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Scotland’s Watershed Part 2; Blackburn Head- Mendick Hill

Scotland’s Watershed Part 2; Blackburn Head- Mendick Hill

Postby rohan » Tue May 30, 2017 6:26 pm

Date walked: 07/05/2017

Time taken: 6 days

Distance: 130 km

Ascent: 5990m

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See also; Scotland's Watershed Part 1, Reiver March first 43km

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Photos (apart from the last day) are taken with my mobile. I have problems accessing my flickr account but have a complete album of photos on my FB page Rohan's Watershed Walk for anyone who is interested.

This part of the walk was asssisted by the following people;
Peter Wright, whose continuing support has been unfailing,
Janet Moxley and family who gave space for my van outside their home for a number of days,
My good neighbour, Harry, who spent a hot Tuesday afternoon driving me all over the Borders in order to move my van from the start to the finish.
Thank-you all.

Corbetts included Hart Fell

Grahams included Ettrick Pen
Capel Fell
Andrewhinney Hill
Gathersnow Hill
Culter Fell

Donalds included Wind Fell
Bodesbeck Law
Bell Craig
Herman Law
Lochcraig Head
Whitehope Heights
Hillshaw Head

Marilyns included Black Mount
Mendick Hill

May 7th- Day 5 on the Watershed (Day 1 of this outing)

I travelled down from Strathyre where I had been marshalling the day before on the Stuc a Chroin 5000 hill race, something that would come up again in this outing to the Watershed. I reached Merrylaw and found that, as I thought from research via google maps, there was space for my van at(NT364012. I was pretty certain that no-one apart from the residents at the nearby cottage or possibly forestry workers would be up this way but left a note in the van just in case. Since my previous outing to the Watershed Walk I had obtained a copy of Dave Hewitt’s book “Walking the Watershed”. His style is very much more personal than Peter Wright’s the latter full of carefully researched history, environment, geography, folklore and land use. Dave Hewitt describes his triumphs and disasters as well as where he stopped to camp, the weather (an unseasonable heatwave through much of May). On a very personal note he mentions meeting a couple of women at Gerry’s Hostel one of whom was tragically killed 8 months later. Her companion at Gerry’s was a long-standing friend of my parents and I remember her from my youth. Together both books compliment the other and I highly recommend both. Having seen much evidence of fox on my first trip to the Watershed, I wasn’t surprised that Dave Hewitt spotted one on a few occasions.
I left the van at 1.00 pm and made fast progress up the forestry track towards the Teviot Stone (NY336985) which marks the source of the Teviot which flows Eastwards to join the Tweed at Kelso. The last ½ mile was disrupted by tree felling but a faint path to the stone was found. If anyone knows the meaning of the silver coins left on the top of the stone, please enlighten me.
IMG_20170507_143644510 Teviot stone with silver.jpg
Silver on the Teviot Stone

The day was sunny and I noticed that the ground underfoot was extremely dry, so dry in fact that the moss crunched rather than squelched. The views were excellent. Given that for the next 1½ days I was going to be passing through the Craik Forest I would have to take extra care when cooking. Once had I had passed over Blackburn Head’s undistinguished summit (472m) I began to see glimpses of the route ahead and was concerned that there was a huge area of clear felled forest. There appeared to be a lot of brash from Ewesdown Fell (449m) onwards towards Eweslees Knowe (448m). Where the clear felling had created a new edge to the forest this weakened edge was subject to a lot of wind-blow. I wasn’t looking forward to this and then noticed that I had really slowed my pace. I had a lightbulb moment. If I saw difficulties ahead, I slowed my pace unconsciously as if somehow the problems would resolve themselves before I got there. Once I realised this I picked up the pace again and soon discovered that the problems were nil. In fact, the next couple of miles to Stock Hill (477m) were the easiest terrain of the day.

IMG_20170507_163325215 Comb Hill, Wisp Hill  from Ewesdown Fell.jpg
View to the Watershed Hills from Ewesdown Fell

I had made sure that I stopped every couple of hours for a break and I used the trig point at Stock Hill as a safe spot to perch my stove on and had a good tea (couscous, dried veg and cheese). I wasn’t making fast progress but at Stock Hill I felt very positive. I had covered 6 ½ miles in 5 hours and there were still a good 3 hours of daylight. I may even make Moodlaw Loch which, according to Peter, is a delightful spot to camp. If I had known what I was about to encounter I would have been less optimistic. To say that the next 1 ¼ miles was the worst terrain on the Watershed that I had encountered so far is no exaggeration. The counter-balance to the exhausting trackless heather and grass hummocks would have been the view to the Ettrick and Moffat hills, visible due to the felling of the forest. Unfortunately, the sun was dropping in the sky directly ahead and as a result blinding each time I managed to look up. The only comforting thought was that it would have been so much worse if it had been wet underfoot. Two hours later I finally made Ladshaw Fell (465m). Fortunately, the terrain became easier although I was once again closed in by plantation on either side.
IMG_20170507_201217088 Ladshaw Fell 6.jpg
Ladshaw Fell, note terrain.

The historic site of Craik Roman Signal Station (449m) came quite quickly. I seemed to have a “moment” as I explored around. I thought I photographed the mound of the Station …but no, just the signpost and sign. I then took a compass bearing and it didn’t show me the direction I expected to follow. I triple checked then decided that there must be some Roman “ironworks” buried and interfering with the magnetism. Oh how often do we blame the compass. Common sense (nudged by realising the terrain that way didn’t fit with my expectation) eventually prevailed before I actually set off in ignoring the compass. I checked my route notes which confirmed that the compass bearing had been right and I needed to follow it to the North. The route to Post Office Knowe was easy along a bike route and as the light was failing I decided to stop here to bivvy for the night. I had come 9.25 miles in lovely weather and with good dry conditions. I felt fit and could have continued if the light had held. I had seen lizards, buzzards, evidence of foxes. The stars were out and the moon rising. It was good to be back on the Watershed in such conditions.
15 km 9.25 miles

May 8th. (Day 6)
I woke at 06.00 am (no alarm) to an overcast sky and birds singing. I could identify chaffinches and a thrush. I remembered hearing a tawny owl during the night. I was packed and away by 7.00. For the time being I was hemmed in by the plantation. The track for the bike route had deteriorated considerably but the going wasn’t too bad. The cycle route peeled off to the right before I reached the next unnamed high point(440m). I turned SW to Archie Hill (443m), another rather undistinguished summit. Here I knew I should be turning North again but the fence continued just south of west and I saw no break in the forest on my right. I continued following the fence, coming across wind-blow further down plus an area of older, broad-leafed trees possibly alder. This was a pleasant change from the sitka. I had to do some limbo manoeuvres up and under the fallen trees, something that would come back to me later. The trees gave way to another extensive area that had been felled. I followed the new edge round to the right to meet a forest road that should take me to Moodlaw Loch. Stupidly (without checking the map) I started off in the wrong direction but had only gone a short way before I realised that I needed to be heading in the other way (i.e. up the slope not down). Shortly afterwards I reached Moodlaw Loch and took the opportunity to have a 2nd breakfast and fill up my water bottle. I disturbed a moorhen and there were other waterfowl (unidentified due to lack of binoculars) around. It would have been a lovely spot to camp.

IMG_20170508_085648508 Moodlaw Loch 2.jpg
Moodlaw Loch

I decided to keep to the forest road for a while. There had been a lot of felling and also wind-blow along exposed edges. I could also hear forestry work going on between Black Knowe and Quickningair Hill so thought it expedient to avoid that. The forest road conveniently ran mainly parallel to the watershed and was never more than 300m away from it. Again the clear-felled areas meant that I was spared the claustrophobic feeling of walking in between the lines of mature sitka and lodgepole pine. I was able to re-join the line of the Watershed just beyond the summit of Quickningair (488m). Ettrick Pen looked very inviting on the skyline if large compared to the hills I had been crossing so far. The clear felling had exposed views of Loch Tima and Over Dalgliesh on my right.
Between Quickningair and Tima Head new plantings of sitka were passable but in time they will pose a barrier. At the edge of the plantation I turned down to the B709. All this time the Watershed mainly followed the border between the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway. There was a bit of a no-man’s land of 30-40m between the two border signs on the B709. I was aware that there was not much of the forest left and I looked forward to clearing it before the end of the day. The sun had come out but a cooling breeze kept walking conditions comfortable. The road side, though not aesthetically great, presented a safe opportunity to stick the cooker on for lunch as the occasional lumber lorry thundered past. As I ate I watched the forest on the left of the fence-line ahead being gradually felled. I would keep well clear although this would take me amongst brash and new plantings.
Well fuelled, I started up the area of clear-felling which was well defended from browsing by brash hedges. These could have been a barrier but were not too bad and I was able to get through them, without too much trouble. The ground had been cleared enough not to present any difficulty. I was disappointed though to see the amount of rubbish on the way to Cross Hill (442m) It wasn’t clear if this had been blown from the road or was from the forestry workers. There were plastic bottles, bags and packaging. I begin to figure that the amount of rubbish encountered was directly associated with distance from road/regularly walked track.
Some twists and turns around the forest edge and I was soon on Blue Cairn Hill (523m). The first hill above 500m since Rashiegrain Head. The majority of the Watershed through the Craik had been below 500m and above 400m only dropping below the latter on a couple of occasions. I saw my first (and only on this outing) butterfly, probably a peacock. I didn’t have time to follow it for long as a bird flew out of the trees and snatched it! Onwards to Bloodhope Head (535m) and then a real feeling of leaving the forest although knowing there was one last short section before the Ettrick Hills. The descent at the Glendearg Steps was steep and made me realise that I should have cut my toenails before I left home. The plan to fill my water bottle at the bottom was scuppered by the wind-blow that blocked the way to the burn. The steep down was followed by a steep up and then it was out onto the open hillside and relatively easy walking on sheep-grazed ground. I was able to drop down and fill my water at the delightfully named Muckle Cauldron Burn.

On the summit of Ettrick Pen (692m) the highest hill so far, I underestimated how far I had come so determined to go on to Wind Fell.

IMG_20170508_181922836 Ettrick Pen summit 5.jpg
Ettrick Pen Summit cairn

Just beyond Hopetoun Craig I saw a man sitting very still on the hillside. I could clearly see the peak of his cap. He appeared to be holding a yoga pose so I continued without disturbing him but only after looking back realised that “he” was a cairn, one of many seen since Bloodhope Head. The far side of Wind Fell was out of the wind and an excellent viewpoint for the sun going down so I laid my bivvy bag here. I had covered 13 miles which left a short day for the morrow and some possible choices about the next couple of days. I was also ahead of my schedule with easy walking ahead. What a change from my first outing. Sleep, however did not come easily. The problem was that my fleecy top had collected rather a lot of bits of tree when clambering over the wind-blow in the morning. Snuggling into my sleeping bag with my clothes on I managed to transfer the bits to my fleecy sleeping bag liner which proceeded to scratch and irritate me for the next few nights.

IMG_20170508_210344039 bivvy site Wind Fell 7.jpg
Sun going down Wind Fell

21 km 13 miles

May 9th. (Day 7)
I was sluggish to get going. This was the best morning so far but each of the 2 previous days had turned out sunny and dry. I knew that I had plenty of time. My good neighbour, Harry, had arranged to meet me at Birkhill on the A708 but this had been tentively arranged for Wednesday. He had said that he could be flexible as he wanted to explore the Borders. If he couldn’t make Birkhill today I would carry on and suggest that he meet me at the crossing of the A701 above The Devil’s Beef Tub on Wednesday evening. This would have the drawback of being too late in the day to do the van transfer from Merrylaw to Biggar.
I had developed the habit of stopping for a 2nd breakfast and today I stopped at below Bodesbeck Law making use of a drystane dyke for placing the burner on. I had a very much extended breakfast (maybe the Brownie Folk of Bodesbeck had cast a spell over me) and managed to pass an hour quite happily in the warm sunshine. I used the Bodesbeck burn to top up my water once more as it was turning out to be a warm day and I would need a lot to keep me going. One of the problems I had encountered with my 2 litre platypus that when full the pressure of my fully packed rucksack pressed the water out and it constantly dripped. It was also quite awkward to fill.
Climbing the slope to Bodesbeck it was as if I was walking through a carpet of wood anemones. I don’t think I have seen so many but the odd thing was I didn’t see any more this day, even on slopes with the same south facing aspect. On Bodesbeck summit (665m) it was time to do some arranging and Harry was happy to come a day early. I reflected on how easy this was to sort out compared to when Dave Hewitt walked the Watershed in the 1980s pre mobile phones (and a lot of other things besides). Dave Hewitt undertook his walk in a continuous 12-week stint. He had to arrange meet ups with his support for re-supplying and this meant getting to a phone box of which there are not many on the actual route. Gear has become much lighter, the Internet with the wonderful WH GPS planner making planning so much easier (not that I actually use a GPS) and I can take any number of books with me on my kindle. The downside of the mobile also means that there is never quite that true sense of being alone so I keep mine on aeroplane mode most of the time as this avoids getting distracting bleeps, calls and saves battery power.
As I texted I saw another walker approaching from the North, the first person I had met actually walking on the Watershed. I was to meet 9 more (all the latter from Glasgow Hillwalkers) before the next summit, the most in this outing on the ‘Shed. The bad news that the first walker imparted to me was that work was being carried out to extend the the massive Clyde Wind Farm and walking access was being denied for the duration. I wondered if I should delay my walk through it until after 5pm or wait until the weekend. I would need to wait and see if I could get any more information.
IMG_20170509_124014476 Panorama , midway between Bodesbeck and Herman Law.jpg
Panorama looking to the right from between Bodesbeck and Herman Law

IMG_20170509_124050336 other part of panorama.jpg
Panorama looking left to Moffat Hills

All of today’s walk was familiar from previous outings but from Andrewhinney Hill (677m) to Herman’s Law had been in mist so today it was lovely to see the views. I could still see all the way back to Comb Hill (easy to identify by its mast) at the A7. The views west to the Moffat Hills were also wonderful. At Andrewhinney I realised that I had dallied rather too much and needed to speed up. At Towgrain Middle (620 m) I received a text from Harry to say he was at the Grey Mare’s Tail (probably more like the Grey Mare’s eyebrow given the lack of water) but would be at Birkhill at 3.30. I quickly crossed Herman Law (614m) and was down at the road 5 minutes after Harry.

IMG_20170509_132305615 Looking towards Loch Skene from Andrewwhinney.jpg
Loch Skene from Andrewhinney Hill

The next few hours were spent collecting my van from Merrylaw and taking it round to Biggar then driving down to Moffat. A highlight was seeing a pair of large foxes cavorting on the bank across from the van at Merrylaw, totally unbothered by mine and Harry’s presence. A low point was seeing numerous, large vehicles and traffic associated with the construction on the Clyde windfarm. By the time we got to Moffat it was too late to resume the walk so I booked into the same hotel (The Balmoral) as Harry, had a superb dinner at 9pm (they kindly allowed us to order after their normal end of dining times) and a luxurious (but very warm) night in an overheated room. I tried to see if there was any information on the wind farm access. One WH TR mentioned it but it didn’t seem to have caused any problems. I would give it a go. I forgot to de-needle my fleecy liner.
14.9 km 9.3 miles

May 10th (Day 8)
After a wonderful breakfast Harry dropped me back at Birkhill. I had bought suntan lotion, lip salve and toe-nail clippers. Again it was overcast so I didn’t immediately need the suntan lotion but I made good use of the clippers which would improve my comfort on the steep downhill sections. On my way up to Watch Knowe, I took the opportunity to try out my fence hopping kit. Verdict, I need lots more practise. I was also later to discover that it wasn't very good on electrified fences.

IMG_20170510_101149923 Fence hopping kit 1.jpg
Fence hopping kit

I expected to meet a lot of people on these popular hills given the weather. I met just one walker coming off Lochcraig Head but saw 2 sets of walkers over on White Comb which is not on the Watershed and as I had quite a long day ahead I wasn’t tempted to revisit its summit. The dry conditions were remarkable. I knew that the forests had been unusually dry and had walked over plenty of dried up bogs but was still surprised that the usually difficult section next to Loch Skene was easily passed without having to detour around wet bits. The walking again was easy until Rotten Bottom which totally live up to its name. This was the only area that held any water and needed careful bog hopping to avoid getting wet feet.
The fences bordering the National Trust Land had been well maintained and all the old wire removed. This appeared to go against the general grain of fence maintenance. Frequently the old wire was left, sometimes coiled but more often than not just discarded where it had been taken off and rotting posts lying haphazardly around. The undergrowth grew up and camouflaged these making them quite a hazard to wildlife, stock and walkers. I wondered that given that all the new fencing material had to be brought up, surely removing the old stuff and taking it down would not be beyond the contractors.
Going was good and I felt full of energy. I have climbed Hart Fell (808m) twice before from different directions, once retracing the steps I made today. It is the highest hill on the Reiver March of the Watershed and the first Corbett.

IMG_20170510_161311993 TP Hart Fell.jpg
Hart Fell Trig Point

I could also see the distinctive shape of Tinto off to the North West, Biggar was getting closer. The descent along the Watershed is steep but as I made my way towards the A701 I was on the lookout for water. I found nothing suitable. Clearly the dry weather was impacting the outflow. The difficulty was exacerbated by fairly intensive sheep presence around the water sources. At the end of the day when I reached the A701 I walked down to the source of the Tweed and found nothing. I walked on to the farm house, over a mile away but there appeared to be no-one around. I then found a stream that appeared from under the road. I was suspicious of whether it was a run off from the road (but why would it still be running when it had been so dry) but it ran very clear without a trace of oil or road contaminants. I decided just to take enough to boil for the morning but when I crossed the road to go up Bog Fell I found that it was a bona fide spring, supplying the farm. Well over an hour after I had intended to stop I fell into my bivvy just below the flat summit of Bog Fell (462m), not in a sheltered spot (not necessary as it was very still) and slept well once I had picked out more tree bits from my liner.

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Lambs attemptinmg to climb the Annanhead Hill Trig Point

22.5 km 14 miles.

May 11th. (Day 9)
I woke at sunrise, slightly cold and damp. A hard frost covered the bivvy and my sleeping bag was damp. My bivvy bag is both breathable and waterproof so I am not sure how this happened but presumed the frost had interfered with its function. I put on an extra layer and fell asleep for another couple of hours. When I woke fully I stuck the bivvy bag and sleeping bag on the fence in the sunshine. There was already a warmth in the air and by the time I had breakfasted and packed everything else they were practically dry. The bad news was that I would be back amongst rough, tussocky ground as I entered yet another section of forest. As I progressed down the hill I heard my first cuckoo of the year… a full 2 weeks after I normally hear one. Shortly after I saw my first cuckoo flower of the year. Never before have these coincided for me on the same day. How appropriate that they should be on the Watershed.

IMG_20170511_072959030 from one forest to another.jpg
From one forest to another

At the coll between Little Bog Fell (465m; higher than Bog Fell by 3m) and Hazelbush Hill (510m). I decided to go and fill up my water. The day was shaping up to be a scorcher and I had seen a lochan off to the left, this must be fed by a burn surely. I made my way to the lochan, meeting my first biting midges of 2017, this was a day for firsts. The burn appeared to be mainly still, sluggish water and I decided to go on to the lochan. What a reward this was. On both sides the plantation had been felled and on the opposite (southern) bank there appeared to be native, broadleaves planted. As yet nothing had been replanted on the northern bank but with the burn there was a wider area of marshy land. In time this will make a delightful spot just shy of the largest wind farm in Europe. Today the lochan glinted and sparkled in the morning sun, the reeds gently waved and occasionally a fish or possibly frogs broke the surface to catch the insects flying just above the surface. I could hear chaffinches and blue tits singing; it was a beautiful, peaceful spot. Reluctantly I tore myself away and walked back up to the Watershed having spent a good hour enjoying the sojourn.

IMG_20170511_080402938 Lochan.jpg

In stark contrast to the lochan I was heading into wind turbine country. The ground underfoot was still rough but after Hazelbush Hill I started to come across markers. These, I later discovered, marked underground electric cables. Due to the ungrazed heather and poor progress, I decided to head to the built track between the turbines. Although they made for a faster pace, they were not enjoyable and I found the height and size of the turbines intimidating and not a little scary. What it one of the blades comes flying off? Also there were occasional pieces of rubbish; plastic bottles and wrappers. Why are humans so bad at leaving their stuff behind? Why do we need to create such massive wind farms to lessen our impact elsewhere on the planet? Why do we all have to consume so much? Blah, blah, blah. My mood was plummeting.

After Clyde Law (546m) and its trig point I decided to stick to the fence and along with the markers, now duly covered with warning notices, a track of sorts appeared across the now much shorter heather. All this while I had been anxious about the information I had heard at Bodesbeck Fell. I could see 2 enormous cranes ahead and trucks on the tracks between turbines. Remembering that I would slow my pace if I saw problems ahead I made sure that I walked purposefully. The going could have been worse, a lot of the ground had been disturbed and I wondered how much peat (an important carbon sink) had been lost in the building of these carbon saving machines. The roads will have lowered the water table, drying out and destroying the peat that hadn’t been dug.

As I approached the main centre of construction activity I could see that the fence line appeared to stay off the main build sites but at times did go directly towards a site. The first one of these was after Powskein Dod (536m), near Black Dod (548m). My 1:50,000 was hopelessly out of date and was only good for counting off the various bumps on the way. In places the original fence had been demolished and a new one erected but not necessarily following the border boundary or Watershed. As I crossed one such junction and prepared to cross a wide track a truck approached and turned on its yellow flashing light as it drew up beside me. My heart sank to my boots as I endeavoured to put on my friendliest face. Out jumped a work man wearing a North Face t-shirt who greeted me with a friendly “Do you any help?” or words of that ilk. I replied that I hoped so as my van was parked in Biggar and I had no other way of getting there except through the wind farm. The man explained that it was no problem walking through the windfarm, they didn’t stop anyone. We chatted about what I was doing and he immediately said that he had heard of runners running the Watershed. He was the first person (apart from Tommy’s dad) who I had met on the Watershed who knew exactly what I meant when I mentioned it. It turned out that he was the ecologist for the site and was a hill-runner to boot. Not only that he had been on the Stuc a Chroin race the weekend before. He assured me that I would not come to any harm, the main construction had finished and if I stuck to the border fence line this would keep me away from the areas of activity around the cranes. He did advise me to take care crossing any tracks and that in some places the fence-line had been altered. He also said that even at the height of the construction they did not stop walkers going through but would give them a lift past the worse bits if safety was going to be an issue. He then walked me to the next place where the fence turned, as this was towards the crane. Advice is to keep the height of the crane plus 10% away from a crane in case it falls…they don’t tend to! A great meet and thanks Adam A, see you at the Stuc a’ Chroin next year.

I spent my lunch break at the summit of Risingclaw Heights (507m), the name evoking for me Harry Potter and Rowena Ravenclaw. As I ate my lunch I watched the crane lift the part that sits on top of the tower and contains the shaft, gear box , generator and supports the rotar arms. It looked very small at this distance, about 600m but I had seen them on the ground and they were the size of a large shipping container or two. I felt like I had been in the wind farm for ever, a little bit like the forest. The traffic, dust and disruption to the landscape felt very industrial and I had never seen anything quite like it before. I realised that I was neglecting other views my eye being constantly drawn to the movement of the turbines and traffic below them. I was surprised to see a vole disappearing into the heather on the other side of the fence.
I still had another 3 miles and 5 tops to cover before I reached a point where I could see the end of the wind turbines. Eventually I reached the rather careworn trig point of Comb Dod at 635m and there was no more on-going construction in front of me although there were still a few turbines below me to the left. I set a hare off and it ran with enviable speed and I followed on at a tortoise-like pace. I still had the highest hills of the day to cover but was aware that, unlike the previous day when I felt full of energy approaching Hart Fell, I felt depressed and lacking in vigour. Gradually though as I left the turbines behind my energy picked up and once again I was able to enjoy the surroundings. My walking speed picked up with my mood as I passed over the summit of Hillshaw Head (652m) and onwards to Gathersnow Hill (688m) which wasn’t living up to its name in the warm sun. Culter Fell (748m) looked huge compared to what had gone before in the day’s walk but it was only 260m above Holm Nick and it didn’t take long to reach the trig point. The sky was clouding over but the views continued to enthral.

IMG_20170511_182206513 Pano to North of Culter Fell 6.jpg
Panorama to North of Culter Fell

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Second panorama on summit of Culter Fell

Despite the wind farm’s presence for much of the day the general height of the hills made an excellent view point. I could see Gawky Hill and the last few hills of the Reiver March…it would be good to get there tonight. I looked back to the Moffat Hills, they would soon be gone from view once I dropped down to the Laich March.

Onwards and Glenharvie Moss lived up to its name but like all the other ground on this week’s outing barely raised a squelch as I crossed it and on up a slope punningly (in my mind) named Dun Knees to the exquisitely named, Birnie’s Bow Rock (673m). A cool evening breeze had developed and as I started the steep descent my toes and feet screamed in rebellion. I sat down and assessed how far I had to go. Two more descents after this one, the last being very steep, until I would be able to find a sheltered, flat space to camp, plus 2 ascents. I was tired, maybe I should stop at the bottom of this hill (at Saddle Nick). There were streams for water nearby and on the lee of the coll I should be out of the wind. I made my decision and then 10 minutes later having had a break, changed my mind and with a burst of energy scampered up and over Sawdmans Hill and onto Gawky Hill. The sun was going down beyond Tinto, below me was the a very different landscape, and the Southern Upland Fault. I was at the end of Peter Wright’s Reiver March and there, finally, in the fading light was a fox, my first one actually seen on the Watershed. Curlew flew, crying across the moorland. Time for bed, tomorrow would see the start of the Laich March.
24.1 km 15 miles

May 12th (Day 10)
I woke as I had fallen asleep the previous night, to the cry of curlew. No foxes but I watched a roe deer pick its way up the hill pausing now and then to look out a tasty plant. It was totally unaware of my presence.
I had realised that following the fence down last night was wrong. (Question: How do you know you are off the Watershed? Answer: When you cross a stream? After breakfast and packing up, I climbed back up the hill and came down a bit further over, returning to collect my rucksack and then onwards.

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Looking down on the Southern Upland Fault

I quickly came to learn what the Laich march was all about. If I thought following a fence for over 80 miles was all about fences, I was in for a rude awakening. Between me and Shaw Hill there seemed to be an endless number of fences and fields all containing sheep and their lambs. All of the latter were well grown and strong but I was still watchful of avoiding separating parent from offspring usually 2, whilst finding a gate to the next field. Finally, I reached a dyke and the bottom of the climb up Shaw Hill. There were wild flowers abounding but I decided that if I stopped and photographed every single one I would be hard pressed to make Biggar by tea time, let alone lunchtime.
When I gained the ridge of Shaw Hill the view in front of me was very different from anything from the Reiver. It looked flat (apart from Tinto) and populated. Green fields fenced, hedged or walled. Settlements and houses and roads. I could make out roughly where the Watershed went to begin with but only from what I had read, Biggar Common, Black Mount and Mendick Hill were Ok but after that I was in trouble.

The Northern slope of Shaw Hill had been clear felled and after following the track westwards to above Culter Kirk I made my way as best as possible across the brash to the drystone dyke and fence, once traversed it was a stroll down to the gate and onto the road. I stopped and looked at the gravestones in the church grounds. I found one that mentioned a death of a child in 1705 and spent a little while trying to find an older date. A lot of the writing on the sandstone gravestones had been weathered out. The gate from the church yard is wired shut so I retraced my steps and in doing so spotted a tree creeper creeping down an ivy-clad gravestone, another first for me.
From Shaw Hill I had seen that the fields beyond the A702 and Townfoot either appeared to have cows in or were planted with crops. I decided that I would not try sticking exactly to the Watershed through these but use the unclassified road (Cornhill Road) to take me to the A72 and Wolfclyde, then turn right along Lindsaylands Road into Biggar. As I crossed the fields beyond Culter Allers House I started to hear sirens, I was back in civilisation. A total of 3 police cars and 1 ambulance passed, heading in the direction of Biggar. At Wolfclyde the Clyde River is within feet of the route.

IMG_20170512_104612329 the Clyde through the trees.jpg
The River Clyde

I then turned my back on the Watershed and headed into Biggar and my van, a few weeks after my original plan. I decided to leave heading on over to Black Mount for another day and after a wash, a change of clothes and lunch headed for Edinburgh only to been diverted to Broughton as the road was closed by the Police (no doubt the cause being what the sirens had been heading for) I never found out what happened and I hope that this means the accident wasn’t as serious as the road closure suggested.
9km 5.6 miles

Lessons learned
The dreaded Craik Forest was not so bad as feared, the clear felling reducing possible feelings of claustrophobia.
Always trust the compass and terrain (how often do I have to relearn this).
A 3-day pack is a good plan for making progress but I will need to up my game when I reach the longer distances required between top-ups further North.
The 5 weeks of improving fitness made a big difference to the ground covered and enjoyment of the walk
Ditto the improved weather conditions
Ditto the terrain.
Accept that the Laich March will hold some equivalents to the Wind Farm and learn to accept this. Maybe this is a time to plug into some music to lift the spirits or find some companions willing to come along for the walk. The latter has been sorted for Cumbernauld.
Use 2 x 1 litre platypuses.
I need to get a good pair of summer weight boots, my normal choice for summer are usually good approach type shoes, which will be no good in the usual Watershed terrain.
I need to ditch my meths cooking system and buy a gas system which will be much safer all round.

May 19th (day 11 on the Watershed)
Biggar- Mendick Hill
I had another day down in Edinburgh seized the opportunity to grab another day on the Watershed. I drove my van down to Dolphinton on the Thursday night to a large lay-by just after the road-end to Garvald and where there is a bus stop just before the road-end (NT109475). On Friday morning after dropping my bike off at the track end beyond the Garvald community buildings (NT098493), I caught the first bus to Biggar (09.30). I stocked up with essential supplies (strawberries and chocolate) for the day at the local shops then set off to re-join the Watershed. Technically I should have walked to West Lyndsaylands where a track goes up towards Lyndsaylands Hill but I cut the corner and re-joined the Watershed at the woodland beyond Langlees farm. This was a delightful bit of mixed woodland and I made quick progress to the first of many electric fences. I had a 1:50,000 map which didn’t show that the track continued through the plantation section of the wood and I skirted round the western end before heading up to the summit of Biggar Common. There was no easy access to the actual summit which I found surprising as I would have thought this would have been a popular local hill. The drystone dyke and barbed wire fence surely suffer from walkers struggling over (and under), whereas a simple stile would make life easier all-round. I try, where possible to find gates, stiles or, failing these, strong strainer posts. Today, I was to find that these options are very much lacking on this section of the ‘Shed.

IMG_2185 laich.jpg
Tha Laich

The views onward were clear and I also looked back, with affection, to Culter Fell. I managed to follow the Watershed as far as the B7016. There after a short, slightly hairy section of blind, double bends that included a dead fox cub, I elected once again to walk the unclassified road past Muirlea Farm rather than go through the farm fields. Technically, I probably should have taken the unclassified road that headed North towards Bellscraig as this kept closer to the actual Watershed but I would have encountered problems with farm fields (and cows!) in the crossing to Hyndshawland Hill. Given my problems with fence crossings I think I am justified in this. A few yards beyond the turning to Midhill Farm I was able to turn onto a track that took me through the Christmas tree plantation and eventually on to the Hill Fort at the summit. I then made an error picking the best track through the plantation, realising this when it turned far too far to the left. I was able to contour round to the right on another track and up onto the A721, a short way to the West of the Watershed. More Christmas tree plantation followed with plenty of routes through and I was soon heading across a field with horses towards the school at Craw Knowe. I had to follow the electric fence until I found a gate exit onto the road. More cows in a field to the right, kept me the other side of an electric fence as I started the ascent to Black Mount. Electric fences proved challenging on the ascent and I struggled to find suitable crossings. When I came to one that also had barbed wire across the corner, the only possible place to cross, I started to suspect the landowner of being obstructive. This may-be totally unjustified but with no alternatives in sight along what would be an appropriate route up a shoulder to the summit it was the only conclusion I came to.
IMG_2204 Kendrick Hill and Pent;lands from BM.jpg
Mendick Hill from Black Mount

After the summit and trig point of Black Mount, I started to have a strong feeling of deja-vu. This intensified as the downward slope steepened just before the pass between Black Mount and White Hill. I decided that it was because it reminded me of a hill I had climbed previously but in fact when I checked on WH I found that I had previously climbed these two hills, from the east. something that had slipped my mind completely!
Farm fields beyond Croft an Righ drove me back off the Watershed and onto the road round to Garvald. It sounds like I am spending a lot of time off the Watershed in avoiding farm fields but in fact these only present a problem on the lower sections. This may be more problematic as I penetrate further along the Laich March and I may have to reconsider my strategy.
I walked up the lower slopes of Mendick Hill, parallel to the Dene Burn and with relatively easy, grazed habitat made the trig point and summit of Mendick Hill in good order. A last look back to what I suspect will be a last view of the Border March and a little while sorting the onward journey for my next outing and I was soon then on the descent route to the track above what is marked, on the 1:250,000, as Rumbling Well.
Another good day on the Watershed in excellent conditions.
25.1 km 15.6 miles.

Lessons learnt
So far the Laich March has pleasanter than expected, with no-one encountered on it. This will change in due course but there are only a few days of “near populace” walking.
I need to brave up with the cow situation.
I need to speed up the writing of my TRs..without mistakes.

Total on Watershed so far 165.1 km 102.6 miles Only 1035 km or 643 miles to go
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Re: Scotland’s Watershed Part 2; Blackburn Head- Mendick Hil

Postby Alteknacker » Wed Sep 12, 2018 11:00 pm

Yet again, I marvel at your commitment. Some of this section of your mega-ultra-marathon looks pretty good scenery-wise, but much of it wouldn't appeal to me. I guess I feel that if I'm going to make the long journey to the Highlands, I want the scenery to be tip-top.

But you manage to make it a very entertaining tale, nontheless.

I loved the man in the yoga pose, as well as your battle with tree bits!

The lesson about trusting the compass always (unless you REALLY know you can't, as in the Cuillins) has been for me also a difficult lesson to learn, and only the result of many many erroneous bouts of following my instinct :roll: .

I was intrigued that you say one of the lessons was to ditch the meths stove. I've been recently been looking closely at this, and reckon that there's a lot of weight to be saved with a spirit stove as compared with gas. What were the factors that led you to this conclusion?
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