The Manor and Moffat hills are logistically complicated, as there are only odd places round the edge where you can reach them by public transport - but on the other hand they have a bothy right in the middle, making it a good place for two day trips, and I think it's partly the challenge that attracts me. I was setting out basically to mop up the hills I hadn't reached on a similar trip last year, but to make things different I was going the other way round - in from Drumelzier in the Tweed Valley, and out to Moffat.
It wasn't a very appealing morning - grey with a forecast for quite strong wind - but in Edinburgh it was calm enough, and the hills were the broad smooth kind with nothing to be blown off, and I decided that even if it got worse enough that I didn't want to get up high, a walk down the Tweed Valley would be far better than staying at home - and the Sunday forecast was fine. So I got the bus down to Biggar, and another bus along through Broughton, and ended up in a Drumelzier where the cloud was sitting very low on the hills, causing even more doubts.
I had a potter round, though, to the little harled church, with an old memorial tablet set into its wall, and a nice old bridge. Spring was still being quite slow, but there was a great mass of primroses, the first I'd seen, against a cottage wall.
The clouds had lifted noticeably just in that time, and I set off down the valley feeling more hopeful, down the road to the farm at Drumelzier Place and a track to the house further on, then through a tiny wood and along a smaller path following the river - close to it past a footbridge, a bit higher along to the house at Hopecarton, then at the foot of the hills, with the river across the fields, along to Stanhope.
The cloud was still touching the tops of the hills as I turned into the long side valley, but the day still seemed to be getting brighter.
This was a lovely place, which reminded me a little bit of Langstrath in the Lakes, winding very gently uphill past the house at Stanhope Hope - nice double name - which still seemed to be lived in, to the shepherd's hut near the head of the valley (the kind which I always somehow expect to go Baba Yaga-ing off in the night...). There still wasn't much wind - not just that it couldn't get down the valley, but that the clouds were still moving quite slowly overhead - although there were a few stronger gusts as I got further up the valley.
It was decision time again, but it seemed that even if the wind did get up suddenly, I could drop into the valley on the other side - and as far as the cloud went, I was supposed to be following fencelines for most of the day, and if I did get confused, coming down anywhere in the Tweed or Talla or Megget valleys would be fine, and even ending up in the head of the Manor valley thinking I was heading for Megget would be fixable.
The track led to a ford, but there was a footbridge not far upstream, and I crossed over and headed uphill.
My first aim was the New Donald of Hunt Law, which was just a long steady climb - not really difficult, but a bit relentless. It took a long time to feel that I was getting above the smaller hills around, but eventually I came up onto the broad ridge, where the path turned towards the summit, and got my first (and more or less only) view of Broad Law, in and out of the clouds.
The summit of Hunt Law - or at least a possible summit, because it was a highest tuft one - was marked by a collection of posts, which were its only feature.
On the other side I met a wider track, which headed down to meet a real stone track which ran across the gap between Hunt Law and Cramalt Craig. The wind was constant but not uncomfortable, and I did my best to get out of it behind a pile of stones to eat my lunch. This was where I met the only other people I saw on the hills all day, two guys out running.
On the other side it was rougher, boggier ground, with little sign of a path until I reached the top of the broad ridge.
With only occasional fallen posts as signs of the promised fence, this was a broad featureless wasteland, with just the damp line of the path stretching ahead. I had climbed inside the cloud now, and it was constantly drifting over from the left, but every so often it would thin to give a tantalising glimpse of sunlight, if not actually the sun.
With the mist always on the move it seemed like it would to have to run out eventually, because there couldn't be an endless store of mist out to the east - but instead it was the path that eventually faded away, although before I'd had time to get too worried I finally reached a fenceline, running between Cramalt Craig and Broad Law.
I left my bag and headed slowly uphill by the fence until I reached the cairn at the fence corner, with the only landmarks occasional odd bits of wood by the path. There were no more gaps in the mist, and I think this was the least view I've ever had from a summit.
(I seem doomed never to get a view from these hills - I didn't have much of one on Dollar Law last year either - and it a shame because it should be wonderful - from the Highlands to the Lake District and Pennines!)
Down again, back past the corner where I'd met the fence, and this time following it on downhill. Distances had all just vanished, and I felt like I should have reached the dip long before I actually did. It was a spooky place, especially as the mist got even thicker here, with dark boggy pools, and a quite freshly dead sheep - the usual spine and endless wool doesn't bother me, but something that looked like it could get up and walk about except that it had no eyes I found quite creepy.
Then up again, more steeply, with nothing to look at except the occasional changes in the angle of the fence, until I came back out onto flatter ground. I wondered after a while why there was a long thin lake running on the other side of the fence, until I realised that it must be the track that was marked on the map!
Not long after that I reached a muddle of fences and gates, and had to avoid the temptation to follow a track which looked tempting but was heading back down to the Tweed valley. Instead I was carrying on along the fence, under strange masts looming from the mist, until I came to the only trig point of the day and another cairn, and possibly even less view than the last summit. Broad Law seemed an even less likely Corbett than Hart Fell last year, but I suppose I'd come quite a long way up slowly, especially in the first pull onto Hunt Law.
And then there was another long, featureless walk, this time with a fence to follow and heading slightly downwards rather than slightly upwards. It was easy walking, and on a clear day with the good views to the south it would have been very nice, but as it was it was just a case of getting on with it.
Towards the bottom there started to be some shape to the slopes around me, with definite downhill on both sides and odd dips, but the weather was starting to get really unpleasant for the first time, with stronger wind. I reached the door in the new deer fence - it's too tall to be a gate - with relief, and turned down to the right towards Talla Cleuch Head.
It wasn't very easy walking here, with the supports of the fence sticking out and the ground looking battered from the building, and as the wind got worse and started to bring icy rain I realised that I'd probably have been more sensible to give up and descend over Fans Law. But I hadn't, and I was better now to go on and descend along the nose than to turn back or try to drop down a slope so steep I couldn't see what was below me. So I crept on, round the corner of the fence, to what I assumed was the summit - at least, it was a rise a bit after the corner, and had a tiny cairn, and I wasn't going any further to check!
I was very glad to turn back to the fence corner and set off downhill - any line over gentle ground would do until I met the place where the nose narrowed and funnelled me down, where there even turned out to be a faint path.
It was an immediate relief to get below the crest of the main ridge, and partway down the cloud finally began to clear, although not with any sense that I was coming below it - more that I was caught up in the middle of an inversion, as blue sky became visible overhead while I still had cloud around and below me.
Further down and I could see the hills on the other side of the water, and then the water itself through the mist, and look back up behind me to see the cloud still clinging to the hill I was on, while everything above was clear.
The bottom part of the slope was all planted out with young trees as part of a new forest, but they were only at the twig in tube stage, so I could easily make my way through, and sit down for a snack as the slope eased.
Walking along the road, I could see that the cloud really was just clinging to the hills I'd come from - a great dirty grey bank of it, just starting to spread south to fill the valley and sit on the tops of the hills above Gameshope.
I'd never yet walked the track up to the bothy, and it's not quite as smooth as it looks when viewing it enviously from the hill on the other side - just a stone and grass path in places - but it's been well built once, and it's a nice walk by the burn, which was acting very differently from the raging monster that refused to let me cross it last year.
I found the bothy already occupied this time - a guy from the Borders Forest Trust called Alasdair who lived over Kelso way and was staying the night before a volunteer tree planting session the next day, a girl whose name I never caught who was going home to her own bed, and a daft dog called Luna (I asked if it was after the Harry Potter character, but he said no - when she was a puppy she was round and white with black speckles, and his sister thought she looked like the moon!) So we had a game of cards, and I ate some dinner with mournful dog eyes watching me, and went to bed with a dram.
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