Monday, 20 March 2017

Wanlockhead. Leadhills. Lowther Hill. Green Lowther.

                                              ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
(Sorry for the delay in putting up a post or commenting on other blogs. Alas, I changed broadband provider to a cheaper deal but due to the set up in my house- master telephone socket in gloomy living-room downstairs which never gets any sun- office and computer upstairs in a spare room, via a telephone extension line, which always receives plenty of sunshine, winter and summer, and is a much cheerier and warmer place to write and think up ideas in...I now have a problem. This set up worked perfectly well under Sky and I never had any problems but since changing to Talk Talk a couple of weeks ago I've been off line and have had no phone for well over a week then slow patchy broadband and/or no phone at all- a situation which is still ongoing. I thought it would be a simple matter to change providers and save some money but apparently not so in my case :o(

Anyway, a Sunday outing with Alan and dog took us down to Leadhills and Wanlockhead, two pretty villages now, situated in the Lowther Hills, west of Moffat in the Southern Uplands, but once heavily industrialized with large scale mining for Lead, Zinc, Copper, Silver and Gold.  These two remote villages are the highest in Scotland and sit snugly at over 1,400feet above sea level situated in a remote upland region of Dumfries and Galloway.
Conditions for the miners proved hard and brutal in the 1700s with many parts of Scotland sending children underground from the age of seven or eight until they died around 40 or 45 years of age, still grafting hard in the mines. I recently read an excellent book on the working conditions for these 'white slaves' toiling underground in the mid 1700s when they could be sold to any new owner as essential commodities along with any necessary machinery and mineral deposit rights. It was a book I thoroughly enjoyed - A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett,  a well written, historically accurate account of coal mines in Fife, conditions in London, America and other places, during an age of slaves ships transporting people across continents.

Buzzard on a spoil heap. The highest vantage point around. Anyway, this book helped to give me  greater insight into life at that time as well as being a cracking story and romantic drama set in places I've actually been to in an effort to check out the details in the book myself. Where I grew up, Nitshill in Glasgow, the landscape was similar to here in many ways with beautiful rural scenery entwined with abandoned mines, coal and lime works, brick quarries, railway cuttings and flooded holes. A dangerous but highly exciting place for children to go exploring but we never thought much about what went on in past times to give us such a great playground.
In spring sunshine, as it was now, both villages are enjoyable places to explore and Wanlockhead has a visitor museum, car park, toilets,  a small underground mine to go down, miners cottages, and a delightful network of paths weaving between all the attractions.
As it was too early in the season to be open yet the mine, cottages, museum and toilets were closed (open every day 1st of April to end September) but that didn't bother us as we were here for the walking possibilities. A steam railway runs every weekend from Easter to September between both villages but a circular path runs from Meadowfoot past Wanlock Dod into Leadhills then returns between Mine Hill and Stake Hill. At around 8 to 12 kilometers, depending on  paths taken, it provides an interesting walk around the area at lower levels through the various passes.
As Alan had never been here before we were more interested this time in climbing the highest hills in the region, Lowther Hill, 725 metres and Green Lowther, 732 metres, the latter seen here. A fresh fall of snow made a stark contrast between winter conditions above and warm spring below. Pleasant green paths are still a feature of Wanlockhead, a sight that used to be common in Scotland but is much rarer now due to increased visitor numbers, hill-walkers and mountain bike use trashing most of them in the last 20 years. Maybe wetter climate conditions have not helped but I've noticed many of my former favourite walks in city parks, rural countryside or on small hills have degenerated into muddy ruts for most of the year when they used to resemble this path in the photo below. 
Grassy path network around Wanlockhead. Hopefully they will still look like this in another 20 years time.
The paths around Wanlockhead village which also boasts the highest pub in Scotland, the second oldest subscription library in the British Isles (beaten by Leadhills which is the oldest recorded, in 1741) for the miners to improve their education and knowledge of the larger world around them.
Even today few trees grow in this pleasant hollow but on really warm summer days (we don't have that many sadly) the sheltering embrace of the surrounding hills and a lack of wind can produce oven like temperatures where it's not difficult to imagine yourself in one of the hotter mining countries like the American old desert states or the greener parts of mining Australia.
For us though the great white golf ball on the summit of Lowther Hill beckoned. This is the Civil Aviation authority radar station tracking aircraft positions over Southern Scotland, Northern England and the edge of Northern Ireland.
A DIY ski tow at a basic level (i.e for locals and guests only) runs a short distance uphill between both summits. For many decades proper ski facilities have been proposed here but a shifting local population (many part time holiday homes in both villages) unreliable snow conditions, or young folk simply leaving to find work elsewhere as they grow up means this never happened on a larger scale. It does have good cross country and downhill skiing potential though with a hardly used tarmac service road across the plateau between both summits providing an easy run away from the bumpy tussocks and gullies.
After a winter without much snowfall it felt really good to be up here, especially on a day of bright sunshine, zero winds and terrific cloud formations in the dazzling skies above.
A view across to Green Lowther.
The snowy plateau between summits.
A cracking day out. Wanlockhead Village from the snow slopes. Very few other walkers or visitors about apart from three cross country skiers and a few low level sightseers in the villages. If you have never been here it's worth a visit. A good half day exploration on low level flat paths or a full day walk with the hills included. A tarmac service road leads to both summits from Wanlockhead so not much navigation required. 6 to 8 hours to see everything on a long hike taking in both high summits and both villages in a circular outing. OS LANDRANGER MAP SHEET 78. Nithsdale and Annandale.

Spring frog selection in local Glasgow ponds. I'm a daddy again to thousands!!!
Froggie went a courting....

More frogs.
Watching me, watching you, ah ha! An Abba moment.
War memorial. Wanlockhead.

A video this week produced by two friends (Brian and Martina) that used to be in our old mountaineering club for many years but have since moved up to the Inverness postal district, beside the coast, and have taken up sea kayaking. A cracking and colourful compilation of their travels around their local district. The Skye segment is the amazing Loch Bracadale and its islands, which gets a full chapter to itself on a much earlier visit decades ago in my comedy/ adventure novel set in Glasgow, Scotland and the greater ranges in Europe.....Autohighography.


Anonymous said...

Wonder where you'd gone :)
Always wanted to walk this area. I'm a bit of a fan of these industrial archeological areas, a fascinating insight into history. I find it staggering the juxtaposition of industry and the associated exploitation and brutality of the age with efforts to educate far ahead of its time. Staggering in many ways
I know so many people who have bad experiences with the cheaper broadband providers that are almost identical to yours (confusion, failed equipment, no phone/internet for weeks etc). I'm with BT and while I pay a hefty premium for their service. It always works and it is genuinely unlimited (handy with a son who plays online games!)

Linda said...

Such a fantastic post! I had missed you, and was so happy to see your post and lovely photos today! The frog is adorable, and I enjoyed the video, too. Thank you so much for sharing. :)

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Andy,
Yes, I hope it works better soon. Fingers crossed. Even just for a walk it's a great area in sunshine- pretty grim in bad weather though with not much shelter available.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Linda,
Thank you. The video makes me want to jump in a kayak again although mine are not fully seaworthy as you can't roll in them without water getting in.

Linda W. said...

Another beautiful hill walk! Loved the crowded frog pond pics too.

Anabel Marsh said...

It's bizarre, every year I meant to visit here and we never do! It looks great, maybe this summer.

We have Virgin, the broadband is very good but bundled with more phone and tv services than we really want. I keep thinking about abandoning it for something cheaper, then I read stories like yours. Hope you get it sorted soon.

Carol said...

I virtually never see snow on those hills as I drive up there so I'm not sure any kind of ski-town is a goer really...

I have broadband problems nowadays - I'm pretty sure BT have pulled most of my service as they're in a sulk because I won't have 'Infinity' (I don't need it). It was slower than dial-up until the last couple of weeks when I finally managed to get a complaint to them and I tried to switch back to dial-up for the better speed but it doesn't work on my laptop now :-( Dial-up was never as slow as people made out, was far more reliable and, until it became more expensive than broadband, I never bothered to change.

The Greenockian said...

Fabulous photos of the old mining area. Hope your broadband has worked itself out.

Kay G. said...

Gorgeous photos, as always, love the frogs!
And the video of the sea kayaking...oh dear, how much I wish I could go there and do the same!

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

Cracking post, Bob. I have made a note of Leadhills and Wanlockhead for future excursion purposes. On the topic of slavery, you might enjoy 'White Gold' by Giles Milton - it certainly opened my eyes. Don't get me started on broadband and telecom service providers!!

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Linda W,
Yes, I always get more than my fair quota of frogs every spring.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anabel,
If you pick a nice sunny day I think you'd enjoy it. Wanlockhead is the main attraction to wander around but Leadhills is worthwhile as an add on and Moffat, Biggar or Lanark close by make several extra extensions to the trip as they are not far off the main road south to fill out the rest of the day.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Another reason why skiing there never took off as even the higher main resorts in the Highlands have snow-less seasons some years. Good hills for cross country though when they do get lasting snow cover.
The price was steadily creeping up year on year and all I wanted was basic broadband and phone not all the extras offered I wasn't going to use.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Liz,
Yes, it's an interesting place.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Kay.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Mike,
I'll look it up. The Follett book was the best I've read so far though for giving a detailed account of the life of miners during that period as well as being a great story overall.

Tom said...

I have always thought the road from mennock to wanlockhead must be in the top few drives in the soith of scotland, along with the durisdeer pass, moffat to selkirk road and the road over by loch talla, although i certainly havent driven them all. Come to think of it the ayr to castle douglas road, the ettrick valley, galashiels to peebles and moffat to edinburgh are all pretty special too, really its a hugely underated area that people drive right on by on the m74 with little though for anything but the highlands.

Its also got a spot maybe half way between mennock and wanlockhead, where the road is beside the river, that is by far the best "electric brae" in i've come across, in fact it feels so much like its climbing uphill its hard to spot. it gets little publicity but somehow my dad knew about it and as a kid we always made it part of our route to the south of england from ayshire when visiting relatives.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Tom,
Yep, I love that area from Lanark/Carluke through to Edinburgh by the back roads past the Pentlands and Edinburgh to Peebles as well. Really nice landscapes including the district around Biggar. Beautiful, relaxed quiet driving or cycling and as good scenery wise as 70 percent of the Highlands away from Glencoe, Skye, Torridon or Assynt all of which tends to be mobbed every summer now which puts me off a bit. I'm too used to the space and solitude of the lesser hills now where you can go all day without seeing a soul and very little traffic, even on bank holidays.

Ian Johnston said...

Another area I've neglected Bob - and one that I really should take the time to explore.

I wish we had the option of an alternative broadband provider....or indeed broadband speeds exceeding a crawl. The price of rural living I think!