Fell.
View near the summit.
Scenic Southern Uplands. If you want real solitude and people free landscapes you will find it here.
Steep cliffs and near vertical forests. Cutting these down when mature will be hard I'd imagine but predicting which direction they will fall might prove easy.
The 'Teddy Bear Wilderness' surrounds Alex in a friendly hug. In many mountain landscapes if you fall over unexpectedly or throw yourself down most likely it will hurt via a protruding boulder, rock slab or gravel. Here, nine times out of ten, you just bounce back up on a soft old paw.
 Wild mountain flowers covered the upper slopes, providing splashes of colour. Grass of Parnassus in abundance here, growing in wide carpets on damp soils also aptly named bog- stars. This spring however it was bone dry and the UK has already experienced several large grass and moor fires- very unusual for this early in the season in a normally rain blasted country.
Zig zag path over Cat Shoulder. The official Southern Upland way route. A great day out and thanks to Alex for suggesting it.


Anabel Marsh said...

I had to look very hard for the blue speck! I would be very nervous on that exposed path, if I could even have been persuaded along it. And this is the “easy” route! We’ve had a couple of nice weekends in Moffat, can’t remember exactly where we walked except the Devil’s Beeftub because I like the name.

Kay G. said...

Quiet roads and empty landscapes, sounds like my kind of walk too!
That film sounds good, I wonder if it will ever come on TV here, I will look out for it.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anabel,
that path was quite exciting and best avoided under snow as these bowling ball type slopes can avalanche easily with no rocks or hollows to break up the slope if it suddenly goes. Seen some big slides on these type of hills in the past with the sun warming the slopes whereas higher mountains tend to be colder, boulder strewn, and solid.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
some wonderful hills and villages in this area you would like. It is an American film so it should be on TV at some point.

Carol said...

Makes you wonder what his hard option was, that?! Cat Shoulder looks nice though - the ravine, not so much!

I'm surprised you're managing shorts in Scotland just now - I was out yesterday in the hills wearing everything (and I mean everything) and I could see my breath - very nastily cold indeed! Today seemed just as bad at ground level. It's been very cold so far this May

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
It was very sunny and warm over Easter up in Scotland with busy traffic heading North. Bare legs and a breeze got me up that hill as it was like summer heat levels only without the humidity of the peak summer months. Leadhills, Loch Trool area in Galloway, The Tweedsmuir Hills (Moffat) and The Pentlands are all worth a visit and only a short drive from Cumbria. You would like them- different area and views.

Andy said...

I like the Teddy Bear analogy!! I've never walked in these hills - too busy speeding past for the Highlands. Fond memories of Moffatt. we used to stop there on our way either for a pint in the Bull or a coffee at Pacitti's cafe (I think that was the name) which I suspect is long gone.