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Trial by tussock

Trial by tussock

Postby wjshaw2 » Mon Apr 15, 2013 6:22 pm

Sub 2000' hills included on this walk: Blackwood Hill, Larriston Fell

Date walked: 08/04/2013

Time taken: 10 hours

Distance: 34.1 km

Ascent: 1180m

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If eskimos have 50 words for snow, I think we should develop a larger vocabulary to describe tussocks. To say a route has tussocks is now empty for me, because I really want to know: what sort?

Are they low and well-spaced and essentially don't slow you down? Are they high, but still with enough space to comfortably put your foot down between them which means that while you walk a strangely windy route you still do so at a reasonable pace? Are are they ankle grinders, which catch your foot in them as effectively as a boulder field? Are they, in fact, so tightly spaced that you're better off standing on the tussock tops?

And all this is affected by what goes to make up the tussock. Is it grass so that when you stand on them they disappear - a false tussock? Is it moss that is squishy to stand on? Is there actually something solid at its centre - is it a grass covered rock or is the tussock frozen so that it has the same effect? Or is it a heather based tussock?

And how high is the tussock? 10cm? A foot?

And is the space between the tussocks actually a bog? Then your choice becomes one between turning your ankle trying to stand on the wobbly tussock, falling off and landing in the bog or just plodding through the bog in a wiggly line.

And is the depth of tussock actually visible? Often heather tussocks disguise the drop between tussocks which can lead to disappearing foot syndrome and another bashed ankle.

The prize for hardest tussocks yet encountered does not actually go to any encountered on this walk, although I found many varieties of the above, but to those in the Galloway Hills. There they are foot high, grass tussocks that are unable to sustain your weight, although many have a genuine rock at their centre as well just to confuse you. The gap between the tussocks is entirely covered up by dead grass meaning that you haven't much idea of whether or not your next step is on the tussock of dead looking grass or between them on actual dead grass. And when you do successfully step between the tussocks on the actual dead grass you've no idea how far down you're going to go, you just hope that your foot stops at some stage, preferably in something dry, but probably not. And as an added bonus, it's always possible to step on an invisible adder.

This walk gets second prize, mostly for variety.

But not at the start. I wanted to find a route where Blackwood Hill and Larriston Hill could be combined into one long round, especially as I'd worked out longer, more interesting rounds for the hills I'd walked recently, but not given myself sufficient time to actually do them. So I came up with this one. Fanna Hill is a sub-Marilyn (a fairly ridiculous category of hills with 10m too little climb of their own to be an actual Marilyn) and seemed the only sensible-ish way of doing this so off I went.

I parked on the verge of the forestry track slightly up the Steel Road. If you park here leave loads of space as there are plenty of enormous trucks hurtling up and down and they will probably just squash anything in their way and not think twice. Up onto the old railway line (signposted as a long distance path to Hawick) and then up the fence/wall between the felled forestry and the field. There are no gates into the fields until you get to the top and in the meantime I squelched my way up some recently churned up scrambler bike tracks, which seem to be a feature of the hills round here, this one in particular. They really make a mess of anything at all wet.

Old railway.jpg
Old railway

Larriston Fells from a little way up Arnton Fell.jpg
Larriston Fells from a little way up Arnton Fell

From the gate at the top, I took the wee diversion back to the trig point for views over Newcastleton - you only really get these views here, but my photo of it didn't come out. The views over Hermitage Castle to Roan Fell, Cauldcleuch Head, and Greatmoor Hill are a continuous feature along the ridge of Blackwood Hill (more prominently called Arnton Fell on my map). From the SW spur to the top is an easy stroll. The top itself is sort of marked by a cairn, because the actual top must be at the foot of a tree nearby which I crawled around like a sad completist just making sure.

Roan Fell from Blackwood Hill.jpg
Roan Fell

Tudhope Hill, Cauldcleuch Head, and Greatmoor Hill from Blackwood Hill.jpg
Tudhope Hill, Cauldcleuch Head, and Greatmoor Hill

Blackwood Hill-Arnton Fell spur.jpg
Blackwood Hill/Arnton Fell spur

Scrambler tracks on Blackwood Hill.jpg
Scrambler tracks

Lunch on top of Blackwood Hill at the non-top.jpg
Lunch with my hedgehog

From there I followed the edge of the wood down to Bell Hill and followed the ride that goes straight down the spur and then on over the two old railway lines (forestry tracks) and a wee spur to get the the open hillside on the south end of Saughtree Fell (having to go over a small barbed wire fence next to a stream).

Over Bell Hill to Saughtree Fell.jpg
Over Bell Hill to Saughtree Fell

It's a simple 2km walk to the flat top with a gate at an appropriate corner of a fence. Saughtree Hill actually made the best viewpoint of the day (but probably only because it was dark by the time I got to Larriston Fell).

Blackwood Hill looking back from Saughtree Fell.jpg
Blackwood Hill looking back from Saughtree Fell

Fanna Hill from Saughtree Fell, about as good a picture of it as you'll get from anywhere.jpg
Fanna Hill - not the most photogenic of lumps

Larriston Fells from Saughtree Fell, already looking a long way away.jpg
Larriston Fells looking a long way away already

Greatmoor Hill and Maiden Paps from Saughtree Fell.jpg
Greatmoor Hill and Maiden Paps

The tussocks started here. It's a 5km trudge along the spur to Fanna Hill, made more interesting by new forestry plantations and snow filling the gaps between tussocks. These were plain grass tussocks, somewhat frozen, and without any serious bog between them, but they made it a long walk to the top of Fanna. But the next few years will be the last chance for a while to walk this spur with any views at all with the new planting on one side and recent felling which will be replanted on the others. Also, the vegetation will get worse with the growing forestry (I'm thinking of the overgrown rides around Calkin Rig NW of Langholm which are shoulder high bracken highways designed to deliver ticks to all parts of the body) unless this spur gains a proper track at some stage. The changing aspects of Greatmoor Hill and Maiden Paps to the west and of Peel Hill, Deadwater Fell, and Larriston Fell to the east were pleasing to see along with views to the north emerging as I neared Fanna Hill.

The terrain across to Fanna Hill.jpg
The terrain across to Fanna Hill

Rubers Law and the Eildon Hill from Fanna Hill.jpg
Rubers Law and the Eildon Hills

The tussocks however worsened towards the top of Fanna Hill, the highest point on the walk which certainly caught the most snow. This meant that the gaps between the highest tussocks of the walk so far (foot high) were filled with snow or, worse, the tussocks were covered with snow, all of which was wet so you never knew how far you would sink on each step. Frustrating after a 5km plod to get there. And then to get to the top and find a scrambler bike had beaten you to the top seemed to make it worse somehow (although they must be pretty good to scramble through foot deep snow and tussocks). Views are a little restricted from the top due to the forestry to the NW, but the Cheviot makes its only appearance of the day.

The Cheviot from Fanna Hill.jpg
The Cheviot from the top of Fanna Hill

It had taken me half an hour longer to get here than I'd planned due to tussocks (that word was starting to play on my mind: tussock, tussock, tussock,...) so decided not to hack over more tussocks across the new plantations on Whitegrain Fell, Lamblair Hill and Coopercleuch Knowe as I'd planned, but followed the scrambler tracks to a narrow ride in the forestry and descended to the good, windy track through mature and felled woodland emerging onto the B6357. I presume if you were just climbing Fanna Hill, you'd park there. It'd be a fairly dull plod from there with no views at all until the summit so I felt quite satisfied that I'd come a different, more difficult way.

From the road, I cut across Hudshouse Rig, over another branch of the old railway line and the road to Kielder and went up the spur that is Windy Knowe heading straight for the corner of the field and the woods above Thorlieshope Heights where there was meant to be (and, thankfully, was) a gap in the woods.

Blackwood Hill from Windy Knowe with sun.jpg
Blackwood Hill in the sun from Windy Knowe

It was only on nearing this gap that the tussocks returned and by the time the trig point at 396m was reached, they were foot and a half high tussocks with narrow gaps, frozen but not wide enough to stand on. Very slow going. The name of the place should've given it away: Foulmire Heights. This also pointed to the bogginess between the tussocks which was frozen mostly, but not all the time, meaning the occasional ankle deep dunking to vary the tripping over of tussocks, tussocks, tussocks.

Foulmire Heights to Larriston Fells.jpg
Foulmire Heights to Larriston Fell

Tussock City.jpg
Tussock city

The 4km walk from Foulmire to the top of Larriston Fells (I presume the top is Fell singular, rather than the plural seen on the map) got a little easier as the tussocks lowered to below a foot and became heathery rather than dead grass/mossy. Someone had cut drains across Foulmire, but to no obvious effect other than the small banks making drier paths across the worst of it. I hurried as best as I could across here (choosing proper bog over tussocks at one point, but sinking and going back to tussocks again) and reached the top as the sun was setting over Roan Fell. I really should have set off from the car before midday so was only getting here by the back of 8pm.

Sunset over Roan Fell and Cauldcleuch Head.jpg
Sunset over Roan Fell and Cauldcleuch Head

Larriston Fell plateau.jpg

After the fourth trig point of the day I set off towards the mast on the west end of the hill and the safety (in the dark) of the forestry tracks. I'd intended to head straight down the hill and the tracks represented a km and a bit of detour, but didn't want an unseen tussock to finally catch me out. It must've been cold too as the water in my water bottle froze... But I did get a view over the lights of Carlisle and the masts south of Annan on the Solway Coast all lit up. It's lovely being in the hills at night.

By torchlight, I made it back to the car by a bit before 10pm, only about 2 hours longer than intended, but happy. A good work out for the knees and a proper long round done! I stayed the night at the Liddesdale Hotel in Newcastleton and the lady there was wonderful, cooking a steak pie and chips long after the kitchen had officially closed. They also sell Sam Smith's beer which is a bonus. A good night's rest and then off to Roan Fell, Cauldcleuch Head, and Greatmoor Hill the next day.
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Mountain Walker
Posts: 114
Munros:100   Corbetts:62
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Joined: Feb 16, 2013
Location: Edinburgh

Re: Trial by tussock

Postby Llondon » Mon Aug 24, 2020 2:35 pm

Your tussock suggestion had me and the hubby creased :lol: :clap:
Posts: 2
Munros:15   Corbetts:8
Grahams:5   Donalds:2
Sub 2000:32   Hewitts:6
Joined: Feb 23, 2017

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