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Tarras Valley 12 Peaks Walk 2023

Tarras Valley 12 Peaks Walk 2023

Postby markhallam » Wed Sep 20, 2023 7:31 pm

Sub 2000' hills included on this walk: Roan Fell

Date walked: 20/08/2023

Time taken: 14 hours

Distance: 44 km

Ascent: 1500m

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0.Title collage.jpg
A new 27 mile 44km challenge walk, near Langholm, Scottish Southern Uplands


This is the first time I have posted on Walk Highlands (apart from featuring a holiday cottage in the Moffat & Langholm section!). I’m hoping to post more, not least with an agenda to help raise the profile of Langholm; “A spot supremely blest” (Matthew Ewart 1905 ) which is blessed with lots of fantastic hills and walks, only a few of which currently feature on Walk Highlands.

This Trip Report features 12 of many local hill-tops which are centred on the Tarras Valley, near Langholm, of which only one, Roan Fell, is on Walk Highlands - on the ‘Sub-2000’ list. By describing the big walk we did around them I hope to show a bit more of what is out there.

In terms of my credentials I climbed have climbed in The Alps, Himalayas and Andes between 1973 and 2018. I have now retired from climbing in the greater ranges and am now devoted to walking the local Langholm hills with my dog Henry plus a growing number of new friends as well as some old ones, who come to visit – and with occasional forays up into the Highlands or down to the Lake District.

If flicking through the Trip Report below is of interest, I have posted a 17 minute movie on Vimeo featuring video, stills and a Google Earth fly-through of our route…

The Walk
This 27 mile challenge walk with about 5000ft ascent, over 12 Langholm Hill-tops, was walked for the first time, by 4 men and 3 dogs on 28th August 2022, in celebration of the successful 2nd stage of the epic community land-buy-out, which created 10,500 acres of Tarras Valley Nature Reserve. The walk takes in all the principle hill-tops on or near the boundary of the reserve and large parts are over remote and untracked peatlands. Having researched and then successfully completed the full walk in 13 hours and 30 minutes, it was proposed that it should become an annual event on the Langholm/Tarras Valley Nature Reserve calendar. This second walk on 20th August 2023 was the first step towards making this happen.

TarrasValley12Peaks2023.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

The Team
This time the team was composed of 6 men and 3 dogs, including 3 men and 2 dogs who had made the original walk the previous year. We had gained 3 new men and one new dog. One of the new men, Ian, is father to Kieran from the previous year and joined us part way round the walk in order to take in the particular part of the walk which traversed 7 hill-tops and 14 miles which encircled Cooms Farm – where he had been Shepherd for 24 years and where the family had made their home (1990-2014).
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Jess & Henry from 2022 – and joined by Cooper (images by Kieran Cuthbert)

Full team Mark & Henry, Roger & Cooper, Andrew & Jess, Kieran + Dad, Ian – and my old mate Jon (Thanks to Caroline Cuthbert)

Attempts were made to invite some ladies on this epic walk, mostly via social media of a local ladies fell-running group; The Muckle Toon Joggers… but their leader Kirsty declined since she was running Southern Upland way; several others pleaded various other engagements – but one, Jenny, who rather appropriately happens to be Estates Manager to the Nature Reserve, regrettably had to withdraw at the last minute due to a training injury.

Stage One: Langholm centre through woodlands of Lower Tarras to Rashiel Bridge. About 5 miles.
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The team, minus Ian, met in town centre and set off into rain and darkness at 5.10am. We soon entered dripping wet woodlands, emerged onto a minor road, before back into even wetter woodlands of The Lower Tarras Valley, heading north and towards an emergence from woodlands again, at Rashiel Bridge.
Mark, Henry & Jon+ Roger & Cooper, Kieran, Andrew & Jess at the start, Langholm town centre at 5am

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Starting at 5.10am and off up a rain-slicked Hallpath

Entering woods of the Lower Tarras Valley

Here endeth Stage One...

Stage Two: Rashiel Bridge, up over Tinnis Hill 404m (1st of 12) to rendezvous on Moor Road at Country Marches. About 4.5 miles
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After a few hundred meters of easy farm track and 2 hours out from the start we reached a first major landmark, of Tarras Valley Nature Reserve Tree Nursery at Cronksbank. Perhaps fortunately, the inclement weather was hiding the two other prominent landmarks, normally visible at this point: those of an extremely distant Tinnis Hill (which we were about to try and climb) and also hill number 12 Whita Hill (which we would be tackling roughly 12 hours later – with a huge gulf in between :shock:
The Tarras Valley Nature Reserve tree-nursery at Cronksbank

We then turned right, due east, leaving the nice comfy track to climb over a wall – and set off into the wet undergrowth, to try and find our first hill. Now, there is no doubt, even in the best of conditions, Tinnis Hill is a toughie, never mind in rain, mist and strong winds… in fact there had been some initial speculation around whether we could have just quietly missed Tinnis out, with lonely summit being some 350m outside the Nature Reserve boundary. However, because it is normally such a fantastic view point and with the humorous notion of planting a TVNR flag on the top (had Jenny, Estate Manager been present) and annexing it for the nature reserve – we felt obliged to include it – and finally, perhaps TV12 Peaks seems to have a better ring to it than TV11…
Last bit of easy track before turning R to try and find Tinnis Hill

Over an hour after leaving the track, at about 8.30am, through no small feat of navigation, and after some thigh-burning uphill, we stumbled across the rain-lashed top of Tinnis Hill – hill number 1, some 3.5 hours in – and with 11 still to come…
Team on top of Tinnis Hill 404m hill-top No 1

There followed a very steep descent directly back down to the Nature Reserve, as well as the County Border (so from ‘The Borders’ back into Dumfries & Galloway). Seemingly Tinnis Hill is a (very) extinct Volcano, so final bit is, would that we could have seen it, a somewhat steep sided cone. Half an hour later, still astride the border, we found our rendezvous, at County Marches, on a lonely stretch of the moor road between Langholm and Newcastleton, some 9 miles out from the start.
Very steep descent from Tinnis Hill

Here ended Stage 2 and we were pleased to meet Dean, bringer of some welcome snacks, as well as a cheery greeting – and also Caroline, who brought along Ian, our group Shepherd and father of Kieran, who was now joining us for next 14 miles and 7 summits around the periphery of his former office…
Approaching rendezvous at County Marches on moor road

Stage Three: County Marches Rendezvous north to Hartsgarth Fell (Hill 5) over Cooms Fell (Hill 2), Watch Hill (Hill 3), Roan Fell (Hill 4) and highest at 568m 1,858ft. About 6 miles.
11.TV12 Stage 3 collage.jpg

At 9.30am we cast off over sodden tussock towards next objective and, at 10am, some 11 miles and 5 hours out, we reached Cooms Fell 490m – hill-top number 2. This was the one above Cooms Farm, where Ian had shepherded and he, Kieran and family had lived for 24 years. And sure enough, by way of acknowledgement, the weatherman kindly threw us a very brief gap in the clouds and there was Cooms Farm some 260m 860ft below us. Ian hadn’t seen this view for some years so was particularly pleased to see it.
At the Trig on top of Cooms Fell 490m, hill-top No 2

Cooms Farm seen from near top of Cooms Fell

The next section of the route would normally be one of the most scenic as it traversed the very edge of the steep slopes dropping down towards the farm – but the weatherman had other ideas and rain, cloud and winds returned with a vengeance. Somewhere on the sodden fells we passed Watch Hill 502m, hill-top number 3. We turned away from the edge and crossed a tough section of rough ground which can be tricky to navigate, but now much easier, even in mist, thanks to a series of white marker canes placed by another team moorland expert, Andrew, to facilitate in the development of new walking routes in the new nature reserve (in this case a ‘Roan Fell’ loop…).
This tiring section ended up at the Trig Point, some 1km short of Roan Fell summit and at 560m all of 8m lower. This trig point was near to our ‘half way point’ and also another place of significance for Kieran and Ian, in that to celebrate over two decades of farming in the valley, on 24th August 2019, they had enticed 27 family members up with a signed slate, which was ceremoniously left at the foot of the concrete marker.
Father and son, Ian & Kieran with slate signed by 3 generations of family…

We then started to tackle the all too short easiest section; an almost horizontal vehicle track rising all of 8 meters over 1km distance up to the highest point and 4th hill-top, Roan Fell 568m, 1,864ft. This track had been placed to service shooting hides in former ages, but more recently to assist workers accessing extensive peatlands to carry out restorative work – something the new management under Tarras Valley Nature Reserve plans to continue… (We saw evidence of coir matting placed over some exposed areas as well as work on drainage systems…)
Team pauses near cairn marking highest point of Roan Fell

Another kilometre later we reached Hartsgarth Fell, our hill-top number 5, at 24km 15 miles out, the furthest away point, at the end of Stage three – and major turning point as we now turned west across the top of the northern end of the valley.
At this point, as if to reward us, there was another parting of the clouds and we were treated to a murky view all the way to the final hill-top, number 12, Whita Hill with distinctive 100ft Malcolm Memorial (and 80ft TV/Radio mast) adorning the summit.
Enough of a clearing to give a view looking back from furthest away point

Stage Four: turning west to cross Scawd Bank (Hill 6) to reach Pike Fell (Hill 7). About 3 miles.
17.TV12 Stage 4 collage.jpg

We were now back onto predominantly rough terrain again, it was a ‘long’ feeling mile and a half, with 50m/150ft ascent at the end, to a well-earned lunch-stop on top of Scawd Bank, hill-top number 6 – where we had stopped the year before – and spotted a Golden Eagle riding a thermal a few hundred metres to the north. No Golden Eagles this year – though at least a couple were known to be in the area. Nevertheless, we were pleased to have a 20 minute break for lunch – and in dry conditions at last. In fact from this point on, there was no more rain and the clouds became increasingly dispersed in the face of a strong south-westerly wind. Only the terrain remained sodden and thereby still somewhat challenging to cross…
Improving view towards next objectives….

All to soon we were underway again, into the second half of Stage 4, as we descended easily from the large plateau that is the summit area of Scawd Bank – and then somewhat tougher, the 124m 406ft ascent from a col called, on OS mapping, Ludsgill Sware at 375m, all the way up to hill-top number 7, Pike Fell. This was first of 4 substantial ascents, coming between us and the final drag up Whita Hill still some hours into the future. The human members of the team were by now becoming tired and I for one was regarding these further exertions with a degree of trepidation. Not so the three dogs. Jess the Spaniel continued to bound delightedly around us in a non-stop series of linked circles, potentially covering 2-3km to every 1km of ours. My Golden Retriever, Henry, wasn’t quite in this league, but he nevertheless showed his exuberance with frequent charges terminating in a kind of parachute landing roll – potentially adding an extra couple of hundred meters to every 1km. Only Cooper, Roger’s Jack Russell showed more restraint, sticking doggedly in his human’s footsteps, little ‘chicken legs’ pumping – but nevertheless with a fortitude, which never seemed to dwindle.
Final grind up Pike Fell, No 7. Scawd Bank behind. (image by Kieran)

Pike Fell 499m 1,637ft, hill-top number 7 is a tough brute from any direction and surely deserves a fitting summit marker. But all there is, are a few extra stones, piled atop a ruined section of old stone wall. We paused briefly to contemplate the next, even tougher brute, prettily clad in purple heather, but thereby all the more arduous to climb – Hill number 8: Arkleton Hill…
Jon looking towards Arkleton Hill, No 8...

Stage Five: turning south over Arkleton Hill (No 8 ), Hog Fell (No 9), Muckle Knowe (No 10), Terrona Hill (No 11) and to Whita Hill (last and Hill number 12). Longest section at 8.5 miles.
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We made the most of the easy descent from Pike Fell, crossed a stream with a tiny gorge known as Bloody Cleuch (a little more on this sinister sounding place features in the movie I made…).
We then crossed the wide saddle between Pike Fell (No 7) and the next, Arkleton Hill (No 8 ), daunted by the prospect of tackling the 2nd toughest ascent (after Tinnis Hill) some 19 miles into our journey. This ascent was of only about 430ft but made up for quantity in terms of quality, with the terrain being steep and overgrown with a mix of long grass and heather. This was Ian, our resident Shepherd’s 7th and last hill of the round he had planned for himself of the hills encircling his former office. He had judged this distance well, in that an anticipated troublesome knee was now beginning to pain him significantly and he was ready to call a halt on the other side.
Approaching Arkleton Hill, No 8

Nearing top of the climb but not yet the summit of Arkleton

Arkleton is another brute of hill from nearly every direction and the very wide flat summit could be Langholm’s answer to places like Kinder Scout or even the Cairngorm Plateau, boasting a big flat expanse of peatland about 1km x 500m, and defended on 3 sides by very steep slopes. We all regrouped near to the highest point before setting off due south, down the only shallow incline, a kind of ramp heading down to the south.
Summit of Arkleton Hill 521m in middle of plateau - hill-top number 8

The long slow descent bent to the west towards top of a forestry track, where the day before Henry, Jon and I had walked up and left a cache of spring water, dog food and treats – plus emergency snickers bars supplemented by the world’s finest biscuits, as provided by Jon…
Heading towards Supplies Cache top of forestry road, next objectives beyond...

We reached the cache, protected from the elements and marauding beasts by a water-proof wild swimming tow-float, at 4.30pm, so 11.5 hours as well as 21 miles into our walk. Henry got to have his dinner, Cooper and Jess merely dog-treats – but the human members of the team got to enjoy the thick slabs of Jon’s world class biscuits as well as spring water harvested the previous day at Lodge Gill, down in the valley near to Cooms Farm. Sadly this was the point at which we would lose Ian, who had achieved what he set out to do, despite the anticipated problems with his knee, so he would now set off down a mile and a half of gently descending forestry track, down to near Cooms Farm, where Caroline, his wife, would collect him. I’m hopeful he may be able to get his knee fixed – and join for the full round in 2024, for 3rd TV12 Peaks walk!
Ian, Andrew, Jon at top of forestry track - farewell Ian!

Having lost about 700ft coming down off Arkleton, the remainder of the team lose another 100 before tackling initially gentle but all to soon modestly steep ascent of 300ft, up to summit of Hog Fell (hill number 9) – the last serious ascent before Whita Hill, still more than 5 miles away.
Reduced team again, heading for hill number 9

We reached the summit of Hog Fell 371m 1,218ft (No 9) at 5.15pm. By this time the weather had progressively moved from appalling to fine and seemed to be setting us up for a glorious sunset, which Cooper observed appreciatively from his perch on top of the trig point. Indeed, Hog Fell became the finest view point of the entire walk, with the fantastic vista of the entire 12 hill-tops well displayed behind, to the side – and… ahead. Only the prospect of having to walk another 5 miles slightly marred the scene…
Summit of Hog Fell 371m: Andrew & Jess, Roger & Cooper, Jon (by Kieran)

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Hog Fell panorama cut into two bits: looking south and north…

The next two objectives of Muckle Knowe and Terrona Hill barely deserve to be called hills and it is a bit of a cheek including them as hill-tops in The Tarras Valley 12 Peaks. However, they are named on the map and look like discreet hills from certain angles – and (I have to say) the minor ascents involved felt like significant hill-tops coming on at between 24-25 miles into the walk. The developing sun-set illuminating the purple heather were important factors in providing the necessary lifting of the soul to complete this section – for all with the possible exception of Jess, who continued to keep running around us in excited concentric circles…
Somewhere in the vicinity of Muckle Knowe hill-top number 10…(by Kieran)

At about 6.15pm we finally reached the moor road, which we had crossed at County Marches, 3 miles away to the east and 9 hours earlier…
Final drag up Whita Hill towards Malcolm Monument

We tottered down the short bit of moor road and then, with what I thought was amazing vigour for approaching 26 miles, strode up the final 1km of track with 95m 300ft ascent up to the now proudly upstanding obelisk of the memorial to General Sir John Malcom (1769-1833), which adorns the highest point on Whita Hill 355m 1,164ft – hill-top number 12.
Final steps to top of hill number 12, Whita Hill, with 100ft Malcolm Monument

We sat gratefully on the very convenient bench and I set up my GoPro to take a final team portrait. Aware that at least some of the human team may have seized up if we stayed sat for much longer we soon creaked to our feet and set of down the final descent of Stage 6 towards Langholm…
Final hill-top – no more uphill now : )

Stage Six: turning west to descend Whita Hill and back into Langholm town centre again. About 1 mile.
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We descended steeply into the beginnings of a magnificent sunset some 250m 820ft down into Langholm and reached our starting point at 7.10pm, exactly 14 hours after starting.
Descending from Whita Hill into the glorious sunset

Team photo at the finish in Langholm town centre – with Ian added in.
Ian, Andrew & Jess, Kieran, Roger & Cooper, Mark & Henry with Jon

When I did the final save on OS mapping app on my iPhone it came up with 27.11 miles and 4,982ft ascent and average speed of 2mph (including stops – I didn’t risk pausing and then forgetting to resume) – but when I then I saved into a ‘new route’ for TV12 2023 the figures dipped slightly to 26.78 miles and 4,546.86ft. Notably we had got Figures of 27.48 and 27.35 miles and 5,277ft ascent the year before in 2022, with only a few minor variations in the route followed… so overall I conclude that it is fair to say the walk is around 27 miles and 5000ft ascent – and from official website Yorkshire 3 Peaks comes out at 24 miles and 5,200ft ascent, though in September 2020, in appalling weather, I measured Yorkshire 3 peaks at 43.5km and 27 miles...
THE END - As per Introduction if this Trip Report has been of interest please see Tarras Valley 12 Peaks Movie posted on Vimeo...
User avatar
Mountain Walker
Posts: 14
Munros:70   Corbetts:9
Fionas:8   Donalds:12
Sub 2000:15   Hewitts:79
Wainwrights:84   Islands:4
Joined: May 27, 2017
Location: Langholm, Dumfries and Galloway

Re: Tarras Valley 12 Peaks Walk 2023

Postby westgate » Sat Sep 23, 2023 6:22 pm

Great report Mark. It sounds tough, but the team look cheerful to the end. Well done.
Posts: 23
Joined: Feb 12, 2018

Re: Tarras Valley 12 Peaks Walk 2023

Postby markhallam » Sat Sep 23, 2023 9:32 pm

Thanks David appreciate your kind words! Looking forward to hearing about your next adventures.
Best wishes Mark
User avatar
Mountain Walker
Posts: 14
Munros:70   Corbetts:9
Fionas:8   Donalds:12
Sub 2000:15   Hewitts:79
Wainwrights:84   Islands:4
Joined: May 27, 2017
Location: Langholm, Dumfries and Galloway

Re: Tarras Valley 12 Peaks Walk 2023

Postby arjh » Mon Sep 25, 2023 11:00 pm

Great report, a fantastic amount of detail on an area I know very little about :clap:
User avatar
Posts: 158
Munros:123   Corbetts:28
Fionas:15   Donalds:13+8
Sub 2000:11   Hewitts:316
Wainwrights:189   Islands:6
Joined: Sep 5, 2015
Location: Sussex

Re: Tarras Valley 12 Peaks Walk 2023

Postby markhallam » Tue Sep 26, 2023 7:41 am

Thanks for the appreciation - yes, I didn't know the area at all until stumbling across on a property search and moving here 2 years ago!
User avatar
Mountain Walker
Posts: 14
Munros:70   Corbetts:9
Fionas:8   Donalds:12
Sub 2000:15   Hewitts:79
Wainwrights:84   Islands:4
Joined: May 27, 2017
Location: Langholm, Dumfries and Galloway

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