I'd been planning this trip for a while now but as usual, the only 2 days I had off were forecast to be the dreariest, cloudiest, rainiest etc. Nevertheless I had my mind set and had had the route all planned out for ages so off I went on my first ever solo camp (and longest ever walk?)
The earliest bus from Dumfries to Ae Village was at 10:55am and I arrived at half 11. I began the riverside walk by following the Forestry Commission path down as far as it would go then turned left, following the cow fields and then the right hand side of the Ae River ('Ae' being the shortest place name in Britain). I followed the path straight along for a good couple of hours - it was enjoyably misty the entire time. I kept wanting to move on to the path left of the river but as far as I know, it can't take you up as far as I was going. Ae Forest is arguably my favourite forest so far now - the hum of the turbines, the endless blanket of wet spider's webs and the mossy pines were all spectacular
My view for most of the forest walk:
An eerie shot somewhere inside Ae Forest:
I eventually took the signpost to Branrigg after I was sure I'd missed the turnoff. It goes slightly left but then turns sharply round the bend back down to the river. The next turnoff goes left and up the hill then right onto Branrigg. After that it's a gradual climb up to the far corners of the forest.
A little while before I was due to turn off the forest I became slightly confused. Outdated Google Maps images showed a wide open space with few trees ( I was planning on going west at the end of the path and straight up to Queensberry). Unfortunately for me, the path continues right up until you're totally outside of the forest and left in what appeared to be a barren wasteland. I knew I'd headed too far so I followed the side of the forest up with a small burn (Pot of Ae?) until a very faint path took me back up inside of the forest and into dense conifers. My phone's GPS became vital here as I followed a mossy path back, eventually disregarding it to go right up the flanks of Queensberry.
Probably the most beautiful fire break I'll ever visit:
The climb up the Queensberry was steep and tiresome - I was inevitably inside cloud cover within the first 5 minutes and all my clothes were near-as-makes-no-difference, drenched. Onlooking sheep watched a gasp as I hauled my 7kg+ gear up the slopes. The wind eventually began to pick up and I made it onto the flatter top. There is a fake cairn I believe for the unfortunate souls who have mistaken the summit coordinates - the main cairn is unmissable and can be seen from ages away.
Queensberry summit cairn:
I then headed onwards to Earncaig Hill, adamant that I didn't need my phone that badly - I had my map in a newly-bought and let me add, poor quality Mountain Warehouse waterproof case. This was totally wrong and I found myself readjusting my direction almost instantly. After passing over Penbreck (I think), I headed a little too westerly and ended up climbing up the steepest angles of the entire trip, arriving very close to the summit of Earncraig when the steepness resided. I have further pictures of summit cairns but I honestly can't decipher which ones are which due to the awful weather so I'll let them be found elsewhere!
After Earncraig Hill, I got the most lost as I did on the whole trip, going not nearly west enough and ended up having to backtrack using my phone again, still unsure if it was lying to me. Alas, this wasn't the case and I eventually ended up at Gana Hill, seeing the path near the top nearly had me in tears of joy.
For Wedder Law (my first 'Law'), I followed the path and just past it onto the top - the easiest part of the day so far. There was no obvious cairn so I made my way back to the enticing uniformity of the path and wandered the long way down to the bottom of Scaw'd Law.
Just at the beginning of the flanks of Scaw'd Law, on the right of the path, I set up the tent at around 7:30pm. It had been a gruelling day and any sleep I could get would be marvellous. My first time solo camping, this was not to be - the tent set up fine but all my clothes were soaked, my camera and phone were on the verge of water damage and all my water was finished up. I ate some of my cold sausage rolls and had a shot at sleeping - still not sure if I actually fell asleep, it was no more than 3 hours if I did. I had had enough by half 6 in the morning and the Red Grouse calls had been keeping me up all night.
I was on the move for the second day by exactly 7am and blasted my way to the top of Scaw'd Law, somehow completely unhindered by my lack of water and sleep. I never saw the summit cairn on this one but had gone as high as I deemed possible (it's an odd double summit). I followed the dry stone dyke along and eventually left it to curve around up to Ballencleuch Law. This hill was longer and steeper than I had thought (although my anticipation to get the Scaw'd/Ballencleuch/Comb Law's out the way was a significant factor - time was of the essence). I lulled my way to the top where there was a DIY cairn.
I knew I had to be careful making my way round to Comb Law as going too far left can result in a very unpleasant journey. Comb Law didn't seem to have a recognisable summit so I got as high as I could and ended up doing the one thing I had tried to avoid. Fortunately, my next hill was the only non-essential hill on the trip and boy did I mess it up! Well Hill requires going almost perfectly back along to Hirstane Rig and then down but the lack of visibility meant that I descended far far far too soon and ended up on a scree-laden slope following 'Kirkstane Grain' down into a flat section east of Troloss. I discovered my mistake as I approached the bottom of the slope and decided that it was best to just move on, figuring a way back up would take ages and I didn't want to be hanging about.
I made my way along and over Cleugh Burn onto the beautifully flat A702, following it west for a good half hour at least, until entering the Dalveen Pass. This was the very landscape that had made me want to climb these hills in the first place, while on a bus to Edinburgh earlier in the year. I jumped off the road and went steeply down so I was on the path going to Upper Dalveen, the farmer's boy there being the first human being I had seen since 1pm yesterday. He gave me a look of "you better not be going up Steygail", to which I ate my lunch and then proceeded to do.
I stepped my already wet feet straight into and over Carron Water and prepared myself for the challenge ahead - up Steygail, 400m down it again and then instantly on the equally steep East Mount Lowther hillside. The ovine creatures laughed as I struggled my way up the hill, stopping for a rest every few seconds. Eventually the ground became flatter - a sensation I was all too used to at this point and (I hope) onto the Steygail summit. There didn't seem to be any cairn so I made my way back down the other side, having to go slower than I came up it thanks to the gradient.
I finally got back onto flat ground at the Enterkin Pass and made my way along to the remote little triangular base of Steygail, Wether Hill and Thirstane Hill. The rain from the past 2 days had been in some ways a godsent as all the burn water I was using as hydration was beautifully cold and clear. Not stopping for food as a precaution for needing some later, I started making my way up the hardest side of East Mount Lowther. I followed some of the sheep-paths that took me along for a bit but not necessarily 'up' - these paths seem to be everywhere in the D&G hills. EML seemed to go on forever but the summit pillar eventually made its way into my sights after a good 35/40 mins of climbing-resting-climbing-resting.
EML Summit Pillar:
(You may notice my photos getting worse and worse here - I was so anxious to preserve phone battery that was so essential for getting me home, that I didn't spend long on the images).
I was feeling relieved that I'd made it to here as it was relatively plain-sailing from here on out. The next goal was Lowther Hill so I followed the stone dyke and along onto the paved road that turns off the B797 - the 10th highest road in Great Britain although the second highest if you include the turn-off that I was on (it's not counted as it isn't a public road). It was steeper than I thought but I eventually made it onto the big Golf Ball that I had totally forgotten about. The visibility was so bad that I could barely see it even when I was only 10m or so from touching it (I wont bother adding the picture I have for that one).
I wasn't sure if they had a summit cairn but I had a look about and didn't see one so moved on to Green Lowther. It was a longer walk than I'd thought, being very confused as I had assumed that Green Trough was the summit but then re-summitting at the actual top that I recognised. I was briefly euphoric at finally reaching the top of the Lowther Hills.
A whopping 732m/2401ft. high at the Green Lowther:
I trundled on, the beautiful road I had come to love disintegrating not long after the top as I descended onto Peden Head and then Dungrain Law. The fence/wall does infact follow the summits well here but my past experience had me wary of following them so I stayed a little off-course.
Dungrain Law Summit (I think):
Dun Law infuriated me as I hadn't thought it would be this arduous while on the final straight along the Lowther Ridge. The top eventually showed and I was glad to know there was only one left - Lousie Wood Law!
Dun Law Cairn:
I stupidly thought that it was all downhill from here but that was far from the truth. I made my way along to White Law and steeply down into 'Little Windgate Hass', 'little' being a slight understatement. Going steeply down when you have one hill left can only mean one thing - steeply back up! I gripped the fence as if it was a lifeline and barely let go until the ground began to flatten. For the trig point, you have to briefly walk west of the fence and up a few more metres but it showed up to me eventually. My phone died just as I was taking the picture. I think my phone deserves a special, honorary mention here as I would have undoubtedly failed had it not been for its GPS. Fortunately the fence descended in the route I had planned so I joined it on the way down as it curves onto White Hill and then to the banks of the Elvan Water. Descending was a beautiful feeling as I was finally able to see proper civilisation for the first time in almost a day, as I exited down from my Stratus-cloud endeavours.
I followed the meandering river along and up onto the bridge at Elvanfoot, searching for the bus stop and hoping I hadn't missed the bus. On the contrary - I was 2 hours early so spent the next while engulfing my trail mix and shivering like mad. As I stepped out off the bus back in Dumfries, it suddenly dawned on me what a toll this trip has taken. It took me over half an hour to walk back to the house (normally taking 15 minutes). I could barely stand the pain of a shower as my soaked trousers grazing my thighs for two days meant the inside of my upper leg had began to graze and even bleed.
As a whole, a once-again badly planned trip with brief moments of joy and feelings of success. Climbing in the clag sends you into a completely other world - there is quite literally nothing but grey and green and for a day and a night I almost felt like I was the only person on the planet.
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