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Southern Upland Way - June 2017

Southern Upland Way - June 2017

Postby Horizontigo » Mon Jul 24, 2017 9:15 pm

Route description: Southern Upland Way

Date walked: 10/06/2017

Time taken: 15 days

Distance: 341 km

Ascent: 7775m

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I walked the Southern Upland Way over 15 days in June 2017 starting on the 10th June in Portpatrick and finishing on the 24th June in Cockburnspath. The report below outlines each day and I’m happy to help anyone else who is planning to walk the route.

It is a challenging route, both physically and mentally, but it is also very rewarding and I would recommend it to anyone. It doesn’t have the spectacular scenery of the Highlands but it does have a constantly changing scenery & variety of paths. Every day is different and often the morning is very different to the afternoon.

On my walk I found everyone I met to be very friendly (although I didn’t meet anyone else doing the whole route in the same direction as myself), saw a large variety of birds & wildlife, walked through fields with a beautiful display of wild flowers, crossed hill sides on lovely grassy paths, saw interesting artworks, read sobering memorials to the killing times of the Covenanters, walked alongside lonely & remote lochs and entered colourful & enticing forests.

The challenges faced were the remote and wild sections in Galloway where there was very little facilities, some blisters caused by some long(ish) road sections, a bad day crossing the Lowther Hills in horrible conditions and the tiring effect of a long distance trail with a heavy backpack. But the positives far outweighed the negatives, not least the satisfaction that crossing the country from one coast to another gives you. The weather was kind to me with only a couple of bad afternoons. There are a lot of exposed upland stretches and if the weather was against you it would make this a very challenging route. I walked it West to East and it helped a lot that the wind and any rain were almost always coming from behind me.

SUW Signage.JPG

Each days walk is listed below with distance (from Cicerone guidebook). My accommodation was a mixture of wild camping & campsites, bothies, B&B’s & hotels.

Day 1: Portpatrick to Castle Kennedy (14.5 miles) - B&B
Day 2: Castle Kennedy to Beehive Bothy (15 miles) - Bothy
Day 3: Beehive Bothy to Bargrennan (12 miles) - Campsite
Day 4: Bargrennan to Clatteringshaws Loch (16 miles) - Wild camping
Day 5: Clatteringshaws Loch to Stroanpatrick (17 miles) - Pickup & Hotel
Day 6: Stroanpatrick to Sanquhar (18.5 miles) - B&B
Day 7: Sanquhar to Brattleburn Bothy (24 miles) - Bothy
Day 8: Brattleburn Bothy to Moffat (7 miles) - B&B
Day 9: Moffat to St Marys Loch (21 miles) - Wild camping
Day 10: St Marys Loch to Traquair (12 miles) - Hotel
Day 11: Traquair to Yair Bridge (10 miles) - Pickup & Hotel
Day 12: Yair Bridge to Melrose (7.5 miles) - Campsite
Day 13: Melrose to Lauder (10 miles) - Campsite
Day 14: Lauder to Longformacus (16 miles) - Wild camping
Day 15: Longformacus to Cockburnspath (17 miles)

There is a little extra walking on some stages to reach accommodation (most notably in Moffat and Traquair/Innerleithen), hence why the distance is longer than the official 212 miles. It looks like the official SUW stages are setup for accommodation and to encourage tourism, but it makes for some very long stages.

The total ascent (calculated from figures on this website) is 7775m or 25,509 feet. For a 15 days walk this would average at 518m. There are quite a lot of long gradual ascents & descents, either on grassy paths or forestry commission tracks. There are only a few very short sections where the ground is very steep.

I used the SUW Cicerone guidebook for my trip and I found it to be very good. A compass & map is a must for the remote upland stages.

Day 1: Portpatrick to Castle Kennedy (14.5 miles/6 hours)
After lunch in busy Portpatrick I set off on my trip and it was a nice start to the walk following the cliffs along the coast. The mist was rolling in from the Irish Sea and it was quite a dramatic and atmospheric start. Unfortunately the first day does involve a lot of road walking which I didn’t enjoy. There are a couple of short woodland stretches and the crossing of Broad Moor but I would estimate more than half the first day is on the road. With a heavy backpack and a body adjusting to the long walk, I was very happy to reach Chlenry House B&B just past Castle Kennedy.

Day 1 - Mulloch Hill.JPG
Day 1 - Mulloch Hill. The signage along the whole route is excellent

Day 1 - White Loch at Castle Kennedy Gardens.JPG
Day 1 - White Loch at Castle Kennedy Gardens

Day 2: Castle Kennedy to Beehive Bothy (15 miles/7.5 hours)
It was a fairly easy start to the day with a short climb. There is then a very nice stretch alongside and then through Glenwhan Moor Wood. After crossing Water of Luce footbridge (where I had an encounter with a very friendly Red Squirrel!) there is a short climb to the first bleak section of the walk – crossing Kilhern Moss. It’s only about 2km so fairly short but boggy in places. There is then a gradual climb on a short road section followed by another gradual ascent over grassy moorland and through forestry plantations. The area is full of wind turbines which do detract from the wildness of the area. I was heading for the Beehive bothy and with a few very heavy afternoon showers I was glad I had the bothy to dry off my stuff. The bothy is fairly small but I found it to be a cosy and a comfortable place to spend the night.

Day 2 - Crossing the Water of Luce.JPG
Day 2 - Crossing the Water of Luce and a friendly red squirrel coming to say hello...

Day 2 - Part of the Hoard....JPG
Day 2 - Kist full of coins

Day 2 - Dragonfly.JPG
Day 2 - Dragonfly

Day 2 - Beehive Bothy.JPG
Day 2 - Arriving at the Beehive Bothy

Day 2 - Inside Beehive Bothy.JPG
Day 2 - Inside the Beehive Bothy

Day 3: Beehive Bothy to Bargrennan (12 miles/7 hours)
The morning was spent walking through forestry commission plantations, either on paths or tracks. There were a few trees down on the path around the bothy which made it slightly awkward. You also pass close to some wind turbines and I was surprised at the size of some of these turbines. There is a short climb up Craig Airie, which is a nice viewpoint (of the windfarms & forestry works!) followed by a longer descent on track and then a few miles road walking to Knowe. The sun was now shining and after lunch there was a couple of short climbs (not much flat ground on the SUW!) and a visit to the Trig point on Ochiltree Hill. The last 1km into Bargrennan wasn’t much fun as you go straight through the middle of a cow field which is very boggy and the ground is full of tussocks. I stayed at the campsite in Bargrennan which is friendly and also has a small shop to resupply.

Day 3 - Ochiltree Hill.JPG
Day 3 - Ochiltree Hill

Day 4: Bargennan to Clatteringshaws Loch (16 miles/8.5 hours)
After a short road section to get back on the SUW, there is then some very pleasant woodland walking alongside River Cree and Water of Minnoch. The scenery is more dramatic on this stage passing Loch Trool and being surrounded by much bigger hills. There is a long and gradual ascent up to lonely Loch Dee and White Laggan Bothy. Its remote country and with the sky looking dark and foreboding I was in two minds about spending the night in the bothy. I pushed on though and after a soaking from some heavy showers I reached Clatteringshaws Loch. The options to wild camp at the Loch at quite limited but I managed to find a nice spot. Unfortunately there were quite a few empty beer bottles left by previous visitors.

Day 4 - Crossing Water of Minnoch.JPG
Day 4 - Crossing the Water of Minnoch

Day 4 - Loch Dee.JPG
Day 4 - Overlooking Loch Dee.

Day 4 - Camping at Clatteringshaws.JPG
Day 4 - Camping at Clatteringshaws Loch

Day 5: Clatteringshaws Loch to Stroanpatrick (17 miles/8.5 hours)
It was good to finally leave the foresty track behind and climb up grassy Shield Rig. The scenery had changed again with more views opening up. After getting closely followed by a Buzzard for 5 mins (I’m guessing it had a nest!) there is a road section followed by a short climb over Waterside Hill. St Johns Town of Dalry can be seen below and after a short section beside the river you arrive in this small town. It was a nice place to have lunch and the next section over to Stroanpatrick was my favourite section of the walk so far. The sun was shining, Skylarks were singing and it was easy walking on grassy hillsides. There were big views all around with the Galloway hills looming large. I can imagine this section in pouring rain & mist might not be as pleasant. I was getting picked up by my parents at the official SUW ‘Pickup Point’ so didn’t have to worry about finding a wild camping spot. It is remote country and apart from a few farms there is not much there! Luckily I had a nice hotel for the night…

Day 6: Stroanpatrick to Sanquhar (18.5 miles/9 hours)
Feeling refreshed after getting well fed and a comfy bed for the night I set off up Manquhill Hill. It was fairly easy going but I spent most of the day going squelch with every step! The ground was very damp but I still preferred it to road walking. The first big climb of the trip over Ben Brack (very windy & cold on top) was soon over followed by a quick descent. I passed the bothy at Polskeoch which is very different to how the guidebook describes it. Its looking a bit run down unfortunately…but there was 3 guys painting the inside and fixing the guttering when I passed so hopefully it will be nice once again. There is a 2-3 mile section of road followed by a long grassy ascent over the hills and a long descent into Sanquhar.

Day 7: Sanquhar to Brattleburn Bothy (24 miles/11 hours)

This was the hardest day of the trip and the least enjoyable. The hilly section over to Wanlockhead was quite nice walking and took about 3 hours. It was grey and fairly bleak when I arrived in Wanlockhead. I could see the radar station on top of Lowther Hill so decided to carry on. But the weather turned heading up Lowther Hill and I was soon walking through wind and driving rain. Some of this section is on the road to the radar station and it was quite surreal seeing car headlights coming out of the mist that far up a hill! The visibility was very poor and I had trouble finding the path at the top. Did eventually find it and the next couple hours I struggled over the hills to Laght Hill. I was cold, wet and tired. Without a compass and map (from the guidebook) I would have easily got lost. I was very happy to hear the cars on the A702! The forecast said the rain was to stop and I decided to push on and try and find a camping spot. Couldn’t really find anywhere suitable so carried on, eventually reaching Daer Reservoir and the crossing of the dam. This was home to hundreds of gulls and they didn’t appreciate me walking straight through their nesting site! The final challenge of the day was to climb Sweetshaw Brae, but this was soon over and before long I was descending a rough path down through the trees to the bothy. Shortly after I arrived 4 friendly guys turned up and gave me a couple of cold beers…which was a happy end to a hard day!

Day 8 - Brattleburn Bothy.JPG
Day 8 - Brattleburn Bothy

Day 8: Brattleburn Bothy to Moffat (7 miles/4.5 hours)
A much shorter day and the weather was much improved. It was very warm & sunny on the gentle descent into Moffat. My Scarpa Goretex boots had kept my feet dry over the last few days but the heat was now a different problem and I had to apply Compeed and Zinc Oxide tape to stop a few blisters. I stayed at Rosebery House B&B which was welcoming and friendly.

Day 9: Moffat to St Marys Loch (21 miles/11.5 hours)
Another hot and sunny day. The climb up to Ettrick Head is long but gradual. Higher up you pass through some nice hill country and the going is fairly easy - it’s probably one of the nicest sections of the whole route. After passing another nice bothy at Over Pawhope there is a very long section on the road. I struggled a bit in the heat and had to stop regularly. I was hoping to camp somewhere above Scabcleuch but couldn’t find anywhere until Riskinhope Hope, so I decided to carry on anyway until St Marys Loch. It’s another nice part of the walk with grassy hillside walking. Found a lovely loch side camping spot and pitched my tent. It was another long & tiring day. After a quick bite to eat I crawled into the tent and fell asleep.

Day 9 - Wind Soldier.JPG
Day 9 - 'Wind Soldier'

Day 9 - Crossing Pikestone Rig.JPG
Day 9 - Crossing Pikestone Rigg

Day 9 - Arriving at St Marys.JPG
Day 9 - St Marys Loch

Day 10: St Marys Loch to Traquair (12 miles/7.5 hours)
After a good nights sleep I woke to a lovely morning at the loch. With the birds singing and the red squirrels running around I was reluctant to leave my loch side camping spot. But I was soon on my way, following the pleasant path down the side of the loch (watch out for logging lorries on the track!). After crossing the main road, and a visit to Dryhope Tower, there is a short climb over to Blackhouse where James Hogg used to be a Shepherd. There is then another grassy climb over Blake Muir and a long descent down to Traquair. I found the ‘kist’ on this stage (which is a very clever sculpture!) and took a coin and badge.

Day 10 - Path alongisde St Marys.JPG
Day 10 - Path alongside the loch

Day 11: Traquair to Yair Bridge (10 miles/7 hours)
Most of this stage was along the ancient drove road of Minch Moor. There is a fairly long climb up but once on the Minch Moor the views open up and the going is fairly easy. It is a very nice part of the trip and the views include the Lammernuirs which I would cross in a couple days. I stopped by the three very large cairns on the summit of the Three Brethren and watched some impressive flying by a couple of RAF jets in the valley below. This was the most tired I had been on the trip and I think the heat of the last few days was taking its toll. I was picked up by parents at Yair Bridge, which is a lovely old bridge over the River Tweed.

Day 11 - Heading up Minch Moor.JPG
Day 11 - Heading up Minch Moor

Day 11 - The Three Brethren.JPG
Day 11 - The Three Brethren

Day 12: Yair Bridge to Melrose (7.5 miles/5 hours)
This was a short stage as I was meeting a friend in Melrose the following day. I was tired setting off but soon woke up and it was a short hilly section with nice views before the drop down to the outskirts of Galashiels. There is then what feels like a fairly convoluted section around the school, following a woodland path and pavements. I was glad to leave this behind and be back on the hill side again after a short climb. There are nice views of Abbotsford before following the River Tweed into Melrose. This is the most built up area of the whole walk and the path goes right past the station at Tweedbank. After a quiet section following the river I arrived in the nice little town of Melrose.

Day 13: Melrose to Lauder (10 miles/6.5 hours)
I met my friend in Melrose and he would be joining me for the last 3 days of my trip. Having company certainly made the days go quicker and it was good to have company for the last part of the walk. This day was fairly straightforward following the old roman road to Lauder. On reaching Lauder we had a few drinks in the local pubs and visited the chip shop. Spent the night at Thirlestane Castle campsite which is just off the SUW.

Day 14: Lauder to Longformacus (16 miles/8.5 hours)
The challenge for today was to cross the Lammermuir Hills. These are lonely, heather clad hills but the going was fairly easy as the tracks were good and the gradients easy. There is a feeling of remoteness and luckily we had good weather – in bad weather it would be challenging. I wasn’t expecting much wildlife but we encountered noisy Lapwings, Grouse & Curlews, spotted Hares running across the hillsides and even saw a Stoat running along the track in front of us. Some of the ground is managed for Grouse shooting but other parts were covered in vast swathes of white wild grasses. The two massive cairns on Twin Law could be seen from a few miles away and I was very happy to reach them and have a seat in the cairn! After signing the SUW visitor’s book we descended to Longformacus. We eventually managed to find a nice wild camping spot down by the river about ½ mile past the village.

Day 14 - Crossing the Lammermuirs.JPG
Day 14 - Crossing the Lammermuirs

Day 15: Longformacus to Cockburnspath (17 miles/8.5 hours)
The final day. After a short climb we passed through Owl Wood, which is aptly named as we spotted an Owl! There is then some lovely woodland stretches around Abbey St Bathans followed but mostly grassy paths through hilly farmland. The noisy A1 is eventually reached and after some short unpleasant sections there is a final challenge of a climb through Penmanshiel Wood. It is from here I first spotted the sea and I have never seen the North Sea look so beautiful! After skirting past the caravans at Pease Bay there is an exposed cliff top section with nice views before a descent down to the shelter of Cove Harbour. I picked up a small stone near Portpatrick and this got thrown into the sea at the harbour. A short section back inland to Cockburnspath followed and the completion of the Southern Upland Way.

Day 15 - The End!.JPG
Day 15 - The End

I would recommend this walk to anyone who likes the solitude of walking in quiet hills. It lacks the scenery of the Highlands but it is rewarding in other ways – discovering an area of the country that I didn’t know, walking through a landscape rich in history & culture, staying in some lovely bothies, seeing a wide selection of birds & wildlife and meeting some friendly people.
Last edited by Horizontigo on Fri May 15, 2020 1:34 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Southern Upland Way - June 2017

Postby LDPWalker » Tue Jul 25, 2017 9:18 pm

Excellent report and good pictures, thanks for that. It took me back to when I did it, quite a while ago now....

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Re: Southern Upland Way - June 2017

Postby kirky3008 » Fri Jul 28, 2017 5:23 am

Really great report. I am going to be doing the Southern Upland Way in October and was wondering if you would be able to give me some pointers some time? It would be greatly appreciated.


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