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Broken back avoided around Ettrickdale

Broken back avoided around Ettrickdale

Postby Driftwood » Fri Jun 26, 2015 11:42 pm

Route description: Ettrick Hills horseshoe

Grahams included on this walk: Capel Fell, Croft Head, Ettrick Pen

Donalds included on this walk: Capel Fell, Croft Head, Ettrick Pen, Loch Fell, Wind Fell

Date walked: 30/05/2015

Time taken: 5.25 hours

Distance: 20.5 km

Ascent: 1400m

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This walk was split by a stay in the MBA bothy at Over Phawhope. I've recorded the walking time (3.5 hours on Saturday evening plus 1 hour 45 on the Sunday morning) without including time in and around the bothy.

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The afternoon ended dry, with some warm though hazy sunshine. I reached the walk start a little later than hoped, then wasted a couple of minutes parking up before I noticed a car park especially for walkers (and fishing) just across the Ettrick water.

Selcoth and Moffatdale

At this point, I considered doing the walk clockwise so as to reach the bothy sooner (saving Ettrick Pen and the other hills around to Croft Head until the following morning). But conditions were OK and there should be plenty of evening light, so I went ahead with getting most of the walk done sooner. That suited my travel arrangements (needing to catch an afternoon ferry to Arran the following day) and turned out to make the most of the weather, too.

I walked southwest along the valley for some minutes, using level tracks, before passing through a gate to a hill pasture and rising path. I missed the footbridge over Selcoth Burn, but managed to cross easily enough a little further up, after a wooded area. That brought me onto the long northwest ridge of Croft Head while the burn was enveloping by steeper hillsides ahead. One of these is the worryingly named Broken Back; I hoped that a pack full of gear for an overnight stop wouldn't have the same effect on me.

Broken Back hill from the west

The hazy early-evening sunshine (and maybe lack of practice in the hills) made for warm going, but I kept aiming for the (green and rounded) ridgeline, avoiding the temptation of a track / path that ran closer to the burn. Every year I face the same challenge when getting back to uphill walking, though it might just be the contrast with the lazy rolling lowlands of East Anglia. On the way, there was an Amber Warning text about tomorrow's ferry service, just to add a different concern.

Ascending Croft Head

The slope eases further across a shoulder of hill before Croft Head itself. Several fence-lines came together, bringing me to a path signed as part of the Southern Uplands Way. Some signage later explained that this is a high-level alternative to the main Way running 200 metres lower down.
My next hill lay across a steeply-sided dale (and guarded by forestry), so I happily followed the path gradually down Cat Shoulder, then zig-zagging to manage a steeper stretch. The path is loose and feels eroded in parts, but helps the descent and soon reaches the main Way near a round sheep-fank.

Cat Shoulder path

I followed the SUW eastwards and uphill a little more until a high point near a cairn. Then struck out southwards with some zigging and zagging to struggle up the side of West Knowe, Loch Fell. Across a fence line, I tried to tread the highest point before aiming for the main top on the neighbouring East Knowe. This is adorned with a trig point and provided another stopping place to snack, drink and check on the route to follow.

Loch Fell trig point

The same fence-line leads helpfully across a series of further Donalds and Donald Tops to Ettrick Pen, the highest hill in this area (south of Moffatdale). There are some moderate descents and climbs, with a few boggy sections, but it proved benign going as the clouds and evening drew in. There is a path and sometimes ATV track, though the grassy ground makes for fair going anyway.

I took another break atop Ettrick Pen, though the clouds gathering above weren't helpful for photos. Noting the darker grey, I checked my bearings and descended to join a track into the dale. There were the beginnings of rain as this reached a substantial bridge and new forestry tracks, bringing me to Over Phawhope bothy in time to shelter from worst weather through the night.

The cloud was down next morning and drizzling steadily. I briefly considered whether to follow the Southern Upland Way southwest, then head through the valley path before Croft Head, but going over the hills seemed the obvious choice. One of the new forestry roads curved uphill a short way, then it was steeer (and wetter) slopes through the clear ground alongside Little Smid Hope burn.

The rain promptly increased, so it was on with waterproofs to squelch my way uphill. It's a fairly short climb thanks to the elevation of the bothy, but soon brought me into the cloud layer. So there are no photos of finding the fence line on White Shank, then following south and southwest to Smidhope hill then Capel Fell. This has quite steep ground on several sides, so it was an easy decision to descend by the easier northwest ridge rather than aiming for Broken back further west.

Croft Head from Capel Fell

The terrain proved good going, with a moderate slope and good footing, joining some faint tracks as I left the cloud (at roughly 600 metres) and the rain also eased off. There were improving views of Moffatdale, at least until I reached the treeline around Sailfoot law.

Descent around Sailfoot law

A made track circles this hill; I took the left (western) loop as slightly shorter, turning off by another downhill track above a small quarry area. Some areas lower down (roughly 200-250 metres) had been felled and re-planted, but offered an open route to short-cut and rejoin the main track beneath them.
The car park is just 200 metres from Sailfoot. Luckily for me, the ferry services ran as usual that afternoon, though the weather continued to be "changeable" for the first few days of June.
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