One weekend left before my self-imposed deadline, and 4 hills to go. Fortunately the weather forecast was quite good - better for Sunday, but not too bad for Saturday, with some light rain supposed to pass over in the middle of the day.
The little cluster of hills around Mosspaul was one of the first things to go into my list - a friend and I generally have some kind of adventure through the borders in early January for my birthday, and this time we'd been to Hermitage Castle and the restored trains at Whitrope, and it had got me looking at what else was around.
It's easy to get to Mosspaul - it looks horribly in the middle of nowhere, but it's right on the x95 route between Edinburgh and Carlisle, although I took the train as far as Galashiels as I'd have had to change bus anyway.
Mosspaul has a long history, which is well worth reading - it was an important inn and staging post in the days of the mail coaches, before the railway line took most of the traffic from the roads, and then revived again for a while as the rise of motoring brought some of it back, but without the need to stop to rest or change horses. The main building now is group accommodation, possibly just a conveniently isolated place for getting drunk, and is part of quite a cluster by the roadside, including a battered looking bus.
I'd been sold a Dumfries and Galloway day ticket, but the inn is actually about 20 yards inside the Borders, so I was never in D+G until I walked into it - I'm not sure if I was cheated or not! But I was over the boundary as soon as I began to climb - through a sheep field, and out the other end, and up the little shoulder of the hill which leads down to the road, finding a tiny trace of path further up.
It's not a very interesting climb - the kind of grassy slope where you never really see what's coming. But the hills behind me on the other side of the road were making quite interesting shapes, although the further layers were starting to vanish into the cloud.
The path swing round a bit and vanished, and then I was just toiling on, doing my best to resist the temptation towards taking the easiest line uphill, which leads to endlessly circling the summit and never quite reaching it.
The cloud came down around me as well, and the trig point finally came into view at the other side of a broad flat space - it sits just at a fence corner, but there was nothing much else to be seen.
From the summit I followed the fence down towards the col at Ewes Doors. Even allowing that it was a Marilyn, it seemed a surprisingly long way down, and once I came below the cloud and could see the other side, it looked like a surprisingly long way up - I think I felt I hadn't climbed so much originally that I could go right down and still be well above the road.
The name suggests that this has been used as a local pass at some point - just over the col is the remains of a large sheepfold, and a little hut. The burn here has the wonderful name of Wrangway Burn, and when I first saw it it did look like it was going the wrong way, as if it should be coming down to Ewes Doors and running out to the road, instead of just missing it and running down the long shallow valley on the other side towards Teviothead.
I meant to stop and eat my lunch here, but the rain had come on (and I'd forgotten my waterproof trousers, so couldn't sit down regardless), and I wasn't sure enough about either how clean or waterproof the hut would be, to make it worth a detour. So I just headed on up by the fence on the other side, climbing fairly steeply at first, and eating my lunch as I went along.
The fairly flat ridge to the west was called Haggis Side, another good name - there was more to see on this climb, at least, although a lot of tufty grass.
The summit coming into sight was a bit of a surprise - I wasn't expecting anything like the huge cairn which appeared.
A nice little summit mound, and no doubt that you've reached the top, although it's quite flat all around.
Patches of snow on the hills away to the north west had caught my eye on the climb - I hadn't realised so much was still lying this far south. It turned out to be the Ettrick hills, and they made an interesting sight as the sun and the clouds passed over them.
The hills on the other side of the road, towards Caldcleuch Head, were also much clearer now, although bands of lower cloud were still passing over - I love this kind of wiggly layer-on-layer landscape.
To get down to the road without retracing my steps I had to head on over (at least) the next top, Frodaw Heights - more tufty grass at first, and then a mix of bog and heather which tried to make me wet and scratch me at the same time.
The gentlest way down would have been to go on over the next top and come down Upper Hill to Fiddleton, but I was reluctant to go on over the rough top, and impatient, and thought I could find a way down the nose of the hill above Eweslees - a bit ambitiously, because I know it's generally a bad idea once contour lines have gone missing from the map. But it started off as a nice way down, and it looked like I should be able to slant off onto easier ground if necessary.
Eventually I came to a place where the ground simply dropped away under my feet, and decided that I didn't dare, not over sodden grass. In theory I should have contoured round to where the slope got gentler by the next little point, but of course I didn't, just looked at it a bit further round, thought 'well, at least I can see the ground all the way down', and went for it, which I regretted slightly later.
But I made it down, scaring away all the sheep in the process, and headed along the road past where I should have come down, a much more gentle slope scattered with trees, and down to the junction signposted for Hermitage Castle.
I'm a fiddler, after a fashion, so I was hoping that Fiddleton would have a sign I could take a picture of, but the house was unnamed, and seemed to be empty. So I turned into the broad entrance of the valley, passing between a couple of houses, and then on to another at Glenrief.
I was feeling a bit reluctant to go climbing another hill at all - my legs were tired from the steep descent, and there was a cloud hovering about the top, and everything just looked a bit grey and dull. But I wanted the three hills, so I had to push on, and anyway I'd just missed a bus, so there were no point to stopping.
Ellson Fell had my first real path of the day, which was something, a track running up by the fence, but it was quite a relentless climb just the same, and the backs of my calves objected.
I thought I could make things easier by coming back the same way - it was just about 4 when I started climbing, so I started working it out - if I could make the top, a mile and a half away, round about 5, I should easily be back down to the road by 6 - but that was no use, because I either had to be out to the main road just before 6, or hang around for nearly an hour waiting for the bus.
There were some good names around - I was climbing up Castlewink, and the smaller hill between me and the road was Crude Hill. It made an odd view - you would never think that a whole valley containing the main road ran between the two pairs of hills in this picture.
I was slow up the hill, and kept stopping to look around - it didn't help that it was very hard to tell whether I was finally coming towards the first summit, or just coming to another place where the hill curved away from me.
Eventually I did come out onto the main ridge of the hill, a succession of little lumps - none of which looked like they could be the main summit, which I knew should be somewhere up to the left so that it was quite difficult to get my bearings.
I had a complete different view here from my Ettrick views of earlier - it's surprising how much the focus can change within a small space. From here I was looking down the valley towards Hermitage, and the odd green oval in the yellow hills which was the farm at Carewoodrig.
As I climbed on the summit of the hill finally came into view, making it easier to work everything out properly - it was quite easy to be confused, because Tudhope Hill, along at the end of the little ridge, is higher, just too much in the shadow of Caldcleuch Head to be the Marilyn.
The track runs on along the ridge, but a kind of wet path headed over towards the summit - although this was the only hill with a path, it was also the only hill with an unmarked top, just tufts of grass. It was finally turning out to be a nice day, with the hills glowing gold all around.
All the way up I'd been worrying about the best way down - retracing my steps was a bit longer and a bit duller but had a decent path, while heading on to complete the circuit, as I'd originally planned, was shorter and more satisfying, but might be over completely awful ground - and the other hand, I'd come out that bit further up the road and get the bus a few minutes later.
By the summit I had decided - doubtfully - to go on and hope, over and around a few more bumps and down to cross the fence where the forestry started, only to find that it was exactly the kind of ground I had hoped it wouldn't be, steep and bumpy and wet.
I seemed at first to be walking in a stream bed without any stream, clambering down steep damp places, and then over odd puddles - not a very pleasant kind of place to be.
But it's only making decisions that I really hate, so having made the wrong one I found I was perfectly happy again - if I was going to miss the bus then I would just miss the bus, and if I was going to fall down and get a wet bottom then I would fall down and get a wet bottom (which of course I did, due to thinking more about that than about where I was putting my feet).
And it turned out not to be too bad a decision after all - there was more flat ground about as I came down, and the burn grew up beautifully, clear and stony and musical, and not so wide that I couldn't just cross from side to side to find the best route.
At a corner the valley widened a little, with an old sheepfold at the bottom and the sun on the slopes of ths hills above, and then narrowed again. Despite trees and shadows it was a nice place - the Penangus Hope of inca's poem, although I didn't realise that at the time.
I was getting tight for time, but not desperately so. Down here I picked up a little thread of path which helped me get along quicker, although I suspected it was really a contouring sheep path - especially when it took me across a slope too steep for comfort, with no way down to the burn below, and finally proved when it led right under the wires supporting a telegraph pole, far too low for people to walk.
Mosspaul came into sight nearly 10 minutes before the bus was due - I knew I'd be unlucky if I missed it, but also that hurrying over rough ground was a good way to promote bad luck! However, no disasters occurred, and the path dropped down to the wall, and I made it out to the road a couple of minutes before the bus came along.
And it turned out to be a coach with leather seats, so I didn't have to worry about whether I was fit to sit down, although it also had tinted windows, which made outside look a bit odd.
A hungry journey home, as I hit Gala just as the trains stopped being half-hourly and decided I'd be better going out in Edinburgh than hanging round for an hour and a half, but I managed to brave the Saturday night crowds and get fed in the end.
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